from David Ruccio
In Europe, there is no need for lower pensions. Maybe for shorter pensions – not for lower pensions. But before starting to think about shorter pensions we first have to get unemployment down and activity rates up. The present combination of high (youth) unemployment and ever lower pensions is a fricking disaster for young and old alike – which is aggravated by cutting entitlements.
The population of the European Union is ageing. This is a problem: we will have to take care of a steeply increasing number of people with Alzheimer and comparable debilitating, care-intensive diseases. But there is, at least during the next decades, no entitlement problem. Pensions can be paid – there is no lack of labour in the European Union, it’s not a supply side problem. At this moment, unemployment is 11,5%. This can and should go down to 3 or 4%. All kind of models used to calculate the burden of pension entitlements assume, in an implicit or explicit way, ‘full employment’. These models can and should be discarded as Mario Draghi is right: we’re far away from full employment – further than pre-2008 type of models. On top of this, productivity in low or medium productivity countries like Spain, Greece, the UK and even more so in Poland and Romania can increase with 2 to 3% a year for an extended period. On top of that, broad ‘U6′ unemployment’ is much higher than official ‘U3′ unemployment. Also, ‘activity ratio’s’ can increase (even when accounting for ‘broad unemployed’). Hey, these are already increasing in a spectacular fashion (graph), all kinds of ideas about structural rigidities preventing this are bogus (employment ratios can however often still easily double). It’s not a supply side problem.
from Peter Radford
This is a bit of a rant. Please bear with me.
I rarely do this, but here’s a link to one of my favorite economics blogs:
The problem with all this self-criticism is that many of the people doing the dissing are responsible for the disarray they are criticizing. A different view is that none of them saw fit to make enough noise to change things.
This may unfair of me.
Notice also that much of this criticism is dated. The wheels have been coming off economics for a long time, yet inertia is sufficient to prevent change.
This may also be unfair of me.
But, ask yourself: where else in our economy could so much analytical ineptitude be tolerated for so long? Where else could repeated failure be fobbed off so easily? Where else could so much fraction, discord, and general incoherence be treated as a “profession”?
If some of the so-called heterodox alternatives to the dominant theories were so compelling surely they would have been more widely accepted. It is not enough to carp about other people’s evident failings – and believe me, as a relative outsider those failings are glaringly evident – because I believe those who complain have a responsibility to build the better alternative. Read more…
France is doing relatively well (graph 1). It clearly escaped the historical unique decline of productivity which took place in the UK (more on this below). And though it did not increase its productivity lead over Germany – it did keep its lead (graph 2).
Despite this clear success of French economic policies and its high rate of productivity, a sign of an effective economic system, France gets a bad press. ‘The Economist’ starts an article about French education with the sentence ‘Wary of competition when it comes to global markets..’. And Tyler Cowen sees France as one of the countries with enhanced risk of secular stagnation, soon to be left behind by history. What a nonsense. Dacia, a Romanian brand of cars owned by Renault, has by far the best quality/safety/size/price combination of all cars on sale in my country. And at least according to this test, the Dacia Sandero is the most dependable European car Read more…
from Peter Radford
Yes it is.
The explanation is found in the genesis of classical economics and then in its idealization of the marketplace.
At its onset the modern neo-liberal project was a search for a way of organizing civil society without that organization being imposed in what had hitherto been an overt political, that is power relationship, sense. Thus the literature in the late 1700′s is brimming with applause for what we would now call the market as a method of coordination. In contemporary thinking we seem to forget that the market back then was seen as a supreme organizing principle for all social activity since the then burgeoning economy was the major issue calling for analysis. The market was posited as an alternative to the prior traditional political problem solution to allocation because it allowed the emerging commercial class to locate itself within a social structure facing great stress. The older regime had no space for commerce as it was being redefined – starting with a redefinition of the word itself. Older societies were based on long established, hierarchical, and unvarying governance of all aspects of life, including what we now describe as economic activity. That governance was centered in traditional sources of power. It was thus deeply political, although people at that time would not have referred to it in that way. Read more…
Jan Mankes was born in 1889 in Meppel, the Netherlands, and died in 1920 from tuberculosis. At the age of twelve he became the apprentice of a glass painter. At eighteen, he was established as an independent artist. Influenced by Tolstoï, ideas about vegetarianism and communal ownership of land, he became the most ‘silent’ painter of the Netherlands. I’m always very impressed by his birds. Read more…
from Lars Syll
There have been over four decades of econometric research on business cycles … The formalization has undeniably improved the scientific strength of business cycle measures …
But the significance of the formalization becomes more difficult to identify when it is assessed from the applied perspective, especially when the success rate in ex-ante forecasts of recessions is used as a key criterion. The fact that the onset of the 2008 financial-crisis-triggered recession was predicted by only a few ‘Wise Owls’ … while missed by regular forecasters armed with various models serves us as the latest warning that the efficiency of the formalization might be far from optimal. Remarkably, not only has the performance of time-series data-driven econometric models been off the track this time, so has that of the whole bunch of theory-rich macro dynamic models developed in the wake of the rational expectations movement, which derived its fame mainly from exploiting the forecast failures of the macro-econometric models of the mid-1970s recession.
