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On "On Falling Neutral Real Rates, Fiscal Policy, and the Risk of Secular Stagnation:

I have been thinking about this by Łukasz Rachel and Lawrence H. Summers this week: On Falling Neutral Real Rates, Fiscal Policy, and the Risk of Secular Stagnation.

It says an awful lot of true things. The average "neutral" 10-year safe real interest rate consistent with full employment in the Global North does look like it has fallen from 4% per year in the 1990s to -0.5% per year today. That does pose a huge problem for central banks that seek to use monetary policy s as the principal depression-fighting tool: a small negative shock that reduces this rate by only a little bit more would drive an economy into territory where the central bank cannot do its job. During this period of decline, increased government debts have put perhaps 2%-points of upward pressure on the neutral rate: the actual decline has been 6.5%-points.

But I find myself uncertain on what conclusions to draw from their paper. They focus on only one of what I think are three key interest-profit-discount rates in play here:

  1. There is the (short or long) real safe interest rate on the securities of governments that issue reserve currencies and thus possess exorbitant privilege. This is down to today's -0.5% from 3% 20 years ago and 4.5% 40 years ago.

  2. There is the long-term real risky discount rate at which the cash flows accruing to owners of capital are discounted in the market—the expected return on financial investments in stocks. This is at to 5% today, up from 4% 20 years ago, down from 12% 40 years ago, and down from 6% 50 years ago.

  3. There is the societal profit rate earned by new investments in physical or intellectual capital. This is ??? to today's ???, from ??? 20 years ago and from ??? 40 years ago.

This third social profit rate is in some sense the fundamental opportunity-benefit-of-investment ground out by the real economy of production and distribution on top of which the financial superstructure is built.

The second is the quotient of profit flows over the market value stock, and takes the societal profit rate returns to society's capital and adds to them the amount of monopoly rents captured by enterprises, subtracts from them labor rents and spillover benefits, both organizational and technological, that are not captured by those who undertake the actions that generate those spillovers, and then values those cash flows at the long-term risky discount rate.

The first of safe interest rate is the second minus the liquidity and safety terms that lower the required rate of return on safe assets.

Https www brookings edu wp content uploads 2019 03 On Falling Neutral Real Rates Fiscal Policy and the Risk of Secular Stagnation pdf

Łukasz Rachel and Lawrence H. Summers focus on rate (1): the (short or long) real interest rate on the safe securities of governments that issue reserve currencies and thus possess exorbitant privilege. The problem is that the wedge between this (1) safe interest rate and the risky discount rate (2)—the rate at which risky cash flows are discounted—is worse than poorly understood by economists: it is not understood at all.

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Debt-Derangement Syndrome: No Longer Fresh at Project Syndicate—Long Version

Debt Derangement Syndrome by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

Debt-Derangement Syndrome: Standard policy economics dictates that the public sector needs to fill the gap in aggregate demand when the private sector is not spending enough. After a decade of denial, the Global North may finally be returning to economic basics.


For the past decade the public sphere of the Global North has been in a fit of high madness with respect to its excessive fear of government debts and deficits. But this affliction may be breaking. In the past two weeks I have noted two straws in the wind.

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Note to Self: Thinking About Blanchard's Presidential Address...: Blanchard's calculations of the effect of debt on welfare in his AEA Presidential Address all take the form of evaluating the welfare of a generation of economic agents young in some period t after the resolution of all period-t stochastic elements. That is a fine thing to do. That is not quite the same thing as the effect on expected well-being behind the veil of ignorance, from the nunc stans, taken without any knowledge of the resolution of period-t or indeed of any earlier stochastic elements. But I have not yet been able to wrap my head around what the differences are, or how they matter for conclusions. My notes...

