Friday, November 13, 2015

Will they or won't they?

                                      Comment due by Nov. 20, 2015
The risks of the Federal Reserve moving too quickly or too slowly are nearly balanced, New York Fed President William Dudley said Thursday, pointing to a rate hike on the horizon.Dudley, a voting member of the Fed and vice chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee, emphasized, however, that a December liftoff depends on incoming data. Echoing comments from his colleagues, he said that the pace of tightening will be "quite gradual" once the Fed begins raising rates.The central banker said the strong October jobs report should "partially put to rest" concerns that the U.S. labor market might be faltering, adding that the country is much closer to maximum employment than it was at the start of the year.Some labor slack remains, Dudley said, explaining that he has still not seen compelling evidence that the tightening jobs market is leading to more rapid compensation gains.
Dudley also addressed earlier concerns that global economics could impact the Fed's decision, saying the international outlook appears less problematic than it did a few months ago.
On the inflation front, the New York Fed president said that, if the economy continues on its above-trend pace, then worries about low inflation should begin to recede. Core inflation, he added, should rise once transitory factors dissipate.
Dudley said he thought the fundamentals supporting U.S. domestic demand look "quite sturdy" and the housing fundamentals are solid. He did predict, however, that the trade sector will probably continue to drag on growth in 2016.
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans also spoke Thursday, saying the central bank is close to reaching its employment target, but it could be "well into" next year before the goal for inflation is reached to support a rate hike.
Once the Fed initiates liftoff, he said, an appropriate strategy would be to raise the target rate gradually.
Evans is a voting member of the FOMC, which meets next month to decide on whether to raise interest rates for the first time in nine years.
In remarks prepared for delivery to the Manufactured Housing Institute in Chicago, Evans said it could be well into next year before headwinds from lower energy prices and a stronger dollar dissipate enough to allow for sustained upward moment in core inflation.
"The outlook for inflation remains too low," he said. "A gradual path of normalization would balance both the various risks to my projections for the economy's most likely path and the costs that would be involved in mitigating those risks."
"It has been dumbfounding to me," Evans later reporters after his speech, of how little the inflation outlook has changed over the past several years, even as the U.S. economy has strengthened.
While Evans expects U.S. growth of about 2.5 percent in the next 1½ years, he said housing is one part of the economy that still has a good way to go. Progress in that area, he said, has been slow and uneven.
On the other side of the equation, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said Thursday the Federal Reserve's unemployment andinflation goals have been met, and there is no reason to continue to "experiment" with policy extremes.
Bullard, in prepared remarks, said the near-zero interest-rate policy has put the U.S. economy at "considerable risk of future inflation."
Fed Chair Janet Yellen also spoke Thursday, although she did not comment on the outlook for the U.S. economy or her thoughts on monetary policy decisions.
Yellen, kicking off a research conference on policy transmission and implementation after the 2007-2009 financial crisis, said the central bank must weigh the effects of post-crisis financial regulations and new channels through which policy affects markets as it prepares to raise interest rates. She added that the Fed must also weigh the disadvantages of its actions in light of new tools meant to help the Fed raise rates.
Fed "policymakers should be mindful of new channels for monetary policy transmission that may have emerged from the intricate economic and financial linkages in our global economy that were revealed by the crisis," she said in prepared remarks.
"It is crucial to understand the effect of regulations and possible changes in financial intermediation on monetary policy implementation and transmission," Yellen added.
Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker also spoke Thursday, saying he continues to hold the view that monetary policy has the unique ability to determine inflation over time. Still, he said, caution should apply to the notion that policy should respond to signals of incipient financial instability.
Monetary policy's ability to affect real economic activity can be quite limited and is almost always short-lived when well-executed, he said.
The rate hike has been stymied in part by low inflation that continues to run below the Fed's 2 percent target rate, and some policymakers have advocated waiting for more signs that inflation will rise before embarking on a path of monetary tightening.
Lacker, who has twice voted this year to raise rates when the rest of his colleagues decided to stay put, said the recent behavior of inflation "does not warrant such pessimism." But he added that the credibility of such an inflation goal "depends on the public's belief that the central bank has and will use the tools necessary to make inflation return to its goal, should that become necessary."  (Reuters)

