Links for 22nd March, 2019

You might have been hearing/reading about MMT recently. Today’s set of links is really one place to read a lot of back and forth between two economists about what MMT means in practice – plus an additional bonus link, and a Twitter thread.

You absolutely should read each of these links if you are a student of macro. You probably should read these links if you are interested in the economy – but in this case, feel free to skip some of them. I leave it to your judgment.

  1. “OK, Lerner: His argument was that countries that (a) rely on fiat money they control and (b) don’t borrow in someone else’s currency don’t face any debt constraints, because they can always print money to service their debt. What they face, instead, is an inflation constraint: too much fiscal stimulus will cause an overheating economy. So their budget policies should be entirely focused on getting the level of aggregate demand right: the budget deficit should be big enough to produce full employment, but no so big as to produce inflationary overheating.”
    Paul Krugman gets the ball rolling by explaining what Abba Lerner’s work was all about, why it made sense then, and perhaps doesn’t now.
  2. “Outside of the so-called liquidity trap, Krugman adopts the standard line that budget deficits crowd out private investment because deficits compete with private borrowing for a limited supply of savings.The MMT framework rejects this, since government deficits are shown to be a source (not a use!) of private savings. Some careful studies show that crowding-out can occur, but that it tends to happen in countries where the government is not a currency issuer with its own central bank.”
    Stephanie Kelton responds by pointing out what she sees as the flaws in Krugman’s argument. I have had difficulty in understanding this part myself, which is why I have highlighted it.
  3. “So let’s be clear here: Are MMTers claiming, as Kelton seems to, that there is only one deficit level consistent with full employment, that there is no ability to substitute monetary for fiscal policy? Are they claiming that expansionary fiscal policy actually reduces interest rates? Yes or no answers, please, with explanations of how you got these answers and why the straightforward framework I laid out above is wrong. No more Calvinball.”
    Of the questions that Krugman raises by way of response, it is the second one that strikes me as being at the heart of the issue. Expansionary fiscal policy reducing interest rates boggles the mind – well, my mind, at any rate.
  4. “#3: Does expansionary fiscal policy reduce interest rates? Answer: Yes. Pumping money into the economy increases bank reserves and reduces banks’ bids for federal funds. Any banker will tell you this.”
    I have read Stephanie Kelton’s response, and re-read it, and I find myself confused even then. Expansionary fiscal policy, she says, does reduce the federal funds rate. I found this confusing…
  5. Until I read this twitter thread by Paul Krugman…

    As it turns out, the route taken by the government to conduct expansionary fiscal policy matters. You learn a little more macro every time you read about it.

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Links for 12th February, 2019

  1. “Each of these imbalances is important and needs to be rectified. One has to do with the differing levels of per-capita consumption of basic public goods and services. The other has to do with the differing levels of stock of infrastructure leading the differential growth accelerating potential development. These are two distinct  policy goals and following Tinbergen Principle warrants two distinct policy instruments. Eliminating the Planning Commission and replacing this with NITI Aayog merely as a think tank leaves us with only one instrument; namely Finance Commission. This approach if not reviewed can lead to a serious problem of increasing regional and sub-regional inequities.
    Who better than Dr. Vijay Kelkar to tell us more about Niti Aayog 2.0? You might want to look up the Tinbergen Principle if you do not know about it already. (Via Mostly Economics)
  2. “Last year, at the end of the summer melting season, the team drew lines on the stakes marking the height of the ice, as researchers have done here for decades. Now, looking at a stake nearly a year later, Nikolay Kasatkin, one of the institute researchers, and Dr. Shahgedanova saw that more of the wood was visible. With the end of melting still a couple of months off, parts of the Tuyuksu were already about three feet thinner.”
    The NYT does excellent work tracking climate change, and this article is only the latest in a long string of articles entirely worth reading. Best viewed on a desktop.
  3. “ICICI directors shouldn’t get a free pass from regulators. Otherwise, they’ll just show up at other boards, perpetuating a culture of CEO worship that’s at odds with their role as stewards of public shareholders. Indian investors deserve better.”
    Andy Mukherjee doesn’t mince words while talking about the lack of oversight at the board level in ICICI Bank. What might the situation be like at other banks in India?
  4. “It can be easy to think of a calendar as a scientific given, or a reflection of the laws of the universe. In fact, as these holidays remind us, there are as many ways to track time as there are cultures and languages. Each calendar reveals something about how the people who created it relate to the world around them while also preserving rich cultural identities and memories.”
    A nice read from the NYT about the way different cultures track time – as it turns out, there are many ways to measure it – the lunar and the solar calendars happen to be just two of them.
  5. “India’s first education policy was framed in 1968 based on the famed Kothari Commission report, the second in 1986 and the third—a revision of the 1986 policy—in 1992.The official cited above said it’s not as if the previous policies were implemented quickly. In fact, making eight years of education compulsory was part of the 1968 policy but it was implemented only in 2009 through the Right to Education Act.”
    A depressing read, particularly for me, but the state of India’s NEP today mirrors much of India’s inaction on this in the past.