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Debt Derangement Syndrome: Fresh at Project Syndicate

Debt Derangement Syndrome by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

Project Syndicate: Debt Derangement Syndrome: Standard policy economics dictates that the public sector needs to fill the gap in aggregate demand when the private sector is not spending enough. After a decade of denial, the Global North may finally be returning to economic basics: For the past decade, politics in the Global North has been in a state of high madness owing to excessive fear of government debts and deficits. But two recent straws in the wind suggest that this may at long last be changing.... Ken Rogoff.... Brendan Greeley... reported... “a panicked email” from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB)... Olivier Blanchard.... What Rogoff and Blanchard are saying today is standard policy economics. In fact, I always found it hard to believe–and still do–that anybody can take exception to it. Whenever the private sector stops spending enough to keep unemployment low and jobs easy to find, the public sector needs to fill the gap in aggregate demand... Read MOAR at Project Syndicate

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Note to Self: Trying and failing to gain conceptual clarity about and work my way through the algebra involved in a minor point in Blanchard's excellent and stimulating presidential address: Public Debt and Low Interest Rates: https://nbviewer.jupyter.org/github/braddelong/WS2019/blob/master/Thinking_About_Blanchard%27s_Presidential_Address....ipynb?flushcache=true...

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Yes, There Are Individual Economists Worth Paying Respect to. But Is Economics Worth Paying Respect to?

Lorenzetti ambrogio bad govern det The Allegory of Good and Bad Government Wikipedia

Blush. To be one of fifteen good economists name-checked by Larry Summers genuinely makes my day—nay, makes my week.

But this gets into a topic I have been worrying at for a long time now. And so let me try once again to say what needs to be said, for I do have to admit that, contrary to what Larry maintains, Fareed Zakaria does have a point when he says that "events have hammered... nails into the coffin of traditional economics" and that, while the question mark at the end is important, it is time to speak of "the end of economics?". Yes, there are very many good economists worth listening to. But does economics as a whole have any claim to authority, or is it better for outsiders' first reaction to be to dismiss its claims as some combination of ideology on the one hand and obsequious toadying to political masters on the other?

Open right now on my virtual desktop, as has been true about 5% of the time over the past fourteen months, is an article forecasting the economic effects of the 2017 Trump-McConnell-Ryan tax cut by nine academic economists: Robert J. Barro, Michael J. Boskin, John Cogan, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Glenn Hubbard, Lawrence B. Lindsey, Harvey S. Rosen, George P. Shultz and John. B. Taylor: How Tax Reform Will Lift the Economy: We believe the Republican bills could boost GDP 3% to 4% long term by reducing the cost of capital. It is, bluntly, unprofessional.

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Larry Summers: Has economics failed us? Hardly: "My friend Fareed Zakaria... writing... “The End of Economics?,” doubting the relevance and utility of economics and economists. Because Fareed is so thoughtful and echoes arguments that are frequently made, he deserves a considered response. Fareed ignores large bodies of economic thought, fails to recognize that economists have been the sources of most critiques of previous economic thinking, tilts at straw men and offers little alternative to economic approaches to public policy...

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Are our models filing systems to remind us in shorthand form of what we think we know—in which case "we" should distrust models that say debt is good—or are they intuition pumps? As I see it, Paul Krugman strongly argues for the first; Olivier Blanchard takes some steps toward the second—which is why there is some dissonance between the tone of and the models in his presidential ddress: Paul Krugman: "A mostly good summary of interesting papers presented at the ASSA https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-07/a-new-urban-divide-and-other-gems-from-the-big-economics-shindig but tellingly misrepresents what the paper by @ojblanchard1 actually said.... It doesn't say anything like 'debt is bad but not catastrophic'. It notes that in simple models a situation like the one we're in, in which interest rates are below growth rates, is one in which debt is actually good https://www.aeaweb.org/aea/2019conference/program/pdf/14020_paper_etZgfbDr.pdf.... Olivier then asks whether realistic complications reverse that result, and finds it unclear—more debt may well actually be good, and in any case probably doesn't do much harm. It's really a radical repudiation of what the Serious People have been saying. So it's misreporting to imply that it's just about downplaying the catastrophic risk aspect; the chairman of the AEA is basically saying that the whole deficit scold enterprise that dominated so much political discourse was bad economics...

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Robert Waldmann (2016): Dynamic Inefficiency: "Is public debt a burden?... It is possible in theory that the answer is no and that higher [initial] public debt causes permanently higher [balanced-growth path] consumption and welfare.... This is called dynamic inefficiency. The standard result from simple models is that an economy is dynamically inefficient if r is less than g where r is the real interest rate and g is the rate of GDP growth...

