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European Pooled Panel Phillips Curve

This continues joint research with Marco Fioramanti. Our aim is to understand something about European natural rates of unemployment and whether the European Commissions estimated levels which they call NAWRU (for non accelerating wage inflation rate of unemployment) are useful approximations.

Here is a brief summary of work to date (prior to this note). Various subsets of us wrote at length here, here, here, here , and here.

In this note I look at a panel of the 15 countries which were in the European Union in 1997 (that is those for which long series of data are available) and ask if the Commission’s estimates of the NAWRU are useful if one wishes to forecast the acceleration of wage inflation. They don’t seem to be very useful at all.

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Barack Obama: a noble failure

(Dan here…NDd takes a shot at evaluating the President Obama legacy.)

by New Deal Democrat

Barack Obama: a noble failure

Let me preface this essay by saying that I voted for Barack Obama twice, in both 2008 and 2012. In fact in 2008 I supported him in the primary against Hillary Clinton, who I believed had a ceiling of support at about 52% or 53% even under even under the most favorable of circumstances (which certainly seems correct now!). I believed Obama was simply more capable of winning the Presidency, and I believed he could overcome his weaknesses and grow into the job.  By and large he did, but it took 5 full years before he finally gave up on his central, failed approached to governance.  I believe that failure is going to cause him to be ranked, over time, in the bottom half of all Presidents.

“There is no red or blue America,” Barack Obama declared in the 2004 convention speech that first brought him fame.  His presidency was largely based on that premise.  I think very few people would agree with that statement now.  This worldview was epitomised in his 2009 Inaugural Address:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

….[E]verywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act ….
….
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness…. [W]e cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve ….

But on that very same day in 2009, Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders also met, and resolved a strategy of total intransigence, to deny Barack Obama any bipartisan victories whatsoever.

Asked about that strategy early on, Obama replied that if Republicans would not come to the table with him, then they would miss the chance to have their imprint of the solutions to big problems. Rather than be shut out, they would negotiate with him for bipartisan Great Solutions.

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Minimum Wages and Productivity

Originally published at Econospeak

by Peter Dorman

Minimum Wages and Productivity

I had a chuckle reading a report in today’s New York Times that describes a pair of papers on the minimum wage presented at the recently-concluded economics meetings in Chicago, especially the first, an experimental study by John Horton of NYU.  Horton set up an online matching system between employers and workers, where each made wage offers for a variety of tasks that could be performed remotely.  The design allowed him to measure the actual productivity of workers in these tasks if they successfully concluded a deal with the employers.  Then he imposed a minimum wage to see what would happen.  The result was that employers sought out the most productive workers when they had to pay higher wages to everyone.  (They could estimate productivity differences from information on workers’ prior wages.)

There was lots of back and forth in the article about whether this result would generalize to a minimum wage established over all employers within a region rather than just a few (who could better pick and choose), but for me the irony is that this is exactly what proponents of the minimum wage hope it will achieve.  That is, one of the main purposes of setting a floor under wages is to generate incentives for firms to increase productivity.

Note that it is the firm that is expected to do this.  Economists for some reason tend to assume that productivity is essentially a worker attribute, like how tall you are or whether you’re left-handed.  No doubt workers differ greatly according to their potential productivity, but most actual, realized productivity is the result of the way the work is set up—whether the output is of lesser or greater value, how much and what kind of equipment the worker has available to work with, what kinds of skills the work develops and makes use of, and how much opportunity the worker herself has to tinker with the job to make it go better.  These are employer choices.  In a world of low wages employers have less incentive to invest in the productivity of work, so they don’t.

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Wealth Inequality and Sentimental Credit

By Noni Mausa

Wealth Inequality and Sentimental Credit

I go to the store and buy a loaf of bread. But I haven’t actually harvested a loaf of bread (unless I am a shoplifter.) I have, instead, used a tiny scrap of credit to mobilize a farmer, a baker, a truck driver, and probably a score of others to exert their skill and energy to have a loaf of bread there when I arrive.

