Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Banishing Racism From Racism

In the last few months I have gotten accused of racism a few times at this blog. I don’t think I am misrepresenting my accusers by stating that their claim is based primarily because of my views on a) immigration and b) the differences between the economic performance of different countries. The two issues actually collapse into one. I have stated repeatedly that I believe that culture is a key factor affecting the difference in economic outcomes (and many social outcomes) between countries. Furthermore, I have stated that people carry culture with them when they move, so a wise immigration policy would select immigrants whose culture is both compatible and likely to generate positive economic results and limited friction.

I claim no credit for these ideas, mind you. Outside of some quarters, the idea that culture is a driver economic growth is widespread, long standing, well established and supported by data. I find it stunning that anyone would question the importance of culture in driving growth and the assimilation of immigrants.

But it is important to always be willing to question one’s beliefs, so I am going to do that here and now. So… how would we show that culture is not a determinant in how well a country does? I can think of a few possible tests but I want to avoid data at this time and just talk it through.

If we do that, we could start by defining “countries that do well.” In general, these would be countries that are stable, pleasant to live in, and relatively wealthy. Over the past few decades, if someone were to make a list of such countries, it would probably look more or like this (in no particular order): the US, Canada, Northwest Europe, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and, until China began applying a heavier thumb, Hong Kong. Those also happen to be the countries that would attract the most foreigners interested in being citizens, so this quick and dirty list should pass a basic smell test. (If some of these nations don’t have much of an immigrant population and don’t rank on high on the destination of potential immigrants, it is because they are very selective about the who they let in as opposed to being shunned by would be immigrants.)

So what do these places have in common? It isn’t natural resources. Just ask the Japanese. (Plus, in countries outside of the list above, being blessed by nature somehow correlates with suffering from the “Resource Curse.”) It isn’t Democracy as we know it. That’s a relatively new thing for South Korea, Hong Kong was ruled by foreigners for most of the last century, and then, of course, there’s Singapore. It isn’t coming into the post-WW2 period wealthy; quite a few countries on the list were in miserable shape in 1945. It isn’t a matter of exploiting other countries (which Americans of a certain bent are always fond of claiming is the US’ secret) – South Koreans will proudly tell you that the country has never invaded anyone in well over 2,000 years. Switzerland, too, is proudly neutral. The Scandinavians have also been pretty pacifist for well over a century as well. Small government? As much as libertarians like to claim Singapore for their own, ignoring the massive government participation in the economy (think Temasek, Singapore Airlines, Mediacorp, Singtel, Singapore Power, etc.). Nor did Japan, Inc. qualify. Something about about geography and environmental factors that these countries have in common? Nope and nope.

To be blunt, there doesn’t seem to be a factor or group of factors that can be applied to these countries but not to countries that are “developing.” I also hesitate to go with supernatural explanations, particularly since, as I learned about four decads ago (long before the stupid movie was made), Deus é Brasileiro. Besides, there is no such thing as empirical theology. For completeness, I should also say the Guns, Germs and Steel explanation got a few things right about the past. However, unless I missed something, Papua New Guinea is not is not putting out the performance you’d expect from the world’s smartest people in the Internet Age, which should go some way toward invalidating Diamond’s hypothesis.

On the other hand, I can describe a few cultural factors that distinguish these countries from others. For instance, these countries have (or had) reputations of being the home of people who were, on average, diligent, frugal, studious, and punctual among other traits. I presume those traits are largely learned, I might add.

And just like that, I slipped back into my sinning ways. So let us assume that like Winston Smith, I really would prefer to believe something that presently I don’t. Perhaps my reasons are not as noble as Smith’s. Maybe I am only concerned because I know that cultures change, and I wonder about the direction in which ours is currently headed. But regardless of my motives, how do I convince myself?

Tell me, please, what are the factors that explain economic and social performance so well that we can dispense with culture entirely as an explanation?