Friday, November 06, 2015

How to Fix the American Economy

                                                           Comments due Nov. 13, 2015

In his new book, a Nobel laureate outlines how the huge disparity arose and the huge course correction needed to address it.  Stiglitz, a Nobel-prize winning economist, professor at Columbia University, and the chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute, asks the question “Can the rules of America’s economy be rewritten to benefit everyone—not just the wealthy?” The answer, he insists, is yes. Stiglitz describes the current situation as “ a stark picture of a world gone wrong” : He notes that 91 percent of all income growth between 2009 and 2012 was enjoyed by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. In the first half of the book, Stiglitz focuses on the practices and policies that have gotten the country to this point. It is a familiar story: The demise of labor unions, the increasing financialization of the economy, and the lack of wealth-building opportunities in minority communities have made the rich richer while leaving everyone else to flounder. He lists off a bevy of other contributors too: weak wages, ineffective regulation and federal oversight, and a focus on short-term versus long-term growth, which embodies a preference for rewarding shareholders over workers and consumers. Stiglitz also notes that despite advancements in technology, which should— in theory—increase efficiency and lower costs, consumers are paying more in fees for financial services, which enriches big banks and companies while siphoning money out of the middle class. All of these things, he says, have created a society with a gaping hole, not only in its economic makeup, but in its morality.

Stiglitz spends the latter portion of the book laying out how to fix things. Like his primer on how inequality came to be, the solutions cover everything from fiscal policy to corporate boardrooms to retirement savings. His overview doesn’t prioritize pragmatism: A solution that only involves overhauling the few things that everyone agrees need to be overhauled is no solution at all, he argues. Instead, he swings for the fences, suggesting a massive revision in the way the U.S. economy does business. First up is the attempt to tame what is called rent-seeking—the practice of increasing wealth by taking it from others rather than generating any actual economic activity. Lobbying, for example, allows large companies to spend money influencing laws and regulations in their favor, but lobbying itself isn’t helpful for the economy besides creating a small number of jobs in Washington; it produces nothing but helps an already rich and influential group grow more rich and more influential. Stiglitz suggests that reducing rent-seeking is critical to reining in inequality, especially when it comes to complex issues such as housing prices, patents, and the power that large corporations wield. To overhaul these behaviors and the policies that support it, Stiglitz says that America should give up what he deems the “incorrect and outdated” belief in supply-side economics, which grows from the premise that regulation and taxes dampen business opportunities and economic growth. Instead, massive changes to tax laws, regulations, and the financial sector are needed, he says, in order to curb rent-seeking. For instance, increasing tax rates, ending preferential treatment for top earners, and refining the tax code would decrease incentives to amass extreme amounts of wealth, since it would be so heavily taxed, and that tax would be difficult to shirk. Stiglitz suggests a 5 percent increase to the tax rate of the top 1 percent of earners—a move that he says would raise as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years. He also calls for a “fair tax, ” which would eliminate preferential tax treatment for money earned from capital gains and dividends—perks enjoyed primarily by people who can afford to own a lot of stock. To further ensure that corporations, markets, and individuals aren’t pursuing profits at the expense of workers and the public, Stiglitz calls for a more active central bank. He accuses the Fed of being both too narrowly focused on macroeconomic indicators, and too deferential to the businesses and markets it has the ability to regulate. He wants the government to sponsor a homeownership agency that would dole out housing loans in a way that encourages buyers instead of developers and would closely monitor the market for fairness. Stiglitz ’s thoroughness is admirable, but his prescriptions can be overwhelming, given how much it would take to make each change. The agenda also includes emphasizing the goal of full employment rather than focusing on the sometimes reductive unemployment figures; investment in public infrastructure; better access to financial services, childcare, health care, and paid leave; and strengthened opportunities for collective bargaining. Oh, and better wages for workers, and more corporate transparency, too. Actually implementing all of these changes would require a complete shift in American policy and practice. The world that Stiglitz envisions in his book, one where all citizens can enjoy the promise of education, employment, housing, and a secure retirement seems at once like the realization of the American dream and an unattainable utopia.