Though my credit is sliced very thin and passed around to these dozens of people, and though it travels backwards in time, so to speak, to reward them, it is merely a placeholder for an exchange of human effort.

My “credit” is not necessarily cash or even money. It is simply whatever leverage I can wield to direct human effort to my benefit. Sometimes, of course, it takes the form of cash, but just as often it can manifest as pity, fear, misdirection, beauty, hope, hatred, fun, or family feeling.

One way to increase one’s own power is to increase your ability to work one or another of these levers. Currently, people focus on only one of these – the possession of money, in the forms of cash, investments, steady incomes, etc.

When the possession or control of cash increases in a small group, we call this wealth inequality. But another way to increase inequality lies in reducing people’s access to non-cash credit, what you might call sentimental credit.

Sentimental credit is the credit the poor depend on when all else is stripped from them. This is the reason why people in the poorest countries are often described as generous, welcoming, lovely, cheerful, honourable, charitable, and keenly alive to community and family connections. It’s why these people create intricate art and music and wonderful food out of the unlikeliest poor materials, and tell long and fascinating stories. It’s why their land, however poor, is seen as their home, with loyalty, respect and family-feeling.

In deeply poor communities, sentimental credit circulate available resources, earns respect and trust, cultivates family feeling, builds pride, and basically keeps things together. People in these societies who aren’t generous, who are miserable to be around, who take but never give, who take no pride in skills, who know no stories, and yet are not actually crippled and thus deserving of assistance — these people don’t have anything to trade. They have little or no sentimental credit. Such people can get along fine if they have a good supply of cash and can live in a relatively anonymous society. Otherwise, they are, ahem, evolutionally impaired.

How does this apply to the descent of America into an unequal society?

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When Did Hillary Lose the Election? In 1964.

The half-century story of Democrats’ abdication and decline

By Steve Roth. Publisher, Evonomics

On January 1, 1964, John F. Kennedy posthumously initiated the half-century decline of the Democratic Party, beginning its descent into this moment’s dark and backward abysm of slime. His massive tax cuts for the rich, implemented in ’64 and ’65, were the turning point and beginning of Democrats’ five-decade abandonment of its longtime winning formula: full-throated, unabashed, progressive economic populism. It was the signal moment when Democrats began to abandon the working and middle class. The working and middle class, betrayed and feeling betrayed, have now returned the favor.

Unapologetic progressive economic populism — starting really with Teddy Roosevelt’s slash-and-burn trustbusting, and turned up full-throttle in his namesake’s New Deal — had given Democrats three decades of electoral success. FDR lost two states and eight electoral votes in 1936. He got 523 out of 531. Over four campaigns, he never got less that 432. Eisenhower got a couple of terms as a very moderate Republican, really a progressive, but Democrats’ dominance of Congress and state governments seemed eternal.

Because: that economic populism also delivered success for America. The New Deal, combined with the government deficit spending of World War II, resulted in the greatest burst of widespread growth, progress, prosperity, and individual economic freedom in American history — before or since.

James Carville was certainly right: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Democrats’ remaining progressivism under Johnson — civil-rights legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, and the wholesale movement of liberated women into the workforce — eventually pushed a hot middle-out economy into the demand-driven inflation of the 70s. That torrid growth brought government debt down from 120% of GDP in 1947, to 35% in 1980. (You know what happened after that.)

But even amidst that burst of growth and sustainable government finance, Democrats were abandoning the very source of their economic and electoral success. Kennedy’s top-tier tax cuts were a preemptive, voluntary abdication to trickle-down theory, before “trickle-down” even existed. When Reagan turned that dial to eleven, he was only occupying ideological ground that Democrats had ceded and abandoned to the enemy, long before. It was an epochal own-goal of historic proportions.

