Saturday, January 07, 2023

I talk with Larry Kotlikoff

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff and some BU students and faculty.  You can listen to the conversation here at his podcast. You can also subscribe to Larry's substack here.

Friday, January 06, 2023

ASSA 2023

I am not attending the ASSA meeting in person this year, but I will participate via zoom in a session on Efficient and Effective Course Preparation. It is today from 2:30 to 4:30 CST at the Hilton Riverside, Grand Salon A Sec 3 & 6. The panel is also being streamed live. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Good News from Amazon


Click on image to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Biden Fiscal Policy

Click on image to enlarge. This chart is from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The figures are totals between 2021 and 2031.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Mitt joins the Pigou Club

Monday, December 12, 2022

Government Debt and Capital Accumulation in an Era of Low Interest Rates

My recent paper for Brookings is now published. You can access the final version by clicking here.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Eric Budish on Cryptocurrencies

Last week, Eric Budish of the University of Chicago gave a great lecture on cryptocurrencies at Harvard. You can watch it by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Is my book that dangerous?

 I don't agree with the sentiment, but I appreciate the humor.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

POTUS accepts responsibility for inflation

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Why I fear the Fed may be overdoing it

I thought I might explain my fear that the Fed is in the process of tightening too much. Let me begin, however, with two points of agreement with the monetary hawks.

First, I agree that monetary and fiscal policymakers are partly to blame for the recent inflation surge. In fact, I warned about overheating in a February 2021 column in the New York Times.

Second, I agree that some significant amount of monetary tightening is in order. That is especially true because fiscal policymakers are doing little to help contract aggregate demand. Instead, actions like student loan forgiveness are doing the opposite. The so-called Inflation Reduction Act is a feckless political smokescreen.

The question is, how much monetary tightening is in order? This question is hard, and anyone who claims to know the answer for sure is not being honest either with you or with themselves. The reason it is hard is that monetary policy works with a substantial lag. It is no surprise that the recent Fed tightening hasn't had much impact on inflation yet. That is no reason to think the Fed needs to tighten a lot more. The Fed made the mistake of waiting for inflation to appear before starting to tighten. It would be a similar mistake to wait for inflation to return to target before stopping the tightening cycle.

The Taylor rule suggests one way to calibrate the problem. This rule of thumb says that the real interest rate needs to rise by 0.5 percentage points for each percentage point increase in inflation. The yield on the 5-year TIPs, which incorporates recent and near-term expected changes in monetary policy, has risen by 330 basis points over the past year. According to the Taylor rule, that would be appropriate if inflation had risen by 6.6 percentage points. Has it?

The answer depends on what measure of inflation one looks at. If you look at the CPI, then yes, the inflation surge could justify such a large tightening. But some of that inflation surge was due to temporary supply-side events. (Team Transitory was wrong, but not entirely wrong.) Wage inflation has increased only about 3 percentage points. By this metric, which can be viewed as a gauge of ongoing inflation pressures, a smaller monetary tightening would be appropriate.

A related issue is whether the normal real interest rate, sometimes called r*, is higher than the Fed previously thought. It might be. But I am inclined to think that there are long-run structural changes that explain the decline in real interest rates, as I explained in a recent Brookings paper. Those forces are likely to keep r* low in the years to come.

Another data series that I keep an eye on--though it is out of fashion these days--is the money supply. M2 surged before the large increase in inflation. Economists who watch the money supply, like Jeremy Siegel, were among the first to call the inflation surge. Yet over the past year, M2 has grown a mere 3.1 percent.

Finally, another factor is that the monetary tightening is occurring worldwide. Standard monetary rules like the Taylor rule do not explicitly incorporate the international linkages. But perhaps they should. Some of upcoming contraction of the U.S. economy will be attributable to the policies of foreign central banks. It is hard to say how much.

So, if I were one of the Fed governors, I would recommend slowly easing their foot off the brake. That means when the next decision comes and they debate an increase of, say, 50 or 75 basis points, choose the smaller number.

