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Likely prompted by a new CBO study that argues federal workers are overpaid relative to private sector workers, Karl presents two questions I believe meant to imply that the government cannot overpay for workers. I would answer Karl’s questions with a question of my own: if the government offered a salary of a million dollars a year for a 30 hour a week mail carrier job, what would it get it return? Even though tens of thousands of workers from around the globe with a wide variety of skills would probably apply for the position, you wouldn’t get a million dollars a year in marginal product. Yes, at some margins if you offer more than you will get higher quality applicants. But the position must allow the possibility the marginal product large enough to compensate you, the employer, for the wages.

There are a couple of things that need to happen to get your extra wages worth, and that fact that this is low-skilled government work suggests this isn’t the case.

First, you need the extra dollars offered to lead to more skilled workers in fact being hired, rather than just more skilled workers queuing up for the position and first-come-first serve or some patronage determining who gets hired.

In addition, you need the extra skills to lead to extra value. If the majority of the overpaying was happening at the high end of the distribution where skills are more heterogeneous and extra skill has the potential to create a lot of extra value, I could buy Karl’s story that extra wages was buying valuable extra skills. This could be the case if the “overpaying” was happening for financial industry regulators. But the CBO report shows that the overpayment amount is inversely correlated with the level of education, with the most overpayment coming for workers with less than a bachelors degree., e.g. those that are least likely to have heterogeneous skills that extra wages can buy, and jobs with the flexibility to have those skills pay off. If the only thing a worker is allowed to do is trim the bushes at the Pentagon, or put stamps ons envelopes, there’s not a lot of job flexibility for extra skills to pay off, even if you hire a PhD. This is to say nothing of the incentives of government workers to actually create value once they’re hired into a job that might be both very secure and poorly monitored.

In short, it is certainly possible to overpay workers. If Karl doubts this is true, then he should try hiring someone to mow his lawn for $100,000 a year. Since he can’t overpay him he’ll expect to get at least that much back in lawn-mowing services.

Lots of people have been tossing back data comparing public and private sector workers in a effort to determine if government workers are “overpaid.”

Here are two questions:

  1. Raise your hand if you think government import policy can over turn the law of comparative advantage.
  2. Raise your hand if you think the GS salary scale can over turn supply and demand in the market for labor.

Tyler quotes the FT in a post entitled Not your grandpa’s aggregate demand shortfall.

Perhaps but it is your Great^5 Grandapa Aggregate Demand shortfall. The same thing happened in a period of rapid technological growth AND as I may be alone in pounding rapping the table on the importance of, shifting factor shares.

Not inequality. Factor shares.

Ironically, Great^5 Grandpa understood exactly what was happening.

Now, my friends, let me come to the great paramount issue. If they ask us here why it is we say more on the money question than we say upon the tariff question, I reply that if protection has slain its thousands the gold standard has slain its tens of thousands.

. . .

Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between the idle holders of idle capital  [hedge fund managers and global supply chain engineers] and the struggling masses who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country; and my friends, it is simply a question that we shall decide upon which side shall the Democratic Party fight. Upon the side of the idle holders of idle capital, or upon the side of the struggling masses?

. . .

You come to us and tell us that the great cities [Rapidly Industrializing East] are in favor of the gold standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies [The Aging West]. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

. . .

If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

 

FRED Graph

Over at The Economic Policy Institute Blog, Josh Bivens thinks something is missing in the big New York Times story on why Apple makes stuff in China instead of America:

Yes, I’m gettingboring on this topic, but, exchange rates are by far the single most important determinant of U.S. trade performance, so if the question is “why isn’t X made in the US anymore,” it’s very likely that the answer remains “the dollar is overvalued.”

The main point of the New York Times story was that differences in hourly wages are not the primary driver of Apple’s production in China, but rather the available scale, flexibility, supply chain, and the quantity of appropriate labor available. Given that they are specifically countering the notion that wage differences are the issue, it seems quite besides the point to reply that the determinants of wage differences are being ignored.

Something we learn from the article is that you should think of Apple’s decision in terms of the labor supply curve for the type of labor they want. It is highly concentrated, medium skilled workers that can scale up extremely quickly. This means they don’t just have to consider the point where they expect their labor demand curve to cross the labor supply curve, but also how quickly the supply curve slopes upward just to the right of equilibrium, since their costs will be determined by average wages along a section of the supply curve.  That is to say the shape of the short run labor supply curve matters a lot.

One advantage in China seems to be that it is much cheaper to move quickly along the supply curve. Huge supplies of flexible labor like that don’t exist in the U.S. without offering enough pay to lure them from all over the country. In fact laws here prevent the sort of flexibility you can get in China. This means that when you scale up labor quickly in the U.S., increasing the number of workers must take up relatively more of the slack than increasing worker hours hours. Their labor supply curve is much flatter where they need it to be, and exchange rates aren’t going to flatten the labor supply curve in America.

Kevin Drum replies

So sure, it’s kabuki. All of us who write about politics for a living understand that 90% (at least) of what we do is just shadow boxing. Controversies are invented, then debunked, then invented all over again, and debunked. Sometimes the inventors know perfectly well what they’re doing, while other times they’ve talked themselves into actually believing their own nonsense. In either case, these things are mostly just proxies for the issues that really matter.

But so what? The Reichstag fire was wholly invented too, and look what happened after that. As demeaning as it is, fighting back against bullshit is every bit as important as fighting back against the real stuff.

This is an important point but we should define a line between where the contributions of professional intellectuals end and where the contributions of professional advocates takeover.

If there is genuine misunderstanding then there is a role for intellectuals to say – well actually I think its like this.

However, once an issue simply because a proxy for which team you want to win, this is not our fight. There are good men and women who are paid to do that and they should.

However, our role is the spread of knowledge. Once people are no longer concerned with knowledge but simply scoring points, we should move on.

Center-left intellectuals in America apparently have a serious problem comprehending the concept of Bullshit.

The entire econ world has borne witness to Paul Krugman tearing out his hair over Zombie Lies. Now, Mark Zandi devotes some several thousands words to overturning the nonsense notion that 70 year old US Government Sponsored Enterprises sparked a 21st century global boom in raw material and land prices during a time in which their influence on the international credit markets was approaching a multi-decade low.

He writes

Getting history right for this dark economic period is critical if we are to design a better mortgage finance system for the future. If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are responsible for the debacle, then perhaps government’s role in a future mortgage finance system should be minimal. But if private lenders deserve most of the blame, the case grows for giving government an important role in backstopping and overseeing the system.

Mark, Mark. Clonazepam. It’s a beautiful thing. Let go.

I am betting that maybe five people in the US actually believe Fannie and Freddie caused the housing bubble. Maybe half a dozen more are actively lying about it.

The rest are just Bullshitting. That is, they don’t really care what the truth is one way or the other. This is just a way to gesture in the general direction of the federal government and say Urrhh!!!

If you prefer call it the Chewbacca Analysis

I want to mention a couple of things about the BEA Release.

There are at least three sections you may wish to concern yourself with

  • Percent Change From Previous Period
  • Contribution to GDP Growth
  • Level and Change

Percent Change From Previous Period

The first section tells you the annualized rate of growth of different sectors of the economy. If you have an intuitive sense for the structure and dynamics of the economy you may find this section the most useful. It tells you at a glance how all the different parts are moving.

An important thing to remember is that for our purposes the long run average growth rate of each sector must be equal to the long run average growth rate of the economy.

So suppose that as in this release the growth rate of a sector was 0.2%. This is far lower than either the current growth rate of GDP or its long run average.

However, because the long run averages must be equal, either this sector is going to be pulling down on GDP, GDP is going to be pulling up on this sector or some combination of the two.

We can try to make out from thinking about the sector at work.

In this case the sector was Personal Consumption Expenditure on Services. Now, over the long run if PCE-S pulls down on GDP that means that GDP is shifting away from services. Does this seem likely? Probably not. This tells us that this sector is likely to rebound, mechanically.

That is, to say you are probably looking at a deviation away from the underlying trend. Once, the deviation moves away growth will look fast though its just because the deviation is now gone.

Contribution to GDP Growth

This section is the most fun but it can be dangerous. Mathematically what this is, is the change in spending in this sector divided by the size of the entire economy. What that means is that all the numbers have the same denominator and so you can add them. If you add up all the sectors then you will have all of the change divided by the size of the economy and so you will have GDP growth.

Another way to think about it is that it normalizes each sector by how big it is.

This section also allows you to do little thought experiments like – if it wasn’t for X then GDP would be Y. That is what is fun.

What is dangerous is that these thought experiments often don’t make sense.

For example, I hear a lot of people saying final demand only contributed about 0.8% with nearly 2.0% of growth coming from inventories. That portends bad things.

