“In this interregnum morbid phenomena of the most varied kind come to pass”

February 25, 2017 2 comments

from David Ruccio

chart2

In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci wrote: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum morbid phenomena of the most varied kind come to pass.”*

The world is once again living an interregnum. It is poised between the failed economic model of recovery from the crash of 2007-08 and the birth of a new model, one that would actually work for the majority of Americans.**

Morbid symptoms abound, including slow economic growth, persistent poverty, and obscene levels of inequality. Perhaps even more significant, especially at this point in the so-called recovery, when according to mainstream economists and policymakers full employment has been achieved, workers’ wages are actually declining.   Read more…

The “Free Traders” do not believe in free trade: #46,765

February 25, 2017 3 comments

from Dean Baker

The concept of “free trade” has acquired near religious status among policy types. All serious people are supposed to swear their allegiance to it and deride anyone who questions its universal benefits.

Unfortunately, almost none of the people who pronounce themselves devotees of free trade actually do consistently advocate free trade policies. Rather they push selective protectionist policies, that have the effect of redistributing income to people like them, and call them “free trade.”

The NYT gave us yet one more example of a selective protectionist masquerading as a free trader in a column this morning by Jochen Bittner, a political editor for Die Zeit. Bittner contrasts the free trading open immigration types, who calls Lennonists (in the spirit of John Lennon’s song, Imagine) and the Bannonists who are nationalists followers of Steve Bannon or his foreign equivalents.

The problem with this easy division is that the “free traders” wholeheartedly support very costly protectionist measures in the form of ever stronger and longer patent and copyright protections. These protections redistribute several hundred billions dollars annually (at least 3 percent of GDP in the United States) from the bulk of the population to the small group of people who are in a position to benefit from these government granted monopolies.   Read more…

Da wird jetzt wider in die Hände gespuckt! (Omurgasız sırtını oraya yasla!). Marxloh edition.

February 25, 2017 Leave a comment

img_20170225_0738321

Hi from Marxloh! I’m finding myself with junior in Marloh (to watch Schalke ’04)and it happens to be the most steampunk city I’ve ever been. It is part of Duisberg, a city inside the ‘Ruhrgebiet’, the German equivalent of the USA rust belt except that it’s not rusty but Europe’s largest steelhub (according to a sign along the road). Marxloh, which became a suburb for labourers can nowadays really be called Little Turkey (with capitals. It’s population increased from 352 in 1895 to 35.872 only twenty years later, in 1925. Nowadays, 18.000 people are living here, more than half of them ‘foreigners’ (mainly Turks and on the main street Turkish is omnipresent). But the number of inhabitants is fortunately increasing again. The main street (Wellenstrasse) is great. When there is one bridal shop in town it is probably thriving. When there are two in town, both of them will be struggling. But when you have 20 – people will come flocking to your bridal hub, which seems to have happened to the Wellenstrasse. The bridal shops are Turkish but the style is very much the typically western romantic white gown style (and an occasional suit for the groom, too). Also lots of extreme bling shops (and small supermarkets with a larger array of vegetables than large supermarkets in the Netherlands). The bling contributes with the steel industry to the steampunk feeling.

Read more…

Solow kicking Lucas and Sargent in the pants

February 24, 2017 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll

In opening the conference, Frank Morris mentioned his disappointment or disillusionment – which many others share – that the analytical success of the 1960s didn’t survive that decade. I think we all knew, even back in the 1960s, that as Geof put it, “inflation doesn’t wait for full employment.” These days inflation doesn’t even seem to care if full employment is going along on the trip … The question is: what are the possible responses that economists and economics can make to those events?

