Author Archive

Links. High powered money in Greece, ECB transparancy reveales raw power, 50 years ago the Bundesbank combatted trade surpluses

June 19, 2017 1 comment

High powered money in Greece. The EU is re-financing 8,5 billion of Greek debt. About 7 billion of this is just trading in one kind of government bonds for another kind of government bonds. Much ado about less than nothing. There is some welcome softening of the terms – but not enough. However: About 1,6 billion has to be used to pay overdue bills which have to be paid by the government. This exchanging private debt for government bonds and will lead to an injection of highly powered money into the Greek economy which will prevent bankruptcies, which will enable these suppliers to pay their bills to their suppliers. Spain has however already threatened to block the agreement as it wants to protect a corrupt Spanish citizen in charge of privatization in Greece.

The ECB doubles down on monetary financing of the government. The European Central Bank published a report detailing why banks do or do not get ELA (Emergency Liquidity Assistance). Read more…

The productivity stagnation – not a global phenomenon.

June 12, 2017 11 comments

Productivity 1

Long story short: labor productivity, as economists define it, is best understood as the amount of ‘stuff’ the income (wages, profits, rents, interest) related to one hour of work can buy (this is a somewhat idiosyncratic take on productivity. Look however here). Productivity is, as economists define it, not any kind of physical entity. It is supposed to be ‘value added’, or total income cq. the nominal value of net production, per hour of work. For about two centuries, give or take some decades, productivity has increased. Not anymore. At least: in a whole bunch of seemingly quite distinct countries (graph 1). This is, in a historical sense, really surprising. And economists spend a lot of ink about it: why did this happen? Which disease, nay, evil!, did beset the western economies! And it does require explanation. For any kind of explanation, however, we still need a more general picture of productivity developments in rich countries (I first wanted to include Japan in graph 1, too, but it turned out that Japanese productivity growth, though low, is clearly superior to these countries). Graph 2 shows developments in most of Europe.

Read more…

The monetary and fiscal design of the Eurozone. New ideas and old mistakes from the EC.

June 3, 2017 2 comments

Recently the European Commission (EC) has published a “A possible roadmap towards the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union by 2025”. It is an important report. According to the report once Britain will have left the EU 85% of EU inhabitants will use the Euro. The future of these people is at stake. The report proposes:


  • to introduce at least a bit of Eurozone level fiscal policy
  • to introduce a kind of Eurobonds
  • to introduce a system of unemployment insurance which, during national downturns, will lead to more transfer incomes and ‘automatic’ stabilization
  • to introduce a banking union (which means that bankrupt banks won’t have to be re-financed by their host country anymore)
  • and it wants a more transparent political process (not the same thing as a more democratic political process) and even admits (without mentioning him) that Varoufakis was totally right about the lack of formal status of and the opaque political process within the Eurogroup.

Read more…

Econometrics? Keep it very simple.

May 23, 2017 4 comments

Readers of this blog might have noticed that I prefer to detrend time series using a moving average – and not the advanced and routinely and widely used Hodrick-Prescott filter. Part of this was lazyness. But I also do not like the HP filter: what is it? Why does it wag its tails so much? What is the ‘right’ smoothing parameter? James D. Hamilton has answered my questions (while implicating that a load of research is at least suspect if not worthless):

Why You should never use the Hodrick-Prescott filter: “Here’s why. (1) The HP filter produces series with spurious dynamic relations that have no basis in the underlying data-generating process. (2) Filtered values at the end of the sample are very different from those in the middle, and are also characterized by spurious dynamics. (3) A statistical formalization of the problem typically produces values for the smoothing parameter vastly at odds with common practice, e.g., a value for λ far below 1600 for quarterly data. (4) There’s a better alternative. A regression of the variable at date t+h on the four most recent values as of date t offers a robust approach to detrending that achieves all the objectives sought by users of the HP filter with none of its drawbacks.”,

Models and measurement in economics: Wesley Mitchell in 1946

May 15, 2017 2 comments

Noah Smith is not the first one to be puzzled by the rift between theory and measurement in economics. He states:

econ seems too focused on “theory vs. evidence” instead of using the two in conjunction. And when they do get used in conjunction, it’s often in a tacked-on, pro-forma sort of way, without a real meaningful interplay between the two. Of course, this is just my own limited experience, and there are whole fields – industrial organization, environmental economics, trade – that I have relatively limited contact with. So I could be over-generalizing. Nevertheless, I see very few economists explicitly calling for the kind of “combined approach” to modeling that exists in other sciences – i.e., using evidence to continuously restrict the set of usable models”..