Yeah, accept that story doesn’t really jive with the rest of the chart. You don’t inventory services or government production. You inventory goods. Consumption, Net Export and Fixed Investment in goods added about 1.65 this quarter and about 1.85 last quarter. While inventories subtracted 1.35 last quarter.

So, even if you just go back one more quarter the story switches to one of quite solid growth in goods production and mild inventory accumulation.

In general I think its best to be wary of these games unless you have a solid macro story to go behind it.

Level and Change

Level and change is helpful if you know something about the underlying industry.

For example, this time non-residential structures fell by 6.2 Billion. The major mover here is in Oil and Gas instillations. Construction in that area rose about 2 Billion in Oct and Nov. so there is a fair chance this is just wrong. On the other hand Dec could have been brutal or there was an unexpected shake out somewhere else in the commercial construction world.

In any case, without further information we would be hesitant thinking that this tells us a lot about the underlying economy.

We also see another negative next to software. Its not clear what’s going on here. Maybe lots of folks are migrating to Goolge Apps, but in any case this is not likely to last. Software goes up.

You can also see both imports and exports are well below their peak levels. Unless we think the dollar or some other factor is altering the baseline composition of import and exports this means they will likely drag on growth as growing imports will eat up more of expanding consumption than exports will support expanding production.

I wanted to make some more points about GDP. They are all sort of related but I am not sure that I will get a chance to tie them in a nice bow.

GDP by Any Other Name

Bryan Caplan notes

a big part of the philosophy of GDP is to eschew philosophical arguments about what’s "really productive."

On reflection, though, the standard approach is anything but agnostic.  Official stats tacitly make an extreme assumption: waste does not exist.  Astrology counts, even though astrologers can’t predict the future.  Every penny of health care counts – regardless of its efficacy.  The whole defense budget counts – even if it’s provoking war rather than deterring it.  Indeed, if two countries’ militaries mutually annihilate, both countries count the cost as a benefit.

Question: Suppose you had the chance to redefine the GDP formula – to create the real measure of real GDP.

The short answer is that the official measures have it more or less right.

Whether the product is wasteful or wasted is of no concern. What GDP attempts to tell us is the extent to which the US economy is able to transform the basic resources of land, labor and capital into output of someone’s design.

I think the confusion comes when we try to measure output in a single unit – in this case a sort of dollar-value metric.

However, imagine we were in a country that produced only Apples. If we produced 100 Apples last year and 200 Apples this year then GDP has doubled. It does not matter whether folks want to eat the Apples, use them as projectiles to hurl at neighbors or simply grew them by mistake and are now letting them rot.

These might be question you are interested in, but they are not questions that GDP answers.

If that doesn’t seem deep enough to be satisfying consider this. Most people consider TVs to be an important part of GDP. However, should they be slashed because I believe that TV rots your brain?

If an astrologer gave me advice that saved my marriage should we up the dollar per hour value of that service to be equal to a trained therapist?

If I love war and live for the sight of destruction should military budgets count? If our military sweeps across the globe and rids the world of the oppression of women should that count for more?

If our military unearths a trillion dollars in rare earth metals that lie under what otherwise would have been grazing ground for goats, how does that count?

GDP is simply not a measure of social welfare. That’s not what it is. That it is correlated with social welfare is an important empirical observation, but GDP is not defined that way and so the process of estimating it should not attempt to take that into account.

Austerity and Beauty

There has been a lot of debate over whether government spending can boost the economy. Much of it has been confused over the dynamics, a topic I hope to return to. However, there is just as much confusion over the aesthetics.

For example Cardiff Garcia presents this chart

Which shows Goldman Sach’s best guess of the effects of fiscal policy on growth. We can argue over whether these projections are correct but what people really want to argue over whether we should find this chart beautiful.

If government spending is distasteful to you – for whatever reasons deeply ethical or mindlessly trivial – then watching government be extracted from the economy is beautiful thing even if nothing replaces it.

If the US economy is less because there are fewer prisons then Bob Murphy’s point should not be that austerity can grow the economy, but that austerity is beautiful.

An economy which shrinks because it produces less pain is better even if it produces no more of anything else.

Now, you may say: yes, but what about the mulitplier? Surely that matters. Perhaps, I think too much is read into the concept of multiplier but even assuming a straight forward reading, the simple fact is that good things often come at a price. If the price of fewer prisons is that former prison guards by fewer cars and houses and shoes, then perhaps this is worth paying?

Now these are not all prison guards but teachers, and tax cuts and other things. However, the question people want to ask is, is reducing these things a good idea? Or, even more basically, do I desire a world in which there are fewer of these things?

This is not a question that GDP or multipliers can answer for you.

The Japanese Question

There are many things that make Japan an fascinating if tragic case study. However, a major issue that I only see Dean Baker bring up and that is the service flow from capital.

Dean says

But there is an area in which Fingleton may actually understate his case. I remember refereeing a journal article at the end of the 90s about Japan’s price index for passenger trains. (Wait, this is not that boring.)

The article purported to show that the official Japanese index overstated inflation because it missed quality improvements. The main quality improvement was that the trains were less crowded.

This issue is deeply fundamental and can help us understand GDP.

Suppose that a massive flu sweep through the United States and reduced the population by half within a week and then burned itself out and was gone.

There would be “adjustment costs” to be sure, but what would we expect to be the major effect on US GDP say two or three years out.

Well total GDP would decline, but properly measured per capita GDP would almost certainly rise.

There are a couple of ways to see this but I think the easiest is this. The vacancy rate in the Northeast corridor would skyrocket. Rents would collapse. This in turn would lead to a massive migration of Americans into the corridor – essentially taking the place of those who died.

This would mean the fraction of America living in the corridor would rise from 17% to likely as high as 30%. Since, the GDP per capita of the Northeast Corridor is 20% higher than the rest of the nation, that would tend to drag up the entire nations GDP per capita.

This phenomenon would be repeated around the country with people taking advantage of lower rents to move to places they previously could not afford and enjoying the agglomeration benefits.

The thing is, however, this does not mean that the standard of living will tend to rise for all groups. It will rise for people whose skills, talents and preferences fit well with urbanization.

The standard of living for uneducated men for example may very well fall, as the relative demand for construction, warehousing, vehicle manufacturing falls. These fall not only in absolute but in relative terms because the population is now more concentrated.

All of this is to say that the relationship between GDP, national prosperity, and the living standards of citizens is a complicated affair. There are many ways that a rising tide could sink some boats without calling on the bugaboos of big government or big business.

Indeed, I don’t have time to go into it here but I think that part of the issue with Japan and America is that people conflate the fact that rising Industrial Production has historically produced rapid gains for everyone with the idea that rising GDP will do this.

For example, if we compare the growth of Industrial Production per Capita in the US to Real GDP per Capita in the US we get a pattern familiar to Tyler Cowen and Lane Kenworthy.

FRED Graph

There is nothing in here about Wall Street or family size or unions per se. Nor does it say anything about employment in various sectors.

It simply contrasts the part of the economy that is, as like to say, coal-fired, with the part of the economy that is not.

Japan shows some similar patterns but I have to let this go for tonight.

The longer this recession goes on the more people are going to forget that in the long run job creation doesn’t matter. Because output is below potential and employment is below the natural rate, we do care about job creation in the short run. The slower the recovery is, and it’s looking slow right now, then the more job creation matters in the medium run as well. But in the long run full employment reins, and you can only create a job by killing a job.

Consider two scenarios. Capitalist A took over a company that fires half its workforce without decreasing output. Capitalist A is a dreaded jobs destroyer, and is pilloried for this (to be fair, some capitalist politicians bring this on themselves by bragging about how many jobs they’ve created). Now consider Capitalist B who took over a company that doubled its workforce and its output. He is a Real Jobs Creator, hailed as a champion of American Interests (and he wants a higher tax rate than his secretary).

But if output has doubled at Capitalist B’s factory, then surely he has taken market share from his competitors, which means his competitors have most likely had to lay workers off, perhaps half of them. The fact is that direct jobs creation that we see can often be completely offset by job destruction that we don’t, and in the long run it pretty much has to be.

While do want to celebrate job creation in the short run, in the long run productivity and innovation are how we improve well-being in this country. So when some capitalist-turned-politician comes out bragging about his career of job creation the reaction of the economist should not be to get in an argument with him about whether or not he was in fact a job creator. By all means, point out that his claims are unjustified at best. Score the political point that the politician has opened himself up to. But the job of the economist is not to accept false terms of debate because doing so is the best way to make the politician look bad. An economist should point out that in the long run job creation doesn’t matter, it’s productivity and innovation that matters, and declare that if the politician wants us to judge his contribution as a capitalist he should tell us about the productivity and innovation he delivered.