robert_solow4One possible response is that of Professors Lucas and Sargent. They describe what happened in the 1970s in a very strong way with a polemical vocabulary reminiscent of Spiro Agnew. Let me quote some phrases that I culled from thepaper: “wildly incorrect,” “fundamentally flawed,” “wreckage,” “failure,” “fatal,” “of no value,” “dire implications,” “failure on a grand scale,” “spectacular recent failure,” “no hope” … I think that Professors Lucas and Sargent really seem to be serious in what they say, and in turn they have a proposal for constructive research that I find hard to talk about sympathetically. They call it equilibrium business cycle theory, and they say very firmly that it is based on two terribly important postulates — optimizing behavior and perpetual market clearing. When you read closely, they seem to regard the postulate of optimizing behavior as self-evident and the postulate of market-clearing behavior as essentially meaningless. I think they are too optimistic, since the one that they think is self-evident I regard as meaningless and the one that they think is meaningless, I regard as false. The assumption that everyone optimizes implies only weak and uninteresting consistency conditions on their behavior. Anything useful has to come from knowing what they optimize, and what constraints they perceive. Lucas and Sargent’s casual assumptions have no special claim to attention …

Read more…

Links. Debt as a social connivance

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment
  1. Action! ‘the campaign to demand that the ECB publish the legal opinion it commissioned on whether its closure of Greece’s banks in 2015 was… legal’. Sign!
  2. Europe is waking up to its gargantuan, awkward and 100% home made bad private debts problem. Any solution requires writing down hundreds of billions of debt.
  3. Michael Hudson on ‘clean sheet’ debt policies in Mesopotamia. Fun fact: cuneiform records show that clerks had to master compound interest calculations.
  4. Low interest policies of modern central banks are not really ‘clean sheet’policies but they try to deal with the same debt problems as the rulers of Mesopotamia. The 2015 annual report of the Bundesbank shows that Germany earned 0,05% interest on its Target2 assets (p.92). Still, quite a profit: 279 million (p. 93, at the beginning of the year the interest rate was higher).
  5. Positive money has a model which shows that if interest received is spent again people do not necessarily have to borrow more money to be able to pay interest. But the model abstract from the problem that some debts are owed to banks and others to non-banks. If the debts to the banks are paid down – the amount of money will actually decline as borrowing from the banks is what created modern money in the first place.
  6. Nowadays, making a connection between low interest rates and low population growth is in vogue. Samuelson predicted this relation in his 1958 article ‘An Exact Consumption-Loan Model of Interest with or without the Social Contrivance of Money’.

How to turn a recession into a depression

February 23, 2017 10 comments

from David Ruccio

eurozone-greece-poverty

Greece is a perfect example of how to turn a bad economic situation into something even worse. As Reuters reports,  Read more…

Cutting wages is not the solution

February 22, 2017 7 comments

from Lars Syll

axA couple of years ago yours truly had a discussion with the chairman of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences (yes, the one that yearly presents the winners of The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel). What started the discussion was the allegation that the level of employment in the long run is a result of people’s own rational intertemporal choices and that how much people work basically is a question of incentives.

Somehow the argument sounded familiar.

When being awarded the ‘Nobel prize’ for 2011, Thomas Sargent declared that workers ought to be prepared for having low unemployment compensations in order to get the right incentives to search for jobs. The Swedish right-wing finance minister at the time appreciated Sargent’s statement and declared it to be a “healthy warning” for those who wanted to increase compensation levels.

The view is symptomatic. As in the 1930s, more and more right-wing politicians – and some economists – now suggest that lowering wages is the right medicine to strengthen the competitiveness of their faltering economies, get the economy going, increase employment and create growth that will get rid of towering debts and create balance in the state budgets.  Read more…

How India became Bill Gates’ guinea pig: A conspiracy as recounted by the main actors

February 22, 2017 1 comment

from Norbert Häring

Microsoft’s Bill Gates is one of the richest and most influential people on earth. He announced in 2015 that his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was aiming at achieving full digitalization of the payment systems of India and other populous developing countries by 2018. This “financial inclusion” program for India dates back to well before Narendra Modi came to power. It was elevated to official US policy by Executive Order in 2012, because the President saw vital US security interests are at stake.

Speaking for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the “Financial Inclusion Forum” in Washington, organized by the Treasury Department and USAID on December 1, 2015, Bill Gates said (min 17):

“Full digitalization of the economy may happen in developing countries faster than anywhere else. It is certainly our goal to make it happen in the next three years in the large developing countries. We have very significant efforts in Nigeria, Pakistan and India, (and) a dozen other countries, where we work with the central banks to make sure that the right kind of transaction switch is available…(min 20)…We worked directly with the central bank there (India) over the last three years and they created a new type of authorization called the payments bank, and those customers will be able to use their mobile phones to perform basic financial transactions. And 11 entities applied, including all the mobile phone providers, and were granted that payment bank status.”