But in 1946, in the wake of the war and the Keynesian revolution, Wesley C. Mitchell, long time head of the NBER (National bureau of Economic Research), one of the foremost economists of his time and one of the best students as well as a friend of Thorstein Veblen, held a “read the whole thing” speech (like much of this old stuff made available by the NBER) about “Empirical research and the future of economic science”. Eloquent (though not succinct) it bears in a somewhat depressing way on the ideas stated by Smith  (though Mitchell restricts himself much less to the Ivory Tower than Smith does):

There is better prospect than before that men who think of themselves as theorists will absorb into their work the methods and findings of realistically minded investigators, while the latter will make such free use of the concepts and procedures of theorists that no one will know on which side of the old line of demarcation he stands. In fine, the years near at hand may see the beginnings of an economics worthy to be called a science. Rapid progress toward that goal is not to be expected. The great drawbacks of empirical research in comparison with speculative reasoning are that it is much more laborious, Slower, and more dependent on financial support. The speculative reasoner must think hard; his is no easy task. But if gifted with logical acumen, he can select a set of assumptions interesting to him, and think Empirical Research and the Development of Economic Science out their implications by himself. If he has a funded income, or earns a living salary by work that does not exhaust his energy, he can get on without financial grants. In a relatively short time he can cover much ground, and, barring logical errors, arrive at conclusions incontestably true in the sense that they are necessary consequences of his assumptions. The empirical investigator, on the contrary, requires mass observations and considerable intimacy with actual practices; to extract the meaning from his data he needs assistants whose salaries few scholars can pay out of their own pockets”.

See p. 16 for his institutional stance. I’m afraid the ideas of Noah Smith indicate there still is a problem. Much has been accomplished, be sure of that. But a rift still exits. Here are my takes on models and measurement in economics: the concepts, social worlds and even the language of economic statistics and economic theory are not always congruent. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Why?

Is there a mismatch between theory and measurement in economics?

May 13, 2017 5 comments


The ‘The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel’ has much more often than the prizes for physics, Chemistry and physiology and medicine been awarded for: theory. It was on a regular basis awarded for analysis of data or the discovery of new events but in these cases ‘discovery’ was contrary to the other sciences much less important than analysis. It was only rarely awarded for the development of measurement techniques.   Read more…

A non-white recovery in the USA

May 7, 2017 1 comment

anic rate employmentrate

First: the elephant in the room: the post 2008 development of the USA white employment rate relative to the black and hispanic rate is, in a historical perspective but also when compared with post 2008 developments in Europe, spectacular. though something seems to have been the matter since 1995. No explanation here but the correlation between the white and the other rates slowly fades away (a hypothesis might be that ‘Blacks’ and ‘Hispanics’ are groups which are characterized by a relatively large subgroup of people belonging to the ‘precariat’, workers depending on low paid unstable jobs, who do relatively better in an increasingly precarious economy).

Second: it’s not inconceivable that the black rate will, within years, also be at par with or higher than the white rate. Note that the decline of white employment in the 2008 crisis was much larger than during other downturns. This pattern is less outspoken for the hispanic and black employment rates. Next to the employment rate we can also look at the participation rate (unemployment plus employment).    Read more…

Deep warming

From: Larry Hamilton and Merijn Knibbe

Following a twitter discussion between him and me about the question if the 2013-2015 warming of the first 700 meters of ocean was above trend or if 2016 was below trend, Larry Hamilton (@ichiloe) produced the next graph (which shows consistent and relentless warming not just of the surface of the earth but also of the first 700 meters of the oceans). These series are as far as I know measured in a totally independent way. ‘2017’ are partial data. We do not rest our case.


How’s the Eurozone doing?

April 28, 2017 2 comments

On 6 April, Mario Draghi made a speech titled ‘Monetary policy and the economic recovery in the Euro Area’. I would have emphasized the existing disequilibria a little more: unemployment in Germany is not far away from ‘low’ but this comes at the cost of an 8% of GDP surplus of the current account. German domestic demand (investments, public and private consumption) is i.e. about 10% too low to guarantee low unemployment. See also this recent Eurostat press release, which shows that, though some areas are by now characterized by low unemployment (<3,5%) others now levels of over 31% (not even counting ‘broad’ unemployment). But I agree: there is a recovery.