Democrats have been kicking the economic ball into their own net ever since. The obvious solution to the 70s inflation was to raise taxes, reducing government deficit spending, to drain off excess demand from a too-hot economy. Instead they acceded to the banker-industrial complex and the diktats of childish monetarism, again conceding the win to an economic belief system that is egregiously self-serving for the rich, and anathema to Democratic progressive economic populism.

That’s when the enthusiastic, progressive Democratic base stopped turning out in force. (Exception: Obama. For other reasons.) Progressive baby boomers have spent their whole lives voting against Republicans and their swingeing, destructive economic policies, not for inspiring Democrats. Think about the Democratic presidential candidates since 1964. McGovern was a true social progressive, but really a one-issue anti-war candidate. Bill Clinton did okay, within the confines of the post-Reagan economic belief system, which he never seriously challenged as FDR did. Obama didn’t either, in rhetoric or practice. His administration’s failure to prosecute a single prominent bankster is arguably the best single explanation for Hillary’s electoral meltdown.

Can you name one full-throated economic progressive Democratic candidate in the past half century? I’m not even asking for fire-eating. Here’s some help: Humphrey. Carter. Mondale. Dukakis. Gore. Kerry. (Are you still awake?) Aside from Obama, no Democratic candidates had the Democratic base flocking to the polls. (Compare: Republicans and their rabid Tea-Party base.) Add Hillary to that rather stultifying list.

Starting in the 60s, Democratic candidates stopped delivering an inspiring economic message. But the real failure was substantive. In their sellout to the enrich-the-rich supply-siders, Democrats abandoned the working and middle class, and the party’s winning legacy of widespread prosperity. The Democratic party elite bought into and helped promulgate an economic belief system (the “Washington Consensus”) in which distribution and concentration of wealth and income not only don’t matter, they can’t matter. The quite predicable results are upon us — decades of working-class wage stagnation, and wealth concentrations that are as high or higher than any period in modern world history.

It’s no wonder the Democratic base feels betrayed. They were betrayed.

Still: despite those decades of weak-kneed collaborationism, Democrats have obviously remained more economically progressive than Republicans. Clinton and Obama managed to raise taxes some, and Obama gave us Obamacare. And the economy has shown the results. Democratic presidents have delivered growth, progress, widespread prosperity, individual economic security, and true personal economic “freedom” that Republicans — the self-proclaimed “party of growth” — can only imagine in their fever dreams.

By almost any economic measure — GDP or income growth, job creation, stock-market runups, deficit reduction, people in poverty…choose your measure — Democrats’ economic performance has unfailingly beggared what Republicans have offered up. That is true for any multi-decade period you choose to look at since World War II, or over the last century for that matter. It’s true at the national, state, and local levels. Republicans constantly promise prosperity and growth. Democrats consistently deliver it (at least compared to Republicans). They’ve kicked Republicans’ economic asses, decade after decade.

Bigger pie? Raise all boats? Talk to the Democrats.

But nobody seems to know that. Did you? And Democrats never even say it — much less repeat it endlessly over decades, shouting it from the rooftops to stir up the base as Republicans would. The old saw is apparently right: “A liberal is someone who won’t take their own side in an argument.”

Perhaps that failure is a result of progressives’ fussy squeamishness about people getting rich. They don’t really like that word. But voters do. A third of Americans’ think they’ll be rich someday. Fifty percent of 18–29-year-olds do. (About 5% of Americans actually are rich, with more than couple of million dollars in net worth.) That squeamishness explains the persistent “anti-capitalist” strain of American liberalism, which is such an electoral disaster at the voting booth.

Democrats have much to atone for in their failure to hold the line on progressive economic principles, their failure to wholeheartedly champion and defend the working and middle classes, their sellout and abdication to the bankster class. But they also have much to crow about. Instead, though, they’ve stood by for decades while Republicans have falsely claimed the “party of growth” moniker, contrary to all historical evidence.