While I still grasp for exactly how to express my thoughts on the issues of income inequality, social mobility and the meritocratic state, I’ll pass along this video.

Remember that this is not a documentary or commentary but eduprop designed to Americanize a diverse culture.

 

I should also add that I can sense that a lot of my readers grope for the “point” of many of my posts. In the sense they are looking for, there isn’t one.

The point is to think more about what we really mean when we talk about inequality and mobility? What are the elements of America we care about and why?

And, of particular interest to me: Was there anything fundamentally different about the American economy during the mid 20th century; or are our stylized facts about inequality and growth merely the results of the temporally overlapping effects of urbanization, feminism and the fall of Jim Crow.

I will debate Bryan Caplan on this topic this coming Wednesday.

Bryan’s says

My strategy, as usual, is to use an uncontroversial moral premise to show that the status quo is absurd.  The premise: You are poor by your own fault if there are reasonable steps you could take – or could have taken – to avoid poverty.

Tyler correctly predicts that no one – not least myself – knows for sure which Karl Smith will show up.

Yet other perspectives must be brought to bear.  There is determinism, at differing levels, ranging from “it’s tough to come from a broken home” to “lead poisoning is bad for you” to “what if the universe is a frozen four-dimensional Einsteinian/Parmenidean block of space-time?”  (Ethics does look different when you are traveling at the speed of light.)

There is the view that desert simply is not very relevant for a lot of our choices.  We still may wish to aid the undeserving.

Though it will be tough I will resist the urge to preemptively concede to Bryan on the grounds that desert is a fiction and morality a farce. The only question of any importance is which more unlovely to us: the manners and habits of the poor or the sight, sound and knowledge of their suffering.

Morality – like causality – is a tale told by an idiot. Or, more precisely the left prefrontal cortex. This mass of neurons is tasked with weaving purpose and meaning out of world which has no such things.

When combined with speech this application of narratives to reality allows human beings to operate as a giant hivemind, responding to events they have no direct access to and coordinating behavior in ways that greatly increases the survival rate of their offspring.

All of that having been said, it is lovely to work through the implications of what we believe.

So my basic case is that Bryan’s distinction between utility functions and budget constraints doesn’t correspond to anything that would be relevant to most folk’s well examined sense of morality.

In some cases this is because the distinction is so easily redefined simply by altering the choice set.

Bryan has famously said that the alcoholic is deserves the consequences of his alcoholism because he could have chosen differently. If you put a gun to his head and said don’t drink, the alcoholic could stop.

Fine.

But, the alcoholic cannot choose the consumption bundle that I chose all the time. That is to not drink and not experience delirium tremors. Putting a gun to his head can’t make him choose that outcome.

I’ll of course go into more detail in the debate but unless you are saying the alcoholic deserves delirium tremors it makes little sense to say that he deserves the poverty that results from his alcoholism. After all poverty is his attempt to better his situation.

I used alcohol because Bryan did but we can keep tracing down the chain to more fundamental properties of people and see that in many cases poverty is an attempt to escape a fate worse than poverty.

Unless you believe that they deserve this worse fate then why do they deserve poverty?

A couple of quick notes and then some thoughts that I hope I have chance to build on over time.

GDP growth came in of course at around 2.8%. But, what does that tell us? Not much.

For example, personal consumption expenditures were weak at a 2.0% growth rate, but this is largely because Services came in a 0.2% which in turn is because Housing and Utilities Services declined by 13 Billion dollars. And, that is almost certainly due to a warm winter and lower than expected heating bills.

So, what does that tell us about the direction of the economy? Essentially nothing. We can say that Housing and Utilities will likely pop back in the spring meaning that Consumption expenditures could easily grow by 2.5 – 3.0%.

However, information wise that just piles nothingness on top of nothingness. It was strangely warm today, it will likely be less strangely warm tomorrow. That’s what you get from that data.

Autos did well, but we knew that already. Indeed, expenditures on all goods did well.

There is also a bit of handwringing over the fact that inventories contributed so much to GDP growth. But, what does this tell you. Most of this is autos. During the summer there was a major slowdown in parts from Japan. So Hondas and Toyotas started getting lean on lots. Now, they are coming back. That’s inventory adjustment.  But, it tells us little about the underlying economy.

The one real surprise I saw was a decline in non-residential structure investment. I am guessing this means less oil drilling or natural gas fracking, since that’s over a third of all investment in structures and it’s the entire source of growth.

Why that slowdown occurred I don’t know because Census is slow on getting construction data out. However, it will be interesting to see. A change in oil and gas extraction would be a big deal.

Companies continued to buy computers and software. Not really a shocker. Medicare and Medicaid continued to fund money to hospitals and doctors. Not much of a shocker there either.

Government was surprising rough as well and I wonder if their won’t be some revisions there.

In any case I just don’t think there is a whole lot of here, here.

As a quick note, though I can tell by the way business folks talk across twitter there is the sense that the economy is more complicated than it really is.

I mean what do you do. You probably have a house, a car, some clothes and a computer. Chances are you also eat food, sit on chairs, and have a relative who is or was in the hospital. That’s the private sector right there. If you went to school, that’s the public sector.

Done and done. There isn’t much more to it because there is just not that much to people and people are the foundation of the economy.

I agree with Paul Krugman on the early 80s but disagree with his characterization of the current slump.

The early-80s slump was brought on by a huge rise in the Fed funds rate, which left lots of room for cuts, and was driven by a deep slump in housing, which meant that there was lots of pent-up demand when rates fell again. The 2007-? slump was brought on by the bursting of a housing and debt bubble, and left the Fed largely pushing on a string.

So, on some level it depends on what you mean by “bursting of the bubble.” However, if you were just talking about a collapse in housing prices that left US households underwater and unable to obtain credit then I think that’s wrong.

A Minsky moment could have proceeded in the United States without a downturn of this magnitude, even with the Funds rate already so low.

What would have happened – and what was happening from 2006 – late 2007 was that the dollar was falling fast enough to outweigh the collapse in construction.

And, of course that would have been markets at work perfectly since it would have driven down US consumption and up US tradable output. There would have been a general decline in living standards but little rise in out-and-out unemployment.

Instead, we had a global financial crisis that resulting in a soaring dollar, collapsing demand around the world and the inability for the US to pay down its external debt for lack of a channel.

Thus the (too) slow process of trading private debt for public debt began.

We’ll get GDP later this morning, but as always I don’t know that there is a whole lot to be gleaned from it. Its fairly backwards looking and typically doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.

Its useful as a summary stat for people who are not deep in the weeds but can you say that you looked at any GDP report current or past and said “Ah, just looking at Census and BLS data I couldn’t really get a sense for what direction the economy was moving in at the time but now I get it” That means the information content is pretty low.

A couple of things that are of interest. New Claims bounced back and pretty strongly. There was a little more weakness here than I expected and so that always downgrades our estimate of the chances the recovery will catch. Nonetheless, its looking pretty good.

This recovery has shown more churn than in the past, and so we have had stronger job growth relative to new claims as compared to the last 25 years.

FRED Graph

Whether that pattern holds will be interesting because the post Global Financial Crisis relationship suggests that we could be getting close to blisteringly fast job growth.

FRED Graph

In the upper 300K range.

So a key question is – is the reduction in new claims showing a normalization between the relationship between new claims and job growth or is it suggesting even faster job growth. I actually don’t have a good angle to think about that problem.

The durable goods jump was noticeable enough for me to want to dig further

FRED Graph

Naturally, I thought  this likely autos

That seems to be right

FRED Graph

New home sales came in at a record low which is not surprising. What is just nutty to my eyes is inventory.

FRED Graph

There is nothing wrong with this from a micro perspective. Sales have been at record lows for years. There is no reason to carry excess inventory. However, we are looking at a deviation from trend as strong as the peak of the housing bubble. Moreover, because the numbers are small rather than large the rate at which the market could tighten if things turn exceeds the rate at loosened from the last turn.

This bit of data isn’t new but just to give us a sense of where we are, here is debt service as a percentage of personal income.

FRED Graph

I know I have views on debt that are hard for people to square with, but I hope it makes sense when I say the burden of debt is related to how large you actual debt payments are as a fraction of your income.

So, if you owe 100K at 20% this is going to be more burdensome than 1000K at 1%.

Now because net income payments can be negative one can of course make money from accumulated debt but I’ll try to be good and leave that alone for now.

The point here is that the actual debt burden facing households is low and since disposable income has room to rise, it could go lower. This leaves a lot of room for more purchases.