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Three Papers and Four Graphs and Tables: The Top Marginal Tax Rate

If Arindrajit Dube and I do start our Economic Home podcast, I think that each 30 minute segment should concentrate on two or three (or four) papers and two or three (or four) graphs and tables. Our first proposed topic is the top marginal tax rate. Are these the right papers? Are these the right graphs and tables?

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By Popular Demand: What Is “Modern Monetary Theory”?

Brad DeLong s Grasping Reality

What Is “Modern Monetary Theory”?

Ever since the Great Depression it has been settled doctrine in the nations of the North Atlantic that the government has a responsibility to keep the macroeconomy in balance: The circular flow of spending, production, and incomes should be high enough to keep there from being unnecessary unemployment while also being low enough so that prices and inflation are not surprisingly and distressingly high.

To accomplish this, governments use fiscal policy—the purchase of goods and services, the imposition of taxes, and the provision of transfer payments—and monetary policy—the provision by the central bank to the system of those liquid assets called “money” and its consequent nudging up and down of interest rates and asset prices—to attempt to keep the circular flow of spending, etc., in balance with the economy‘s sustainable productive potential at the expected rate of inflation .

Modern Monetary Theory says (1) that that is all there is to worry about, and (2) that fiscal policy should play the principal role in this balancing process.

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Equitable Growth Steering Committee member Karen Dynan and company point out a big problem. Should we be trying to pay down our debt now in order to create "fiscal space"? Our should we take secular stagnation seriously, and not fear the possibilty of a sudden downward valuation of government debt that would take fiscal space away?: Karen Dynan, Jay Shambaugh, and Eduardo Porter: What Tools Does the U.S. Have to Combat the Next Recession?: "Today's lower equilibrium interest rates make it more likely that monetary policy would need to make use of unconventional tools to spur the economy. On the fiscal front, we have a much larger level of government debt relative to GDP than we did prior to the financial crisis. However, viewing this level of debt to GDP as a reason to restrain stimulus spending in case of a crisis could make the problem worse. Whether the government uses fiscal policy to stimulate the economy will depend more on political willingness, than on the actual limits on fiscal policy...

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David Cho: The Labor Market Effects of Demand Shocks: Firm-Level Evidence from the Recovery Act: "How do firms respond to demand shocks?... Leveraging two firm-level datasets... linked employer-employee administrative records for a subset of U.S. firms from ADP, LLC with a comprehensive database of transactions from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)... I compare firms that received ARRA funds to a counterfactual sample of employers that were not directly connected to the Recovery Act.... The magnitudes of these changes suggest that the labor supply to an individual firm is relatively inelastic, even in a deep recession, and provide evidence of monopsonistic wage-setting in U.S. labor markets...

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Paul Krugman: The Economics of Soaking the Rich: "Diminishing marginal utility is the common-sense notion that an extra dollar is worth a lot less in satisfaction to people with very high incomes than to those with low incomes. Give a family with an annual income of $20,000 an extra $1,000 and it will make a big difference to their lives. Give a guy who makes $1 million an extra thousand and he’ll barely notice it. What this implies for economic policy is that we shouldn’t care what a policy does to the incomes of the very rich. A policy that makes the rich a bit poorer will affect only a handful of people, and will barely affect their life satisfaction, since they will still be able to buy whatever they want...

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Laboratories of democracy! It seems pretty clear that Brownback was in on the grift, but expected—hoped?—that his tax cuts would pull enough activity and people from Kansas City, MO to Kansas City, KS that that plus a normal rapid recovery would allow him to claim a "Kansas boom". But his henchmen still control the Kansas Republican Party: Heather Boushey: Failed Tax-Cut Experiment in Kansas Should Guide National Leaders: "Sam Brownback’s failed “red state experiment” has truly come to an end.... In 2012 and 2013, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law the largest tax cuts in Kansas history. The top state income tax rate fell by nearly one-third and passthrough taxes that affected mainly relatively wealthy individuals were eliminated. With the decline in revenues came significant spending cuts...

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