It is the economy, stupid. Voters, Democratic and Republican alike, will tell you in surveys about all the things they care about. But when they walk into the voting booth, they’re going to choose the person who they think will make them, their families, and those around them more prosperous, comfortable, and economically secure. They vote for candidates who they think will deliver better lives — starting with people having enough money to pay the bills. The Republicans realized that forty-plus years ago, and they’ve been winning based on that ever since. “I’ll cut your taxes and deliver economic growth.” Full stop, drop the mic.

Trump showed us that fire-breathing populism wins elections. While his brimstone reeked of many things, economic populism was at the core of his rhetorical fur ball. Even as he prepared to betray the working class at unheard-of levels, he channeled that betrayal straight onto his vote tally. “Audacity”? Obama should grab a stool and go to school.

And Bernie showed us the same thing. His campaign was unprecedented in American political history, funding a full-boat national campaign and outspending Hillary by 25 million dollars, almost completely with small donations. His message of economic populism brought in more than 200 million dollars in donations from 2.5 million people. And he turned out the enthusiastic base, in droves. Presumably he would have done so on election day, as well. Are Democratic political operatives finally beginning to take note?

There is a path out of the wilderness for Democrats. It’s the path they’ve trod before, with huge success. It involves (for once) coalescing around a core message that resonates with all Americans, repeated endlessly over years and decades. “Equality” and “opportunity,” important as they are, are weak beer on the campaign trail. Most Americans change the channel.  Tell them what they want to hear:

“We make America rich.”

The double meaning is fully intended.

 

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How do Americans get rich? (and stay rich?)

Originally published at Evonomics and reposted at Naked Capitalism, Angry Bear Steve Roth continues his conversation on riches, income, debt, and expectations. Steve Roth serves as Publisher of Evonomics.

By Steve Roth

How do Americans get rich?  (and stay rich?)

It’s the American dream. A third of Americans think they’ll be rich someday. More than half of 18–29 year olds think they will be.

Less than 5% actually make it.* And many of those do it the old-fashioned way: they inherit it. About 60% of U.S. household wealth is inherited. Between a quarter and a third of Forbes 400 billionaires got rich that way. It may not be the most common way to get there, but it’s widespread, and it’s surely the easiest way.

That aspiration to wealth is deeply understandable. Getting high income from a good job is all well and good, but because wealth begets more wealth — people are compensated simply for owning things — wealth is, potentially, forever. It persists, and spreads through families and dynasties. Wealth can, and often does, endure for generations.

So it’s worth asking: how do Americans accumulate wealth? And how does that vary across income and wealth classes? How do the bottom 50% accumulate wealth, for instance, compared to the top 1%?

The Distributional National Accounts

A huge aid to answering that question arrived last month. Gabriel Zucman, Emmanuel Saez, and Thomas Piketty (PSZ) released one of the most important pieces of economic research in the last century. Their Distributional National Accounts (DINAs) reveal the distribution of national income to different income classes, wealth classes, age groups, and genders (and potentially different races, etc. etc.). This has been unavailable in the national accounts, and as a result it’s absent in most macroeconomic empirical work.

Here’s one poster exhibit:

Collect the whole set.

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Neel Kashkari and the Minneapolis Plan to End Too Big to Fail

Neel Kashkari has been President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis since January 1, 2016. Prior to that, he was brought over from Goldman Sachs to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Stability from October 2008 to May 2009. His job was to hand out money to the banks as bailout.

I believe the first time first time he was mentioned at this blog was right after he was appointed to give away our money:

The bail-out will succeed only, repeat, only in the sense that the US succeeded in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 when Simone Ledeen and the rest of the Heritage interns were running around the country handing out trash bags full of money and giving Halliburton money for services it would never begin to render. There will be less yabbering of silly catchphrases like “but what about all the schools that were painted?” this time around, though, because the schools will be exploding when GW is no longer in office. To be extremely precise, this is what I think the success will look like: shady, undeserving characters will be enriched, young versions of the idiots who got us into the mess will launch successful careers (can you say “Kashkari”?), and the promised benefits to the American public, the schmucks footing the bill, will never materialize.