The limits of econometric forecasting has, as noted by Qin, been critically pointed out many times before.
Trygve Haavelmo — with the completion (in 1958) of the twenty-fifth volume of Econometrica – assessed the the role of econometrics in the advancement of economics, and although mainly positive of the “repair work” and “clearing-up work” done, Haavelmo also found some grounds for despair: Read more…
Recently, Eurostat published data on labour participation rates in North Africa and the eastern mediterranean. In many of these countries, female labour participation rates (paid labour, that is) are low (graph 1). And they are lower than they used to be (graph 2).
Graph 1. Labour market participation rates, Israel (IL), Morocco (MA), Egypt (EG), Lebanon (LB), Tunisia (TN), Palestine (PL) and Algeria (DZ).
Real ‘micro foundations’ of macro ideas are possible. Asger Lau Andersen, Charlotte Duus and Thais Lærkholm Jensen use data from 800.000 individual Danish households to show the micro-economic underpinnings of ‘balance sheet recessions’. When house prices decline, severely indebted households spend relatively less than less indebted households – even when debt service does not change and the incomes of the indebted households increases more than the income of less indebted households. Remarkably, they do not cite the author intellectualis of the idea of balance recessions, Richard Koo.
Elstat, the Greek statistical office, is still prosecuted for producing reliable statistics
British inflation is still at a historical low.
The increase in employment in the UK is mainly caused by an increase in self-employment. This increase in self-employmnent is mainly caused by fewer people leaving ‘self-employment’.
Despite declines of employment in Estonia and Latvia in the first quarter of 2014, unemployment in the Baltic states is declining (second quarter 2014). Second quarter employment data are not yet available.
In Italy, the business ‘birth rate’ increased in 2013. Turnover has however decreased for the fifth year in a row.
from Dean Baker
Last week Martin Feldstein and Robert Rubin made their case for the gold medal in the economic policy category of the “show no shame” contest. Their entry took the form of a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning that the Fed needs to take seriously the risk of asset bubbles growing in financial markets.
Those familiar with Feldstein and Rubin will instantly appreciate the bold audacity of this entry. They are, respectively, the leading intellectual lights of the Republican and Democratic Party economic policy establishments.
Feldstein was the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Reagan. He also was president of the National Bureau of Economic Research for thirty years and a professor and chair of economics department at Harvard. Almost all of the country’s top conservative economists have either directly studied with Feldstein or one of his protégées.
Robert Rubin was instrumental in creating a solid Democratic base among the Wall Street set. He was rewarded for his efforts with top positions in the Clinton administration, including a stint as Treasury Secretary from 1995 to 1998. Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner both advanced under his tutelage and he continues to be a source of economic wisdom for President Obama and other top figures in the party.
Given their enormous stature, Feldstein and Rubin undoubtedly expected their joint bubble warning to have considerable weight in economic policy circles. Of course this raises the obvious question, why couldn’t Feldstein and Rubin have joined hands to issue this sort of bubble warning ten years ago in 2004 about the housing bubble? If they used their influence to get a column about the dangers of the housing bubble in the Wall Street Journal in the summer of 2004 it might have saved the country and the world an enormous amount of pain. Read more…
from David Ruccio
The Washington Post tries to put a positive spin on the recent pattern of job growth. However, the underlying study (from the National Employment Law Project [pdf]) offers quite a different view: even though jobs gains have recently accelerated in higher-wage industries, the imbalance of especially pronounced gains at the bottom and slow growth in mid-wage industries persists. Read more…
On Voxeu a book about secular stagnation has been published. Can I add something to this? Yes: information on the secular development of the rate of fixed investment (5 graphs).
The book contains a lot of interesting and important ideas about labour (ageing, declining male participation rates), technological possibilities (opinions differ about the magnitude of these possibilities but everybody sees possible improvements in life styles and health) and disequilibrium economics: tenacious interruptions of the flows of money which can not be cured or are even caused by changing relative prices (i.e. lowering then interest rate) are preponderant in the book. And only Smets (from the ECB…), Jimeno and Yiangou still believe in the confidence fairy. But even they advocate a smaller financial sector. ‘Fixed capital’ does however not get enough attention. According to me, progress will be increasingly dependent on household purchases of specialized consumer durables (in combination with cultural changes in life styles) instead of upon government and company ‘fixed investments’ which means that households will have to get the means (i.e. higher incomes) to finance these ‘household investments’. This will not only enable these purchases but it will also be necessary to fill the expenditure gap left by the decrease of government and business fixed investment. Read more…
from Lars Syll
In Andrew Gelman’s and Jennifer Hill’s Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models, the authors list the assumptions of the linear regression model. On top of the list is validity and additivity/linearity, followed by different assumptions pertaining to error charateristics.
Yours truly can’t but concur, especially on the “decreasing order of importance” of the assumptions. But then, of course, one really has to wonder why econometrics textbooks — almost invariably — turn this order of importance upside-down and don’t have more thorough discussions on the overriding importance of Gelman/Hill’s two first points …
Since econometrics doesn’t content itself with only making “optimal predictions,” but also aspires to explain things in terms of causes and effects, econometricians need loads of assumptions — and most important of these are validity and additivity.