Tags: , , , , , Comments (68) | |

Issues Affecting Economic Growth – Gored Oxen Edition

I write about issues I believe affect economic growth. For example, over the years, I have written a lot about taxes. And here’s a simple graph showing why:

Tax Rates v Growth in Real GDP per capita

What we see is that tax rates at any given time seem to be related to the growth rate of real GDP per capita over the next decade. What is more, the correlation is positive. That is to say, growth tends to be faster when tax rates are higher, and not lower. This of course contradicts popular belief, particularly among Republicans. However, since economic growth is important for the quality of life of all Americans, getting this right matters. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, government policy has gradually moved us in a direction that inhibits growth.

Of course, it could be the relationship between tax rates and future growth shown in the graph is a spurious correlation. But that is unlikely, since it is very easy to explain why (up to a certain point) higher tax rates would lead to faster economic growth. Additionally, even people who get the direction of the correlation wrong are certain a correlation is there. But… if it ever does turn out that the relationship is spurious, we won’t find that out by keeping our head in the sand.

Another topic I have been writing on a lot lately is immigration. Here’s what a graph looking at the foreign born population in certain years and the growth rate of real GDP per capita over the next ten years:

Foreign Born Population v. Growth in Real GDP per capita

The correlation between the share of the population that is foreign born and the growth rate is negative, which indicates that as the foreign born share rises, growth falls. The correlation between these two variables, at least in the post WW2 era, is stronger than the correlation between tax rates and growth. This of course contradicts popular belief, particularly among Democrats. However, since economic growth is important for the quality of life of all Americans, getting this right matters. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, government policy has gradually moved us in a direction that inhibits growth.

Of course, it could be the relationship between the percentage of the population that is foreign born and future growth shown in the graph is a spurious correlation. But that is unlikely, since it is very easy to explain why (up to a certain point) having less immigration would lead to faster economic growth. Additionally, even people who get the direction of the correlation wrong are certain a correlation is there. But… if it ever does turn out that the relationship is spurious, we won’t find that out by keeping our head in the sand.

If it seems to you that I have written almost exactly the same thing about taxation and immigration, it isn’t your imagination.  I did a copy and paste of a big chunk of the first half of the post to the second half and changed a few words.  The fact is, the analysis is very similar. The only difference is whose ox is getting gored. A grown up is willing to look the data in the eyes and follow it where it goes.

Tags: , , Comments (27) | |

Debt and Growth III

I’m going to try to make this post brief and comprehensible.  It contains no information not in an earlier post but I delete a whole lot of distracting data.

The question is does the Reinhart Rogoff (hence R-R) data set on public debt and real GDP in 20 rich countries post WWII contain evidence that a debt to gdp ratio higher than 90% causes lower real GDP growth.  My answer is no it does not contain any such evidence.

Note the very very low bar.  I claim no evidence of a bad effect not just no evidence that 90% is a critical level at which additional debt becomes extremely bad for growth but no evidence of any effect on growth at all.

Why is my result different from almost everyon else’s (except for Dube’s) ?  Well I take the very very first step to address causation — I run a regression including lagged real GDP growth.  This is the first standard totally unconvincing way to try to determine causation from historical data.  A significant estimated effect of debt would mean that debt “Granger causes” low growth where Granger cause is the English translation of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

 

nreg6

 

the dependent variable is annual real GDP growth.  The first coefficient is on the debt to gdp ratio in percent rounded down to 90 if it is over 90.  The second coefficient — the coefficient of interest — is the ratio minus 90 if it is over 90 or zero if it is under 90.  This coefficient is an estimate of the effect of further debt once debt has already reached 90% of GDP — exactly the effect of interest.  l1drgdp is the one year lagged rate of real GDP growth. _cons is aconstant term.

The point is that the coefficient on debtgdpmin90 is actually very slightly positive.  There is no evidence in the R-R data set that debt to GDP ratios greater than 90% are worse for growth than a debt ratio of 90%.

