Category Archives: Obama Administration

The Unemployment Rate and Private Job Growth

Once again this morning, the BLS employment release tells conflicting stories depending on whether one looks at the unemployment rate or job growth.   The U.S. unemployment rate fell from 8.3% in July to 8.1% in August, continuing the gradual three-year downward trend (from its 2009 peak at 10 %).     Political economy equations often say that the direction of movement of the unemployment rate in the period preceding a presidential election is the main economic determinant of whether the incumbent is re-elected.  

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Perspective on the Latest Employment Numbers

The BLS this morning reported U.S. job gains of 163,000 in July, which is good news in the eyes of the financial markets.  The jobs data had been disappointing over the preceding three spring months.  Before that, during the winter months, employment growth was strong.

In terms of perceptions and politics, pundits will say that today’s report is good news for Obama’s re-election prospects, just as they said the spring jobs numbers were bad news for the President.  But my interest is in economics and reality, rather than perceptions and politics.   From a longer-term perspective, a few important facts have not been adequately discussed.

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The Procyclicalists: Fiscal Austerity vs. Stimulus

       The world is in the grip of a debate between fiscal austerity and fiscal stimulus.  Opponents of austerity worry about contractionary effects on the economy.  Opponents of stimulus worry about indebtedness and moral hazard.

Is austerity good or bad?   It is as foolish to debate this proposition as it would be to debate whether it is better for a driver to turn left or right.   It depends where the car is on the road. Sometimes left is appropriate, sometimes right.  When an economy is in a boom, the government should run a surplus; other times, when in recession, it should run a deficit.    

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Look Who Opposes Obamacare, by Fat Margins

     The Supreme Court today upheld the Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as Obamacare.  Judging from the polls, American public opinion appears to be very sharply divided over the legislation.  Some view it as socialism, others as the first success in a half-century of efforts to achieve a sensible national policy on health care.

       What explains the wide divergence of views?   An economists’ approach – cynical or naïve depending on how you look at it – would be to assume that citizens vote according to their own personal interests.   Getting the uninsured onto paid insurance through the individual mandate is very much in some people’s interest, but not necessarily as strongly in others’ interests.  Let’s take a look.

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Did Obama Turn Around the Economy?

With November’s election fast approaching, the Republican candidates seeking to challenge President Barack Obama claim that his policies have done nothing to support recovery from the recession that he inherited in January 2009. If anything, they claim, his fiscal stimulus made matters worse.  And, despite recent improvement, the level of unemployment indeed remains far too high.not blame George W. Bush for the recession that began two months after he took office in 2001. There hadn’t yet been time for bad policies to damage the economy.)

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Recap: Obama Recovery, Emerging Markets & 2012 Crash

A recent video interview from Project Syndicate recaps some of my recent op-eds.  It covers the following territory:

  •           The Obama Recovery.    The U.S. economy was in free fall in late 2008, whether measured by GDP statistics, the monthly jobs numbers, or inter-bank spreads.     Was the end of the recession in mid-2009 attributable to policies adopted by President Obama?   A full evaluation of that question to economists’ standards would require delving into the complexity of mathematical models.  The public generally has a simpler standard:   was the impact big enough to be visible to the naked eye?   Amazingly, the answer is “yes.”   Whichever of those statistics one looks at, and whether it is coincidence or not:  the economic free-fall ended almost precisely the month that Obama took office, January 2009.
  •           Emerging markets have generally had much better economic fundamentals over the last decade than advanced economies.    For example, one third of developing countries have succeeded in breaking the historical syndrome of procyclical (destabilizing) fiscal policy.   For the first time, they took advantage of the boom of 2003-08 to strengthen their budget balances, which allowed a fiscal easing when the global recession hit in 2008-09.
  •           The 15-year cycle in EMs.  Market swings that start out based firmly on fundamentals can eventually go too far.   Some emerging markets like Turkey look vulnerable this year.  A crash would fit the biblical pattern: seven fat years, followed by seven lean years.  Here are the last three cycles of capital flows to developing countries:
    • 1975-81: 7 fat years (“recycling petrodollars”)
    • 1982: crash (the international debt crisis)
    • 1983-1989: 7 lean years (the “Lost Decade” in Latin America)
    • 1990-1996: 7 fat years (Emerging Market boom)
    • 1997: crash (the East Asia crisis)
    • 1997-2003: 7 lean years (currency crises spread globally)
    • 2003-2011: 7 fat years (the triumph of the BRICs)
    • 2012: ?
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“Built to Last” — A Reaction to Obama’s State of the Union Message

Obama’s slogan for the SOTU last night, “An Economy Built to Last,” was a way of referring to one of the accomplishments of his first years: successfully reviving the auto industry, which many had said couldn’t be done without nationalizing it.   References to other accomplishments were stated more quickly, such as national security (withdrawal from Iraq, disposing of Osama bin Laden) or more obliquely, such as health care reform, financial reform, and arresting the freefall of the economy that Obama inherited in January 2009 (via fiscal stimulus and TARP – both of which are not especially popular programs).

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Barack Obama’s Biggest Economic Mistake Has Been…

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, the editors of the FP Survey ask “top experts” for pithy solutions to the world’s economic problems, “twitter style.”  Some of the answers:

THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE GLOBAL ECONOMY IS …
Anti-market bias. -Bryan Caplan •  Procrastination. -Peter Diamond •  Short-term thinking. -Esther Dyson •  A euro meltdown. -Dean Baker  •  Tax-cut fanatics. -Jeffrey Frankel •  The bond market. -Andy Sumner •

MY OUT-OF-THE-BOX SUGGESTION TO REVIVE THE GLOBAL ECONOMY IS
Wipe out debts. -Daron Acemoglu •  Require candidates for national office to pass ninth-grade tests on arithmetic, history, and geography. -Jeffrey Frankel •  Double down on science. -Tyler Cowen •  A government lottery where winners have mortgages, student loans, or other debt paid off. -Mark Thoma •  We don’t need “out-of-the-box” solutions; we need “head-out-of-the-sand” ones. -Adam Hersh •  Pray. -David Smick

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Politicians Scorn Professors

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. 

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High Noon: The Outcome to the Debt Ceiling Standoff

           After a month of high drama the Senate at high noon today voted to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling.    How to evaluate this outcome?    If I must give a one-word verdict, it would be “good.”   If I can expand to two words, it would be “not good.”   If I can elaborate to 20 words: “The legislation confirms the sorry state of our public deliberations, but it is probably the best that could be hoped for,” given where the negotiations were as the big hand on the clock approached twelve.

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