When Europe began its infatuation with austerity, top officials dismissed concerns that slashing spending and raising taxes in depressed economies might deepen their depressions. On the contrary, they insisted, such policies would actually boost economies by inspiring confidence. But the confidence fairy was a no-show. Nations imposing harsh austerity suffered deep economic downturns; the harsher the austerity, the deeper the downturn. Indeed, this relationship has been so strong that the International Monetary Fund, in a striking mea culpa, admitted that it had underestimated the damage austerity would inflict.

Economics 101 tells us to be very cautious about attempts to legislate market outcomes. Every textbook - mine included - lays out the unintended consequences that flow from policies like rent controls or agricultural price supports. And even most liberal economists would, I suspect, agree that setting a minimum wage of, say, $20 an hour would create a lot of problems. But that’s not what’s on the table. And there are strong reasons to believe that the kind of minimum wage increase the president is proposing would have overwhelmingly positive effects.

Outside that bubble, a fair number of people have noticed that Keynesian economics has performed spectacularly in the crisis - it successfully predicted that deficits wouldn’t drive up interest rates, that monetary expansion wouldn’t be inflationary, that austerity policies in Britain and elsewhere would hit economic growth. And no, don’t tell me that Keynesians predicted that the Obama stimulus would produce full employment; serious Keynesians, like me, were more or less frantically warning back in early 2009 that the stimulus was too small. But in Ryan’s world everyone knows that Keynesian economics has failed.

we have a situation in which a terrorist may be about to walk into a crowded room and threaten to blow up a bomb he’s holding. It turns out, however, that the Secret Service has figured out a way to disarm this maniac - a way that for some reason will require that the Secretary of the Treasury briefly wear a clown suit. (My fictional plotting skills have let me down, but there has to be some way to work this in). And the response of the nervous Nellies is, “My god, we can’t dress the secretary up as a clown!” Even when it will make him a hero who saves the day?


The key thing to remember - and what the GOP hopes you won’t understand - is that raising the debt ceiling only empowers the president to spend money that he’s authorized to spend by Congressional legislation; nothing more. Conversely, a party that refuses to raise the debt limit is saying that it’s prepared to inflict vast damage on America in order to achieve things that it couldn’t achieve through actual legislation - in effect, that it’s prepared to use vandalism to subvert the constitutional process.

Japan, which is spending heavily for post-tsunami reconstruction, is growing quite fast, while Italy, which is imposing austerity measures, is shrinking almost equally fast. There seems to be some kind of lesson here about macroeconomics, but I can’t quite put my finger on it If austerity worked, the bars for the UK and Italy would be positive. It spending didn’t work, the bars for Japan would look like Italy’s bar. (via Spending and Growth - NYTimes.com)

In 47 of America’s fine states, if you want to accept people’s money in order to give them advice on decorating and other people want to pay you to give advice on decorating, then congratulations-you’re an interior decorator. In the other three states, and the District of Columbia, you need undergo 2,190 hours of training and apprenticeship and pass an exam before practicing. This, of course, is why homes in DC are wildly better-decorated than the homes in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs or in other large American cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, and Philadelphia. Except of course that’s not true.

District 12 is a quintessential extractive economy. It’s oriented around a coal mine, the kind of facility where unskilled labor can be highly productive in light of the value of the underlying commodity. In a free society, market competition for labor and union organizing would drive wages up. But instead the Capitol imposes a single purchaser of mine labor and offers subsistence wages. Emigration to other districts in search of better opportunities is banned, as is exploitation of the apparently bountiful resources of the surrounding forest. With the mass of Seam workers unable to earn a decent wage, even relatively privileged townsfolk have modest living standards. If mineworkers earned more money, the Mellark family bakery would have more customers and more incentive to invest in expanded operations. A growing service economy would grow up around the mine. But the extractive institutions keep the entire District in a state of poverty, despite the availability of advanced technology in the Capitol.

After we sat down, we asked the waitress for a coffee. She thanked us for our order and immediately turned and walked out the front door. My friend explained that the owner of the bookstore/cafe couldn’t get a license to provide coffee. She had tried to just buy a coffee machine and give the coffee away for free, thinking that lingering patrons would boost book sales. However, giving away coffee was illegal as well. Instead, the owner had to strike a deal with a bar across the street, whereby they make the coffee and the waitress spends all day shuttling between the bar and the bookstore/cafe. My friend also explained to me that books could not be purchased at the bookstore, as it was after 18h and it is illegal to sell books in Greece beyond that hour. I was in a bookstore/cafe that could neither sell books nor make coffee.

