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

Housing equity withdrawal drove the bubble, not so much the building

Tim Duy also points to Bill McBride and Josh Lerner adding to the discussion of the narrative of housing in our economy and how that should affect policy.  I would add of course the variety of responses by the mortgage industries (see Naked Capitalism) since that started in earnest round 1998 (MERS).  I think this idea can be further refined and tied to other aspects of our troubles globally.

What Are We Expecting From Housing?, by Tim Duy: Josh Lehner and Bill McBride note that the manufacturing slowdown does not necessarily indicate recession, something I noted as well. Another version of that story is seen by comparing the ISM headline number with the new orders data:
 …During the 2002-2005 period, arguably the height of the housing bubble, residential construction contributed an average of 0.4 percentage points to GDP growth each quarter. In the first quarter of this year, the contribution was 0.42 percentage points. So, barring the occasional pop in the data, housing is already contributing to GDP growth about what we would expect.
 …Certainly we can envision accelerated home building triggering an increase in both manufacturing (capital equipment) and consumer (job/income growth) activity as well; these tend to be interconnected activities. So maybe the overall impact is a bit higher.


So here is the question: What was more important in holding the economy close to potential output, residential construction itself, or the housing price bubble? I tend to believe the price-driven balance sheet effects were driving dynamics over this past business cycle. Absent a healing of household balance sheets (or, relatedly, monetary policy that supported such healing via somewhat higher inflation expectations to reduce debt in real terms), I would expect overall growth to remain subdued, despite a rebound in residential construction. The latter is helpful and important, but not by itself a magic bullet.

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The Scariest Graphic I Made All Week, or, Still More on Excess Reserves and "Money"

One of the nice things about the Kauffman Foundation’s Blogger Conference is the time to let the mind wander and look at data after having your brain scoured.

One of the worst things is realizing too late that you’ve got a Really Ugly Graphic, and most of the people who could help with it are gone.

Four hours ago at dinner, I was sitting between Brad DeLong and Tim Duy (who pointed out some good contemporary performers of Real Country Music), but I didn’t have this graphic with me. Now Tim is on a plane and Brad is teaching students, and my best option is to ask the AB commentariat if the following graphic scares them as much as it does me.

Even given my hobby-horse attitude toward Excess Reserve (i.e., the Sheer Unmitigated Contempt with which I treat the idea that reserves in general—let alone Excess Reserves—should “earn” interest), the dropping-off-a-cliff impression (and the overall downward trend, even keeping in mind that we do not Seasonally Adjust Excess Reserves, and therefore Seasonal Effects are clear) almost seems to explain why the 32nd month of the “recovery” feels as if it’s just possibly starting something.

To be fair—and a hearty “thank you” to Jeff Miller of A Dash of Insight for reminding me that most people believe the Fed concentrates on M2, not M1—the broader index shows an upward trend (again, discounting the recent decline as a Seasonal Effect):

Otoh, an overall ca. 5% increase in “Net M2,” as it were, over a year in which the dollar has increasingly appeared to be the only reasonable “Safe Haven” doesn’t seem all that large either.

I’ve yet to play with the data beyond this, so I leave it to the AB comentariat:

  1. Do you believe there is something here?
  2. If so, any guesses what it is? Or anything you want to know about it?
  3. If not, what else should we be looking at where Excess Reserves may/should/will (depending upon your degree of certainty) affect the value of the data and/or Real Economic Growth?

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Must-Read of the Day, non-NBER edition

Tim Duy body-slams St. Louis FRB President James Bullard:

Estimates of potential GDP are not simple extrapolations of actual GDP from the peak of the last business cycles. They are estimates of the maximum sustainable output given fully employed resources. The backbone of the CBO’s estimates is a Solow Growth model. So I don’t think that Noah Smith is quite accurate when he says:

So, basically, what we have here is Bullard saying that the neoclassical (Solow) growth model – and all models like it – are wrong. He’s saying that a change in asset prices can cause a permanent change in the equilibrium capital/labor ratio.

Bullard can’t be saying the Solow growth model is wrong because he doesn’t realize that such a model is the basis for the estimates he is criticizing. [first and last link in the original; Noah Smith link copied from elsewhere in the original post]

Go Read the Whole Thing. For those of you too lazy to do that without incentive, here’s the conclusion:

Bottom Line: Bullard really went down an intellectual dead end last week. He criticized the focus on potential output, but revealed that he doesn’t really understand the concept of potential output either empirically or theoretically. He then compounds that error by arguing against the current stance of monetary policy, but fails to provide an alternative policy path. And the presumed policy path, tighter policy, looks likely to only worsen the distortions he argues the Fed is creating. I just don’t see where Bullard thinks he is taking us.

It’s Worse Than You Think.

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Duncan Black, Ph.D. who Specializes in the Economies of Cities, Explains It All to You

Bruce has made this point repeatedly. Dr. Black puts it in more direct language:

[I]nevitably the Social Security Trustees will, perfectly justifiably, tweak a few assumptions about future economic activity so that there will be a DOOM scenario, an EVERYTHING’S AWESOME scenario, and a “uh oh maybe in about 40 years we will have a problem” scenario. And then Fred Hiatt will print another million ZOMG WE MUST DESTROY SOCIAL SECURITY NOW IN ORDER TO SAVE IT FORTY YEARS FROM NOW columns and some future president will marvel at those worthless IOUS and blah blah blah.

We know how this works.

And the Sensible Centrists* are gathering behind someone who wants to do just that.

When the Voice in the Wilderness is Andrew Samwick (who is at least honest about his willingness to steal from the Trust Fund), two things are certain:

  1. Jason Furman should work on his c.v., and
  2. Even as only Nixon could go to China (because only Nixon was enough of a bastard to sacrifice Tibet to Chou En-Lai), only the Obama Administration can turn the Social Safety Net into something the Republicans “saved” (by making it look like Dresden).

UPDATE: Tim Duy at his branch of Ecoonomist’s View piles on (h/t Steve Randy Waldman‘s Twitter feed, or maybe Felix Salmon‘s), giving the lie to whatever was left of the DeLong argument that being left of a cadre of Bob Rubins makes one a “liberal.” Pull quote:

The strong Dollar policy takes shape in 1995. At that point, Rubin made it clear that the rest of the world was free to manipulate the value of the US Dollar to pursue their own mercantilist interests. This should have been more obvious at the time given that China was last named a currency manipulator was 1994, but the immensity of that decision was lost as the tech boom engulfed America.

Moreover, Rubin adds insult to injury in the Asian Financial Crisis, by using the IMF as a club to enact far reaching reforms on nations seeking aid. The lesson learned – never, ever run a current account deficit. Accumulating massive reserves is the absolute only way to guarantee you can always tell the nice men from the IMF and the US Treasury to get off your front porch.

Go Read the Whole Thing.

Full Disclosure Update: Bob Rubin’s son is a college classmate of mine. Haven’t really seen him in the past not-quite-thirty years.

*I’m 99.44% certain those are assigned correctly. The Sensible one thinks that “attempt[ing] to push Clinton administration economic policy a little further to the left” was a Liberal position, while the Centrist is stupid enough not to believe people who have said for years that they intend to pick his pocket have something valuable to contribute to a discussion of his welfare, and does not remember that he lived through a decade when “the program [was] officially in balance.”

If H*ll exists as a form of reincarnation, my next life will be spent as a Centrist. If all my sins are venial and Purgatory awaits, I could live with being Sensible. At least until my neighbors couldn’t send their academically-achieving issue to college for purely monetary reasons, after which point I would consider this post to be rampant optimism.

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