Let me take the opportunity to cite one of my favourite introductory statistics textbooks on one further reason these assumptions are made — and why they ought to be much more argued for on both epistemological and ontological grounds when used (emphasis added): Read more…
from David Ruccio
from Peter Radford
In a recent speech I gave on inequality, I described the relevance of economics in a series of quotes thusly:
“Political economy you think is an enquiry into the nature and causes of wealth – I think it should rather be called an enquiry into the laws which determine the division of the produce of industry amongst the classes who concur in its formation” ~ Ricardo to Malthus correspondence, quoted in Sraffa, 1951
“The real scientific study of the distribution of wealth has, we must confess, scarcely yet begun. The conventional academic study of the so-called theory of distribution into rent, interest, wages, and profit is only remotely related to the subject. This subject, the causes and cures for the actual distribution of capital and income among real persons, is one of the many now in need of our best efforts as scientific students of society” ~ Irving Fisher, 1919
“Does Inequality in the distribution of income increase or decrease in the course of a country’s economic growth? What factors determine the secular level and trends of income inequalities? … These are broad questions in a field of study that has been plagued by looseness in definitions, unusual scarcity of data, and pressures of strongly held opinions.” ~ Kuznets, 1955
“I am wandering away from my usual concerns briefly to discuss an even more nagging and pervasive tradeoff, that between inequality and efficiency. It is in my view, our biggest socioeconomic tradeoff, and it plagues us in dozens of dimensions of social policy.” ~ Okun, 1975
“Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution … The potential for improving the lives of poor people by finding different ways of distributing current production is nothing [italics in original] compared to the apparent limitless potential of increasing production.” ~ Lucas, 2004
“Equality lacks relevance if the poor are growing richer.” McCloskey, 2014
The journey from being actively concerned, through a somewhat guilty admission of a lack of progress, to a stab at a general idea, thence to the notion of inequality as a cost of seeking growth, only to arrive, finally, at a patronizing dismissal of the entire topic is an arc of embarrassing failure.
And it’s an engineered slump. A striking fact of the graph above is the sudden stalling of the European recovery around 2011, Q1. This stalling was deliberately caused by Eurozone monetary policies. One can of course point to the ECB interest rate increases of April as well as July 2011. But these increases were, in the end, limited to ‘only’ 0,5%. Much more important, however, is what happened to ‘real economy interest rates’, like those paid by governments and, as governments nowadays are the financer of last resort for banks, therewith to rates paid by households and non-financial companies (graph 2).
Graph 2. Difference between interest rates paid by Italian, Spanish and French governments and the German government Read more…
The UK labour market does well. The number of jobs increased with 2,7%, year on year. The total number of hours worked increased with 3,4% which means, as earnings per hour show (low) growth of about +0,6% and consumer price inflation is about 2%, an increase of 2% in total spending power. As a lot of the increase in jobs as well the increase in wages is in low wage occupations (the high wage financial sector is still under siege), where people have a high marginal propensity to spend additional income, the fast increase of the number of jobs together with rather low pay increases boosts consumer spending. Also, according to Eurostat, UK GDP increased with 3,1% which indicates that average (!) productivity is still declining, albeit slightly. Caveat: all these data are based upon three month averages, the not-official single month data for June show somewhat less positive developments.
The ONS (the UK statistical Office) does not only measure the level of unemployment but also flows of people in and out of employment, unemployment and inactivity. According to these data, during Read more…
According to official data, by far the larger part of fixed assets in Germany consist of land and land related investments like houses and buildings. This pattern is typical for rich countries. Note that Germany was one of the few countries to escape the international house price boom of the 1990-2008 period. Note that the data do not even include agricultural land.’Machinery and equipment’, i.e. trucks, cars, planes and machinery and the like, are of relatively minor importance, to an extent because they depriciate faster than buildings.
Printing income. When I borrow money to buy an existing house this is not counted as ‘production’ in the national accounts (though it does increase the amount of money). When I borrow money to buy a house and to pay the fee of the real estate agent the fee is counted as an increase in income and production. Large scale constructions like this one (IPO’s…) drove profit growth in the banking sector, since 1990.
Leaving the train station. In 2013, use of public means of transport in Spain declined with about 6% – for the fifth year in a row.
Isaac Asimov and the representative consumer. <strong>Foundation and earth is an interesting science fiction novel by Asimov about the representative consumer (the hive-mind of the Gaia planet), agent based modelling (‘psycho history’), a world inhabited by 1200 homo economicus individuals (who, interestingly, changed themselves into ultra-intelligent hermaphrodites who never meet in the flesh and only trade with each other via video) Read more…
from Lars Syll
Almost a century and a half after Léon Walras founded neoclassical general equilibrium theory, economists still have not been able to show that markets move economies to equilibria.
We do know that — under very restrictive assumptions — equilibria do exist, are unique and are Pareto-efficient. After reading Franklin M. Fisher‘s masterly paper The stability of general equilibrium: results and problems one however has to ask oneself — what good does that do? Read more…