Links for 11th February, 2019

  1. “We probably would not have planes, trains, or automobiles if we had insisted on today’s safety levels during the early days of those technologies’ development—likewise, we should have laxer safety standards for new emerging technologies.”
    Worth reading this for many reasons. Don’t miss the bit about the need to change ideological commitments on the basis of rationally-arrived-at conclusions, for example. But that excerpt above is a great way to understand the concept of, and the importance of, opportunity cost.
  2. “I want to make it clear that although enriched environment dominated the 20th century, IQ gains are not destined to persist like the law of gravity. Factors that were immediate triggers of IQ gains included more adults per child in the home, more and better schooling, more people at university, more cognitively demanding jobs, and better health and conditions of the aged. There are signs that these are beginning to show diminishing returns.”
    The Flynn effect is one of the more interesting things you can learn about – and having learnt about it, it might interest you to know that the Flynn Effect may now be reversing.
  3. “They’re having a fight about the wall except the wall is the English Channel: half of these people want to turn the English Channel into a wall to keep out their version of the Mexicans.”
    An interview with Anand Giridharadas about the perils of philanthropy. Worth reading, not necessarily to agree with everything he has to say, but to think about was in which he may be right.
  4. “So, for example, if people don’t take into account the macro consequences of their borrowing, then they could borrow collectively at the same time, which might be rational from an individual perspective but that collective borrowing leads to future problems such as a foreclosure problem that has spillovers for everyone in the economy. When people borrow individually, they may not take into account those spillovers. And so, again, from a macro perspective, people might over-borrow.For all of these reasons, a possible result conceptually is that if and when credit expands, it is possible for households to over-borrow, to overstretch from a macro kind of social perspective. And that over-borrowing, that overstretching during the boom phase of the credit cycle, can then come back to hurt on the downside and lead to a deeper recession than it would otherwise have been.”
    This much is straightforward for a student of macroeconomics – but the rest of the interview with Atif Mian is worth reading for how he teases out the mechanisms of thinking about the follow-up questions in the context of today’s economy. If you want to learn how to think like a macro-economist, this interview will help.

Links for 8th February, 2019

This will be an intertwined, five part series, born out of a rabbit hole I fell into, and spent an evening over.

