My paper for the Notre Dame conference on "public intellectualism" is finally making its way through the publication process...
I. The Salience Today of the Economic
Sit down some evening and watch the news on the TV, or scan the magazine covers in the supermarket, or simply immerse yourself in modern America...
A. Elements of Public-Square Gossip
If you are like me, you will be struck by the extent to which our collective public conversation focuses on seven topic areas:
The personal doings of the beautiful, the powerful, and the rich – and how to become more like them.
Local threats and dangers, especially to children.
Amusements – usually gossip about the past or about our imaginary friends, frenemies, etc. (it is amazing how many people I know who have strong opinions about Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen1 – many more than have any opinions at all about her creator George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire novels on which “Game of Thrones”2 is based).
How to best procure necessities and conveniences.
Large scale dangers (and, rarely, opportunities): plagues, wars and rumors of wars, the fall and rise of dynasties, etc.
“The economy”: unemployment, spending, inflation, construction, stock market values, and bond market interest rates.
Now out of these seven topic areas, the first six are found not just in our but in other societies as far back as we have records. They are common in human history as far back as we have been writing things down, or singing long story-songs to one another around the campfire.
What, after all, is the story of Akhilleus, Hektor, and Agamemnon in Homer’s Iliad but a combination of (1), (4), and (6)?3
Last year I published an essay (DeLong, 2000) arguing that modern Keynesians are really monetarists. Even if they--we--do not really like to admit it, most of the key elements in how modern "new Keynesian" economists view the world are derived from or heavily influenced by the work of Milton Friedman.
But that essay left me unsatisfied, for it was only half of the story.
Courtesy of an unknown lurker informing the Mineshaft that "Graeber, on Twitter, sourced [his] Apple claim to his memory of a lecture by Richard Wolff", and of bjk commenting on More on Graeber, I am led to the… unusual opinions… of neo-Althusserian structuralist wingnut--and guy who made it pleasant to be at U.Mass--Richard D. Wolff:
Economic Crisis from a Socialist Perspective: Beginnings for the "reform plus" strategy: The contradictions of capitalism offer us partial yet useful examples of the democratization of enterprise advocated by this “reform plus” agenda. One of these, recurring in California for decades, can illustrate our argument.
...Asked to comment on Keynes’ famous observation “In the long run we are all dead,” I suggested that Keynes was perhaps indifferent to the long run because he had no children, and that he had no children because he was gay. This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’ wife Lydia miscarried.
This is a book that anyone interested in international economic policy and the possible destinies of the world economy needs to read. Paul Krugman is, as I have said before, the best claimant to the mantle of John Maynard Keynes: an extremely knowledgeable professional economist, an excellent writer, and an incisive critic of what international economic policymakers are doing wrong.
...should be taught in Econ 101. I say production possibilities yes, Edgeworth box no--which, strange to say, is how we deal with this issue in Krugman/Wells. But students who go on to major in economics should be exposed to the box--and those who go on to grad school really, really need to have seen it, and in general need more simple general-equilibrium analysis than, as far as I can tell, many of them get these days. There was, clearly, a time when economics had too many pictures. But now, I suspect, it doesn’t have enough....
First draft October 13, 1997; second draft January 1, 1998.
'Robber Barons': that was what U.S. political and economic commentator Matthew Josephson (1934) called the economic princes of his own day. Today we call them 'billionaires.' Our capitalist economy--any capitalist economy--throws up such enormous concentrations of wealth: those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, driven and smart enough to see particular economic opportunities and seize them, foresighted enough to have gathered a large share of the equity of a highly-profitable enterprise into their hands, and well-connected enough to fend off political attempts to curb their wealth (or well-connected enough to make political favors the foundation of their wealth).
Revised and Extended: I could now talk about the risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. You have already heard a lot about the risks in the previous session here. You have heard about dispute resolution and about intellectual property. You have heard about instituting largely-untested dispute resolution procedures in such a way that they will be very difficult indeed to amend or suspend or replace or adjust in the future.
We all know very well the eurozone’s ongoing experience. We remember that the euro single currency is in its origins a geopolitical project. We remember the origins of the eurozone at Maastricht—the decision of the great and good of Europe that something needed to be done to bind Europe more closely together in the wake of the absorption into the Bundesrepublik of the German East and the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The creation of a single currency was clearly something.