From memory, not only is that the first time I mentioned Mr. Kashkari, it is also the most complementary I have been toward him yet. But now, Mr. Kashkari is back with a new scheme to reduce the likelihood of a meltdown.

Kashkari provides this slide as a summary of his plan:

Figure 1 - The Minneapolis Plan

Figure 1  (click on the slide to embiggen)

Accompanying the slide is this platitude which also functions as a fly in the ointment:

We cannot make the risk zero, and safety isn’t free. Regulations can make the financial system safer, but they come with costs of potentially slower economic growth. Ultimately, the public has to decide how much safety they want in order to protect society from future financial crises and what price they are willing to pay for that safety.

Because Kashkari is a political creature who won’t speak clearly, to get an understanding of what the vegetables he wants us to eat taste like we go to the full plan:

We measure the cost of higher capital requirements in terms of lost GDP due to tighter lending conditions. This calculation requires a number of steps. We trace the impact of higher capital requirements to lower bank return on equity (ROE) and then to higher loan rates. Higher loan rates slow economic growth by restricting borrowing. As noted above, this approach closely follows the BIS.

And the banks agree:

The Financial Services Forum that represents U.S. financial services companies cautioned that implementing the recommendations would stymie the economy. “For those looking to accelerate economic growth and job creation, tripling bank capital levels — already double from pre-crisis levels — will make it much harder to meet those goals,” the forum’s spokeswoman, Laena Fallon, said by e-mail.

So, to summarize the negative side of this proposal: more stringent regulatory requirements –> higher interest rates –> less borrowing –> slower growth in GDP.

I recognize that this is gospel in the banking and regulatory community, and its been many moons since I thought of myself as an economist, but this seems pretty daft to me. Or rather, it seems like regulatory capture speaking. Consider for a moment this seemingly unrelated graph:

Figure 2 - The Fed Funds Rate and the Bank Prime Rate

Figure 2.

Note that the bank prime rate (orange line on the graph) is almost perfectly correlated with the fed funds rate (blue line on the graph) which is set by the Federal Reserve Bank. The difference between the two lines is shown in the gray bars. Do you see the large, sustained increase in that difference between the pre-Crisis period and the present that is due to the large increase in capital requirements we’ve already seen? No? Well, that’s because it didn’t happen. This notion that increased capital requirements raises the interest rates that banks charge their customers makes perfect sense in theory, but it stubbornly refuses to actually be true in the real world.

However, let’s assume this time things will be different. Let’s assume that unlike what we’ve seen so far, this time increased capital requirements do lead to a big sustained increase in the bank prime rate. Say for the sake of this post that the requirements effectively doubles the difference between the fed funds rate and the bank prime rate, permanently. What changes?

Well, if the Fed decided, at that point, that it wanted to raise or lower the interest rates charged by banks, it would do what it currently does in the same situation, namely change the federal funds rate. If anything changes at all, maybe, just maybe it will do so at the lower bound. And if there were some evidence that the Fed knows what its doing when the Fed Funds rate is near the lower bound, I admit that would be a concern.

So there’s no downside to this plan, at least as far as I can see.  Of course, the plan is just the tame one we’ve already enacted, but with a bit more in the way of a bite and, courtesy of Mr. Kashkari, a more extravagant soundtrack.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has a good sized research team. Kashkari could have asked any of them of to explain how the Fed Funds rate works, or about the relationship between the Fed Funds rate and the rates charged by banks. But failing upwards requires ignorance.  The higher up you are, the more ignorance is required. It is clear Mr. Kashkari has further to rise.

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Hacked Netflix: A Sort of Modest Analogy

I don’t have the patience to sit on the couch and just stare at the tube like a lot of people seem to enjoy doing. I do however watch movies while exercising or doing chores. The result is that I start and stop whatever I am watching frequently, and there are times it might take me a week or more to watch a movie. That makes Netflix perfect for me.

