Saturday, November 10, 2012

Does the World Need an Inflation ?

Many economists have suggested over the past few years that there are essentially two policies that would help the developed countries out of their present situation of large deficits, large sovereign debt and low growth. Many have dared suggest that a combination of financial repression and moderate inflation are the path to salvation. Financial repression occurs when the Fed (Central Banks) maintain an artificially low interest rate . This lowers the burden of servicing the sovereign debt substantially. Ex: If the US national debt of $15 Trillion is to be financed at an average interest rate of say 7% then over a $1 trillion worth of interest will have to be paid each year. If on the other had the average interest rate is to be about 1% then refinancing burden would be only $150 billion i.e. a drop of about $900 billion. That is not bad. What do you think?

THERE have recently been a number of calls for a higher inflation target. The proponents claim that this would stimulate economic growth and also ease sovereign-debt crises. I have mixed feelings about these proposals. There are clear advantages to adopting more expansionary monetary policies in the US, Europe, and Japan, but it’s a mistake to target inflation directly, or even to describe the advantages of monetary stimulus in terms of higher inflation.

Inflation can rise due to either supply or demand-side factors. Because most consumers visualise inflation as a supply-side phenomenon (implicitly holding their own nominal income constant) they see inflation as a problem, not a solution. Thus any calls for a higher inflation target are likely to be highly controversial, which makes it unlikely they would be adopted by conservative central bankers.

A much better solution to frankly admit what a growing number of economists are saying; inflation targeting was a mistake from the beginning, and the major central banks should instead be targeting nominal income growth (preferably level targeting). All of the advantages of higher inflation (economic stimulus, lower real debt loads, etc.) are actually more closely linked to rising nominal incomes. A switch to NGDP targeting would not require the major central banks to adopt a new and higher inflation target, with the associated loss of credibility. Instead they should estimate an NGDP target likely to produce 2% inflation in the long run, that is, an NGDP growth rate target of perhaps 4.5% per year in the US, 4% in Europe, and 2.5% in Japan. If the central bank believes there is a need for some “catch-up growth” (and surely that’s the case in the US and Europe, then they should start the trend line from 2008 or 2009, to allow for higher NGDP growth for the next several years.

Some might argue that this is just a back door way of raising the inflation target. Not so. Inflation targeting is what got us into this mess. If we had been targeting NGDP in 2008, level targeting, then monetary policy would have been far more stimulative, the recession would have been much milder, and the sovereign debt crisis would have been confined to Greece and perhaps one other country. We don’t need an expedient like a temporarily higher inflation target, which will further erode central bank credibility. Rather we need an entirely new policy rule, a rule that will be so robust that it doesn’t have to be abandoned every time we face a recession or a debt crisis. A rule that is consistent with 2% inflation in the long run. Nominal income targeting is the policy rule that is most likely to fit that description.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

For Richer for Poorer.

As probably many of you know, there is a cloud hanging over the future of the US and many other countries, the cloud of wealth concentration. There is nothing in life that will not be affected by this phenomenon. It obviously affects our allocation of resources and  it will have tremendous influence on who gets what. It would affect the relations between the social classes and could lead to social unrest if we allow the fissure between the haves and have nots to increase. The following is only one part of an excellent article that speaks to this issue.


Growing inequality is one of the biggest social, economic and political challenges of our time. But it is not inevitable, says Zanny Minton Beddoes

IN 1889, AT the height of America’s first Gilded Age, George Vanderbilt II, grandson of the original railway magnate, set out to build a country estate in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He hired the most prominent architect of the time, toured the chateaux of the Loire for inspiration, laid a railway to bring in limestone from Indiana and employed more than 1,000 labourers. Six years later “Biltmore” was completed. With 250 rooms spread over 175,000 square feet (16,000 square metres), the mansion was 300 times bigger than the average dwelling of its day. It had central heating, an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, lifts and an intercom system at a time when most American homes had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing.

A bit over a century later, America’s second Gilded Age has nothing quite like the Vanderbilt extravaganza. Bill Gates’s home near Seattle is full of high-tech gizmos, but, at 66,000 square feet, it is a mere 30 times bigger than the average modern American home. Disparities in wealth are less visible in Americans’ everyday lives today than they were a century ago. Even poor people have televisions, air conditioners and cars.
But appearances deceive. The democratisation of living standards has masked a dramatic concentration of incomes over the past 30 years, on a scale that matches, or even exceeds, the first Gilded Age. Including capital gains, the share of national income going to the richest 1% of Americans has doubled since 1980, from 10% to 20%, roughly where it was a century ago. Even more striking, the share going to the top 0.01%—some 16,000 families with an average income of $24m—has quadrupled, from just over 1% to almost 5%. That is a bigger slice of the national pie than the top 0.01% received 100 years ago.
This is an extraordinary development, and it is not confined to America. Many countries, including Britain, Canada, China, India and even egalitarian Sweden, have seen a rise in the share of national income taken by the top 1%. The numbers of the ultra-wealthy have soared around the globe. According to Forbes magazine’s rich list, America has some 421 billionaires, Russia 96, China 95 and India 48. The world’s richest man is a Mexican (Carlos Slim, worth some $69 billion). The world’s largest new house belongs to an Indian. Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey skyscraper in Mumbai occupies 400,000 square feet, making it 1,300 times bigger than the average shack in the slums that surround it.

