A rare, but limited, bipartisan effort
Mar 23rd 2013 | WASHINGTON, DC |From the print edition
[Greg Ip] ORDINARILY, merely keeping the federal government from shutting down would not be cause for congressional self-congratulation. But the workmanlike and bipartisan fashion in which the Senate agreed to keep the federal government funded was a welcome respite from two years of nonstop partisan fiscal war. Of course, it fails to address any of the government’s longer-term budget issues, but there is nothing new about that.
Demography may explain the weakness of America’s recovery
Mar 23rd 2013 |From the print edition
[Greg Ip] MILTON FRIEDMAN once compared the business cycle to an elastic string stretched on a board. How far the string is plucked determines how much it springs back; similarly, the depth of a recession decides the strength of recovery. America’s recent experience has not been kind to the plucking model. Although the recession was the deepest since the second world war, the recovery has been a disappointment. In the three years since the end of the recession in mid-2009, growth averaged 2.2%, barely half the 4.2% average of the seven previous recoveries.
In part, this is because recoveries from financial crises face greater difficulties. Consumers are too much in debt; businesses cannot or will not spend; a damaged banking system stifles credit. But in its annual economic report, issued on March 15th, Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers argues that this is not the whole story. The plucking model presumes that after a recession, the economy returns to an underlying trend rate of growth that is determined by the supply of workers, capital and technology. Mr Obama’s economists argue that the trend is now much lower than in the past. The recovery, then, is not nearly as disappointing as it is often portrayed; Americans have set their sights too high.
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Will the deficit finally spur America to replace dollar bills with coins?
Mar 16th 2013 | Washington, DC |From the print edition
[Greg Ip] EARLIER this year the blogosphere was full of calls for America to pay its bills by minting a $1 trillion platinum coin. That idea has mercifully died, but the fiscal pressures that gave birth to it have provided the impetus for a less nutty variant: phasing out the dollar bill in favour of a dollar coin.
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Congress finally restarts the budget process but the gaps are daunting
Mar 16th 2013 | WASHINGTON, DC |From the print edition
[Greg Ip] WHEN Congress sought to claw back fiscal authority from Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, it came up with its own budget process. The House of Representatives and the Senate would draw up separate budget resolutions and, through negotiation, turn them into a single budget.
In recent years that process has, more often than not, broken down. In six of the past 11 years, the House and Senate could not agree on a budget, and in the last three, the Democratic-controlled Senate did not even pass its own resolution. Instead, Congress has resorted to stand-alone spending bills, temporary fixes and behind-the-scenes deals with the White House.
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How to quantify the gains that the internet has brought to consumers
Mar 9th 2013 |From the print edition
[Greg Ip] WHEN her two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 1992, Judy Mollica spent hours in a nearby medical library in south Florida, combing through journals for information about her child’s condition. Upon seeing an unfamiliar term she would stop and hunt down its meaning elsewhere in the library. It was, she says, like “walking in the dark”. Her daughter recovered but in 2005 was diagnosed with a different form of cancer. This time, Ms Mollica was able to stay by her side. She could read articles online, instantly look up medical and scientific terms on Wikipedia, and then follow footnotes to new sources. She could converse with her daughter’s specialists like a fellow doctor. Wikipedia, she says, not only saved her time but gave her a greater sense of control. “You can’t put a price on that.”
Measuring the economic impact of all the ways the internet has changed people’s lives is devilishly difficult because so much of it has no price. It is easier to quantify the losses Wikipedia has inflicted on encyclopedia publishers than the benefits it has generated for users like Ms Mollica. This problem is an old one in economics. GDP measures monetary transactions, not welfare. Consider someone who would pay $50 for the latest Harry Potter novel but only has to pay $20. The $30 difference represents a non-monetary benefit called “consumer surplus”. The amount of internet activity that actually shows up in GDP—Google’s ad sales, for example—significantly understates its contribution to welfare by excluding the consumer surplus that accrues to Google’s users. The hard question to answer is by how much. Read the rest of this entry »
Newly Revised & Updated for 2013
“As much a guidebook for our times as an explainer of economics.”
–From the foreword, by Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO
If you’re looking for an easy-to-read, authoritative and witty guide to the economy, then The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in The Real World is for you. The first edition, released in the fall of 2010, won rave reviews (see below) from media, readers, teachers and financial professionals alike. I’ve now updated it with plenty of new material to cover developments in the global economy in the last two years. Among the changes:
- • Extensive new discussion of debt, deficits, fiscal stimulus and austerity
- • New detail and descriptions of the Federal Reserve’s unconventional monetary policy, including quantitative easing
- • A new chapter about currencies and the euro crisis
For readers of The Little Book of Economics I’ve put together this brief overview of books, organizations, blogs, articles and other resources for those who want to dive more deeply into particular subjects or acquire more expertise. You can access it by clicking here. I welcome suggestions for additions.