There is a lot that I wanted say about the mobility debate but my views are so far out of the mainstream I wasn’t sure where to start.  This post by Matt Yglesias lets me at least say something.

Washingtonian, like other regional magazines I’m familiar with, does an annual “best restaurants” issue which is different from their “cheap eats” issue. They also have a “best doctors” issue, but there’s no equivalent of the “cheap eats” concept for health care. My best guess is that this reflects the authentic structure of consumer demand. People sometimes want a great big fancy dinner and sometimes want a great deal on a bowl of pho, but on health care what they want to know is who’s the best.

I was in a doctor’s office with a relation and we noticed a sign on the wall that requested patients not wear perfume or scented lotions of any kind. Then there was another sign that requested that you not make loud noises. The doctor was also fidgety, awkward and significantly “goofy looking.”

We had a conversation that I’ll paraphrase like this:

Relation: Maybe he has Fragile X

Me: Doubt it, Fragile X usually implies mental retardation

Relation: He doesn’t seem very intelligent

Me: An IQ of 80 would make it unlikely that he would finish medical school

Relation: I guess that’s right

Which is to say several things.

First, “best” was not a relevant consideration. Can order blood work was his defining characteristic. This is especially true with a primary care physician. Besides being loose with the prescription pad its not always clear what a “good” primary care physician is.

Second, people grossly underestimate the extent to which society is sorted. This leads to people being thought of as stupid who are in fact well into the right of the distribution. In turn, this leads to people underestimating the extent of the meritocracy. What seem like gross violations are on a larger scale minor discrepancies.

That having been said my baseline is that a well sorted meritocracy increases the case for redistribution. The biggest problem with redistribution is that you may upset the sorting.

If the sorting is really tight then you can redistribute a lot and not worry about messing it up.

Arnold says

The ratio of nominal GDP to employment is NGDP/L, where L is the level of employment. This can be decomposed into:

NGDP/L = (NGDP/RGDP) x (RGDP/L) = the GDP deflator x productivity

. . .

The way I look at it, this means that the relationship between nominal GDP and employment has almost no theoretical import. In particular, it does not constitute evidence in favor of the AS-AD paradigm. The AS-AD story, as Scott Sumner tells it (and pretty much any mainstream macro would say the same thing), is that changes in nominal GDP cause changes in employment, rather than the other way around.

The PSST story is equally consistent with a correlation between employment and nominal GDP. It just interprets the causality as running the other way. If a bunch of workers are laid off, for whatever reason, nominal GDP will go down, unless productivity and/or inflation rise in order to compensate.

Defining aggregate demand as nominal GDP finesses such difficult issues as defining the money supply or justifying specific parameters of a macroeconomic model. But there is a priced to be paid. And that price is vacuousness.

Ok so the anchor in all of this getting us to a nob that everyone can agree the Fed controls.

So, the key question is do we believe that the Fed can indeed control NGDP? Or, put another way, can the Fed control the total amount of nominal spending in the economy.

If the answer is yes, the we can use that same relation to decompose Fed action into its consequences.  If the decomposition shows – as is Scott and many other’s point – that employment moves, not just inflation or productivity then this is saying that the Fed controls employment.

So the crux of this is whether or not you believe that the Fed can set NGDP. And, if it can we have an important implication.

As I mentioned last year, the message is the policy, and looser Fed policy would like follow the following path

Why is this important. Because the difference between extended period and mid-2013 highlights the significance of the Fed wording. Had this simply meant “so long as appropriate” there really wouldn’t be a difference between extended period and 2013.

This statrment is rightfully viewed as a quasi-commitment by the Fed to keep interest rates at zero for two more years.

What you would want to see is the phrase “at least through mid-2013” repeated over and over in new statements and speeches. That will solidify the commitment.

Remember that the last thing you want to do as a central banker is hurt your credibility. So, repeating specific dates indicates that those dates have real meaning.

If the Fed were to begin to tighten its stance the first thing you would expect to see is the phrase “at least” removed from statements and speeches. Further tightening would move us to something phrasing like “possibly through mid-2013”

How the Fed frames the certainty of its statements tells you how tight the policy is.

Now we have moved to

are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014

What is important here is that this is a loosening of policy. It is not a promise to be loose. It IS loosening.

Why?

Because, what matters to bankers is the entire path of the Fed Funds rate from now into the future.

Suppose, that a developer wants to build a new apartment complex – highly relevant in our current environment.

The first thing you do is get a construction loan. This will last about 18 months or so and will be interest only. It also comes out in draws and there some other issues only tagentally relevant to us.

Part of what the Fed is saying here is: for the length of the construction loan we expect the bank to be able to raise funds at zero cost. That’s nice and it lets me as a banker know that there are going to be no rate shocks during this project.

Now, at the end of that 18 months the apartment developer is going to have to get a new loan. Then use those proceeds to pay me in full. A very important consideration for me is whether or not I think she will be able to get that loan.

The Fed is saying look, one of two things will happen. Either the economy will be growing much steadier or interest rates are still going to be zero. Well in either of those cases my developer has a good chance of rolling her loan.

This means that it is a pretty safe bet for me to go ahead and fund this construction loan today.

So anticipation of what is going to happen tomorrow walks back to the present in a very straight forward way. Its not a complex or esoteric expectations problem. As a banker I need to know what is going to happen to my loan and the Fed is helping me figure that out.

On the more esoteric end of things. The Fed also said

The Committee judges that inflation at the rate of 2 percent, as measured by the annual change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures, is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate.

Now some people might be saying big freaking news. Well maybe not big freaking but not trivial. First of all PCE aint CPI.

FRED Graph

As you can core CPI has already broken through 2% year-over-year. On the other hand core PCE has stalled below 2%

The difference between the two is that CPI is attempts to measure what consumers buy or quasi-bought in the case of owner’s equivalent rent. PCE measures all the stuff that is not investment and not direct expenditure by the government.

I’ve noted before that Core CPI and housing costs are basically two different phrases for the same thing. This is less true with CPE, and with housing costs on the rise one can expect core CPI and core PCE to run at different rates.

Next

If you look back at the minutes of previous meetings you say some folks tossing around numbers like 1.25% PCE price index growth as the right target. Basically, those numbers have been overruled, so this is looser than the past Fed.

Last and more weedsy

There is some evidence that a point target is interpreted by financial markets as more flexible than a range. So, if the Fed were to say we want Core PCE somewhere between 1.5% and 2.5% that would actually be thought of as stricter than saying we want Core PCE at 2%.

The reason is that with the range people start saying stuff like “inflation has broken through the Fed’s comfort zone!” and expect immediate tightening. However, with a point target they will say “We have been drifting above 2% for a while and so we expect the Fed will want to bring us back down eventually”

I should have more to say later but that is an off the cuff response. This is looser monetary policy.

Oh, and I will just note that my viceral response to “late 2014” was “mmmhhh” which means that we are moving from “why aren’t we hitting the gas, go, go, go” to “Well, lets talk about this. Late 2014 you say. Do we have an early exit strategy. I wouldn’t mind reviewing. Just in case you know.”

As I mentioned last year, the message is the policy, and looser Fed policy would like follow the following path

Why is this important. Because the difference between extended period and mid-2013 highlights the significance of the Fed wording. Had this simply meant “so long as appropriate” there really wouldn’t be a difference between extended period and 2013.

This statrment is rightfully viewed as a quasi-commitment by the Fed to keep interest rates at zero for two more years.

What you would want to see is the phrase “at least through mid-2013” repeated over and over in new statements and speeches. That will solidify the commitment.

Remember that the last thing you want to do as a central banker is hurt your credibility. So, repeating specific dates indicates that those dates have real meaning.

If the Fed were to begin to tighten its stance the first thing you would expect to see is the phrase “at least” removed from statements and speeches. Further tightening would move us to something phrasing like “possibly through mid-2013”

How the Fed frames the certainty of its statements tells you how tight the policy is.

Now we have moved to

are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014

What is important here is that this is a loosening of policy. It is not a promise to be loose. It IS loosening.

Why?

Because, what matters to bankers is the entire path of the Fed Funds rate from now into the future.

Suppose, that a developer wants to build a new apartment complex – highly relevant in our current environment.

The first thing you do is get a construction loan. This will last about 18 months or so and will be interest only. It also comes out in draws and there some other issues only tagentally relevant to us.

Part of what the Fed is saying here is: for the length of the construction loan we expect the bank to be able to raise funds at zero cost. That’s nice and it lets me as a banker know that there are going to be no rate shocks during this project.

Now, at the end of that 18 months the apartment developer is going to have to get a new loan. Then use those proceeds to pay me in full. A very important consideration for me is whether or not I think she will be able to get that loan.