The concentration of wealth at the very top is part of a much broader rise in disparities all along the income distribution. The best-known way of measuring inequality is the Gini coefficient, named after an Italian statistician called Corrado Gini. It aggregates the gaps between people’s incomes into a single measure. If everyone in a group has the same income, the Gini coefficient is 0; if all income goes to one person, it is 1.
The level of inequality differs widely around the world. Emerging economies are more unequal than rich ones. Scandinavian countries have the smallest income disparities, with a Gini coefficient for disposable income of around 0.25. At the other end of the spectrum the world’s most unequal, such as South Africa, register Ginis of around 0.6. (Because of the way the scale is constructed, a modest-sounding difference in the Gini ratio implies a big difference in inequality.)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Employment Conundrum

As soon as the US government released the unemployment results for September showing that nonfarm employment increased by 114,000 (anemic) but yet the rate of unemployment dropped substantially from 8.1 to 7.8 many of the conservative politicians and econimic analysts cried foul. Jack Welsh, the former GE CEO tweeted"If you can't debate then you fix the numbers"  and a CNBC personality said: "I told you that they would get the number below 8% just before the elections". All of the above comes under the category of sour grapes. No one who knows anything about the BLS would ever make such an accusation because it is baseless and is something that will be next to impossible to achieve . Over 50 different individuals work on these figures and not a single one has the power to manipulate them. The following is a great explanation of what the unemployment figures mean, as presented by Greg Manikw one of "star" economists in the US.

If you go to the recent release from the BLS, you can find these two sentences a few paragraphs apart:

Total employment rose by 873,000 in September.

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 114,000 in September.

To a layman, this may seem confusing.  The first statement suggests a robust labor market, the second a more lackluster one.  What is going on?

The issue is that there are two surveys.  The first estimate of employment comes from the survey of households; the second is from the survey of establishments.  I thought readers might like to hear what my favorite intermediate macro textbook says about this issue.  Here is an excerpt:


Because the BLS conducts two surveys of labor-market conditions, it produces two measures of total employment. From the household survey, it obtains an estimate of the number of people who say they are working. From the establishment survey, it obtains an estimate of the number of workers firms have on their payrolls.

One might expect these two measures of employment to be identical, but that is not the case. Although they are positively correlated, the two measures can diverge, especially over short periods of time. A particularly large divergence occurred in the early 2000s, as the economy recovered from the recession of 2001. From November 2001 to August 2003, the establishment survey showed a decline in employment of 1.0 million, while the household survey showed an increase of 1.4 million. Some commentators said the economy was experiencing a “jobless recovery,” but this description applied only to the establishment data, not to the household data.

Why might these two measures of employment diverge? Part of the explanation is that the surveys measure different things. For example, a person who runs his or her own business is self-employed. The household survey counts that person as working, whereas the establishment survey does not because that person does not show up on any firm’s payroll. As another example, a person who holds two jobs is counted as one employed person in the household survey but is counted twice in the establishment survey because that person would show up on the payroll of two firms.

Another part of the explanation for the divergence is that surveys are imperfect. For example, when new firms start up, it may take some time before those firms are included in the establishment survey. The BLS tries to estimate employment at start-ups, but the model it uses to produce these estimates is one possible source of error. A different problem arises from how the household survey extrapolates employment among the surveyed households to the entire population. If the BLS uses incorrect estimates of the size of the population, these errors will be reflected in its estimates of household employment. One possible source of incorrect population estimates is changes in the rate of immigration, both legal and illegal.

In the end, the divergence between the household and establishment surveys from 2001 to 2003 remains a mystery. Some economists believe that the establishment survey is the more accurate one because it has a larger sample. Yet one recent study suggests that the best measure of employment is an average of the two surveys. [George Perry, “Gauging Employment: Is the Professional Wisdom Wrong?,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (2005): 2.]

More important than the specifics of these surveys or this particular episode when they diverged is the broader lesson: all economic statistics are imperfect. Although they contain valuable information about what is happening in the economy, each one should be interpreted with a healthy dose of caution and a bit of skepticism.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

QE3 and the Economy


Fed’s Evans Says QE3 Will Make Economy More Resilient

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said the central bank’s third round of quantitative easing will help the economy keep growing despite headwinds from Europe’s debt crisis as well as potential U.S. tax increases and spending cuts.
“Given the slow and fragile recovery, the large resource gaps that still exist, and the large risks we face, it remains clear that we needed a more resilient economy,” Evans said today according to prepared text of a speech in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Fed’s actions last week “provided a more accommodative monetary policy that can help us achieve such resilience.”
Evans has been among the most outspoken advocates for additional monetary stimulus from the Fed in the past year. In an Aug. 27 speech he called for the Federal Open Market Committee to engage in open-ended asset purchases, a strategy that was adopted by the Fed in its Sept. 13 decision to purchase $40 billion a month in mortgage debt until the labor market improves.
“We’re going to look at the labor market and the way the economy is going and also inflation pressures, and if it seems like we need to continue to do this, we’ll continue to do this next year,” Evans said in response to audience questions.

