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

Interview with Mark Thoma

Angry Bear readers are familiar with Mark’s writings:

Mark Thoma is a macroeconomist and time-series econometrician at the University of Oregon. His research focuses on how monetary policy affects the economy, and he has also worked on political business cycle models. Mark is currently a fellow at The Century Foundation, a columnist at The Fiscal Times, an analyst at CBS MoneyWatch, and he blogs daily at Economist’s View.

In the interview, Mark discusses:

  • What we can expect from gas prices this summer and beyond
  • Why clean energy won’t see an dramatic investment rival, for now
  • How political feasibility, not economic feasibility, drives the ethanol mandate
  • Why the ethanol mandate might eventually be nixed
  • How we weigh the free market against government intervention
  • Why there is little momentum for a US-wide carbon market
  • What we learned from the global financial crisis
  • Why our best hope for strong economic growth is in exports

Energy – Balancing the Bonanza: Interview with Mark Thoma

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Empirical Methods and Progress in Macroeconomics

Mark Thoma, among many others, discusses some implications for readers to consider for macro overall: Empirical Methods and Progress in Macroeconomics

(Quote)The blow-up over the Reinhart-Rogoff results reminds me of a point I’ve been meaning to make about our ability to use empirical methods to make progress in macroeconomics. This isn’t about the computational mistakes that Reinhart and Rogoff made, though those are certainly important, especially in small samples, it’s about the quantity and quality of the data we use to draw important conclusions in macroeconomics. Everybody has been highly critical of theoretical macroeconomic models, DSGE models in particular, and for good reason. But the imaginative construction of theoretical models is not the biggest problem in macro – we can build reasonable models to explain just about anything. The biggest problem in macroeconomics is the inability of econometricians of all flavors (classical, Bayesian) to definitively choose one model over another, i.e. to sort between these imaginative constructions. We like to think or ourselves as scientists, but if data can’t settle our theoretical disputes – and it doesn’t appear that it can – then our claim for scientific validity has little or no merit. There are many reasons for this. For example, the use of historical rather than “all else equal” laboratory/experimental data makes it difficult to figure out if a particular relationship we find in the data reveals an important truth rather than a chance run that mimics a causal relationship.(unquote)

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Not All Economists are to Blame, But Some Are

Mark Thoma notes the discrepancy between pretty much standard economics and what the popular discussion considers ‘economics’ :

Not All Economists are to Blame, But Some Are 

A defense of some, but not all economists:

Why Some Economists Failed 

I assert that some economists got things mostly right about the recession and what was needed to fix it, but they have been ignored in policy discussions. Conversely, those who got things mostly wrong were given prominent seats at the policy-setting table where they continued to make errant forecasts even as the evidence piled up against them. One attempt at rebuttal is, I suppose, is to ask how we know who was correct? The answer is that unlike the economists who continue to promote austerity, fear of inflation, and so on, the assertion is based upon the empirical evidence on these issues. [See Paul Krugman for a related issue, why fear of inflation, deficits, and so on “resonates with a lot of people no matter how often and how badly the worldview fails in practice.” Part of my point is that I don’t think economists are free of blame for this.]

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Republicans Want to Repeal Resolution Authority

Mark Thoma points us to

Republicans Want to Repeal Resolution Authority

the House Republicans on the Financial Services Committee just voted to repeal “resolution authority.”

Let’s review the history. When the crisis hit, the government bailed out many financial firms — shadow banks as they are known. That’s not what it does when an ordinary bank fails. When ordinary banks fail, the government takes over the bank, puts the good assets in one pile, the bad assets in another, then repackages the good assets into a new bank that is sold back to the private sector as soon as possible.

This has many advantages, including the ability to replace managers of failed firms instead of rewarding them with a bailout. So why wasn’t this approach adopted during the financial crisis? The Treasury argues that it did not have the legal authority to take over large shadow banks — these banks fell outside of the existing regulatory umbrella (there is dispute on this point, some people claim the government regulators could have twisted existing regulation to allow this, but government regulators insist otherwise). Thus, government regulators believed there were only two (bad) choices. Let too big to fail banks fail and suffer the economic consequences, or to bail them out, including bailing out the owners and managers who had led the banks to disaster. If it had resolution authority — the ability to step in take over when banks fail — the rewards to management could have been avoided, and taxpayers could have been better protected in other ways, but limits on legal authority gave regulators only two bad options. Do nothing, or bail the banks out.

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