The Fed is saying look, one of two things will happen. Either the economy will be growing much steadier or interest rates are still going to be zero. Well in either of those cases my developer has a good chance of rolling her loan.

This means that it is a pretty safe bet for me to go ahead and fund this construction loan today.

So anticipation of what is going to happen tomorrow walks back to the present in a very straight forward way. Its not a complex or esoteric expectations problem. As a banker I need to know what is going to happen to my loan and the Fed is helping me figure that out.

On the more esoteric end of things. The Fed also said

The Committee judges that inflation at the rate of 2 percent, as measured by the annual change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures, is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate.

Now some people might be saying big freaking news. Well maybe not big freaking but not trivial. First of all PCE aint CPI.

FRED Graph

As you can core CPI has already broken through 2% year-over-year. On the other hand core PCE has stalled below 2%

The difference between the two is that CPI is attempts to measure what consumers buy or quasi-bought in the case of owner’s equivalent rent. PCE measures all the stuff that is not investment and not direct expenditure by the government.

I’ve noted before that Core CPI and housing costs are basically two different phrases for the same thing. This is less true with CPE, and with housing costs on the rise one can expect core CPI and core PCE to run at different rates.

Next

If you look back at the minutes of previous meetings you say some folks tossing around numbers like 1.25% PCE price index growth as the right target. Basically, those numbers have been overruled, so this is looser than the past Fed.

Last and more weedsy

There is some evidence that a point target is interpreted by financial markets as more flexible than a range. So, if the Fed were to say we want Core PCE somewhere between 1.5% and 2.5% that would actually be thought of as stricter than saying we want Core PCE at 2%.

The reason is that with the range people start saying stuff like “inflation has broken through the Fed’s comfort zone!” and expect immediate tightening. However, with a point target they will say “We have been drifting above 2% for a while and so we expect the Fed will want to bring us back down eventually”

I should have more to say later but that is an off the cuff response. This is looser monetary policy.

Oh, and I will just note that my viceral response to “late 2014” was “mmmhhh” which means that we are moving from “why aren’t we hitting the gas, go, go, go” to “Well, lets talk about this. Late 2014 you say. Do we have an early exit strategy. I wouldn’t mind reviewing. Just in case you know.”

Mark Thoma asks for thoughts on the following point

Psychologists mock what economists call the micro­foundations of consumer behavior…. That this framework is suitable for aggregate systems in a globalized economy simply because the tribe called economics has agreed to adhere to these ad hoc assumptions makes no sense. Increased interactions with disciplines that economists have often mocked as unscientific would greatly improve economists’ understanding of the real world and would be more truly scientific. …

For the core questions that economists are interested in, optimization is always a valid framework. Now before I go on, I want to say that I am not sure I get the compulsion to use optimization in all cases. If you just posit some relationships and they work then more power to you.

However, I don’t think there is something missing in optimization.

Optimization is just picking. You have a bunch of different things. You want to say: show me things like this, not things like that. This is an optimization problem. It need not have any normative flavor even in describing the process. You need not be getting the “best” items by any non-trivial definition of the best.

Now in practice economists often imagine that you are dealing with a situation where you take some range on the number line and then match every single real number in that range to a different item in your bunch of things.

We call this an objective function. Its going to allow us to pick items using calculus.

I am of course going to tell you that spacetime is discrete and so at a basic level this simply cannot describe reality. But, that’s fine because economics doesn’t address problems in which the discreteness of reality becomes apparent.

So, we can act as if we can do this matching problem and then boom you have an objective function.

At the same time though you have to recognize that you just have some pile of crap and a number line. That’s it. You don’t want to go around imbuing objective functions with meaning they don’t have.

For example, take utility maximization. Here we have an objective function that matches possible human behaviors to the number line. We set up the matching so that the if we allow the human in question to engage in a larger set of behaviors he or she will in fact engage in a behavior that corresponds to a larger number.

So ultimately what we have done here is set up this relationship between possible things this human can do and numbers on the number line, mediated by observations about what the human actually does.

Fair enough, but what’s the meta-meaning of higher numbers. Nothing. There is no meta-meaning.

Are higher numbers in any sense fundamentally “better?” Not unless you  believe that whatever this person does when the constraints are eased is fundamentally better.

Do higher numbers make the person happier? Maybe. Since happiness is presumably a real thing you need some way to test this. However, there is no underlying reason why higher utility ought to correspond to greater happiness. Not unless you think freedom from constraint is the ne plus ultra of happiness.

I can give you a prime example why this probably isn’t true right here:

The most celebrated technique in this book is a return to swaddling where you wrap a baby like so

Now by all appearances babies seem happier when swaddled.

Maybe someone wants to come along and try to convince me that they have some method of establishing that the baby has higher utility when swaddled. Seeing such an argument is going to be a real treat.

This is a literal constraint on behavior. It only works if the friction of the blanket is enough to simply overwhelm the amount of force the baby can generate. Its hard to generate a scenario that is more oppressive than being completely bound head-to-toe.

Yet, it really, really looks like the baby is happier.

Are the only relevant constraints material? Not if this person acts anything like most people. The line that separates the set of behaviors that do and do not result in being the subject of laughter and ridicule is a pretty strong constraint for most folks.

The line that separates the behaviors that lead to esteem and being the object of sexual desire from the those that do not is also a pretty big deal.

What do I mean by “strong” and “big deal”

I mean this. Take your all material constraints. Look at how much they vary among the population. Now vary them that much on your subject and observe his behavior. How much does it change? How far up and down the number line can we go.

Now, take the material constraint to the least binding of the values you used and move only the ridicule constraint. See if we can sweep out a range of numbers just as large as we got before. I am betting we can.

This means we can do just as much by subjecting this person to various amounts of ridicule as you can by subjecting them to all the various material constraints present among our population.

Put in more human terms it would go like this, even if you are as rich as the wealthiest person in the world or have as many resources at your command as the most powerful person in the world we can make you behave as desperately as any pauper simply by subjecting you to enough ridicule.

That is what it would mean to say, ridicule is a big deal.

But, what does all this have to do with anything?

Three takeaways at least.

One, sticking with optimization doesn’t really limit the phenomena we can model.

Two, despite its name optimization doesn’t tell you anything subjective about what is happening. The proof is always in the pudding. If you like it when folks get to do what they would do if they had fewer constraints then that makes higher utility “better.” If not, then not.

Maybe when people are allowed to do whatever they want they will go out and get a subprime mortgage, move their family into a brand new house, not be able to keep up with the payment and then get foreclosed upon.

If you look at that and say: man that sucks. Then utility maximization is bad in this case.

Three, there is just no reason to suspect that real people will be influenced only by material constraints or that the range of behaviors people display will be tied mostly to changes in material constraints.

He writes

Luckily I’ve mostly resisted the siren call of the Googleverse aside from their search engine. But I guess I’m starting to think that I should be more careful even there. Am I just being paranoid? Or should I start using some kind of add-on to prevent Google from tracking my activity? What says the hive mind?

Maybe there is something I am missing here but Google tracking my – and everyone else’s – activity seems awesome.

Now, when it comes to the government I can grant that there are some grand issues associated with privacy and the potential of authorities to abuse that information. Though, if we were to be honest I am not sure this is a serious practical concern.

Not, to be sure, because I don’t think the government would spy on us at every chance if it could. No, instead because for most practical purposes the information in collects is of little value.

My guess – and again I welcome Julian Sanchez to say why I am wrong – is that this extends from a basic instinctual drive for privacy which in turn extends from concerns about being ostracized from the larger group for abnormal behavior.

However, in modern America this is not really a threat. There is virtually no odd behavior that does not have an associated MeetUp.com group.

Now that being said there are particular types of information that will be potentially hurtful or embarrassing unless or until we readopt an extremely strict set of social conventions.

However, if Google breaks that information open my guess is that you will indeed see a re-emergence of conventions that explicitly quarantine vice from the rest of professional and personal life

In any case my core point is that its not possible to have a society in which the majority of people have their privacy regularly and publically violated. Such regular violation will simply alter the terms on which people judge each other and therefore what is meaningfully private.

Dean keeps saying

It is also important to note that the financial crisis has little direct relevance to the current weakness of the economy. The problem is simply that there is nothing to replace the demand generated by the housing bubble. Consumption is actually unusually high relative to income and investment in equipment and software is back to its pre-recession share of GDP.

I just don’t know in what sense this is a meaningful reading of the facts. CPE is high relative to GDP but this is largely a way of saying that Medicare and Medicaid keep paying on behalf of beneficiaries even during a recession.

As I have mentioned many times, if we look at real retail sales they are no where near recovered.

FRED Graph

and of course the gap is largely cars and trucks.

