It Takes More than Two to Tango: Cry, But Not for Argentina, nor for the Holdouts

U.S. federal courts have ruled that Argentina is prohibited from making payments to fulfill 2005 and 2010 agreements with its creditors to restructure its debt, so long as it is not also paying a few creditors that have all along been holdouts from those agreements.  The judgment is likely to stick, because the judge (Thomas Griesa, in New York) told American banks on June 27 that it would be illegal for them to transfer Argentina’s payments to the 92 per cent of creditors who agreed to be restructured and because the US Supreme Court in June declined to review the lower court rulings.

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The ECB’s Unprecedented Monetary Stimulus

After the recent Draghi press conference announcing new measures to ease monetary policy in euroland, I responded to live questions from the Financial Times: “The ECB Eases,” podcast,  FT Hard Currency, June 5, 2014 (including regarding my proposal that the ECB should buy dollar bonds).

And also to questions in writing from El Mercurio, June 5:

• Many critics point that these measures do not solve the economic problems of the Eurozone and in that they only benefit the financial markets. Do you agree?

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China Is Not Yet #1

Widespread recent reports have trumpeted: “China to overtake US as top economic power this year.”  The claim is basically wrong. The US remains the world’s largest economic power by a substantial margin.

The story was based on the April 29 release of a report from the ICP project of the World Bank: “2011 International Comparison Program Summary Results Release Compares the Real Size of the World Economies.”     The work of the International Comparison Program is extremely valuable.  I await eagerly their latest estimates every six years or so and I use them, including to look at China.  (Before 2005, the data collection exercise used to appear in the Penn World Tables.)

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How to Address Inequality

Inequality has received a lot of attention lately, particularly in two arenas where it had not previously received as much: American public debate and the International Monetary Fund.  A major driver is the observation in the United States that income inequality has now returned to the extreme levels of the Gilded Age.  (The share of income held by the top 1% rose from 8% in 1980 to 19% in 2012, a level last seen in 1928, and probably the highest among advanced countries.  The share held by the top 0.1% rose from 2% to almost 9% currently, a level least seen in 1916. And mobility remains as low as ever.)  Inequality remains high in Latin America and has increased in many other parts of the world as well.

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ECB QE via FX: Plan B

My post last month was a proposal for the European monetary authorities to pursue Quantitative Easing, not by buying euro bonds, but by buying dollar bonds.   I also presented this idea in a speech at a conference sponsored by the Dallas Fed, April 4, “Why the ECB Should Buy US Treasuries.”

But what if the ECB is told by the international community, especially the US, that it doesn’t want them to push the euro down against the dollar, that it fears a re-ignition of the currency wars?   And what if the ECB concludes that it can’t buy US treasuries without US agreement?   After all, it was only February of last year that the G-7 Ministers and Governors agreed not to try to influence exchange rates.

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Considering QE, Mario? Buy US Bonds, Not Eurozone Bonds

         The ECB should further ease monetary policy.  Inflation at 0.8% across the eurozone is below the target of “close to 2%.”  Unemployment in most countries is still high and their economies weak.  Under current conditions it is hard for the periphery countries to bring their costs the rest of the way back down to internationally competitive levels as they need to do.  If inflation is below 1% euro-wide, then the periphery countries have to suffer painful deflation. 

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The Fiscal Stimulus & Market Turnaround: 5-Year Anniversary

Commentators are taking note of the five-year anniversary of the fiscal stimulus that President Obama enacted during his first month in office.   Those who don’t like Obama are still asking “if the  fiscal stimulus was so great, why didn’t it work?”    What is the appropriate response?

Those who think that the spending increases and tax cuts were the right thing to do have given a number of responses, which sound a bit weak to me.  The first is that the stimulus wasn’t big enough.  The second was that the Great Recession would have been much worse in the absence of the stimulus, perhaps a replay of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  (The media are fond of this line of reasoning because it allows them to escape making a judgment.  They can just say “nobody knows what would have happened otherwise.”)    The third response is that the fiscal stimulus was short-lived, and in fact was reversed by the Congress by 2010.

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What Do Obamacare and the EITC Have in Common with Cap-and-Trade?

My preceding blog post described how market-oriented mechanisms to address environmentally damaging emissions, particularly the cap-and-trade system for SO2 in the United States, have recently been overtaken by less efficient regulatory approaches such as renewables mandates.   One reason is that Republicans — who originally were supporters of cap-and-trade — turned against it, even demonized it.

One can draw an interesting analogy between the evolution of Republican political attitudes toward market mechanisms in the area of federal environmental regulation and hostility to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.   The linchpin of the program is the attempt to make sure that all Americans have health insurance, via the individual mandate.  But Obamacare is a market mechanism, in that health insurers and health care providers remain private and compete against each other.   

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The Rise and Fall of Cap-and-Trade

Markets can fail.  But market mechanisms are often the best way for governments to address such failures.  This has been demonstrated in areas from air pollution to traffic congestion to spectrum allocation to cigarette consumption.    Markets for emission allowances – in which those firms that can cheaply cut pollution trade with those that cannot – achieve desired environmental goals at relatively low economic costs.   As of a decade ago, that long-standing economic proposition had become widely recognized and put into action. Yet the political tide on both sides of the Atlantic has been against “cap and trade” over the last five years.

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IMF Reform and Isolationism in Congress

A long-awaited reform of the International Monetary Fund has now been carelessly blocked by the US Congress.   This decision is just the latest in a series of self-inflicted blows since the turn of the century that have needlessly undermined the claim of the United States to global leadership. 

The IMF reform would have been an important step in updating the allocations of quotas among member countries.  From the negative congressional reaction, one might infer that the US was being asked either to contribute more money or to give up some voting power.   (Quotas allocations in the IMF determine both monetary contributions of the member states and their voting power.)  But one would then be wrong.  The agreement among the IMF members had been to allocate greater shares to China, India, Brazil and other Emerging Market countries, coming largely at the expense of European countries.  The United States was neither to pay a higher budget share nor to lose its voting weight, which has always given it a unique veto power in the institution.

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