Read more…

Easter Monday links. (Mis?)measurement

April 17, 2017 1 comment

The ECB buys lots of bonds from large oil companies, not from small and medium enterprises.

Rapid money supply growth does not cause inflation (measurements!)

New UK guidelines on how to estimate natural capital. Surely worth the effort! But some things do not have a price for a good reason. And when you look really, really hard at statistics of the stock of capital it turns out that statisticians measure the value of rights to the monetary yield of ownership of certain items. And not any kind of intrinsic welfare or utility produced by machines or houses (or an Easter Monday trip to the woods). Do not commodify Nottingham Forest!

Economists like me measure productivity. Can we trust these statistics? Only if they are very carefully crafted. From a OECD manual standard methods used to calculate ‘real’ production can even result in estimates of negative production.

“Another issue is the occasional occurrence of negative value added figures when double deflation operates with Laspeyres quantity indices. Nothing ensures that the subtraction of constant-price intermediate inputs from constant-price gross output yields a positive number. The SNA 93 notes that negative real value added can occur when relative prices change: “a process of production which is efficient at one set of prices, may not be very efficient at another set of relative prices. If the other set of prices is very different, the inefficiency of the process may reveal itself in a very conspicuous form, namely negative value added”. … In these circumstances, a different accounting method should be used to estimate an aggregate like value added, such as the methods based on “superlative” index numbers

Read more…

A factual update on global warming

April 10, 2017 3 comments

Graph 2

What do you get when you apply a 13 year smoothing function to the yearly data on global temperature? The graph above. According to ‘climate optimists’ the graph above is misleading, as, for one thing, these surface data are supposed to show a different pattern of development than the ‘satellite data’. The point: they don’t. The graph above shows about 0,7 to 0,8 degrees warming after 1979 and a pattern of relentless increase. The ‘satellite  data’ (graph below) show 0,5 degrees warming after 1979 and a pattern of relentless increase (visualize a 12*13 = 156 months running average, couldn’t track the original data). Yes, that’s a difference. But even the 0,5 degrees is, considering the warming which took place  before 1979, quite a problem. And more so when we consider the 2,0 degrees of ‘acceptable’ warming. Even based upon this rather short period and these conservative data, while not taking 1880-1980 developments into account we’ve already spent *at least* 25% of our wiggle room. The graph below is used by climate optimists to defend their position… Delusional. It’s maybe less alarming than the graph above. But it is alarming, too.  Read more…

Unemployed foreigners, Germany (Ausländerarbeitslosenquote)

April 1, 2017 8 comments

from: Merijn Knibbe

The graph shows the  ‘Ausländerarbeitslosenquote’ (unemployed foreigners ratio) which is calculated by the ‘Bundesagentur fur Arbeit’ (a kind of German ‘Bureau of Labor Statistics’). Unemployment of Germans in East Germany is, after about a quarter of a century, finally below 10% (but still high). But unemployment among ‘foreigners’ is way higher (foreigners are not necessarily immigrants: refugees and people from the Not Very United Kingdom count but so does the large share of the sizeable second or third generation Turkish minority which does not have German nationality). Fun fact: unemployment of foreigners in Bayern is lower than unemployment of German nationals in Berlin Brandenburg (September 2016). Read more…

Brexit and all that

March 30, 2017 5 comments

Bavariafrom: Merijn Knibbe


Update: 14:05. Graph adapted (new, double, timeline)

Brexit should not have happened. But, understandably, it did. Brussels bears a large part of the blame: they could and should have known. The title of this blog is an allusion to the 1992 Wynne Godley article ‘Maastricht and all that’ in which he predicted the present day troubles of the Eurozone. People (in Brussels) should have listened. People (in Brussels) should still listen. If a country does not have its own money it is not really sovereign – unless it has democratic power on a higher level. If that’s not the case it might be treated as a kind of colony. Think Ireland. Think Greece. The EU should not be like that. But it was. And is. And people voted for Brexit.   Read more…

Deaths of Despair. The Case/Deaton paper about mortality of White Americans. Some remarks.