Brad DeLong is a professor of economics at UC Berkeley, where his research focuses on financial crises and 20th century macroeconomics, as well as the political economy of monetary and fiscal policy. He has taught at Harvard University and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under the Clinton Administration. Below, he and Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius discuss risks around liftoff and the structural downshift in rates.
Let me back up: Here in the United States, the current framework for macroeconomic policy holds that the economy is nearly normalized, that further extraordinary expansionary and fiscal policy moves carry "risks", and that as a result the right policy is stay-the-course. I was arguing that the Economist Left Opposition demand--for substantially more expansionary monetary and fiscal policies right now until we see the whites of the eyes of rising inflatio--was soundly-based in orthodox lowbrow Hicks-Patinkin-Tobin macro theory. That is the macro theory that economists like Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, and Stan Fischer taught their entire academic careers.
Over at Talking Points Memo: The Melting Away of North Atlantic Social Democracy: Hotshot French economist Thomas Piketty, of the Paris School of Economics, looked at the major democracies with North Atlantic coastlines over the past couple of centuries. He saw five striking facts:
First, ownership of private wealth—with its power to command resources, dictate where and how people would work, and shape politics—was always highly concentrated.
Second, 150 years—six generations—ago, the ratio of a country’s total private wealth to its total annual income was about six.
Third, 50 years—two generations—ago, that capital-income ratio was about three.
Fourth, over the past two generations that capital-income ratio has been rising rapidly.
Fifth, the flow of income to the owner of the dollar capital did not rise when capital was relatively scarce, but plodded along at a typical net rate of profit of about 5% per year generation after generation.
He wondered what these facts predicted for the shape of the major North Atlantic economies in the 21st century. And so he wrote a big book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century**READ MOAR at Talking Points Memo
John Cochrane is quite critical of Robert Shiller.... He... thinks that Shiller is trying to make finance less quantitative and more literary (I somehow doubt this, given that Shiller is first and foremost an econometrician, and not that literary of a guy).
Jack Morton Auditorium, George Washington University :: April 15-16, 2015
It has now been seven years since the onset of the global financial crisis. A central question is how the crisis has changed our view on macroeconomic policy. The IMF originally tackled this issue at a 2011 conference and again at a 2013 conference. Both conferences proved very successful, spawning books titled In the Wake of the Crisis and What Have We Learned? published by the MIT Press.
The time seemed right for another assessment. Research has continued, policies have been tried, and the debate has been intense. How much progress has been made? Are we closer to a new framework? To address these questions the IMF organized a follow up conference on "Rethinking Macro Policy III: Progress or Confusion?", which took place at the Jack Morton Auditorium in George Washington University, Washington DC, on April 15–16, 2015.
The conference was co-organized by IMF Economic Counselor Olivier Blanchard, RBI Governor Raghu Rajan, and Harvard Professors Ken Rogoff and Larry Summers. It brought together leading academics and policymakers from around the globe, as well as representatives from civil society, the private sector, and the media. Attendance was by invitation only.
Wrap Up Video:
Session IV: Fiscal Policy in the Future Video:
Vitor Gaspar, Marco Buti, Martin Feldstein, Brad DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong
On the Proper Size of the Public Sector, and the Proper Level of Public Debt, in the Twenty-First Century
Olivier Blanchard, when he parachuted me into the panel, asked me to “be provocative.”
So let me provoke:
My assigned focus on “fiscal policy in the medium term” has implications. It requires me to assume that things are or will be true that are not now or may not be true in the future, at least not for the rest of this decade and into the next. It makes sense to distinguish the medium from the short term only if the North Atlantic economies will relatively soon enter a regime in which the economy is not at the zero lower bound on safe nominal interest rates. The medium term is at a horizon at which monetary policy can adequately handle all of the demand-stabilization role.
I have been playing with FOLD, and having fun. Here I take the transcript of the New York Comic Con "Trekonomics" panel created by the extremely-productive-on-long-airplane-flights Izabella Kaminska, add to it, and annotate it...
Hey! Why hasn't the Financial Times paid for her to step back from Alphaville and turn her Beyond Scarcity series of weblog posts into a book?