“Financial Inclusion” was defined by PayPal-CEO Dan Schulman in an interview during the forum as:

“Financial Inclusion is a buzz word for bringing people into the system.”

The cooperation of the Gates foundation and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is and has been a very tight one. Nachiket Mor, a “Yale World Fellow”, is head of the Gates Foundation India. He is also a board member of the RBI, with responsibility for financial supervision. He chaired the RBI Committee on the Licensing of Payment Banks and a financial inclusion committee that the RBI convened in 2013.

+++Note: Since this text puts forward a conspiracy theory, I want to let the actors and their documents speak  for themselves as much as possible. Where my own judgement and additional information figure in significantly, as in the following lines, it will be in italics and clearly marked. If you are skeptical, you may want to jump over those sections in italics in a first round, to not be unduly influenced in your interpretation of the quotes from the main actors and their documents.   Read more…

The Indian ‘no more cash’ experiment

February 22, 2017 2 comments

“Our major competitor is cash. Cash is what we seek to eliminate”

Recently, the Indian government overnight abolished most cash. With dire consequences. What are the economic consequences, why did the Indian government do this?

    1. Economies like those of India have, for a bunch of reasons, often relatively high rates of inflation. After the abolishing of cash, India suddenly experienced ‘ugly’ deflation (‘ugly’ i.e. provoked by a fall in demand as well as contributing to this fall in demand)india2
    2. Norbert Häring convincingly argues that the Indian government was pushed by ‘fintech’ and the USA government, with Bill Gates playing an especially important role. And we haven’t seen the end of this. No quotes, soon a separate blogpost.
    3. Zerohedge shows some of the micro consequences. Money is a ‘social contrivance’, as shown by this quote:

      “It was a booming sunrise industry before November 8th. Not now,” said Vipin Malhan, president of the Noida Entrepreneurs Association, who also runs a business that makes cellphone accessories here. “Many small factories and assembling units, which used to work round-the-clock, with three shifts, have scaled down to just a single shift. We are all in shock now. One word that businesses dread is ‘uncertainty.’ The government has thrown that at us.” Several small- and medium-scale industrial clusters, employing a total of more than 80 million people across India, are reporting declining sales, production slowdowns and layoffs since bills worth 500 and 1,000 Indian rupees were invalidated (500 Indian rupees is worth about $7.40). Towns famous for weavers, lockmakers, power looms, bicycle-parts manufacturers, ready-made garments and handicrafts face rising inventories of unsold goods. …Mishra’s office is conducting 50 training sessions every day in small industrial hubs to help residents transition to cashless transactions. But many business owners in these clusters say it is not easy to change because daily wage laborers do not accept checks and do not have smartphones with Internet”

    4. Here, an article by Kavya Sukamar, an Indian woman, about dowries. She and her husband refuse to pay up $ 500.000,– for her (Illegal!) sister-in-law’s dowry. Which will lead to a family crisis. Dowries are paid in cash. If there is no Indian cash, other cash will be used. The point: abolishing Indian currency won’t lead to the abolishment of the evil of dowry and other crimes (a very and intelligent good article but somehow the end of it strikes me as too polished).

Summarizing: the consequences for India are dire, the reasons why India did it are in the best interests of USA fintech.

Financialization, austerity and pension funds

February 22, 2017 2 comments

from Maria Alejandra Madi

By 2020, the largest pools of pension fund assets are projected to remain concentrated in the US and Europe. In North America, pension fund assets reached $19.3 trillion in 2012 and PwC estimates that by 2020, pension fund assets will rise by 5.7 percent a year to achieve over $30 trillion of the $56.5 trillion in total global assets, more than 50 percent of the global total.