March 25, 2017 5 comments

Anne Case and her husband Angus Deaton have published a new paper about the deteriorating health of non-hispanic Whites in the USA. The use of more refined and more granular data as well as another year of data again shows a grim picture of ever rising ‘Deaths of Despair’. For those familiar with ‘Decline of the USA’, a book written by the editor of this blog Edward Fullbrook,  their findings won’t come as a total surprise. But the situation stays abhorrent.

Deaton graph

Death rates of those white people are going up. And they keep going up. Life expectancy is falling – especially life expectancy of the less educated. Which is totally anomalous in a historical sense as well as compared to other countries, according to the authors (I do not entirely agree, see below). And not because health care is imploding. But because people seem to give up. Some remarks: Read more…

Graphs of the day: vacancies and wages.




Via Eurostat (look here and here) information about the labour market: vacancy rates and wages. Vacancies are up, wages are rising at a very moderate rate (and in many countries, like Spain, not at all). Read more…

Graph of the day 3. Turkish and Kurdish fertility


I made this graph (in fact: map) because of remarks by Erdogan, the Turkish president, that Turkish women in Europe should get more children: 5 instead of 3: wasn’t the birth rate (total fertility rate) in Turkey already way below 3? Thanks to a recent press release of Turkstat I discovered that, surprisingly (at least to me), the birthrate in many western areas of Turkey , about 1,6 or even lower, is as low as in countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece etcetera. The entire northern part of the Mediterrenean world now knows birthrates which are well below the 2,1 repleacement rate! Remarkably, the Kurdish are in Turkey knows birthrates which are about twice as high as in western Turkey (the Zaza are another minority which more or less identify as Kurds).

Graph of the day 2. How to understand bilateral trade balances.

March 20, 2017 9 comments



Today: 2 graphs. And do I really have to write this blog? Yes, I have. At this moment the USA government seems to target bilateral trade balances: these should be more or less balanced. To quote a Trumptweet (January 27, 2017): “The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers…”.  But it does not work that way. Bilateral trade deficits are not the right measure to estimate if trade is one-sided deal. Switzerland is an example.

Read more…

Some graphs 1. German unemployment

March 19, 2017 8 comments


The coming days I will post some graphs. The first I made to answer the question if East German unemployment was finally coming down.  East Germany has experienced sky-high unemployment for decades despite massive transfers and despite a wage level which is supposed to be 25% lower than in West Germany. But at this moment, East German über-unemployment has more or less disappeared, at least compared with the German version of the rust belt (Stainless steel belt? Nutzeisen belt?). Two remarks:

  • German unemployment is developing favorably. But comparison with Bavaria shows that there still is ample labour market slack.
  • If neoliberal wage restraint policies plus massive transfers led to two decades of almost 20% unemployment in East Germany, how long will it take for Greek unemployment to come down? Four decades?

India: cash comes back

March 10, 2017 2 comments


What’s happening in India? The people are clearly rolling back the recent move of the Indian government to basically abolish the cash economy: the amount of cash is, at the moment of writing this, increasing at a hyperinflation rate of 8,5% per fortnight (according to the Reservebank of India data). But the amount of cash is still way below last years’level. Bank deposits are 12% higher than last year but have been flat since December. Read more…

More ‘NAIRU’ bashing or: does Spain really needs 26,6% unemployment to keep prices stable?

March 4, 2017 2 comments

Below, three sets of graphs from three ‘structural’  seconomic tudies which show that the celebrated concept of NAIRU, as defined in these general equilibrium models is little more than a complicated running average of the level of estimated unemployment (though, quite unscientific, economics does not even seem to have an agreed upon algorithm to calculate this average). This a consequence of the assumption of these models that unemployment is a voluntary state of existence.

Yesterday, Lars Syll had an interesting post about the nonsense of NAIRU, the Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment, as defined in ‘structural macro economic models’. I totally agree but have a little to add. The discussion about NAIRU is not about the interesting relation between unemployment and wages (or even inflation), as proponents state. It is about the relation between unemployment and potential output: when does a government has to stop stimulating demand to prevent runaway inflation? Does this has to happen when unemployment is 3%? Or when unemployment is 4%? Or as the European commission wanted to have it when unemployment is, ahem, 26,6%? The answer is clear: NAIRU won’t give us the answer. Or, as Gechert, Rietzler and Tobler recently stated it (emphasis added): Read more…