Over at Equitable Growth: The very sharp and energetic Peter Passell, who runs the Milken Institute Review these days, commissioned me to write a reader's guide to the secular stagnation debate. I set it up as a four-corner cage match--Bernanke, Rogoff, Krugman, and Summers--and I am proud of it. (But I have to offer apologies to those--Koo, Blanchard, Feldstein come most immediately to mind, but there are others--who have their own serious positions that are not completely and satisfactorily understood as linear combinations of the four I chose to be my basis vectors.) It is out:
Bernanke... says we have entered an age of a “global savings glut.”... Rogoff... points to the emergence of global “debt supercycles.”... Krugman warns of the return of “Depression economics.” And... Summers calls for broad structural shifts in government policy to deal with “secular stagnation.” READ MOAR
...and seeing low wage growth as consistent with the view that the productivity slowdown is real.... The unobserved component approach suggests that productivity growth decelerated to an annualized pace of just 0.82 percent by the second quarter of this year... [in line with] Fed staff estimates of potential GDP growth range from roughly 1.6 to 1.8 percent through 2020.... Yellen might think back to the 1990’s, when a surprise rise in productivity growth temporarily lowered the natural rate of unemployment... [and] reverse that logic now and think that the arguments for tighter policy are stronger....
...All pre-industrial societies, I thought, were Malthusian... at the edge of subsistence... [with] a small elite, 5 or 10 percent... liv[ing] on resources extorted.... This model still seems to me to be pretty good for the Roman Empire. But, at least as Goldsworthy describes it, the Roman Republic at the time of the Punic Wars was something very different... social solidarity... loyal allies... strong commitment from a large fraction of the population... military manpower... durability.... Are there any other examples in history like this? And how did they do it?
Sokrates: Yes.... The stream... so... who want to either read what is new or to treat the site as a weblog--that is, have a sustained engagement and conversation with the website considered as a Turing-class hivemind--can do so.... The front-end... to give each piece of content a visually-engaging and subhead-teaser informative welcome mat.... The syndication... to propagate the front-end cards out to Twitter and Facebook.... The stock... a pathway... by which people can pull things written in the past... relevant... to their concerns today.... The grammar: The visually-interesting and subhead-teaser front-end... needs to lead the people who would want to and enjoy engaging with the content to actually do so.... [But,] as William Goldman says, nobody knows anything.
Platon: Is there anybody whose degree of not-knowingness is even slightly less than the degree of not-knowingness of the rest of us?...
Sokrates: My guess... http://www.vox.com--Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell and company--are most likely to be slightly less not-knowing than the rest of us....
Olivier Blanchard, when he parachuted me into this panel, asked me to “be provocative”.
So let me provoke:
My assigned focus on “fiscal policy in the medium term” has implications. It requires me to assume that things are or will be true that are not now or may not be true in the future, at least not for the rest of this and into the next decade. It makes sense to distinguish the medium from the short term only if the North Atlantic economies will relatively soon enter a régime in which the economy is not at the zero lower bound on safe nominal interest rates. The medium term is at a horizon at which monetary policy can adequately handle all of the demand-stabilization role. READ MOAR
Section 18031 [of the Affordable Care Act--i.e., the ObamaCare Law--] provides that “[e]ach State shall . . . establish an American Health Benefit Exchange..." [But] if [a] State chooses not to do so, Section 18041 provides that the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] “shall . . . establish and operate such Exchange..." (emphasis added [by Roberts]).... The phrase “such Exchange”... instructs the Secretary to establish and operate the same Exchange that the State was directed to establish.... Black’s Law Dictionary 1661... (defining “such” as “That or those; having just been mentioned”).... State Exchanges and Federal Exchanges are equivalent—they must meet the same requirements, perform the same functions, and serve the same purposes...
A simple matter of black-letter law, no? The plain meaning of the phrase "such Exchange" means that anything legal that is true of a health-insurance exchange established by, say, the state of New York is also true of a health-insurance exchange established by the federal government for, say, the state of Florida if the state of Florida fails to establish its exchange, no?
Let me begin by thanking Matt Rognlie for doing some very serious and thoughtful digging into this set of factor-payments data. That digging leaves me in an ideal position for a discussant: There are interesting and important numbers. These numbers have not been put together in this way before. The author is wise enough not to believe he has nailed what the numbers mean to the floor. Thus I am in an excellent position to, if not add intellectual value, at least to claim a lavish intellectual-rent share of Matt Rognlie's product.