 

A couple of weeks ago my Netflix account was hacked. The first indication was that the default language for my account kept changing from English to Portuguese or Spanish. Since I am almost as likely to watch a foreign language movie than an English language one, it took me a few days to realize what was going on. And what was going on was that people were accessing my account from Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Columbia, Spain, etc. It got a bit irritating – occasionally my son or I (the two authorized users on the account) had trouble getting on. Eventually one of the unauthorized users helpfully went into my account selections and upped the number of screens that can be on simultaneously from two to four (for an added $2 a month charged to my credit card).

 

So I changed my password… and it didn’t stop. I changed the email address associated with my account… and it didn’t stop. I am trying to isolate the problem scientifically now, first to determine whether the problem is on my end, and if so, where the leak is happening. I am running an experiment to try to determine whether somehow, someone can read information off of my computer/router/etc. After all, if that is the case, I have bigger problems than people messing with my Netflix account.

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Just Rumor(s) Today in Detroit

- Chrysler Fiat sold the car division sans Jeep, MiniVan and Trucks to the Chinese. They also closed production on Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart June of this year. It will be the first time Chrysler/Dodge have not had Cars if this is true. 200 (UF) and Dodge Dart (PF) never did met forecast so it closing down production for these two cars is not a surprise. Overall, cars were not a Chrysler strong suit. Trucks and Jeeps were followed up by MiniVans.

- Yazaki (Tier 1) in Canton Michigan supposedly laid off 150 at Corporate Headquarters which is about a 10% workforce reduction. Yazaki is about $20 billion in size and a Japanese company.

I heard it from pretty good sources; but, one never knows. We will have to see if it is real or not. I wonder if Trump/Congress will intercede for this one?

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Crony Capitalism

Teabagger and maybe Trump nominee for something (hopefully other than the Sec. of the VA), Sarah Palin slams Trump and Pence in a Randian manner on bailing out Carrier and Carrier workers calling it as an intrusion on free enterprise. Afterwards she gushes; “I am ecstatic for Carrier employees! Their bosses just decided to keep shop onshore. What a relief for hundreds of workers. Merry Christmas Indiana!”

Foundational to our exceptional nation’s sacred private property rights, a business must have freedom to locate where it wishes. In a free market, if a business makes a mistake (including a marketing mistake that perhaps Carrier executives made), threatening to move elsewhere claiming efficiency’s sake, then the market’s invisible hand punishes. Thankfully, that same hand rewards, based on good business decisions.

But this time-tested truth assumes we’re operating on a level playing field.

When government steps in arbitrarily with individual subsidies, favoring one business over others, it sets inconsistent, unfair, illogical precedent. Meanwhile, the invisible hand that best orchestrates a free people’s free enterprise system gets amputated. Then, special interests creep in and manipulate markets. Republicans oppose this, remember? Instead, we support competition on a level playing field, remember? Because we know special interest crony capitalism is one big fail.

Sarah is correct, incentives to business interests to not leave the country and layoff Labor only leaves the country hostage to corporate interests in the future. Trump’s actions and promises leave the door open for other companies to come through asking for a similar deal to save Labor. If he does not keep the company in the US, Labor will also see his promises to change the country as political rhetoric (if they haven’t already) to get elected and not worth much in the end. It will be interesting to follow his actions.

Come to Michigan which has a tough time fixing roads and infrastructure and yet can spend $billions in subsidies to business. Indiana had RTW laws, had multiple subsidies to business including Carrier, and had tax abatement of which none of it stopped companies from leaving Indiana. Under Pence, Indiana gave $Millions to companies that offshored jobs Companies come and go to states or other countries for other reasons which states can not prevent. Poorly spent money bribing companies to stay can also be hard to get back from the companies who had a change of heart. Indiana has had difficulty in getting the incentives back when companies still leave and the incentives are so poorly written they also do little or nothing to stop the company from closing an unspecified nearby plant.

Sarah Palin: But… Wait… The Good Guys Won’t Win With More Crony Capitalism YC Young Conservatives, December 2, 2016

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