Indeed, according to the PwC report, Asset Management 2020: A Brave New World, demographic changes, accelerating urbanization, technological innovations and shifts in economic power are reshaping the asset management environment where pension funds have been playing and  will play an outstanding role in the global saving and investment process.  Three key factors seems to stimulate the global growth in assets: i) changes in government-incentivized or government-mandated retirement plans that will turn out to increase the use of defined contribution (DC) individual plans; ii) faster growth of high-net-worth-individuals in South America, Asia, Africa and Middle East regions up to 2020; iii) the expansion of new sovereign wealth funds.

However, in spite of the pension funds’ power to centralize huge amount of “savings from workers”, in this scenario of financial globalization, workers do not seem to have strong defense against the impacts of the current global scenario on the savings of workers and the flows of workers’ income.  read more

Bill Gates wants to undermine Donald Trump’s plans for growing the economy

February 21, 2017 14 comments

from Dean Baker

Yes, as Un-American as that may sound, Bill Gates is proposing a tax that would undermine Donald Trump’s efforts to speed the rate of economic growth. Gates wants to tax productivity growth (a.k.a. “automation) slowing down the rate at which the economy becomes more efficient.

This might seem a bizarre policy proposal at a time when productivity growth has been at record lows, averaging less than 1.0 percent annually for the last decade. This compares to rates of close to 3.0 percent annually from 1947 to 1973 and again from 1995 to 2005.

It is not clear if Gates has any understanding of economic data, but since the election of Donald Trump there has been a major effort to deny the fact that the trade deficit has been responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs and to instead blame productivity growth. This is in spite of the fact that productivity growth has slowed sharply in recent years and that the plunge in manufacturing jobs followed closely on the explosion of the trade deficit, beginning in 1997.

Manufacturing Employment

manu empl
Read more…

Austerity, civil society and statistics

February 20, 2017 3 comments

From The lancet

Remarkably, 8 years after the onset of the global financial crisis, the consequences for health are still being debated, even in Greece, the country most severely affected by the economic downturn. There can be few better indications of the low priority accorded to health within governments than the difference between the concerted efforts dedicated to understanding the state of the economy and the apparent scarcity of concern about the health of populations. Economists are still divided about the causes of the crisis and how to respond to it, although many view austerity as a mistake.

There are several possible reasons for this scant discussion of health consequences of the recession. First, health issues rarely attract much political or media attention unless they threaten privileged elites. For example, the emergence of SARS in east Asia posed a clear threat to the global business community and thus an immediate, coordinated response occurred. By contrast, many months passed before the world paid any attention to the emergence of Ebola virus in west Africa. Only in the past decade have global leaders accepted the need to respond to the increased burden of non-communicable diseases in low-income and middle-income countries whereas the horrendous toll of death and disability from road traffic accidents in those countries remains largely unacknowledged.

Second … we still do not have timely data on mortality from many countries. Consequently, although financial data were available within days or weeks of the onset of the financial crisis, several years passed before corresponding mortality data were published. This delay keeps the effect on health from getting onto the political agenda, and reinforces its low priority. Because of the difficulty in obtaining data about what was happening to health in Greece, dismissal of the early signs of a crisis was easy. In 2011, echoing many reports by journalists, we reported what we considered to be “omens of a Greek tragedy”, describing a rising unmet need for health care, increasing suicides, and an HIV outbreak among injecting drug users.Yet others dismissed our concerns, arguing, for example, that “there is no evidence that it has affected health” or that budget cuts were “a positive result of improvements in financial management efficiency”.

.

Ideas Towards a New International Financial Architecture

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Ideas Towards a New International Financial Architecture (Wea-Books) Paperback – February 2017

In the short span of a few essays, this book takes the reader on a trip from the historical roots of the current financial architecture to the imaginable futures one can envision for it, only if there is the political will to change it. If we accept that, as put by the editors, financial markets’ marginal imperfections are rather endemic pathologies, the consequences for the financial architecture have Copernican proportions. Every scholar and practitioner interested in the problems posed by the global economy at a critical moment when it has reached what looks like a dead end, will appreciate the refreshing inspiration offered by the authors that a star editing team has put together.
Amazon uk
Amazon de