At that time--or, rather, in that logical state to which the economy will converge if values of future shocks are set to zero--expected inflation will be constant at about the 2% per year that the Federal Reserve has announced as its target. At that time the short-term safe nominal rate of interest will be equal to that 2% per year of expected inflation, plus the real profits on marginal investments, minus a rate-of-return discount because short-term government bonds are safe and liquid. At that time the money multiplier will be a reasonable and a reasonably stable value. At that time the velocity of money will be a reasonable and a reasonably stable value. Why? Because of the powerful incentive to economize on cash holdings provided by the the sacrifice of several percent per year incurred by keeping cash in your wallet rather than in bonds. And at that time the price level will be proportional to the monetary base. READ MOAR
Over at Equitable Growth: Back in 1959 Arthur Burns, lifelong senior Republican policymaker, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Eisenhower, good friend of and White House Counselor to President Nixon, and Chair of the Federal Reserve from 1970 to 1978 gave the presidential address to the American Economic Association. In it, he concluded that the United States and a lot of choices to make as far as its future economic institutions and economic policies were concerned. And, he said:
These... choices will have to be made by the people of the United States; and economists--far more than any other group--will in the end help to make them...
That's you. "Economists", that is. And I am glad to be here, because I am glad that you are joining us. For we--all of us in America--need you. Arthur Burns was right: you are better-positioned than any other group to help us make the right choices, at the level of the world and of the country as a whole, but also at the level of the state, the city, the business, the school district, the NGO seeking to figure out how to spend its limited resources--whatever. READ MOAR
Hypatia: I would like to start by offering the floor to the Great and Good Felix Salmon:
Felix Salmon: To All the Young Journalists Asking for Advice...: I’m also very flattered by the lovely things you said... about how you’d love to have a career in journalism... do[ing] the kind of thing... I do. You won’t.... By the time you’re my age... you’ll... be doing something... nobody today... foresee[s]....The obstacles facing you are much greater than anything I managed to overcome.... The exact same forces which are good for journalism and good for owners are the forces which are bad for journalists....
One of the things that was supposed to get done in January but didn't was a revision of this piece--it is now three years out-of-date, after all, and while it is still useful it is less useful than it was, or would be were I to properly review and update it. But it did not get done in January. It is not going to get done in February. So I am putting it up both as a useful (albeit somewhat out of date) resource, but primarily as a reproach to myself to get cracking on the revision in my copious spare time...
The policy debate on the sources, causes and potential solutions to rising income and wealth inequality has intensified in the past few years. Recently, French economist Thomas Piketty’s popular book 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' garnered much attention and ignited further debate about these issues. Piketty argues that wealth will inevitably become more concentrated under capitalism because the returns to wealth are larger than economic growth rates. The solution he proposes is a coordinated global tax on wealth. The Baker Institute's Tax and Expenditure Policy Program will host two renowned economists to discuss the underlying causes and consequences of inequality, evaluate the empirical evidence of rising inequality, and examine potential solutions for dealing with these problems in the United States.
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION: John W. Diamond, Ph.D., Edward A. and Hermena Hancock Kelly Fellow in Public Finance, Baker Institute
R. Glenn Hubbard, Ph.D.: Dean and Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics, Columbia Business School
J. Bradford DeLong, Ph.D.: Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley
MODERATOR: George R. Zodrow, Ph.D., Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Chair of Economics; and Baker Institute Rice Faculty Scholar.
I am very happy to be here, especially as Texas is a state I get to relatively rarely. I have unusually few relatives in it, you see. When the DeLongs got to Wichita they decided to turn north rather than south and wound up in DeKalb County, Illinois. And those who did end up here decamped to North Carolina, leaving me with none until last year when my cousin Annie and her husband moved to Dallas. The last time my wife and I spent any extended time in Texas was on our honeymoon, when we were washed out of our campsite in a swamp near the Louisiana border by a midnight mid-June thunderstorm, so we bypassed Galveston and Houston and then spent a week and a half going Austin-San Antonio-Permian Basin-El Paso.
There is an important purpose of an opening keynote talk like this one. Its task is to start from first principles and then give a large-scale bird's-eye overview to what is to come. We have panels to come on monetary policy, balance-sheet adjustment and growth, inequality and its role in generating internal macroeconomic imbalances, external macroeconomic rebalancing, and banking sector regulation. They all presuppose that Europe, and within it the regions of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe that we focus on here, need not just higher aggregate demand in the short-term but more. They need large-scale sectoral rebalancing. And that sectoral rebalancing needs to be rapid. Why? Because these economies will not grow smoothly without deep structural reforms--in these reforms need to be not just at the bottom but at the top, reforms of institutions, governance structures, and regulatory practices and mandates need to be carried out as well.