 

Here is the stata do file which generates the result.  It uses the R-R data set as processed a bit by Herndon et al and available here 

 

clear
use C:\rjw\Papers\Peri\RR-processed.dta

quietly tab Country,gen(count)
gen cntry = count1+2*count2+3*count3+4*count4+5*count5+6*count6 + 7*count7 + 8*count8+9*count9+10*count10+11*count11+12*count12+13*count13+14*count14+15*count15+16*count16+17*count17+18*count18+19*count19+20*count20

gen l1drgdp = dRGDP[_n-1] if cntry[_n-1]==cntry

gen debtgdpto90 = debtgdp + (90-debtgdp)*(debtgdp>90)
gen debtgdpmin90 = debtgdp-debtgdpto90

gen debtgdpto30 = debtgdp + (30-debtgdp)*(debtgdp>30)
gen debtgdpmin30 = debtgdp-debtgdpto30

reg dRGDP debtgdpto90 debtgdpmin90 l1drgdp

 

 

 

Tags: , Comments (3) | |

Here’s to hoping: wage, salary, and income gains

There are reasons to expect the second half of the year to be be stronger than the first. Here are two: (1) the rebound in industrial activity following supply chain disruptions, and (2) possible impetus to investment spending coming from the depreciation allowance that expires this year. These factors, though, are just dressing up what may be weak underlying demand. Why? Because without significant jobs growth, it’s unclear that we’ll see the wage, salary, and income generation needed for a healthy continuation of the deleveraging cycle.

On the bright side, the Q1 2011 Gross Domestic Income, GDI, report does show a smart rebound in wage and salary accruals. The problem is, that corporate profit growth, which generally leads wage and salary accruals growth, is slowing. (GDI is the income side of the BEA’s GDP release and you can download the data here.)


READ MORE AFTER THE JUMP!
The chart illustrates annual domestic profit and wage/salary growth spanning 1981 Q1 to 2011 Q1. The series are deflated by the GDP price index. Real domestic profit growth has been robust, peaking at 65% Yr/Yr in Q4 2009 and decelerating to 7% in Q1 2011. The surge in corporate profits brought real wage and salary accruals growth to a 2.1% annual pace in Q1 2011.

With higher input costs and slowing productivity gains, domestic profit margins are likely to be squeezed unless demand re-emerges smartly. The implication is that real wage and salary accruals growth may be nearing ‘as good as it gets’ territory during the aftermath of a balance sheet recession.

And labor’s losing it’s share of the pie. The chart below illustrates the various component contributions to annual gross domestic income growth. (the best that I could do on size vs. clarity – click to enlarge)

The data are quarterly data spanning 1981 Q1 to 2011 Q1 and deflated by the GDP price index. Wage and salary accruals have become a smaller part of income growth in the last decade. Spanning 1981-2000, the average contribution to income growth from wage and salary accruals was 1.5% (simple average), where that spanning the years 2001-current was just 0.3%. The average corporate profit contribution held firm over the same two periods, roughly 0.3%.

Growth momentum has slowed over the period, however, the deceleration in wage and salary contribution is quite striking. I can’t explain it even with the ‘demographic shift’; but this trend is likewise reflected in the employment to population ratio.

Wages, income, spending power, consumption, saving – they’re all different ways to say the same thing: earned income can be spent in one of three ways, on taxes, consumption, or saving. And in this recovery, saving via income gains is important as households further deleverage. We can’t afford compensationless expansion.

The key to growth in 2011 and 2012 is wages, salaries, and income – here’s to hoping.

Rebecca Wilder

Update: Spencer has a foreboding point in comments from my earlier post on GDP. He notes that inflation measured by the GDP deflator probably understates the impetus to domestic prices – domestic purchases is more appropriate at a 3.8% annual rate. The implication, according to Spencer via Email is, “If the inflation rate is really 3.8%, not 1.9 %, it strongly implies that the dominant cause of the economic weakness is higher inflation, not supply chain disruptions.”