Chasing the American Dream into a deadend

February 19, 2017 6 comments

from David Ruccio

debt

The latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit (pdf) from the New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data showed a substantial increase in aggregate household debt balances in the fourth quarter of 2016 and for the year as a whole. As of 31 December 2016, total household debt stood at $12.58 trillion, an increase of $226 billion (or 1.8 percent) from the third quarter of 2016. Total household debt is now just 0.8 percent ($99 billion) below its third quarter 2008 peak of $12.68 trillion, and 12.8 percent above the second quarter 2013 trough.   Read more…

New Keynesian DSGE models and the ‘representative lemming’

February 18, 2017 2 comments

from Lars Syll

If all agents are supposed to have rational expectations, it becomes convenient to assume also that they all have the same expectation and thence tempting to jump to the conclusion that the collective of agents behaves as one. The usual objection to representative agent models has been that it fails to take into account well-documented systematic differences in behaviour between age groups, income classes, etc. In the financial crisis context, however, the objection is rather that these models are blind to the consequences of too many people doing the same thing at the same time, for example, trying to liquidate very similar positions at the same time. Representative agent models are peculiarly subject to fallacies of composition. The representative lemming is not a rational expectations intertemporal optimising creature. But he is responsible for the fat tail problem that macroeconomists have the most reason to care about …

axelFor many years now, the main alternative to Real Business Cycle Theory has been a somewhat loose cluster of models given the label of New Keynesian theory. New Keynesians adhere on the whole to the same DSGE modeling technology as RBC macroeconomists but differ in the extent to which they emphasise inflexibilities of prices or other contract terms as sources of shortterm adjustment problems in the economy. The “New Keynesian” label refers back to the “rigid wages” brand of Keynesian theory of 40 or 50 years ago. Except for this stress on inflexibilities this brand of contemporary macroeconomic theory has basically nothing Keynesian about it.

The obvious objection to this kind of return to an earlier way of thinking about macroeconomic problems is that the major problems that have had to be confronted in the last twenty or so years have originated in the financial markets – and prices in those markets are anything but “inflexible”.

Axel Leijonhufvud

And still mainstream economists seem to be impressed by the ‘rigour’ brought to macroeconomics by New-Classical-New-Keynesian DSGE models and its rational expectations and micrcofoundations!   Read more…

Make GDP great again

February 17, 2017 9 comments

from David Ruccio

Mainstream economics presents quite a spectacle these days. It has no real theory of the firm and, even now, more than nine years after the Great Recession began, its most cherished claim to relevance—the use of large-scale forecasting models of the economy that assume people always behave rationally—is still misleading policymakers.

As if that weren’t embarrassing enough, we now have a leading mainstream economist, Havard’s Martin Feldstein, claiming that the “official data on real growth substantially underestimates the rate of growth.”

Mr. Feldstein likes to illustrate his argument about G.D.P. by referring to the widespread use of statins, the cholesterol drugs that have reduced deaths from heart attacks. Between 2000 and 2007, he noted, the death rate from heart disease among those over 65 fell by one-third.

“This was a remarkable contribution to the public’s well-being over a relatively short number of years, and yet this part of the contribution of the new product is not reflected in real output or real growth of G.D.P.,” he said. He estimates — without hard evidence, he is careful to point out — that growth is understated by 2 percent or more a year.

This is not just a technical issue for Feldstein:  Read more…

The ‘deductivist blindness’ of modern economics

February 17, 2017 10 comments

from Lars Syll

Scientific progress … is frequently the result of observation that something does work, which runs far ahead of any understanding of why it works.

aimageNot within the economics profession. There, deductive reasoning based on logical inference from a specific set of a priori deductions is “exactly the right way to do things”. What is absurd is not the use of the deductive method but the claim to exclusivity made for it. This debate is not simply about mathematics versus poetry. Deductive reasoning necessarily draws on mathematics and formal logic: inductive reasoning, based on experience and above all careful observation, will often make use of statistics and mathematics …

The belief that models are not just useful tools but are capable of yielding comprehensive and universal descriptions of the world blinded proponents to realities that had been staring them in the face. That blindness made a big contribution to our present crisis, and conditions our confused responses to it.