Equipment and Software is growing well, though importantly not in nominal terms in real terms. So, I can’t easily get good charts out of BEA and FRED doesn’t have exactly what I want but consider this

Here is the growth Equipment and Software on the balance sheets of Non Nonfinancial Corporate Business.

FRED Graph

Now here is Investment in Equipment and Software from the NIPA tables.

FRED Graph

There are a couple of things going on here. One, there is depreciation, which is not counted in the gross investment figures. Two there are financial corporations which are big investors in Equipment and Software, by which we mean, Custom Software.

Three, however, is that in all cases the growth is driven by software. Not even tech generally, but software. Well, software has huge price declines associated with it. So, even if you are spending the same amount of money on software the estimated real investment in software will be going through the roof. That is basically what’s happening.

In terms of raw dollars, investment in Equipment and Software means by and large, transportation equipment.  Cars, trucks, trains, boats, airplanes etc.

This is in the dumps. At one point the truck numbers were unbelievable. I think I saw a 90% collapse in investment in trucks. So, even though transportiona has climbed part way back up, its still pretty low and I don’t think is yet outpacing obsolescence. That is, the commercial vehicle fleet is still shrinking.

David Glasner writes:

It must have been a good feeling when Scott Sumner saw Karl Smith’s blog post last Thursday announcing that he had proved that Scott was right in asserting that Simon Wren-Lewis had committed a logical blunder in his demonstration that Robert Lucas and John Cochrane made a logical blunder in denying, on the basis of Ricardian equivalence, that government spending to build a bridge would be stimulative.

. . .

In Karl’s nonsense result, savings is not equal to investment (because investment has not changed while savings has fallen by 1) and expenditure is not equal to income (because DC + DG + DI > DC + DS + DT). This is just the ABCs of comparative-statics analysis.

Now in a subsequent post, Karl seems to have retracted his “proof,” admitting:

S = –1 is not allowed [because investment has not changed].

I took Scott’s point to be that one must invoke the old Keynesian model in order for Wren-Lewis to have been correct. Its not simply that once one acknowledges consumption smoothing that even a child can see Cochrane was wrong.

The reason I take this to be his position is because in his very first post on the matter Scott states:

As it is, Wren-Lewis and Krugman are showing they don’t understand that not everyone agrees with the Keynesian model, and also that they don’t even know how to defend their own model.  It does no good to “refute” Cochrane with an example that implicitly accepts the crude Keynesian assumption that savings simply disappear down a rat-hole, and cause the economy to shrink.

My sense was that – intentionally or not – Scott was being beat up upon for his lack of comfort with Mathematics. Which is never a reason to beat up on anyone. Indeed, Scott wrote

In a perfect world I’d lay out a concise logical proof that Simon Wren-Lewis and Paul Krugman are wrong.  And number each point.  They’d respond saying which of my points were wrong, and why.  Then I’d reply.

Which is indeed ideal. Rather than just shooshing him away, one could reply as Glasner did to me

In Karl’s nonsense result, savings is not equal to investment (because investment has not changed while savings has fallen by 1)

In which case I would demand that you tell me why investment cannot change.

At this point someone is likely to invoke the IS curve and investment’s indifference to anything but the interest rate. To which Scott or I could respond: so what you are saying is that if the Old Keynesian model is TRUE then it is TRUE.

While that statement is undoubtedly correct, its not immediately obvious why it should be compelling Cochrane or anyone else who rejects the Old Keynesian model.

Now, instead one could have said: Look if you go through a chain of reasoning you will see that you get qualitatively the same results from an Old Keynesian model as you do from an intertemporally optimizing rational agent model, which we all [For Better or Worse] take seriously.

However, you’d also have to give up on simply saying that Cochrane is willfully ignorant of Macro 101.

I understand Brad’s point on Lucas but I am still not sure how I feel about that.

P.S.

Just as a note on the use of Mathematical language. I said

Let . .  DS = –1

Some folks then wanted to ask why this would make any sense or if it jived with a more general model of the economy. However, that’s not how proofs work.

One can’t simply ask“well why should that be”

It should be because in a proof I am effectively God and I can “let” anything I want unless the statement itself is contradictory. So, I cannot let X be a stone so heavy even an omnipotent being could not lift it, since those concepts are grammatically contradictory.

However, I can certainly let X be the day last year when I was crowned by all mankind as the Emperor of Ice Cream. Sadly, in this case, X is the empty set.

Its important that proofs work that way because in an elegant proof it should be clear which let is doing the heavy lifting at each stage. And, ideally there should be no extraneous “lets” to confuse the matter.

Then one can easily say “Ah this entire logical argument depends crucially on that one assumption right there.”

Then we can all at least agree on what precisely we disagree about and hopefully move forward from there.

Paul Krugman is beginning to wax Smithian. Via Mark Thoma

How goes the state of the union? Well, the state of the economy remains terrible. … But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money.

Why am I letting a bit of optimism break through the clouds? Recent economic data have been a bit better… More important, there’s evidence that the two great problems at the root of our slump — the housing bust and excessive private debt — are finally easing. …

A couple of things.

This would actually be a great issue over which to flush out the relevant narrative. Paul sees housing prices and private debt overhang as the driving concern.

I tend to think that housing prices per se, don’t matter, land prices do and that the private debt overhang is not necessarily a big deal.

If we lived in a world without capital it would be. The only way to get the economy going again would be for natural borrowers to be able to meet the savings demand of natural savers. That can only happen if the debt overhang is reduced.

However, in a world with capital this need not be the case. Natural savers can switch from funding the consumption of natural borrowers to funding the capital investment. In an environment of stable land prices and rising population this is almost a no brainer because structures last a really long time relative to recessions and increasing population means that eventually they will be needed.

If the carrying costs are zero or negative then building is no brainer. The problem is that buildings are attached to land and when land declines in value it upsets the collateral backing a potential loan. This effectively increases the risk premium and means that real interests rates have to be very low or even negative to fund construction.

In any case, what I wanted to touch on here was how fast the recovery can proceed. Most people are still saying years to full employment and that would be my guess, but it is worth noting that the speed limit on the economy is extremely high. Here for example is the closing of the output gap post 1983

FRED Graph

From 7 percent to 1 percent in a little over a calendar year.

Now lets look at the output gap as it stands today

FRED Graph

So following a similar path we could close the output gap almost completely by the end of this year.

Will that happen. Given the stance of the Federal Reserve so far, I doubt it. However, its important to note that this is a choice. The Fed is deciding that the costs to closing the gap by Q1 2013 outweigh the benefits.

It is clearly and fully within their power to do so and they have done so before.

I’ll follow up on a couple posts on why this is utterly realistic on the ground. As a preview, we have the office space, we have the factory capacity, we have the roadway capacity, we have the electrical power generation in place. We have the storefronts. We have the cranes. We have the bulldozers All the things we need for GDP to increase GDP by 10% over the next year are in existence.

And, – and this is important – we have actual physical counts of these things. We need not speculate. We know how bulldozers there are in America. We know how many square feet of office space are for lease.

The pretense of knowledge is a lot less pretense-full when you have a 1 Terabyte portable Hard Drive and GIS mapping software.

Adam Gurri in a post titled Create Value, Not Jobs, writes

Certainly technology can and is disrupting human labor markets–but that isn’t going to “further weaken the global economy”. It is going to increase our productivity, make it easier to provide consumers value for cheaper. It will make it hard for people replaced by machines to figure out how they can create additional value, for a time.

But we need to get our priorities straight; what we want to do is help people create value. Unless giving someone a job will enable them to create more value than it costs, the existence of that job is counterproductive.

Economists like to say this type of thing. Its counterintuitive, which always fun. And, it helps highlight why certain policies are in fact a bad idea.

The only problem is that as a general statement, its wrong.

Or, more precisely, its either trivially true or false.

If value is simply, that thing which our ideal social objective function maximizes, then its true. But, literally by construction and hence trivially so.

For example, one could just as accurately say

  • Unless freeing millions of people from slavery creates more value than it costs, its counterproductive
  • Unless preventing the mass rape and murder of innocent children creates more value that it costs, its counterproductive
  • Unless asking Hannibal the Cannibal to refrain from devouring all humans on earth and then committing suicide for want of another person to eat creates more value than it costs, its counterproductive

While these statements are all true they are not particularly useful as a guide to policy.

On the other hand, if what you mean is that unless giving someone job on net increases the total value of goods and services produced within the economy, its counterproductive, then this is not true.

First, its not true because of the simple fact that jobs are a means of distributing income and distributing income is not, generically, costless. If we were to levy a tax and use that tax to redistribute income to those without a job this would almost certainly have some Hicksian deadweight loss.