Tags: , , , Comments (2) | |

"Survey says"…. German growth has probably peaked

This week further evidence has emerged of Germany’s slowing growth trajectory. At 4.9% annual growth (calendar-adjusted) and a tightening bias from the ECB, this was, of course, to be expected.

READ MORE AFTER THE JUMP!
Yesterday the Manufacturing May ‘Flash’ PMI by Markit Research highlighted, in my view, that sentiment is unlikely to remain at these absurdly elevated levels indefinitely, as the index dropped to 58.2 from 62 in April. Notably, the index remained above 60 for five consecutive months.

Today the Ifo Institute released its business survey for May, revealing that industry and trade remained stable in May. This index hovers at record highs compared to a post-unification time series.

Overall, while the two sentiment indicators diverged this month (the PMI waning, while the Ifo holding firm), the story remains that Germany is slowing down. Furthermore, the Ifo survey portends a deceleration in industrial production growth (IP), perhaps over the next quarter.

Exhibit 1 The ratio of the components of Ifo – expectations and current conditions – suggest a sharp reversal in the industrial production growth trend.

The chart correlates annual industrial production growth with the % differential between the expectations and current conditions components of the Ifo index at a 6-month lead. I don’t expect IP growth to turn negative, but a slowdown is certainly due.

Exhibit 2 Take the Ifo sentiment with a grain of salt!

Ifo really is more of a coincident indicator of economic growth than anything else. For example, the Ifo composite has a 77% correlation coefficient with annual real GDP growth. Previous to the current recovery/expansion, the Ifo index hit a peak of 108.7 in March 2008 only to see growth decelerate sharply the next quarter, 2.7% Y/Y to 1.6% Y/Y. My point is, while it’s a decent indicator of economic strength during expansions, it’s a terrible predictor of turning points.

We’re not at a turning point now – Ifo plus PMI demonstrate that the German economy continues to expand, albeit at a slower pace.

The real question is, what does this mean for the rest of Europe, specifically the Periphery? It’s not totally clear, but certainly with Germany contributing more than 50% to the quarterly growth rate in Q1, downside risks are emerging. Prieur du Plessis argues that this is related to the global slowdown in manufacturing.

Rebecca Wilder

Tags: , , Comments (0) | |

A Response to Megan McArdle, Again (by cactus)

by cactus

Megan McArdle responds to a post I wrote:

So Obama doesn’t count because he’s not really a Democrat. But Bill Clinton was. But Richard Nixon–the chap who implemented price controls and massively expanded Social Security and Medicare–was definitely a Republican. Jimmy Carter, who deregulated like mad: definitely a Democrat.

What are these policies that neatly define Democrats to exclude only the ones who happen to have crappy growth? On what metric does Barack Obama register as farther to the right than Bill Clinton? Because from what I remember of the 1990s, I spent most of the decade listening to my genuinely left-wing friends weep that he’d betrayed them. Remember Edelman’s resigning in protest of welfare reform?

I thought it was unnecessary at this point to explain the one thing I’ve pointed out time and again differentiates Republicans from Democrats. I think the first time was here. (I tend not to break out JFK from LBJ, or Nixon from Ford because JFK and Ford only served a short time, but the post that is attached is illustrative of behavior, not performance.)

The difference is the tax burden – that is, the percentage of people’s income that gets collected in taxes. Not the marginal rate – the amount people actually pay divided by the amount they make. And there is a difference, a big difference. As an example: George Herbert Walker Bush famously raised marginal rates. It might have cost him an election. But GHW Bush also quietly lowered the tax burden. He did it through the people he appointed to the IRS, through the degree of compliance he sought, through the way his IRS interpreted existing rules and regulations and through how the body of tax rules and regulations changed while he was in office.

