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Baumol Cost Disease and Relative Prices – Part 2

Baumol Cost Disease and Relative Prices – Part 2

Many thanks to the Angrybear for reposting this as well as some excellent comments (save that absurd contention I’m a Luddite). If you check the comments over at Mark Perry’s place you will see that Paul Wynn made the same point I made and even linked to Timothy Lee:

This became known as Baumol’s cost disease, and Baumol realized that it had implications far beyond the arts. It implies that in a world of rapid technological progress, we should expect the cost of manufactured goods — cars, smartphones, T-shirts, bananas, and so forth — to fall, while the cost of labor-intensive services — schooling, health care, child care, haircuts, fitness coaching, legal services, and so forth — to rise. And this is exactly what the data shows. Decade after decade, health care and education have gotten more expensive while the price of clothing, cars, furniture, toys, and other manufactured goods has gone down relative to the overall inflation rate — exactly the pattern Baumol predicted a half-century ago… this has an important implication for government policy. Most of federal and state budgets are spent on services — law enforcement, education, health care, the courts, and so forth — that are subject to Baumol’s cost disease. Government spending on these categories has grown inexorably in recent decades, and many conservatives see this as a sign that there’s something badly wrong with how the government provides these services. But Baumol’s work suggests another explanation: It was simply inevitable that these services would get more expensive over time, at least relative to private sector manufactured goods like televisions and cars. The rising cost of services is an unavoidable side effect of rising affluence generally. There’s probably no way to maintain our current standard of living while cutting the cost of these services back to the levels of the 1950s.

Lee wrote this back on May 4 and included the same graph that Mark Perry presented.

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Mark Perry Has Never Heard of William Baumol

Mark Perry Has Never Heard of William Baumol

Otherwise why would Mark Perry write this nonsense:

The chart above (thanks to Olivier Ballou) is an update of a chart we produced last year about this time, and shows the percent changes since January 1997 in the prices of selected consumer goods and services, along with the increase in average hourly earnings in this version … Blue lines = prices subject to free market forces. Red lines = prices subject to regulatory capture by government. Food and drink is debatable either way. Conclusion: remind me why socialism is so great again.

PGL: The reason that prices of certain services have risen relative to the price of manufactured goods is socialism? There could be no other explanation. I guess Perry has never heard of William Baumol’s cost disease:

The example Baumol and the late William G. Bowen made famous is that of the string quartet. The number of musicians and the amount of time needed to play a Beethoven string quartet for a live audience hasn’t changed in centuries, yet today’s musicians make more than Beethoven-era wages. They argued that because the quartet needs its four musicians as much as a semiconductor company needs assembly workers, the group must raise wages to keep talent—to keep its cellist from chucking a career in music and going into a better-paying job instead. The effect now known as Baumol’s Cost Disease is used to explain why prices for the services offered by people-dependent professions with low productivity growth—such as (arguably) education, health care, and the arts—keep going up, even though the amount of goods and services each worker in those industries generates hasn’t necessarily done the same.

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Why Tax Cuts for Rich Dude Will Lead to Little Stimulus

Why Tax Cuts for Rich Dude Will Lead to Little Stimulus

Over at Brad DeLong’s blog jonny bakho adds an interesting comment:

How much stimulus did the GWBush tax cuts provide? They came during a recession followed by “jobless recovery” made somewhat better by the housing bubble, then burst big time in 2008. How different would the multiplier be if given to infrastructure repair and broadband extension, investments that create domestic jobs? In a global economy, tax cuts to the investor class are spent globally. Tax cuts for investors can theoretically speed the process of offshoring if most of the good investments are in foreign countries, a negative domestic stimulus. In a global economy, all “stimulus” is leaky. To be a truly domestic stimulus, tax cuts and spending must be carefully targeted. GOP tax cuts in 2001 and 2016 were both designed to enrich wealthy patrons, with little attention to targeting for domestic stimulus

For some reason I could not add to his comment there so I decided to post my thoughts here:

Make that the 2017 tax cut and add in the 2003 tax cut and I agree. First of all the marginal propensity to consume for rich dudes (MPC-rd) is likely quite modest and the impact effect = the tax cut for our rich dude times (MPC-rd minus his marginal propensity to import). If this rich dude takes his trophy wife to Rodeo Drive to spend $1800 on a Louis Vuitton bag – that bag was made in France.

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Lawrence Summers on Those Employee Bonuses – a Redux of the 1990’s?