Opposition to the bailout was driven, in part, by the recognition that nationalization of an industrial enterprise is an open invitation to mismanagement and bad public policy. You could easily imagine a scenario in which the Obama administration made its partisan political objectives a key management priority at Government Motors. Alternatively, you could easily imagine a scenario in which Obama administration trade policy became dominated by the narrow interests of Government Motors rather than the broad interests of the American public. There’s a good reason why sensible people don’t normally recommend that the government own manufacturing companies. But these bad things didn’t happen, and given the total lack of private financing for anything at the time the alternative was liquidation rather than reorganization. I think it’s very understandable that Obama’s political foes were not prepared at the time to simply assume that the administration was handle a post-nationalization auto industry in a responsible way.

the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce - gold’s price as I write this - its value would be about $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A. Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?

It would, of course, be absurd to think that the white working class is suffering because they live in ghettos which reflect and reinforce their shiftlessness in addition to the idea that our country is too soft on crime and too focused on rehabilitating prisoners. The last time the neoconservative intellectual movement had to explain something like this it was about poverty concentrated among African-Americans and in urban environments, and this was their answer. But the white working class lives everywhere - in cities and suburbs, in dynamic towns and dying ones, in conservative ones and liberals ones - and they are having a rough economic time of it everywhere. And nobody is arguing that our criminal justice system is too lenient.

The real workforce of Facebook is all the people who are creating Facebook content. That’s closer to 800 million people (roughly their user base) than to 3,000 people (roughly their number of employees). There’s nothing new about medica companies getting people to produce content for free (that’s what the letters to the editor page or comments section is) but Facebook has built the most amazing vehicle for the appropriation of surplus value that the world has ever known. Ergo its stunning profits and amazing ratio of market capitalization to formal employees.

The absurdity of this claim is clearly revealed if one considers capital gains that accrue to short sellers, who pay rather than receive dividends while their positions are open. Following the logic of the argument, one would be forced to conclude that short sellers are taxed at an effective rate of negative 20%, thereby receiving a significant subsidy due to the existence of the corporate tax. The flaw in this reasoning is apparent when one recognizes that asset prices are lower (relative to the zero corporate tax benchmark) not only when a short position is covered, but also when it is entered

Deadweight loss exists any time the profit-maximizing price of a unit of something exceeds the cost of producing an extra unit. In a highly competitive market in which many sellers are offering largely undifferentiated goods, profit margins are low and deadweight loss is tiny. But the whole point of copyright is that the owner of the rights to, say, Breaking Bad has a monopoly on sales of new episodes of the show. At the same time, producing an extra copy of a Breaking Bad episode is nearly free. So when the powers that be decide that the profit-maximizing strategy is to charge more than $100 to download all four seasons of Breaking Bad from iTunes, they’re creating a situation in which lots of people who’d gain $15 or $85 worth of enjoyment from watching the show can’t watch it. This is “deadweight loss,” and to the extent that copyright infringement reduces it, infringement is a boon to society.

Leaving the payroll tax intact and reducing Social Security benefits for higher-income seniors is, in effect, an increase in marginal tax rates but it was clear from the discussion at this morning’s GOP Presidential debate that few Republicans see it this way. Still, it’s true. The way Social Security works is that you pay taxes when you’re working and you collect benefits when you retire, with the benefits proportional to what you paid.


right now, there are people declaring that our best days are behind us, that the economy has suffered a general loss of dynamism, that it’s unrealistic to expect a quick return to anything like full employment. There were people saying the same thing in the 1930s! Then came the approach of World War II, which finally induced an adequate-sized fiscal stimulus - and suddenly there were enough jobs, and all those unneeded and useless workers turned out to be quite productive, thank you.

the Austrian/Ron Paul types made some very strong predictions about inflation - and rightly, given their model of how the world works. In their version of reality, it really isn’t possible to triple the monetary base without dire effects on the price level. In my version of reality, of course, that’s not only possible but what the model predicts in a liquidity trap. So since we did indeed triple the monetary base with nothing much happening to inflation, the right lesson to draw is that their model is all wrong. Unfortunately, I see no hint that anyone in that camp is prepared to consider that possibility.

Loser liberalism, by implying that all fortunes are created equal, alternately goes too easy on scoundrels and comes down too hard on people who are merely prosperous. Chris Paul is in the one percent, but he’s also a kid from a working class background who’s spent his entire career being structurally underpaid and victimized by cartels. By contrast, even substantially lower-paid (and there’s lots of room to be both lower-paid than Chris Paul and very highly paid) folks working on Wall Street are making a living in an industry that’s systematically dependent on implicit and explicit government guarantees. Making a living as a patent troll is totally different from making a living as a genuine innovator.

