This paper shows how data from world financial markets can be used to shed light on the central question of whether the Surge has increased or diminished the prospect of today’s Iraq surviving into the future. In particular, I examine the price of Iraqi state bonds, which the Iraqi government is currently servicing, on world financial markets. After the Surge, there is a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds. The decline signaled a 40% increase in the market’s expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that to date the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.
I have a few thoughts after reading Greenstone’s work:
1. This paper shows how good economic analysis can contribute in a fundamental way to public policy. Anyone who reads Greenstone’s article will recognize that it is careful and thorough. It is even-handed and apolitical. It combines state-of-the-art data analysis techniques with economic logic (e.g., using market prices to draw conclusions about how things are going).
2. Top economists like Greenstone virtually never write papers like this. The simple reason is that this sort of work is not rewarded in our profession. Academic economists are judged by the papers they publish in peer-reviewed journals. The lag time between submission to these journals and publication is often two or more years. By that time, no one will be interested in the surge, so editors won’t want to publish the paper. Consequently, good economists don’t think it is worth their while to do topical work like this.
3. Instead, this sort of analysis tends to be done by bad economists, or economists on the payroll of special interests. These reports might appear informative, but instead are often pure propaganda. To outsiders, it is difficult to determine what is careful analysis like Greenstone has produced versus the usual junk.
4. The internet can potentially solve both problems (2) and (3) above, leading to an increased supply of good, timely analysis. If people like Greenstone can immediately get their findings into the public debate through the internet, it gives a real purpose (not just an academic one) to doing the work. In addition, there are now online peer-reviewed academic journals that have greatly sped the time from submission to publication, potentially increasing the academic payoff to someone like Greenstone. With many respected economists now blogging, there is also a vehicle for these folks to weigh in on the quality of policy-related economic writings — like I am doing in this blog post
I can think of a good example of Steve’s #3 – how Lawrence Kudlow looks at stock market movements as proof we are winning in the Iraq.