The recent surge in interest in Nominal GDP Targeting, as an alternative to money targeting or inflation targeting if the central bank is to commit to a nominal target of some sort, has prompted some pushback. This is not surprising. But one of the responses is most peculiar. This is the allegation (1) that the surge comes from liberals opportunistically adopting an idea that was originally proposed by conservatives, and (2) that they will not stick with this “fad” in the longer run because it is only designed to fit current circumstances of high unemployment and low output. Remarkably, every component of this argument is wrong.read more
My preceding blogpost, the Hour of the Technocrats, was inspired by the recent accession of Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos, both professional economists, to the prime ministerships of Italy and Greece, respectively. Today we turn to the U.S., where the political process seldom views academic credentials benevolently.
In the United States, Senator Richard Shelby scorned President Obama’s 2010 nomination of Peter Diamond, an eminent MIT Professor of Economics, and prevented his confirmation as a governor of the Federal Reserve Board. The Alabama Senator farfetchedly claimed that the nominee was not qualified, and persisted despite the coincidence that Diamond won the Nobel Prize in Economics soon after his nomination (deservedly). But, then, Shelby was holding up an astounding 70 of President Obama’s nominations, just to try to get two pork projects in his home state funded. Diamond finally withdrew in June 2011, because Shelby and other anti-technocratic Senators had blocked the confirmation process for 14 months and were clearly going to continue to do so. Diamond, like Axel Weber in my preceding blogpost, was comfortable foregoing the limelight.read more
Alan Krueger, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Affairs, suggested in a recent speech a useful metaphor to distinguish different kinds of economic indicators. Some indicators are like the gauges on the dashboard of the car — industrial production, unemployment, inflation and so on. They give the latest bits of information on the business cycle outlook, for businesspeople, government policy-makers, economic forecasters, and anyone else who wishes to follow such developments at high frequency. Many of these numbers are collected on a monthly basis. Other statistics are like the results of 10,000 mile checkups – the poverty rate, infant mortality, life expectancy, carbon emissions, natural resource depletion, the crime rate, traffic congestion, leisure time, and other measures of inequality, health, the environment and the quality of life. They supplement market-measured activity and are needed in order to get a comprehensive feel for welfare and the longer term sustainability of the economy. This second category of statistics is more often collected on an annual basis.read more
The Queen of England during the summer asked economists why no one had predicted the credit crunch and recession. Paul Krugman points out that, inasmuch as economists can almost never predict the timing of recessions (and don’t claim to be able to), the real questions are worse. The real questions are, rather how macroeconomists (most) could have gotten it so wrong as to believe that:
(i) a severe recession was not even looming ahead as a potential danger, and
(ii) a breakdown of many of the world’s most liquid financial markets, in New York and London, was impossible to imagine.
The Yale Book of Quotations provides a useful service: It tabulates well-known sound-bites, but tries to get the exact quote and citation right, which is rare. (P.T. Barnum in fact never said “There is a sucker born every minute.” Richard Nixon never said “But it would be wrong.” Etc.) The editor also compiles an annual list of Top Ten Quotes of the Year. In the second week of December he released the list for 2008. Number 1, for example, is “I can see Russia from my house” (carefully attributed to the Tina Fey parody rather than precisely what Sarah Palin originally said).read more
I wish to add my heart-felt approval to many others, regarding the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Paul Krugman. For those readers of the New York Times who can only think of him as a columnist, let me assure you that long before he ever wrote a newspaper opinion piece, Krugman had become the leading international economist of my generation. I leave it to others to explain the trade theory research that earned the ultimate accolade. I will only say that (together with Elhanan Helpman) Krugman took traditional trade theory – which ever since David Ricardo had assumed perfect competition, constant returns to scale, and unchanging technology – and made it more realistic by assuming imperfect competition, increasing returns to scale, and endogenous technology.read more
I propose that the Congressional leadership re-introduce the Trouble Asset Relief Program accompanied by a major new policy: a small tax on securities market transactions. This will accomplish the political goal of aiming a silver bullet into the heart of the (understandable) popular outrage that blocked passage of the TARP bill on Monday. It will simultaneously accomplish the fiscal goal of raising revenue in the future. This is revenue that the federal government would have sorely needed even before the bailout arose and will need even more if the taxpayer is to be protected against the risk of heavily subsidizing the financial sector.read more