Going back to 1952 at least, every Democrat, every single one, has increased the tax burden. Every single Republican raised lowered [h/t Bruce Webb] them. The data in the attached post is from the IRS and goes back only to 1952, but one can wander over to the BEA’s NIPA Table 2.1 and compute the tax burden ourselves with National Income data going back to 1929, and whaddaya know, the rule also works for Hoover, FDR, and Truman. Just barely for Truman… but then he is the exception on performance too, right?

Now, I doubt you could find a single person on the right of the political spectrum who would tell you that taxes don’t affect economic growth. They all believe taxes affect growth. Of course, the story they tell is that cutting taxes produces faster economic growth. The fact is, however, the Presidents who cut tax burdens tended to produce slower economic growth than those who raised taxes. (I’ve discussed why in a number of other posts, and I don’t feel like rehashing or looking for those posts now. I also note this isn’t just true of Presidents. My fellow Angry Bear, Spencer, once pointed out that there are a lot of people out there who seem to think we’d all be better off if the country was Alabama than if it was Massachussetts.)

Unfortunately, tax burden data, like any other bit of real world data, fluctuates somewhat from year to year, so its really going to be a while before we know what direction they’re really headed over O’s administration. As in, several years. And most of us are impatient. So we’d like to have some leading indicators, so to speak, of what Obama is going to do, of where he’s going to fall on the one R v. D divide that really matters. And right now, he’s behaving like the folks who have cut tax burdens in the past. He’s also talking like them. His bail-out is identical to GW’s, and when he talks about taxes, it doesn’t sound like Clinton, it sounds like GW. So its reasonable to wonder whether he’s going to stick to the R v. D rule. And the next test coming up is healthcare; a D would be putting his political capital on the public option right now. An R wouldn’t. What’s it gonna be, we’ll soon see.

More below the fold.

Now, in Megan’s post, she refers to “Cactus and his merry band of madmen.” I’m not sure the merry band of madmen over here truly have a leader, much less that I’m the one (Dan is the official grand poobah in charge of the blog, after all!!) but I’m guessing you aren’t a part of that merry band of madmen if any of the following apply to you:

  1. You do not believe that since 1929 at least, every single D has increased the tax burden and every single R has decreased the tax burden, despite the fact that the data shows precisely this, and despite the fact that it fits the caricature of Ds and Rs to a T, so to speak.
  2. You do not believe that since 1929, Ds have generally outperformed Rs when it comes to real economic growth, despite the fact that the data shows precisely this.
  3. You do not believe that administrations that cut the tax burden have also generally been the administrations that grew more rapidly, despite 1. and 2.
  4. You do not believe that the tax burden could possibly have anything to do with growth.

If you do believe these things, if you believe what the data shows , I’m sorry to say but you’re one of us, one of the merry band of madmen. On the other hand, if you fit these rules, there are a whole lot of folks out there, Megan McArdle included, who would consider you sane.

Tags: , , , , Comments (0) | |

Some color for the Angry Bears

It has been great weather here in Riland, today included. In the spirit of celebrating growth renewing (as we count down the days to the election) I thought I would put up some pictures of the shop and add some color to the blog. Some of the none language kind of color that is.


No, I do not do any of the designing. I have never had the eye for such work.

These are all silk arrangements of our own design. Good silks are so real you have to touch them to tell the difference.

The indoor plant room. Usually this looks like a jungle, but the season dictates outdoor plants. We have herbs also.

The greenhouse. We will be moving these to the second house to provide more room for them to grow out.

And the plug…

Tags: , , Comments (0) | |

Growth, more than freedom of capital

We have been discussing a lot of economics through the political viewer lately. And I certainly have laid my point of view out there, but I also like the theory discussion. I like to think and know how stuff works or how someone interprets what they see. I believe discussing theories leads to better political discussion. With that, I hope this might inspire some tangent topics into the political here at AB.

This is a paper out of France by Robert U Ayres & Benjamin Warr titled: Accounting for Growth: The role of physical work

They suggest the increasing extraction of work from energy do to the increasing development of energy use is the missing factor that explains our growth.