  1. “As we try to understand the world of the next three decades, we will desperately need economics but also political science, sociology, psychology, and perhaps even literature and philosophy. Students of each should retain some element of humility. As Immanuel Kant said, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.””
    Fareed Zakaria isn’t too impressed with the state of economics today, and says that a more holistic approach is needed. Holistic is a fancy-schmancy word that is far too over-used – but essentially, his point is we need to read wider (ahem), and be rather more aware of the fact that math is way overrated.
  2. “Managing globalization, supporting a healthy middle class in an era of artificial intelligence, and incentivizing the preservation of the planet must be among the central challenges, if not the central challenges, of our era. If not from economic analysis, it is hard to see where resolutions will come from. Everyone, whether they like economics and economists, or whether they resent and distrust current economics, has a stake in the discipline being relevant and successful going forward.”
    Yes, but what about the opportunity cost of abandoning economic theory? That in effect, is what Larry Summers says in this essay, penned in response to the original. Sure, economics has its flaws, and sure, it has had to evolve over time, but surely that is a good thing?
  3. “The problem, however, is that there is also the unprofessional How Tax Reform Will Lift the Economy: We believe the Republican bills could boost GDP 3% to 4% long term by reducing the cost of capital. It seems that every Yellen is offset by Holtz-Eakin, every Rajan by a Taylor, every Shiller by a Barro, every Krugman by a Boskin, and so on. And how is a Fareed Zakaria or a Binyamin Appelbaum supposed to disinguish those who have knowledge from those who have only ideology, or indeed from those who can and do switch their approval and disapproval of policies on and off upon changing demands from changing political masters?”
    Well, yeah, maybe, says Brad DeLong, in response to the question posed by Larry Summers above, but Fareed may have a point, still. Economists are nowhere near as consistent as they ought to be, and that ought to count against us.
  4. “Rather than suggesting coherent policies, Moore and Laffer seem to hope that a much more rapidly growing economy will provide the resources to address all these problems, and they seem to believe that this growth will follow ineluctably from the lower taxes and deregulation that lie at the heart of Trump’s agenda. It would be wonderful if that were possible. Maybe rah-rah partisans really believe it is. But more likely, it is just wishful thinking. ”
    N. Gregory Mankiw highlights some of the problems that Brad DeLong gets so upset about in a wonderfully provocative article.
  5. “On the other hand, economists do turn out to know quite a lot: they do have some extremely useful models, usually pretty simple ones, that have stood up well in the face of evidence and events.”
    Paul Krugman, who writes as well as anybody else, ever, in the field of economics – if not better – makes the point that simple economic models are surprisingly easy to understand and teach, and they work.

Links for 7th February, 2019

  1. “Using a series of network theory algorithms, Jen and Freire found that China’s influence on the world is now as sizable as the combined influence of the US and EU. The shift occurred following the financial crisis in 2008, which saw the US’s impact on average global GDP shrink from just over 40 per cent between 1989-98 to half that between 2009-18”
    FT Alphaville reports on analysis that shows just how big, and therefore important, China is in the global economy. Even more importantly, not all parts of the world will be equally affected by the Chinese slowdown/recession. Europe, it turns out, will likely be the worst hit.
  2. ““It would be kind of boring if everything was the same,” she said through a thicket of pink and green strobe lights at the bar, which sits in an upper-level parking lot. “That’s why this place is so valuable to people like us.””
    My apologies for the double-double quotes, but that excerpt encapsulates for me the dilemma underlying Singapore’s very existence. I loved the ten days or so I spent there, but maybe, just maybe, Singapore is too perfect? On the other hand, what a nice problem to have.
  3. “We became free of colonial rule in August 1947; and adopted a republican Constitution in January 1950. Seven decades later, we may be more democratic than when the British left these shores. But we are certainly less democratic than what the framers of our Constitution hoped us to be. Indeed, the faultlines I have identified here have persisted regardless of who is in power, at the Centre or in the states. They need to be addressed, and remedied, if we are to be more worthy of the ideals bequeathed us by the founders of our Republic.”
    Religious division, social inequality, environmental degradation and the degradation of public institutions are the faultlines that Ramchandra Guha speaks of – an article worth pondering upon.
  4. “All of this used to be obvious enough, but in the age of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez it has to be explained all over again. Why does socialism never work? Because, as Margaret Thatcher explained, “eventually you run out of other people’s money.””
    Bret Stephens from the NYT lays out the reasons why socialism tends to not work – ever.
  5. “It seems clear that more people are receiving income and tax from activities that are outside traditional jobs. But other than ride-sharing jobs, just how to characterize these jobs remains murky, and the question of what rules and regulations might apply to such income-earning activities remains murky, too.”
    Care to guess which country we’re talking about before you click on this link?