In addition you are going to need some administrative authority to manage this redistribution policy and you have to worry about designing the system so that it does not encourage people to seek joblessness.

All of these things have welfare losses even if they have small or zero losses in terms of the total value of goods and services produced.

Second, people value having a job. They value the narrative that they are taking actions on a daily basis which enrich society, even if they are not actually doing this.

Now I am the first to point out that people can take this way too far. And, you have to balance the value of allowing folks to engage in an extended fiction about their role in the global economy against the material consumption of other human beings. Nonetheless, the value of the fiction is not zero.

If for a total material cost of $1 we could allow 100 Million people to persist in the belief that they are expanding the global pie, even if they are not, this would be a price well worth paying.

The Cato Journal’s new issue is all about immigration, and it includes an article from Gordon Hanson, who is one of the leading economists on this. Hanson repeats a claim that is common, and I think worth debating: that the fiscal externality of low-skilled immigrants should be internalized by their employers. Here is how he puts it:

Another source of unequal burden sharing is that U.S. employers enjoy benefits from immigration, in terms of higher productivity for their operations, while taxpayers pay for the education and health services that immigrant households receive. Taxpayers thus subsidize employers in agriculture, construction, meatpacking, restaurants and hotels, and other sectors that have high levels of employment of low-skilled immigrant labor. A reasonable solution to the current predicament is to eliminate such subsidies by making employers internalize the fiscal cost of immigrant workers. One way of achieving internalization is to subject employers to an immigrant labor payroll tax that would fund the benefits that their immigrant employees, and their family members, receive. Such a tax would make employers bear the fiscal consequences of immigration, releasing taxpayers from the burden and perhaps easing political opposition to immigration.

The notion here is that the employment of low-skilled immigrants is generating an externality, and that the employer who make up one side of these exchanges are not internalizing the cost of this externality. This leads them to hire them more low-skilled immigrants than they would if they had to pay the full cost. This treats low-skilled immigrants as being comparable to pollution generated by the employers, and proposes a Pigouvian tax to internalize the costs. But is this logic correct?

For one thing, I am surprised when I read liberals accepting that welfare and subsidies to low-income people are externalities to the Americans who pay for them. Is there some economic reason why these externalities should be internalized when foreigners generate them and not when natives do so?

Typically, transfers to the poor are justified on the economic grounds that people care about other people, and so improving the welfare of the poor is a public good to some extent. This isn’t just a liberal argument, here’s Greg Mankiw embracing it. In this case the fiscal burden of the low-skilled is not an externality, because everyone else receives positive utility from seeing them less poor.  Some might argue that by this logic what separates subsidies to immigrant from subsidies to natives is that Americans in general don’t care about the welfare of immigrants enough to justify the subsidies, so they are in fact externalities. This, to me, suggests that it is the policy that is generating the externality, and not the employers. If we wish to correct this is it not better to change the law so we stop giving subsidies to immigrants?

Another problem with thinking of employers as generating the externality is the fact that non-working immigrants surely generate a greater net fiscal burden than working immigrants. A tax on low-skilled immigrant working hours will result in less low-skilled immigrant working hours. In some cases this will result in immigrants returning home which will reduce the fiscal burden. But in other cases it will just result in immigrants working less hours, with perhaps less family members per household working, which will increase the net fiscal burden. Given this it seems to make more sense to tax immigrants themselves rather than those who hire them.

Gordon Hanson is just trying to find ways to make immigration more acceptable to Americans so that there can be more of it, so I don’t begrudge him for proposing an unpalatable solution. After all, most pragmatic solutions to convincing Americans to tolerate more immigration seem to have some unpalatable aspect to them. But I think accepting that the fiscal burden of low-skilled immigration represents a real externality generated by employers is both untrue and an unproductive framing of the problem.

The point that I had hoped to make clear with my little proof was that Wren-Lewis does not constrain savings. I specifically set the change in savings equal to –1 so that the multiplier would be zero.

This is supposed to motivate you to tell me why I can’t do that.

Indeed, this is precisely what this graph from Krugman shows

See how Investment is just a horizontal line. And, we know that in the final analysis I = S.  Since, Investment is a horizontal line it cannot change. Hence savings cannot change.

S = –1 is not allowed.

However, the point that Scott was digging around was that this is not only a pretty significant assumption but it underlies the entire Old Keynesian framework.

Yet, neither Krugman nor Wren-Lewis come out and say this or suggest why Cochrane should accept this assumption or the Old Keynesian framework in general. This is important because Cochrane, indeed acknowledges, but then waves away the Old Keynesian model:

Yes, I’m aware that old Keynesian models do give a multiplier to tax financed spending. Also, some new Keynesian models such as Christiano, Eichenbaum and Rebelo (2009) predict huge government spending multipliers whether financed by taxes or by borrowing. However, tax-financed spending is usually thought to have a weaker (if any) effect, which is why the current policy debate is only about borrowing to spend.

Cochrane is saying: yeah you could get that if you were an old Keynesian but most people are suspect of that thinking nowadays.

I think the response to Cochrane and Lucas should go like this:

When the government raises taxes to fund additional spending then in theory the effect on aggregate demand depends crucially on what the money is spent on.

If the money is spent so that raises the marginal utility of consumption then that is going to tend to increase aggregate demand. Likewise if it is spent in a way that increases the marginal product of capital that will also tend to increase aggregate demand.

When Cochrane explicitly and Lucas implicitly thinks in terms of transferring purchasing power from one randomly chosen citizen to another there is no reason to expect that this will have any effect on either the marginal utility of consumption or the marginal product of capital.

Indeed, though Lucas trips himself up in the phrasing when he describes the government using money to purchase a bridge he is almost certainly describing a situation that will have an effect on the marginal utility of consumption and perhaps also the marginal product of capital.

Now, often I see people reasoning on the basis of whether or not the government will recruit idle resources to build the bridge or not. You can walk through the situation like that but I think its easier to see what’s going on by just assuming away that possibility and supposing that all of the resources recruited were not formerly idle.

In that case the government is pulling consumption away from taxpayers and pulling investment away from private investors in order to accumulate the resources necessary to build this bridge.

This mechanism should be highly intuitive to folks who think in a classical, seen-and-unseen, paradigm.

However, the analysis does not stop there. Neither the taxpayer nor the investor should just walk away accepting their fate. For the taxpayer his marginal utility of consumption has risen because he is now consuming less.

For the investor her return on investment has now risen because the marginal investment project has been taken from her. Both the taxpayer and the investor will attempt to borrow from the future to correct this imbalance.

You can think of the “stimulus” as actually occurring at this point. It is the effort of the consumer and the investor to correct for changes in the marginal utility of consumption and the marginal return on investment that expands aggregate demand.

If there are no resources available to fulfill this attempt then prices and interest rates will be driven up until the consumer and the investor are back into intertemporal balance. However, if resources are available then they will be recruited.

My hope is that this closes the intuition around why reasoning from random cash transfers or reasoning from a fully employed economy gives such different results from reasoning about a bridge purchase during a recession.

The key questions and differences are thoroughly microeconomic. What happens to the marginal utility of consumption? What happens to the marginal product of capital investment? What are consumers and investors able to do in response?

Brad Delong writes

Economagic Economic Chart Dispenser

Give us another four weeks and we will know where the labor market is…

The clear concern is that enormity of the seasonal adjustment in the new Claims data makes the standard adjustment tricky to interpret. This is only excererbated by the fact that the Global Financial Crisis hit just as winter new claims were peaking, making it hard for the computer to parse apart how much of that huge spike in the middle was the GFC and how much was the fact that winter is just a worse time than it would otherwise estimate.

There are a few tricks to get around this just with your eyes though. Obviously you can go peak-to-peak and trough-to-trough. Though if you think the dynamics really have changed or if the situation is changing rapidly between peaks and troughs that can be hard to eyeball.

You can also look at the following.

FRED Graph

This is the year-over-year change in unadjusted new claims plotted as a bar graph.

The trick is that when the area above the line is balanced by area below the line you are back to where you were before the GFC.

This is like taking the derivative of Initial Claims as function of time and then reintegrating to give back the original function. However, because its year-over-year it destroys any seasonal information, which is good for us because most of that is orthogonal to what we want to know and only serves to confuse our eyes.

Karl has requested that, along with a few other people, I answer this question:

What are the significant differences that you think we could actually see come to pass from a Romney Presidency versus an Obama Presidency?

Here are Tyler CowenKevin Drum, and Matt Yglesias. They all say a lot of believable things. I’m probably my least useful in this type of speculation, but here goes anyway. In a lot of points below I’m going to take the cowards way out and make a bunch of arguments I’m not necessarily going to stand behind, but that could plausibly be argued for.

