Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Red tape blues: Small businesses fret less about taxes than over-regulation

leave a comment »

Jul 5th 2014 | WASHINGTON, DC | From the print edition
IAN TONER, an architect in Philadelphia, recently went to city offices for a permit to build a stoop for a client’s home. The city, he learned, had just imposed new requirements: he would have to get maps from gas, electric, water and other utilities to ensure the stoop would not disturb their underground lines and then resubmit his application. A process he thought would take a day took more than two weeks.

That’s not all. Other new rules require that he prove that his builder has general liability, workers’ compensation and car insurance, and has paid all his taxes. Four times a year he must set aside a half day to ensure he is paying the state’s and city’s myriad taxes correctly. Mr Toner doesn’t question the need for rules and taxes; what galls him is the time and hassle involved in complying with them. “The information exists all over the place and the burden is on me not just to gather it but [to] interpret it. I’m not going to leave here because of this, but they’re all things that could turn a person off of coming here.”

America’s states and cities have traditionally tried to attract businesses by offering them tax breaks and other cash incentives. Yet there may be a more effective way, and one which puts no strain on stretched budgets: make life simpler. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

July 3, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Optimal crises

leave a comment »

Jul 2nd 2014, 20:32 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.

Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, has long said there might be times when monetary policy could be used to counteract financial instability. But in a speech before the International Monetary Fund today, she erected such a high bar to its use that is seems unlikely ever to happen: the “potential cost … is likely to be too great … at least most of the time.”
The unstated logical conclusion is that there is some optimal exposure to crisis. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

July 2, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Is it secular or is it stagnation?

leave a comment »

Jun 19th 2014, 18:25 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.

Secular stagnation is a delightfully alliterative description of America’s economy, but also an ambiguous one. “Secular” implies the depressed state of the economy is down to structural, supply-side factors, whereas “stagnation” suggests cyclical obstacles to demand are to blame. The distinction matters, because it will determine the path for interest rates.

Let’s assume stagnation is the problem: the normal cyclical recovery of the economy is being smothered by headwinds to demand: deleveraging, tight credit, fiscal contraction, post-crisis risk aversion, etc. The supply side is largely unscathed. This means there’s a big gap between actual and potential output which puts significant downward pressure on inflation. In this case, the path of interest rates should resemble the blue line in the nearby chart. The Fed keeps interest rates near zero as long as possible to overcome those headwinds. The large output gap ensures this doesn’t allow inflation to emerge. But eventually, the headwinds fade, demand springs back and the Fed must quickly tighten so that by the time demand converges with supply (i.e. the output gap closes), rates are back to their natural, equilibrium rate. In this case, the natural rate is same as it was before the crisis, i.e. a nominal rate of around 4%, and a real rate around 2%.secular stagnation rates chart

Now suppose instead that secular, supply-side forces are the reason growth has been so disappointing. These would include diminished labour force growth because of aging, lifestyle choices, lower fertility and immigration; reduced innovation; and as a consequence of all these things, less capital investment. In this case, the right path for interest rates is shown by the red line. Because weak growth is due primarily to lower potential, the output gap is much smaller and an outbreak of inflation more of a risk. This means the Fed must start to raise interest rates sooner, and more quickly, so that they are back to normal by the time the output gap closes. But lower potential growth means the return on capital is lower which reduces the natural, or Wicksellian (named for Knut Wicksell) interest rate, and so Fed funds plateaus at a lower level.

Deciding which of the two scenarios applies requires estimating both potential growth and the natural rate of interest – no easy task since neither can be directly observed.
Thomas Laubach of the Federal Reserve Board and John Williams, now president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, managed to do just that with an elegant, intuitive model in a 2001 paper. They define the natural rate as the rate needed to keep the output gap at zero. Then they develop a model of potential output that yields an output gap, and from that infer the natural rate. This is determined by both potential growth, and a bunch of other factors like risk aversion and desired saving. Because these latter factors move a lot over the business cycle, the natural rate fluctuates more than if only relatively-slow moving potential growth mattered. For example, Mr Williams’ updated estimates imply the real natural rate of interest was -0.2% at the end of 2013, owing both to high desired saving, and a steady decline in potential growth, to about 2% now from 2.9% in 2007.

Your choice of interest rate path thus depends heavily on how you interpret recent data. The fact that unemployment has fallen far faster than GDP can explain may be down to demand – a lot of discouraged workers have quit the labour force – and thus require zero rates for longer; or it may be because potential growth is lower, which means the output gap is closing quickly, and the Fed must start tightening relatively soon. For most of the last few years, Fed officials threw their lot in with the demand side story: they kept pushing out the date that rates would start rising. That’s changing. In the FOMC’s latest survey of economic projections, released yesterday, members lowered both expected growth and unemployment this year while trimming their estimate of potential growth to 2.2% from 2.25%  (it was 2.65% in 2009).  They slightly raised the path of expected hikes in the Fed funds rate while lowering its long-run level (the de facto the natural rate) to 3.75%, from 4%.