Links for 6th February, 2019

  1. “Drawing about 250 cubic kilometres (sic) per year – more than a fourth of the global total – India is the world’s largest user of groundwater. More than 60 percent of India’s irrigated agriculture and 85 percent of drinking water supplies are dependent on groundwater, according to World Bank estimates”
    The Madras Courier writes on India’s impending – some would dispute the use of that word – water crisis. We simply don’t take it seriously enough, and if you want a good application of the importance of property rights, the power of pricing, and the difficulty of formulating effective policy from the top down, this is a good read.
  2. “…as Lardy suggests, in the absence of an extraordinary course reversal in government policies, as the role of the state impinges on private dynamism, growth in China will likely slow substantially over the medium term. Even with a major policy shift that provides greater scope for (domestic and foreign) private activity, a substantial pickup in growth would surprise us more than a continued decline.”
    The excellent Money and Banking blog reports on the bearish case for China in the medium to long term, on the basis of a close examination of it’s macroeconomic performance and policies of the past thirty years or so. One thing to try and understand about China is whether there is a recession underway or not in China (almost certainly, in my opinion). The second thing to try and figure out is why. That’s what this is about.
  3. “Russia sold twice as much weaponry to African countries in 2017 as it did in 2012, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Between 2013 and 2017, Russia supplied 39 per cent of Africa’s imported arms — compared with 17 per cent from China and 11 per cent from the US. ”
    In retrospect, hardly surprising – although I must admit I didn’t know much about this. Also, reading this article gave me my word for the day: Francafrique. It’s a term worth Googling.
  4. “Anyone considering starting a marketplace business should be aware of the types of marketplaces and the potential network effects that they could benefit from. Those who are already in the thick of building a marketplace or market network should create products and features that enhance and accelerate those network effects that can propel their success forward.”
    Any microeconomics student in India today knows about competing for market share. How many, I wonder, know about competing to build the market itself? This rather long article focuses on building out your thinking about building a market – and the nuances involved in thinking along these lines.
  5. “If all the past US intelligence estimates could be declassified, I suspect readers would find a wealth of accurate predictions, particularly with regard to technical developments in the WMD programs, but far fewer when it came to prognosticating what the North Korean leadership would do. That’s the point of pursuing face-to-face diplomacy with Pyongyang, to get a clearer picture of what is possible and what isn’t as well as to learn more about what makes the North Koreans tick.”
    Or put another way, predicting production is easy. Predicting personalities – not so much. A good read to understand the problems of trying to figure out what North Korea is up to – and teasing out the predictability (or lack thereof) of the human aspect.

Links for 5th February, 2019

  1. “If there is one number that can make the edifice of budgetary arithmetic collapse and impair the growth prospects, it is the movement of crude oil prices. If for nothing else, but simply reduce the vulnerability of the fisc, this should be done. For, it is the “resource deficit” of the country which is the single biggest threat to sustained growth of 9%”
    How might a new age budget look like? Haseeb Drabu takes a look at the ways – five of them. You’ll be reading this by the time the budget has come out, of course, but it still makes sense to read this in order to think about how the budget needs to be structured.
  2. “The 0.9 per cent year-on-year (YoY) growth in the adjusted net profit of 385 companies, which have released their results for the third quarter (Q3) of the current financial year so far, does not inspire much confidence. If financials and energy companies are removed from the sample, net profit has grown 6.4 per cent in Q3 — the worst performance in five quarters.”
    I’d recommend that you read this article to either get a sense of how to judge the macroeconomic environment (partially!) on the basis of stock market performance, or even better, if you are new to finance, read this with an Investopedia tab open alongside.
  3. “Passenger vehicle sales in China fell for the first time last year since the early 1990s due to a cut to government tax breaks and wider economic sluggishness. Hyundai, which was once the third-largest automaker in China together with Kia, is now sorting out overcapacity as its sales in China have not picked up much since being hit by the anti-Korean consumer backlash in 2017.”
    The FT provides additional information on the slowdown in China – and the link on the anti-Korean backlash is also worth reading.
  4. “From the start of 2012 to the end of 2016, China produced nearly three times as much cement as the US did in the entire 20th century.Much of that investment has gone to waste. A recent study by China’s Southwestern University of Finance and Economics estimates that more than one in five Chinese homes in urban areas, or about 65m apartments, are empty. And if demography is destiny, China’s prospects are bleak. Between 1980 and 2012, China added about 380m people to its working-age population. But that number has been shrinking for the past five years and is expected to fall by a third, or about 220m people, in the next three decades.”
    More grist to the China recession mill, from the FT. The numbers are truly breathtaking – especially that quote about cement!
  5. “China’s fertility rate has officially fallen to 1.6 children per woman, but even that number is disputed. Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has written that China’s government has obscured the actual fertility rate to disguise the disastrous ramifications of the “one child” policy. According to his calculations, the fertility rate averaged 1.18 between 2010 and 2018.”
    The NYT picks up from where the FT left off, and tells us about the impending population crisis in China – that there may soon be too few  people in China, not too many.