“However the major result of the paper is that it is not `raw’ energy (exergy) as an input, but exergy converted to useful (physical) work that – along with capital and(human)labor – really explains output and drives long-term economic growth.” “However, if we replace raw energy as an input by `useful work’ (the sum total of all types of physical work by animals, prime movers and heat transfer systems) as a factor of production, the historical growth path of the US is reproduced with high accuracy from 1900 until the mid 1970s, without any residual except during brief periods of economic dislocation, and with fairly high accuracy since then.”

There key concept is the definition of exergy.

“The formal definition of exergy is the maximum work that could theoretically be done by a system as it approaches thermodynamic equilibrium with its surroundings, reversibly. Thus exergy is effectively equivalent to potential work. There is an important distinction between potential work and actual work done by animals or machines. The conversion efficiency between exergy (potential work), as an input, and actual work done, as an output, is also an important concept in thermodynamics. The notion of thermodynamic efficiency plays a key role in this paper.
To summarize: the technical definition of exergy is the maximum work that a subsystem can do as it approaches thermodynamic equilibrium (reversibly) with its surroundings.”

This summarizes their theories development:

The supposed link between factor payments and factor productivities gives the national accounts a direct and fundamental (but spurious) role in production theory. In reality, however, (as noted in the introduction) the economy produces final products from a chain of intermediates, not directly from raw materials or, still less, from labor and capital without material inputs. In the simple single sector model used to `prove’ the relationship between factor productivity and factor payments, this crucial fact is neglected. Allowing for the omission of intermediates (by introducing even a two-sector or three-sector production process) the picture changes completely. In effect, downstream value-added stages act as productivity multipliers. This enables a factor receiving a very small share of the national income directly, to contribute a much larger effective share of the value of aggregate production, i.e. to be much more productive than its share of overall labor and capital would seem to imply if the simple theory of income allocation were applicable [Ayres 2001a].

If this is true, then we have a bigger problem concerning how to keep this boat floating than subprime lending and fed rates. We have a policy problem. And that speaks to all the work Cactus has done about presidents.

Related to Cactus’ work, this chart from the this paper is interesting. It is the unexplained portion of growth by their theory.

Note that this phenomenon begins right about where we see the lowest point of the top 1% share of income, just after we see the split of productivity from wages and the beginnings of the supplyside policies and a change to a net debtor nation. The authors suggest some of this is do to conservation.

“We conjecture that a kind of phase-change or structural shift took place at that time, triggered perhaps by the so-called energy crisis, precipitated by the OPEC blockade. Higher energy prices induced significant investments in energy conservation and systems optimization.”

They further refine the explanation with:

“The marginal productivity of capital has started to increase whereas the marginal productivity of physical work – resulting from increases in the efficiency of energy conversion – has declined slightly.”

Could this marginal capital productivity increase be a result of our policy focus on capital as the driver of growth? Money from money? Are we seeing in their explanation that part of our growth that is borrowed from our future, thus artificially created?
As I read this paper it made me think about the European economies who have been focusing on alternative energy development, wind in Denmark, solar in Germany, (Japan), wave generation in England and northern parts, geothermal in Iceland/Greenland. This paper to me suggests that this coming election has at the core of all our topical issues (health care, war, inflation) energy. As the authors conclude keeping in mind peak production issues and the declining output of Saudi’s fields:
“From a long-term sustainability viewpoint, this conclusion carries a powerful implication. If economic growth is to continue without proportional increases in fossil fuel consumption, it is vitally important to exploit new ways of generating value added without doing more work. But it is also essential to develop ways of reducing fossil fuel exergy inputs per unit of physical work output (i.e. increasing conversion efficiency). In other words, energy (exergy) conservation is probably the main key to long term environmental sustainability.”

Is China in trouble? There is a start of a discussion about peak oil and it’s potential effect here.

Tags: , , , Comments (0) | |