Lawrence Summers on Those Employee Bonuses – a Redux of the 1990’s?

Lawrence Summers made an interesting comments during a CNBC interview:

Former Treasury Secretary and Obama administration economic advisor Larry Summers said Friday that recent employee bonuses are stunts and not reflective of long-term hopes for prosperity that tax cuts are supposed to bring. “I think it’s a gimmick,” Summers told CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.” “I think in many cases the firms have to raise wages because labor markets are tight, and so why not curry some favor with the White House by linking it to the tax cuts.”

During the late 1990’s we saw a temporary surge in demand for R&D personal that was driven by the internet revolution. A lot of the compensation for these employees came in the form of employee stock options. One possible rational for this form of compensation is had these companies raised their employee wages then it might be difficult to curtail compensation if the demand for their products and services fell. In fact we know the internet revolution did have a crash at the turn of the century and the issuance and value of these employee stock options took a hit.

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The Black Unemployment Rate

The Black Unemployment Rate

 Josh Marshall listens to Donald Trump so we do not have to:

President Trump has been out bragging that “because of my policies” the African-American unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level ever. This appears to be technically true. But I thought it made sense to give some context for the nonsensical nature of this claim. As you can see, the idea that this is “because of my policies” is a bit hard to square with the actual data.

Josh provides the data on the black unemployment rate from January 1972 to December 2017. This rate spiked during the Great Recession but fell dramatically during the Obama term and continued its decline. Far enough but this is a very misleading metric. While the black unemployment rate is lower than it was even in 2000, let’s note why. The black labor force participation rate was only 62.1% as of December 2017 as opposed to 66.0 percent in April 2000. A better metric would be to compare the black employment to population rate which reached 61.4% but was only 57.9% as of December 2017. One has to wonder if Trump just thinks we are stupid or if he has just incredibly low expectations.

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Negative Interest Rates and a Term Structure Puzzle

Negative Interest Rates and a Term Structure Puzzle

James Hamilton provided us with another interesting discussion on negative interest rates:

we now have several years of experience from Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Japan, and the European Central Bank in which the central bank successfully induced negative interest rates in hopes of stimulating a greater level of spending on goods and services.

Please read the entire post including some interesting comments. Alas I must be late to the party as I could not provide a reply to an interesting query from Barkley Rosser:

Does anybody have an explanation as to why when a nation has negative nominal target interest rates it often seems that the time horizon of government securities that end up having the most negative rates are often at the two years time horizon? Look at the Sweden case, where this has been the case, and it has also been in quite a few other nations as well. I have yet to see an explanation of this peculiarly non-monotonic yield curve in this situation so often.

Maybe Europe has turned Japanese. I’ve been looking at an Excel file of their government bond rates provided by the Ministry of Finance (not the Bank of Japan). Japan had low but not negative interest rates before 2012 with a somewhat upward sloping term structure. Since 2012, two features describe this data: (1) one-year rates hovering around zero – sometimes positive and sometimes negative; (2) two-year rates hovering near the one-year rate and it times just below them. What is driving this? I have no answer.

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Has Dean Baker Joined Team Republican?

Has Dean Baker Joined Team Republican?

The dishonesty ab out the Trump tax cut for the rich from certain Republican leading conservatives are been extensively noted so let’s not go there. But why is Dean Baker writing this?

There are two ways in which we can say that a deficit/debt is will hurt our children. The first is by slowing economic growth and therefore making the economy and our kids less wealthy in the future than they otherwise would be. The route through which this is supposed to happen is that deficit pushes up interest rates and crowds out investment, thereby slowing productivity growth. (We can also see a rise in the value of the dollar, which means larger trade deficits and more foreign debt.) There are no projections that show any substantial negative effect in this way. In fact, most projections show at least a modest positive boost to growth. So this one doesn’t make any sense.

There are no projections that the Trump tax cuts for the rich will lower national savings? If not, there should be. We tried this back in 1981 and what was the result? A massive increase in real interest rates and a massive appreciation of the dollar. The former did crowd out investment and the latter did lead to large trade deficits. I’m sure Dean remembers this. I would assert that the proposed tax cut today is a lot like the 1981 tax cut. If Dean disagrees – might he tell us why.

