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Links (5/28/19)

  • Trump Tantrums the Dems Out of a Trap – Paul Krugman I gotta say, it was very clever of Nancy Pelosi to steal Donald Trump’s strawberries, pushing him over the edge into self-evident lunacy. As everyone knows, Trump stormed out of a meeting on infrastructure, apparently out of uncontrollable rage over Pelosi’s remarks pointing out that the administration’s stonewalling on all fronts, including raw defiance of the law requiring that it provide the president’s tax returns, obviously amount to a coverup of something (and maybe multiple things.) And Democrats should be grateful. …
  • Advertising as a major source of human dissatisfaction – VoxEU Although the negative impact of conspicuous consumption has been discussed for more than a century, the link between advertising and individual is not well understood. This column uses longitudinal data for 27 countries in Europe linking change in life satisfaction to variation in advertising spend. The results show a large negative correlation that cannot be attributed to the business cycle or individual characteristics.
  • Vietnam Looks To Be Winning Trump's Trade War – Brad Setser Vietnam's exports to the U.S. are growing fast. It also runs an overall current account surplus. If it has resumed purchasing dollars in the foreign exchange market to keep its currency from appreciating, it may soon be a test case for Trump's policy toward countries that intervene to maintain an undervalued currency.
  • Robert Heilbroner (1996): The Embarrassment of Economics – Brad DeLong I am approaching an age that can be called venerable, a process over which I have no control but which allows me certain privileges, among them saying outrageous things. This, I must warn you, is an outrageous speech, all the more so because it is delivered in dead earnest, despite a certain flippancy that may intrude from time to time. The subject is the degeneration—I am tempted to say "degeneracy"—of economics, a social discipline I hold, or rather wish I could hold, in the highest regard. Let me describe my own introduction to economics.
  • Which Core to Believe? Trimmed Mean Versus Ex-Food-and-Energy Inflation – Dallasfed.org Twice since 2014, core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inflation—inflation excluding food and energy—decelerated sharply, only to ultimately reverse course. The Dallas Fed’s Trimmed Mean PCE inflation rate correctly identified the downward moves as transitory, and looked through them (Chart 1). Chart 1: Sperate Measures Depict Two Very Different Pictures of Inflation Downloadable chart | Chart data Giving more weight to one or the other of these inflation measures would have led to rather different assessments of appropriate policy. Recent data suggest that another divergence is emerging, and the conflicting signals have brought renewed attention to the trimmed mean. We argue here that the trimmed mean, which excludes the most extreme price changes in consumer goods and services each month, provides better real-time signals of the trend in all-items (headline) inflation than does the usual ex-food-and-energy measure. Along the way, we discuss the “why” and “how” of the trimmed mean’s construction. In a follow-up piece drawing on some of our recent research, we’ll explore another trimmed mean advantage over ex-food-and-energy inflation: its stronger, more stable response to cyclical conditions. …
  • Is the U.S. budget deficit sustainable? – MacroMania The U.S. federal budget deficit for 2018 came in just shy of $800 billion, or about 4% of the gross domestic product (the primary deficit, which excludes the interest expense of the debt, was about 3% of GDP). As the figure above shows, the present level of deficit spending (as a ratio of GDP) is not too far off from where it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It's also not too far off from where it was in the early 2000s. Of course, the question people are asking is whether deficits of this magnitude can be sustained into the foreseeable future without economic consequences (like higher inflation). In this post, I suggest that the answer to this question is yes, but just barely. …
  • An old result on automation and wages – Digitopoly The first issue of AER Insights is out and the very first article is one by Francesco Caselli and Alan Manning on “Robot Arithmetic: New Technologies and Wages.” Here is the abstract: Existing economic models show how new technology can cause large changes in relative wages and inequality. But there are also claims, based largely on verbal expositions, that new technology can harm workers on average or even all workers. This paper shows—under plausible assumptions—that new technology is unlikely to cause wages for all workers to fall and will cause average wages to rise if the prices of investment goods fall relative to consumer goods (a condition supported by the data). We outline how results may change with different assumptions. The key result is that new technology will not cause wages for all workers to fall and, indeed, should increase average wages if the price of capital falls relative to consumer goods. This is a good, clean theoretical result that is far from appreciated by people who discuss things like automation in the popular press and even by those who study the impact of automation on labour markets. …
  • Why Did the US Labor Share of Income Fall So Quickly? – Tim Taylor The share of US national income going to labor was sagging through the second half of the century, but then plunged starting around 2000. The McKinsey Global Institute takes "A new look at the declining labor share of income in the United States" in a report by James Manyika, Jan Mischke, Jacques Bughin, Jonathan Woetzel, Mekala Krishnan, and Samuel Cudre (May 2019). Here's a figure showing basic background. From 1947-2000, the labor share of income fell from 65.4% to 62.3%. There already seemed to be a pattern of decline in the 1980s and 1990s in particular, which was then reversed for a short time at the tail end of the dot-com boom. But since 2000, the labor share has sunk to 56.7% in 2016. Why did this happen?