If the problem is years of “living beyond our means” the solution dictated by cosmic justice is years of laboring in auto plants building cars for South Koreans to drive. If the question is “why are we consuming so much less than we produced” the answer may be “it’s because in the past we consumed more than we produced.” But right now the question facing America is “why are so many millions of people producing nothing at all.” The answer can’t be simply that we had too much debt in the past or that we lived beyond our means.

This is the way the euro ends - not with a bang but with bunga bunga…. if you look around the world you see that the big determining factor for interest rates isn’t the level of government debt but whether a government borrows in its own currency. Japan is much more deeply in debt than Italy, but the interest rate on long-term Japanese bonds is only about 1 percent to Italy’s 7 percent. Britain’s fiscal prospects look worse than Spain’s, but Britain can borrow at just a bit over 2 percent, while Spain is paying almost 6 percent. What has happened, it turns out, is that by going on the euro, Spain and Italy in effect reduced themselves to the status of third-world countries that have to borrow in someone else’s currency, with all the loss of flexibility that implies.

I suppose I agree with Will Wilkinson about the importance of “an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility” though I have no real idea why he thinks most progressives are against such an ethos. It strikes me that cultivating such an ethos is sort of integral to making a progressive agenda work. I think back sometimes to the time when I stumbled into a Stockholm Metro station and got the person working the booth to explain what I needed to do to use the city’s bikeshare system. This wasn’t really her job, and the conversation wasn’t in her native language, and obviously no practical harm would have come to her if she’d blown me off but I take it that she took pride in working for Stockholm Metro and had a self-conception as someone who’s a helpful public servant. Any effective public agency from the United States Marine Corps on down is built in pretty profound ways on an ethos of duty and hard work in an even more profound way than things in the for-profit business sector. People who believe in public sector work and public services must believe in the idea of a strong work-ethic.

the way to understand the “Barney Frank did it” school of thought about the crisis is that it’s an attempt to turn a huge defeat for conservative ideas into a win. The reality of the financial crisis was that deregulation - which was part of a broader rightward shift in policies that played a large role in creating rapid growth in income inequality - led to an economic catastrophe of the kind that just didn’t happen during the 50 years or so when we had effective bank regulation. So the right’s answer is to claim not just that the government did it, but that it caused the crisis by its attempts to reduce inequality! It’s kind of a masterstroke, in an evil way.

The point is that I know technocrats, and these people aren’t - they’re faith healers who are making stuff up to suit their prejudices. You can say something similar, although a bit less pointed, about the Obama administration. The line from people there, including the president, has been that it was too technocratic. But the real technocrats - people like Christy Romer and, well, me - were saying right from the beginning that the stimulus was too small, etc.; people like Geithner who opposed stronger action were basing their position on gut feelings about confidence, not number-crunching.

Under the rule, banks need to provide the government with a blueprint for a quick and orderly dissolution in case they were to fail. That requirement, a key provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, is intended to avoid the widespread confusion and haphazard actions that occurred during the recent financial crisis, in which some of the world’s largest financial institutions collapsed and threatened the entire financial system in the process.

what Britain needs is for everyone to pay down debt, said in obvious obliviousness to the fact that if everyone cuts spending at the same time, income must fall. But then, this kind of obliviousness is very widespread, and my experience is that if you try to point out the problem - if you try to explain that my spending is your income and vice versa - you get a belligerent response. Y=E is seen as a political statement, which in a way it is if one side of the political spectrum insists on believing things that can’t be true.

In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending. In the second act, the bubbles burst - but bankers were bailed out by taxpayers, with remarkably few strings attached, even as ordinary workers continued to suffer the consequences of the bankers’ sins. And, in the third act, bankers showed their gratitude by turning on the people who had saved them, throwing their support - and the wealth they still possessed thanks to the bailouts - behind politicians who promised to keep their taxes low and dismantle the mild regulations erected in the aftermath of the crisis. Given this history, how can you not applaud the protesters for finally taking a stand?

Republicans claim to be deeply worried by budget deficits. Indeed, Mr. Ryan has called the deficit an “existential threat” to America. Yet they are insisting that the wealthy - who presumably have as much of a stake as everyone else in the nation’s future - should not be called upon to play any role in warding off that existential threat. Well, that amounts to a demand that a small number of very lucky people be exempted from the social contract that applies to everyone else. And that, in case you’re wondering, is what real class warfare looks like.