John Kay

The ‘deductivist blindness’ of mainstream economics explains to a larger extent why it contributes to causing economic crises rather than to solving them. But where does this ‘deductivist blindness’ of mainstream economics come from? To answer that question we have to examine the methodology of mainstream economics.   Read more…

A universal basic income in India?

February 17, 2017 1 comment

from Jayati Ghosh

There is a lot of buzz globally around the idea of a Universal Basic Income (or UBI). It is perceived as one way of coping with technology-induced unemployment that is projected to grow significantly in the near future, as well as reducing inequalities and increasing consumption demand in stagnant economies. Certainly there is much to be said for the idea, especially if it is to be achieved by taxing the rich and particularly those activities that are either socially less desirable or are generating larger surpluses because of technological changes.

Indeed, that is precisely the proposal of the French Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, who just sprang a surprise by topping the first round of the primary race of his party for the Presidential election. Obviously, this idea (which has proved to be more popular even among the young than his other proposal of legalising marijuana) is picking up more supporters across Europe. Elsewhere in the developed world, there have already been pilot projects experimenting with the idea, for example in Finland (but only to around 2000 persons there). The idea has also found expression in several developing countries. In China, there is already a dibao, or minimum livelihood guarantee (set at different levels in urban and rural areas) that adds to the incomes of those categorised as poor, to reach a certain minimum.

Proponents of the UBI see it as a broader, non-targeted provision: a “periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.” The idea is to ensure that every person in the society has the means to live with a modicum of freedom and dignity, independent of capacity to earn or availability of employment. It is certainly attractive in that, if implemented according to this norm, it would reduce both poverty and inequality.   Read more…

The trouble with trade: people understand it

February 16, 2017 12 comments

from Dean Baker

Ever since Donald Trump was elected there has been a huge backlash among elite-types against those blaming trade for their problems. Major news outlets have been filled with misleading and dishonest stories claiming that the real cause of manufacturing job loss has been automation and that people are stupid to worry about trade.

In fact, people are exactly right to be concerned about the impact of our trade policies on their living standards. It is the fact that people are right that is worrying our elites. Trade is just one of the areas in which politicians of both parties have promoted policies to redistribute income upward. It just happens to be the area in which the impact is most recognizable and therefore people have mounted an effective resistance.

The story with trade is simple. When a manufacturing worker in the US is placed in direct competition with a worker in Mexico, China or some other developing country, who earns one-tenth of their pay, it puts downward pressure on their wages. Either their jobs go away or they are forced to take substantial pay cuts to keep their job.

This competition has cost a huge number of manufacturing jobs in this century. It has also put downward pressure directly on the wages of manufacturing workers and indirectly on the wages of less-educated workers more generally, as displaced manufacturing workers sought jobs in other sectors.

Elite media types have tried to deny these facts by claiming that the source of job loss is automation (i.e. productivity growth), not trade. This claim deserves to be met with the same sort of derision as the claims of climate change deniers.

Read more…

Economists as plumbers?

February 15, 2017 3 comments

from David Ruccio

Apparently, the latest attempt to redefine the role of economists is to encourage them to be plumbers.

Maybe it’s just my age but, when I read plumbers, I immediately think of the covert Special Investigations Unit in the Nixon White House—the operation that began with attempting to stop the leak of classified information (such as the Pentagon Papers) and then branched into illegal activities while working for the Committee to Re-elect the President (including the Watergate break-in).

I don’t think that’s what MIT economist Esther Duflo (pdf) had in mind when, in her Ely Lecture to the American Economic Association meeting last month, she suggested that economists seriously engage with plumbing, “in the interest of both society and our discipline.”

As economists increasingly help governments design new policies and regulations, they take on an added responsibility to engage with the details of policy making and, in doing so, to adopt the mindset of a plumber. Plumbers try to predict as well as possible what may work in the real world, mindful that tinkering and adjusting will be necessary since our models gives us very little theoretical guidance on what (and how) details will matter.

I’ll admit, I have a lot of respect for plumbers (especially when they’re able to fix the mess I’ve made trying to repair an existing fixture or install a new one). And I do think anyone involved in designing new policies and regulations should learn more about how they are actually implemented.  Read more…