  • Beyond Unemployment – Michael Spence In modern economies, people may have jobs, but they still harbor major concerns in a wide range of areas, including security, health and work-life balance, income and distribution, training, mobility, and opportunity. By focusing solely on the unemployment rate, policymakers are ignoring the many dimensions of employment that affect welfare.
  • Fed Sticking With "Patient" Policy Stance – Tim Duy Bottom Line: Market expectations of a rate cut are well founded. Despite the Fed’s resistance, I still think the odds favor a rate cut over a hike. I think the situation is less equally weighted than the Fed believes. This is a fairly challenging time in the cycle. The yield curve suggests that the path of activity will require a rate cut sooner than later, but the yield curve is a long leading indicator. It’s typically well ahead of the data. At the current time, the data itself has yet to give the Fed much room to shift to a more dovish stance. For now, the Fed requires greater evidence of slowing activity, particularly in the employment data, to cut rates. Remember, the Fed’s typical pattern ahead of a rate cut is to resist, resist, resist, and then move quickly. And note that we don’t need to see a recession in the data to justify a rate cut; given the lack of inflation, the Fed only needs to see a substantial risk that growth will fall below estimate of the longer-run sustainable rate.
  • Measuring the welfare effects of AI and automation – VoxEU AI promises economic growth as well as creating fear for those whose jobs it may replace. This column takes a wider approach to examining how AI and other technologies will affect citizens’ welfare beyond just their income. It argues that the new technologies are intrinsically neither good or bad, it is how they are deployed and how the transition is crafted that conditions the welfare dynamics of societies.
  • On the use, or not, of expertise by government – mainly macro In a recent post I ask why we were governed by incompetents, and I related that to ideology, which in recent times means neoliberalism. But I think it is a little more than working in a neoliberal context, because I say that the Labour government often did try and do evidence based policy. Not always. I mentioned Iraq but there are other examples, but in comparison to Conservative governments they did evidence based policy a lot. The difference is while the Conservatives had neoliberal zeal, Labour were prepared to intervene in the market, particularly to help the poor. A good example was the minimum wage, which was set by a specific body who aimed to keep it at a level that did not cause significant employment loss. …
  • The macroeconomic consequences of impaired money markets – VoxEU Money markets are an important source of short-term funding for banks, which rely heavily on them to cover their liquidity needs. But as this column shows, when money markets do not function smoothly, banks may have to deleverage or increase their holdings of liquid assets, leading to a decline in lending and output. This decline can be mitigated by central banks if they increase the size of their balance sheets.
  • Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration – VoxEU Recent waves of immigration in the US and Europe have triggered debate around the economic and political impact. This column uses evidence from migration of Europeans to the US in the first half of the 20th century to show that large cultural differences can incite anti-immigrant sentiment despite their positive economic impact. Therefore, policymakers should give due attention to cultural assimilation and cohesion policies.

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