Look at the IRS data on returns for the 400 highest incomes in America (pdf) - specifically, Table 43. If you look at the numbers since 2004, you’ll see that in a typical year between 30 and 40 percent of those super-high-income players paid an average tax rate of less than 15 percent; most of them paid less than 20 percent. Bear in mind that for the very wealthy the payroll tax - the main burden on working-class Americans - is trivial, because of the cap on Social Security and the fact that it only applies to earned income. And what becomes clear is that the Obama/Buffet claim is absolutely, totally true.

These rogue traders are out there because their bosses don’t want to know what they’re doing. I never get a “rogue burrito” at Chipotle because the management wants people to get burritos that are rolled properly. But suppose the management wants people to obtain the kind of high returns that can only be achieved through unduly risky trades. Well, you can’t very well issue a directive telling people to make unduly risky trades. You certainly can, however, create circumstances under which incentives, control, and supervision are structured so as to make it the case that “rogue traders” will pop up here and there and then there rogueishness can be blamed ex post for undertakings that go badly.

On average, contractors may be billing the government approximately 1.83 times what the government pays federal employees to perform similar work. When the average annual contractor billing rates were compared with the average annual full compensation paid to private sector employees in the open market, POGO found that in all occupational classifications studied, the contractor billing rates were, on average, more than twice the costs incurred by private sector employers for the same services.

The great delusion of the age is that society must be endlessly grateful to the wealthy. They owe nothing to society. Rather, society owes everything to them as “wealth generators” because society contributes nothing to their success. The mores and values that inform the rest of human interaction - reciprocity, proportional distribution of pain and reward, trust and social obligation - must be suspended for them. If we want to enjoy the benefits of a dynamic capitalism we must recognise that the rich are different - and not self-defeatingly tax them. American neo-conservatives and their Republican outriders have worked tirelessly for 50 years to promote this hocus pocus, which offends not only the first principles of humanity, but of what we know about capitalism.

Looks like we had 17,000 thousand new private sector jobs in August, which were 100 percent offset by 17,000 lost jobs in the public sector. The striking zero result should galvanize minds, but it’s worth noting that this has been the trend all year. The public sector has been steadily shrinking. According to the conservative theory of the economy, when the public sector shrinks that should super-charge the private sector. What’s happened in the real world has been that public sector shrinkage has simply been paired with anemic private sector growth. This is what I’ve called “The Conservative Recovery.” Conservatives complain about the results because the President is a Democrat named Barack Obama. But the policy result is what conservatives say they want. Steady cuts to the government sector, offset somewhat by private sector growth.

imagine a small country that never borrows money. Alongside funding its normal operations out of tax revenue, it sets a little bit aside each year in an investment fund looking forward to the time when there’ll be enough money in the pot to build a giant monument to the country’s founder. Then along comes a recession-unemployment rises and revenue plummets. Under the circumstances, deciding to skip a year or two of contributions to the Monument Fund in order to maintain regular levels of public services is the most intuitive thing in the world. What would sound strange would be the idea that economic growth could be maximized by reducing spending to cut the deficit in order to “restore confidence” by making full contributions to the Monument Fund. Who cares about the Monument Fund? Back to the actual situation, the basic logic of “deficit spend in a recession if you can get away with it” holds just as clearly whether you have a Monument Fund or a budget deficit.

the electronic devices that Heritage cites are everyday necessities today. Who has iceboxes anymore? Who doesn’t need a cell phone to find a job or keep one? Fortunately, these appliances are all significantly cheaper these days, but not so the real everyday basics such as quality child care and out-of-pocket medical costs, both of which have risen much faster than inflation, squeezing the budgets of the poor and middle-class alike. In a nutshell, poverty today is about a lack of access to public goods, not consumer items.

The point here is not so much the $2 trillion, which makes very little difference to real US fiscal prospects; it’s the fact that S&P stands revealed as not understanding basic analysis of budget estimates. I mean, I don’t think I would have made that mistake; real budget experts, like the people at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, certainly wouldn’t have. So what we just saw was amateur hour. And these people are pronouncing on US credit-worthiness?

Our nation’s economy and international reputation as the world’s presiding grownup has already been badly damaged. It is a self-inflicted wound of monumental stupidity. I am usually willing to acknowledge that Democrats can be as silly, and hidebound, as Republicans-but not this time. There is zero equivalence here. The vast majority of Democrats have been more than reasonable, more than willing to accept cuts in some of their most valued programs.