This process is probably not over; labour market and demographics factors may have depressed potential growth to below 2%. Add in high desired saving from fiscal consolidation and reserve accumulation by emerging economies, and the natural rate is probably closer to 3% than 3.75%. This also means inflation has probably bottomed out and could move back to, or even above, target within a year or so.

This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that bond yields are about to shoot higher. That’s because the negative of a quicker liftoff by the Fed is more than offset by the positive of a lower long-run natural rate. For equities, the implications are ambiguous: a lower natural rate reduces the discount rate and raises the price-earnings ratio, but lower potential depresses earnings growth.

My analysis treats supply and demand separately. In reality, they are interrelated. People who lose their jobs for cyclical reasons and then go long enough without work can end up permanently out of the labour force. As Mr Williams and his colleague Glenn Rudebusch note in a recent paper, getting the long-term unemployed back to work can restore some of the economy’s lost potential. But it will require more stimulative monetary policy and inflation overshooting for a while. This is a prospect the Fed may have to grapple with before long. When I asked Janet Yellen about it, she indicated she was open to letting inflation overshoot if it was necessary to get unemployment down: “If the distance from achieving an objective [either full employment or low inflation] is particularly large, it would be consistent with the balanced approach that we would tolerate some movement in the opposite direction on the other objective.” She suggested that such a scenario was pretty unlikely. Hopefully, though, she’s preparing for it – just in case.

The original article is linked here.

Written by gregip

June 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Monetary policy and asset prices: A narrow path

leave a comment »

Central banks around the world are struggling to promote growth without fomenting worrisome risk-taking

Jun 21st 2014 | Washington, DC | From the print edition
UNTIL the global financial crisis, central banks treated bubbles with benign neglect: they were hard to detect and harder to deflate, so best left alone; the mess could be mopped up after they burst. No self-respecting central bank admits to benign neglect any longer. “No one wants to live through another financial crisis,” Janet Yellen, then a candidate to head the Federal Reserve, said last year. “I would not rule out using monetary policy as a tool to address asset-price misalignments.”

After six years of interest rates near zero the tension between central banks’ responsibility for output and inflation on one hand and financial stability on the other is growing. On June 12th the Bank of England hinted it would pursue new measures to curb ever-climbing property prices. Shortly afterwards Ms Yellen fretted about the “reach for yield” and subdued volatility, a sign of investors’ complacency.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

June 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Health-care jobs: The drugs wear off

leave a comment »

Public and private austerity takes its toll on health-care workers

RUNAWAY health-care spending has one silver lining: it generates millions of jobs for doctors, nurses and medical orderlies. Employment at doctors’ offices, nursing homes and hospitals grew steadily throughout the recession even as it cratered everywhere else (see chart 1).

But a few years ago health spending began to slow and now, with a lag, so have the jobs. Health-care employment grew only 1.8% in the past 12 months, including a bump up in May. Pay has also suffered: hourly health-care wages rose just 1.2% in the year through May, barely half as fast as total private-sector wages (see chart 2). Last year health care was the second leading source of layoff announcements, after finance. The Cleveland Clinic cut hundreds of unfilled jobs and offered early retirement to 700 workers. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

June 12, 2014 at 12:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Narrow-minded

leave a comment »

A radical proposal for making finance safer resurfaces

WHEN Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, his first order of business was to arrest the banking collapse that was plunging America ever deeper into depression. As part of the plan for doing so, he signed into law the first federal insurance scheme for deposits, reshaping American finance.

Roosevelt did so at the behest of Congress, but had deep reservations. He worried that deposit insurance would “make the United States government liable for the mistakes and errors of individual banks, and put a premium on unsound banking in the future.” He was right to worry. As intended, deposit insurance made banks less prone to runs (depositors trying to withdraw their money before everyone else does). But it also reduced depositors’ incentive to monitor banks’ behaviour. With less market discipline, a heavy-handed system of regulation evolved. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

June 5, 2014 at 12:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The novel accounting of greenhouse gas regulations: We are the world

leave a comment »

Applying a dollar sign to death, disease and catastrophic climate change is a macabre business. Nonetheless, the cold-eyed math of cost-benefit analysis is the biggest contribution economics can bring to the often emotional questions that environmental and other types of regulations raise. In deciding whether a new rule does more good than harm, the Environmental Protection Agency routinely applies a cost-benefit test. Its sweeping propsal to cap greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants appears to pass with flying colours. By the EPA’s reckoning, the rule will, by 2030, cost just $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion a year (in 2011 dollars), while producing benefits worth $55 billion to $93 billion per year.
But this calculation rests on a novel calculation of the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases that takes regulatory policy into contentious new territory. As calculated, the costs are borne entirely by Americans, but the benefits accrue to the whole world. Using American benefits only, the benefits of reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) would be far smaller. The remaining benefits would be so-called co-benefits, which are basically good things that happen that weren’t the main intent of the rule. Those co-benefits come from reductions in soot that are a by product of sulfur dioxide emissions (SO2) and rest heavily on assumptions as opposed to hard scientific evidence.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

June 3, 2014 at 12:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 62 other followers