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Corporate Profit Tax Cuts and Wages: the UK Experience

Corporate Profit Tax Cuts and Wages: the UK Experience

Kimberly Clausing and Edward Kleinbard have each written some interesting papers on transfer pricing. Here they team up on a different topic:

The President’s Council of Economic Advisers claims that slashing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent would boost the average American’s wages by $4,000 per year (“very conservatively”) — and perhaps by as much as $9,000. If true, that would be a remarkable gain for working Americans. Unfortunately, it’s extraordinarily unlikely to be true. The two of us can think of dozens of objections to the CEA claim, presented in an official report, but perhaps the place to start is with the United Kingdom, which has already run this experiment. Over the past decade, the United Kingdom has slashed its corporate tax rate, in several steps, from 30 percent down to 19 percent. At the same time, the United States has kept its corporate tax rate constant at 35 percent. Like the United States, Britain has a large open economy, investors in British firms come from all over the world, and Britain provides a sound legal and regulatory environment.

They next document the decline in real median wages in the UK since the UK began its experiment with lower corporate tax rates. They then note:

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The Incidence of the Obamacare Subsidies

The Incidence of the Obamacare Subsidies

Justin Fishel and Mary Bruce covers Trump’s dismantling of Obamacare:

The White House announced Thursday night that the administration will slash Obamacare subsidy payments to insurers. The “cost-sharing reduction payments,” worth an estimated $7 billion this year, are intended to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans on Obamacare … House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint calling the action “pointless sabotage.” “Sadly, instead of working to lower health costs for Americans, it seems President Trump will singlehandedly hike Americans’ health premiums,” they said in a joint statement. “It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America.”

Trump’s counter is that the health insurance companies are very profitable because they are reaping the benefits of these subsidies. I would argue that health insurance company profit margins are high in large part because we have not enforced the anti-trust laws and allowed a lot of market power. Brad and Michael Delong made this point last fall:

The United States’ Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health-care reform, has significantly increased the need for effective antitrust enforcement in health-insurance markets. Despite recent good news on this front, the odds remain stacked against consumers … It is not surprising, then, that in 2015 some of the largest private American health-insurance companies – Anthem, Cigna, Aetna, and Humana – began exploring the possibility of merging. If they could reduce the number of national insurers from five to three, they could then increase their market power and squeeze more profits from consumers.

Even five health insurance companies are two few. But suppose we did have real competition in the health insurance market – what would be the effect of subsidies. Let’s consider this primer on the incidence of taxes:

The tax incidence depends on the relative price elasticity of supply and demand. When supply is more elastic than demand, buyers bear most of the tax burden. When demand is more elastic than supply, producers bear most of the cost of the tax.

Most economists know this and we know how to translate this into the implications for the incidence of a subsidy. We have to admit, however, that Trump is really awful at economics. But he does have economic advisors. Trump is implicitly assuming a very elastic demand for health care or a very inelastic supply of health care. But where is his evidence for these claims? I guess when Kevin Hassett produces his “analysis, we might see a link from Greg Mankiw.

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IMF Fiscal Monitor: Progressive Taxation Need Not Deter Growth

IMF Fiscal Monitor: Progressive Taxation Need Not Deter Growth

The latest from the IMF is a must read for progressives even if it runs contrary to the nonsense coming out of the White House:

At the global level, inequality has declined substantially over the past three decades, but within national boundaries, the picture is mixed: some countries have experienced a reduction in inequality while others, particularly advanced economies, have seen a significant increase that has, among other things, contributed to growing public backlash against globalization. Excessive levels of inequality can erode social cohesion, lead to political polarization, and ultimately lower economic growth, but whether inequality is excessive depends on country-specific factors, including the growth context in which inequality arises, along with societal preferences. This Fiscal Monitor focuses on how fiscal policy can help governments address high levels of inequality while minimizing potential trade-offs between efficiency and equity. It documents recent trends in income inequality, including inequality both between and within countries, then examines the redistributive role of fiscal policies over recent decades and underscores the importance of appropriate design to minimize any efficiency costs. It then focuses on some key components of fiscal redistribution: progressivity of income taxation, universal basic income, and public spending policies for achieving more equitable education and health outcomes. The analysis relies on the existing theoretical and empirical literature, IMF work on inequality and fiscal policy, country experiences, and new analytical work, including various static microsimulation analyses based on household survey data. Simulations using a dynamic general equilibrium model calibrated to country-specific data and behavioral parameters illustrate the potential impact of alternative budget-neutral tax and transfer measures on income inequality and economic growth.

(Dan here…see also Yves Smith)

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