Operation Twist

The central bank will have to consider continuing the mortgage-debt purchases into 2013 and should purchase additional Treasuries once the central bank’s Operation Twist program expires in December, Evans said.
The Fed maintained Operation Twist, selling about $45 billion of short-term Treasury securities a month and buying about $45 billion of longer-term Treasuries, even as it began purchasing $40 billion a month of mortgage-backed securities.
Evans told reporters after the speech that a pace of $85 billion in mortgage-backed securities and Treasury securities may be appropriate into 2013.
“We’re looking for stronger employment growth, some beginning declines in the unemployment rate and stronger growth,” Evans said. “I’d be surprised if we would see enough evidence of that by the end of this year. So under that conditioning, I would expect that we would continue at something like an $85 billion pace of purchases post December.”
The Chicago Fed chief renewed his call for the policy makers to provide accommodation as long as unemployment remains above 7 percent and the inflation outlook is under 3 percent. Evans said that although the Fed did not adopt this policy last week he supports the QE3 decision “wholeheartedly.”

Disappointing Growth

Evans said the Fed’s actions will help strengthen a pace of growth that has been “disappointing” and help counteract “greater downside risks posed by the slowdown in global economic growth, the economic turmoil in Europe and the fast- approaching U.S. fiscal cliff.” If Congress doesn’t act, more than $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts will take effect starting in January.
Evans raised his growth and inflation forecasts in response to the Fed’s new program and now sees the unemployment rate falling faster, the policy maker told reporters.
“My own projections did have somewhat stronger growth because of that,” Evans said. “If I’m looking for -- as one benchmark -- seeing the unemployment rate fall below 7 percent, I think it will happen much sooner than if we had not undertaken that action.”

‘Heroic Forecast’

Evans said unemployment could fall below 7 percent by the end of 2014.
“I don’t think that’s a heroic forecast,” he said.
The FOMC took action last week following a Sept. 7 Labor Department report showing the economy added 96,000 jobs in August. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent as 368,000 people left the labor force.
Evans said that the central bank’s policy has been unable to have its full effect on the economy because not all mortgage holders have been able to refinance.
“We’ve been fighting against a variety of issues that are clogging the effectiveness of the monetary policy transmission channel,” Evans said in response to audience questions. “Normally it’s the case that when you have such a large amount of monetary stimulus in place we would have seen an enormous refinancing wave of mortgages.”

Underwater Borrowers

Yet many borrowers who are underwater, or owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home, are unable to refinance and “if there were adjustments made in those refinancing programs we could deliver much more effectiveness of our policy accommodation,” he said.
In addition to undertaking QE3, the Fed said last week that economic conditions would likely warrant holding their target interest rate near zero through at least mid-2015, extending a previous date of late 2014. The Fed said low interest rates will remain appropriate for a “considerable time” after growth strengthens.
The Fed is contending with a slowing economy. Gross domestic product climbed by 1.7 percent in the second quarter, down from 2 percent in the first quarter and 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

Highly Accommodative

“Stating that we expect to keep a highly accommodative stance for policy for a considerable time after the recovery strengthens is an important reassurance to households and businesses that Fed policy will not tighten prematurely,” Evans said.
Stocks and commodities have rallied since the Fed said on Aug. 1 that it would “provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery,” foreshadowing the launch of QE3 last week.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 (SPX) Index rose 6.3 percent from Aug. 1 to yesterday. The S&P GSCI index of 24 commodities has risen 6.4 percent in that time period.
Evans said the Fed should be willing to risk a little more inflation in order to help improve the labor market. The Fed should “not be resistant” to policies that lower unemployment closer to its longer-run level “but run the risk of inflation running only a few tenths above our 2 percent goal.”
Evans, 54, became president of the Chicago Fed in 2007 after serving as the bank’s director of research. Fed presidents rotate voting on monetary policy with Evans voting next year.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Coming Economic Boom

                                                      The Coming Boom in the US

           Roger Altman has written an OpEd in the Financial Times in which he argued that a Boom is coming our way in the United States for the following five reasons. Please read and comment . Be sure to use your real name, Non Anons!!!
Rising home prices. Home prices are rising in half of the major housing markets in the U.S.

Booming energy production. Gas and oil production in the U.S. has increased at “breathtaking” rates.

Financial sector health. The banking sector, nearly nationalized while on its deathbed just a few years ago, has recovered faster than anyone thought possible.

Competitiveness. A few years ago, we were becoming a post-industrial nation. Now we’re back in the game of making big, hard things.

Budget balancing. Here Altman gets a bit partisan, predicting that an Obama re-election could result in a budget deal that brings down our mounting debt levels.