What Eurosclerosis? “More detailed analysis shows that the remaining gap comes from lower employment rates in Europe for the young and old; prime-age workers, especially men, are if anything more likely to be working in Europe. And you should note that this European performance comes despite the fact that tax levels and levels of social benefits are vastly higher than they are here. Any US politician proposing even a partial move in Europe’s direction would be accused of being a job-killer. Somehow, though, the jobs survive.” (via The End of Eurosclerosis - NYTimes.com)

Suppose the government had two choices. It could either pay for infrastructure improvements as it went along out of tax revenue or it could borrow money build the infrastructure now and then repay the money with tax revenues. Ordinarily the question would be, does the advantage of building quickly outweigh the cost of the interest. However, right now the interest cost is negative. The government saves money by borrowing now rather than waiting and paying cash. ThinkProgress

Two explanations of why several countries with high taxes seem able to enjoy above average growth: (i) that countries with higher social trust levels are able to develop larger government sectors without harming the economy, and (ii) that countries with large governments compensate for high taxes and spending by implementing market-friendly policies in other areas. Both explanations are supported by current research.

(via Yet Another Conservative Economist Thinks Barack Obama Can Travel Through Time | ThinkProgress) Business investment started trending toward way back in 2006 and did the bulk of its plunging in 2008. It also seems to me that George W Bush was president at this time. Soon after Barack Obama took office, investment bottomed-out and began to rebound. Neither Obama’s rhetoric nor his policies can possibly be responsible for the Obama-era drop in investment for the simple reason that no such drop occurred.

A very large share of the public has no income that hasn’t already been reported to the IRS by the payer and doesn’t itemize deductions. Under the circumstances, the sensible thing would be for the IRS to send everyone a sheet of paper that says “based on the income that’s been reported to us and your family status from last year, your taxes owed (or refund owed to you) is $X with standard deductions. If something’s changed, or if that income number is wrong, or if you want to itemize deductions, you should fill out forms blah blah blah. Otherwise, just send a check.” A lot of us would still need to wrestle with the forms and nobody likes to give up money, but this would be much more convenient for millions of people. We don’t do it because H&R Block and TurboTax don’t want to lose customers and, crucially, because the conservative movement wants taxes for ordinary people to be as annoying as possible. Rich people don’t care about this kind of simplification because they itemize their deductions and hire accountants. But they benefit from middle class people resenting the tax process because it helps them build the case for low tax rates.

The complaint alleges that a Georgia-Pacific paper mill on the Coffee Creek in Arkansas - owned by the billionaire Koch Brothers -emits 45 million gallons of paper mill waste including hazardous materials like ammonia, chloride, and mercury each day. Coffee Creek then flows into Louisiana’s Ouachita River where the pollutants have left the formerly pristine water speckled with odorous foam, slime and black pockets of water, said Jerry Johnson, who has been visiting the Ouachita River for 35 years. “People used to swim in it,” said Johnson, who now lives along the river. “In the summertime, it was the place to go.”

I RECEIVED an email from The Economist’s editor in London referring to Tyler Cowen’s book yesterday afternoon. I went to Amazon, downloaded the book to my iPad, and read it…all in the space of an hour and a half. I then composed this note and sent it to London-19 hours after receiving the first email. I have every reason to believe that this note will appear on economist.com a few hours after it is received. None of this would have been possible 30 years ago. It is therefore particularly ironic that a major theme of the book is about how technological progress has stalled in the last 30 years.

the signature initiatives of Republican presidents - the Reagan tax cut, the Bush tax cut, the Medicare drug benefit - have all been unfunded deficit-raisers; the signature initiatives of Democratic presidents - the Clinton tax hike, Obamacare - have all been deficit-reducing. (Yes, the stimulus - but that was intended to be temporary, and has in fact proved too temporary; and Bush I’s tax increase was an exception, but the GOP has made it clear that nothing like that will ever happen again.)

There’s a difference, after all, between how generous a program is and how expensive it is. One program might hand out money to poor people. Another program might hand out money to poor people if and only if they pass regular drug tests and criminal background checks. The latter will likely be more expensive, since it’s harder to administer, but the former seems more generous by any reasonable standard. Unions have reasons to lobby for generous, efficient programs Unions and Social Welfare Spending

Imagine people’s height being proportional to their income, so that someone with an average income is of average height. Now imagine that the entire adult population of America is walking past you in a single hour, in ascending order of income. The first passers-by, the owners of loss-making businesses, are invisible: their heads are below ground. Then come the jobless and the working poor, who are midgets. After half an hour the strollers are still only waist-high, since America’s median income is only half the mean. It takes nearly 45 minutes before normal-sized people appear. But then, in the final minutes, giants thunder by. With six minutes to go they are 12 feet tall. When the 400 highest earners walk by, right at the end, each is more than two miles tall.