My problem this morning is that I have four starting points. Or maybe my problem is that I have five starting points:
I. A Little Dutch History
My first starting point is the history of the Netherlands.
I would have to be more rash indeed than the fifteenth century's Charles de Valois-Burgogne,2 the last sovereign Duke of Burgundy, to dare to opine about classical Dutch history with Jan de Vries in the room. But my read of it tells me that "political union" is a very vague and sketchy concept indeed. Consider the "political union" of what was surely the strongest power in seventeenth-century Western Europe: the seven United Provinces of the Netherlands that dominated the economy and were the political-military lynchpin of the coalition to contain the aggressive King Louis XIV Bourbon of France. READ MOAR
Recently, I wrote an article on the role of fiscal policy on economic growth. I argued that, if we want to raise living standards of future generations, a major priority should be reducing the long-term ratio of public debt to GDP. (I also suggested that, since the benefits of higher economic growth disproportionately accrue to high-income households, those households should bear the brunt of the costs of fiscal consolidation.)
In response, Berkeley Economics Professor Brad Delong asked, “Why would anyone seek today to relatively downweight virtually any other economic policy priority in order to focus on the deficit?” At the risk of oversimplifying, Delong offers two classes of reasons for asking his question:
Sokrates: If you wanted a focus group for the core target audience of the Old New Republic, you would look for intellectually-curious left-of-center engaged intellectuals not themselves subject-matter experts in policy and politics. And on the internet the single most concentrated slice of such people are found in the commentariat at the website http://unfogged.com. Their Ringmaster assembles such a focus group. It isn't pretty, but I do think it is an accurate picture of what has been wrought by all those liberal writers and editors who were...
Artaphernes: ...were for three decades and more willing to go the extra mile to suck up to the various and manifold bigotries of Martin Peretz and company. Isn't that what you were going to say, Sok?
Sokrates: Anyway, here are selections from the thread:
Ogged and Company:
Teach Me: I've read so much blather about The New Republic's shake-up that I'm just going to skip the links and ask a simple question: in the last thirty years, what are its five best pieces of political writing?
The other contributions to Brink Lindsey's Cato Institute Online Economic Growth Forum have all been things I can engage--things that make me think, that are individual economists' honest and good-faith attempts to say where the fruit is to be picked in terms of boosting America's economic growth.
Then comes Douglas Holtz-Eakin.
And, I must say, it seems to me that it really is time for some sort of disciplinary boundary-patrol police action/intervention here...
Holtz-Eakin's piece seems to me to be, in the context of the other--remarkably good--pieces that Brink Lindsey has commissioned, a very strange intrusion from some alternative non-technocratic discursive universe--a veritable Colour out of Space:
That same nameless intrusion which Ammi had come to recognise and dread... the shaft of phosphorescence from the well was getting brighter and brighter, bringing to the minds of the huddled men a sense of doom and abnormality which far outraced any image their conscious minds could form...
Some questions for the authors of the contributions that struck me as the most interesting...
Two Questions for Scott Sumner: First Question: Why has nominal GDP targeting not already swept the economics community? It really ought to have. Second Question: I believe in nominal GDP targeting--especially if coupled with some version of "social credit" at or near the zero lower bound. But a look back at the history of ideas about a proper "neutral" monetary policy--Newton’s fixed price of gold, Hayek’s fixed nominal GDP level, Fisher’s fixed price-level commodity basket, Friedman’s stable M2 growth rate, the NAIRU targeting of the 1970s, Bernanke’s inflation-targeting—leads immediately to the conclusion that anybody who claims to have uncovered the Philosopher’s Stone here is a madman. How can you reassure me that I (and you) are not mad?
...of the long-run growth rate in the economy.... But it does offer one of the cheapest ways of boosting growth. Unlike fiscal programs such as infrastructure, there is virtually no cost to improving monetary policy.... Elsewhere (2014) I’ve argued that a policy of nominal GDP targeting would smooth out the business cycle and undercut many of the arguments for counterproductive policies.... We need to convince other economists that nominal GDP targeting is the way to go. Once we do so, the Fed will follow the consensus. READ MOAR
But it is too long! 3000 words! Help! What can I do?
Oeconomicarus: But I thought you read 300 books a year?
Princeps Cogitationis: I read the last chapter of 300 books a year. Then I read three short reviews of each. And then I opine fearlessly. Working through a difficult 3000-word argument and assessing it is not a good use of my time. READ MOAR