At this point, a recession seems a near certainty due, in part, to the Fed's previous miscalculations that led monetary policy to be too easy for too long. There is nothing to be gained from making the recession deeper than necessary. The second mistake would compound, not cancel, the first one.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Webinar: New edition preview

The publisher of my textbook Principles of Economics will host a webinar on October 21 during which I will talk about the new edition, which will be available in January. If you are interested, click here.

Monetary Wisdom from Milton Friedman

From his famous AEA presidential address, still relevant more than a half century later:

Monday, October 03, 2022

A New Adoption

I appreciate every new adoption of one of my textbooks, but this one, facilitated by my publisher Cengage at the request of my friend Patrick Moynihan of the Haitian Project, is especially heartwarming.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Paul Krugman may be right

When I was young, Paul Krugman was one of my favorite economists, and I would try to read everything he wrote (which was a lot!). At some point, however, roughly coinciding with his becoming a regular New York Times columnist, he switched from writing as an economist to writing more as a political pundit. I then lost interest. His political commentary struck me as repetitive and slightly unhinged: "Conservatives are stupid, conservatives are evil, yada, yada, yada."

Yet his column in yesterday's paper caught my eye. It's titled "Is the Fed braking too hard?" I have been pondering this question myself, and my instincts tell me the answer may be yes. Paul makes the case well.

Anyway, I am here to recommend the Krugman column, which is something I did not expect myself to be saying.

UpdateDavid Papell and Ruxandra Prodan reach a similar conclusion about current monetary policy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Surprising Fact about Inequality

"Europe's lower inequality levels cannot be explained by more equalizing tax and transfer systems. After accounting for indirect taxes and in-kind transfers, the US redistributes a greater share of national income to low-income groups than any European country."

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Econ Teaching Conference

I will be speaking at he 18th Annual Economics Teaching Conference sponsored by the National Economics Teaching Association (NETA) and Cengage, to be held Thursday evening the 27th and Friday the 28th of October in Atlanta. For more information, click here. Space is limited, so if you are interested, register early.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Noteworthy research on recent inflation

This paper from the Bank of England is interesting. A tidbit:

Inflation rates across firms have become more dispersed and skewed since the start of the pandemic. We find that average price inflation is positively correlated with the dispersion and skewness of the distribution.

Friday, August 05, 2022

The Inflation Impact of the Inflation Reduction Act

According to CBO:

In calendar year 2022, enacting the bill would have a negligible effect on inflation, in CBO’s assessment. In calendar year 2023, inflation would probably be between 0.1 percentage point lower and 0.1 percentage point higher under the bill than it would be under current law.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Piketty in Brief

I just read Thomas Piketty's latest book, A Brief History of Equality. It is the best window into Piketty's thinking to date in part because it is, unlike his previous books, mercifully short (244 pages, not counting the appendix).

Of course, Piketty's thinking is very different from mine. Words like supply, demand, comparative advantage, and the mutual gains from trade are almost entirely absent from his book. Instead, we hear a lot about political power and exploitation of the weak by the strong. In Piketty's worldview, the standard undergraduate textbook in economics is largely a non sequitur. So is Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.

This new book purports to summarize the key points of the massive volumes that Piketty has previously written. What I found most interesting, therefore, was what was not included. Piketty does not mention "the central contradiction of capitalism," to use the phrase from his book Capital in the 21st Century. In that earlier book, we were told that r>g leads to an "endless inegalitarian spiral." For reasons I explained here, I always thought that this claim was absurd.

Why is this major theme from the earlier book omitted in this new one? Has Piketty tacitly recanted? It is hard to say.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Parent Trap

I just finished reading The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis by Nate Hilger. Some years ago, Nate was a Harvard student, who I knew only slightly, and he was nice enough to send me a copy. I can report that it is terrific--smartly argued and very well written. The basic theme is that society needs to do more to help children build skills outside of the normal school day.

I balked at the last chapter, which seems to suggest that if you don't agree with the foregoing arguments, you are either ignorant or racist. Of course, Nate says that more diplomatically than I just did, but that is what I took away from it. Before that, however, the book drew me in and was largely persuasive. It deserves to be widely read.