One thing I’m pretty confident in is that if we’ve arrived at Obama vs Romney, and I think we have, then we’ve already dodged the biggest bullets (you know who I mean). So I think Karl is right to ask this question, as the answer is neither as dramatic or obvious as it could be if some of the other GOP contenders had gotten lucky.

If we’ve passed through the better part of the recession by the time the election is over, one could imagine attention will turn to tax reform. I can see either supporting something like Simpson Bowles, but Romney relying somewhat more on changes in the social security formula and removing exemptions, where Obama would lean somewhat more on increases in top marginal tax rates and some new taxes. I don’t think that the differences here would be huge overall, especially given the range of what could be done, but small differences can be pretty consequential in terms of welfare when you are talking about a multi-trillion dollar economy, so I don’t want to overly minimize these differences.

But whoever wins, I am looking forward to the end of Obama’s first term. I’ve come to believe that Obama’s biggest mistake might have been winning the election as resoundingly as he did. Republican’s came out of the election with a president who had mobilized the youth and won over a lot of independents.  He was going to gain more from their mutual success if they worked together, and he was going to lose more from their mutual failure if they didn’t work together. Rationally then, many Republicans’ top priority in the past four years has been to make Obama a one term president. One could argue that if Obama wins, especially if it is a tight race, this dynamic will change once the possibility of one-terming is gone. Or he’ll lose and I just don’t see Democrats having the same resistance to working with Romney.

If Romney wins I suspect he won’t have to give very much to the base for the very same reason that Obama’s first term has been such a struggle: what Republicans want most is for Obama to be a one-term president. In achieving this Romney will already have delivered a large chunk of what the base wants. This could conceivably grant him some sway. He’s probably a moderate technocratic conservative, so maybe that’s how he’ll govern, but who knows.

I’m hopeful that once the recovery gets fully underway political cooperation will be easier regardless of who is president. I don’t think most voters actually understand the recession, and without a clear real answer they grapple naturally for whatever answer is most satisfying, and partisan explanations are most satisfying, which naturally leads to polarization. Of course if Tyler is right and we are in the middle of a Great Stagnation, then I don’t think we’ll be out of the political stagnation anytime soon. Let us home Smithianism carries the day.

One possible problem with Romney is that he can’t win under circumstances which he could govern under effectively. The conventional wisdom is that the economy will be determinative in the election.  To oversimplify the issue: if the economy is weak, Romney will win. If it’s strong, Obama will win. But while I think Romney will have the political freedom to deal effectively with a recovering economy with long-term structural problems,what tools will he have to deal with an ongoing balance sheet recession? Does he have a plan to stimulate the housing market?  To increase inflation? He’ll have won on some pretty strong anti-immigration rhetoric, so a large amount of immigration as stimulus seems unlikely. What will he be able to do? If I’m right he will have some sway, but I don’t think much of it in the direction he would need it here.

One of the ways I think about elections is to ask “what will the victory do to voters?” One could argue that one of the benefits of Obama winning in ’08 was the salutary disillusionment of liberals on the power of a strong president relative to what they’d be thinking at this point had McCain won.   A democrat win risks undoing the hard earned disillusionment. (“Rocking the vote” is a tragedy. The central limit theorem does not apply to voting, in fact something like the opposite is true. More voters means more people paying attention means more populist governance.) On the other hand, a republican win in 2012 followed by a recovery could solidify the unhealthy myth that this is Obama’s recession if Romney happens to ride in at just the right time in the recovery. This part about how people will react to either win is hard to predict but important.

Scott says

Regular readers are sick of this, so just take a vacation and come back next week.  I keep being told that no one’s interested even as I have record volume of viewers.  (Didn’t Yogi Berra say “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”)  I’m interested, and I’m the one who decides.

In a perfect world I’d lay out a concise logical proof that Simon Wren-Lewis and Paul Krugman are wrong.  And number each point.  They’d respond saying which of my points were wrong, and why.  Then I’d reply. . . .

Perhaps I can help.

Wren-Lewis said:

DY = DC + DS + DT = DC + DS + DG Λ DG > 0 Λ  -DC <  DT  ==> DY > 0

Which is false.

Proof by example:

Let DG = DT = 2, DC =  -1, and DS = –1

Then both inequalities are satisfied and by the first equation.

DY = –1 –1 + 2 = 0

Which is what we were required to show.

I don’t expect Paul to respond but I want to continue to press the point because it seems so obvious to me but is so utterly absent from the conversation.

Paul says

I view the primary race through the lens of the FOF theory — that’s for “fools and frauds”. It goes as follows: to be a good Republican right now, you have to affirm your belief in things that any halfway intelligent politician can see are plainly false. This leaves room for only two kinds of candidates: those who just aren’t smart and/or rational enough to understand the problem, and those who are completely cynical, willing to say anything to get ahead.

Why is this cynical rather than selfless?

Something will come to pass. Someone will be elected President of the United States.

If you had the choice to make sure that person was not a “fool” should you not Say Anything to make it happen. Is the personal integrity of one individual worth risking the most powerful executive position in the world?

When the primary season started there was strong reason to believe that in 2013 the world would face a slew of challenges not least of which was continued stagnation in the US, Europe and Japan.

Stagnation exacerbated by foolish not fraudulent policy.

If that matters should one not do whatever he or she can to stop it?

The latest

Industrial production increased 0.4 percent in December after having fallen 0.3 percent in November. For the fourth quarter as a whole, industrial production rose at an annual rate of 3.1 percent, its 10th consecutive quarterly gain. In the manufacturing sector, output advanced 0.9 percent in December with similarly sized gains for both durables and nondurables.

We “needed” this in the sense that the IP numbers were disconcerting going into the end of last year. The big manufacturing gain is especially meaningful as we had seen what was starting to shape up as a “rollover” in manufacturing.

Now, that didn’t really jive with auto and retail sales numbers, but nonetheless was reason for pause. This makes the pause less pause-y.

From Real Time Economics

The National Association of Home Builders said Wednesday its housing market index rose to 25 from 21 in December, reaching its highest point since June 2007. It was the fourth-straight monthly increase.

The results were better than expected, as economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast a reading of 22.

Some analysts see the results, combined with other recent data, as a sign that the U.S. housing market is gradually emerging from a 5 1/2-year bust that helped thrust the economy into the worst recession in decades.

“This is not another false dawn; it’s the real deal,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. With mortgage rates hovering near the lowest recorded levels and the job market improving, “people clearly are more willing to take the plunge into housing,” he said,

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sarah Kliff follows up on how doctors die. I quote her quoting Sharron Brownlee

There is good evidence that physicians have thought out end-of-life issues more thoroughly than lay people and are more likely to decline medical intervention. For example, they sign advance directives far more often than the rest of us do. Less than half of severely or terminally ill patients have an advance directive in their medical records.

. . .

Why would doctors be so anxious to avoid the very procedures they deliver to their patients every day? For one thing, they know firsthand that these procedures are most often futile when performed on a frail, elderly, chronically ill person.

This is the kind of explanation that resonates with people, but upon closer examination seems unlikely. Is it really that doctors say “Well the chances are low so forget it.”

What do they have to lose? Why not at least try to live?

Having seen this process up close with family member my bet is that they are not afraid the procedure won’t work. They are afraid that it will.

What are in then is the limbo of being undead. Sometimes literally a zombie, lying on the bed incapacitated, unable to communicate. In almost all cases knowing that you have only bought a temporary reprieve and that very soon everyone is going to go through this process again.

Each time your family will be on edge, unable to say goodbye. Each time you will not know for sure whether this is really the end. 

Via Tyler Cowen SoberLook writes

The chart below (last 20 years) shows that non-family households have generally been growing in line with the US population and although dipped in 2008, have since recovered.

Non-family households vs. the US population (thousands, source: US Census Bureau)

The real problem however is found in the family household formation. Family households have completely decoupled from the US population growth since 2008.

Family households vs. the US population (thousands, source: US Census Bureau)

This deviation is quite new.  Family households have been forming at an average rate of 651,000 per year since at least 1947 (when the first annual household data became available). During that whole period the only years showing "negative formation" are 2008, 2010, and 2011 – likely the result of families moving together (parents and grandparents, etc.).

This is my interpretation as well. From causal looks at the data, as well as other anecdotal evidence, it looks as if the percentage of kids moving back in with their parents is at all time high.

I would suspect that we do have some grandparents moving in, but it looks like its mainly the kids.

Moreover, much  of this looks to be driven by a decline in marriage rates. So, we are thinking of a traditionalist family model where the extended family lives together until the kids are married off. The kids are not marrying off and so the family is staying together. If we look at the data we do see a sharp drop in the marriage rates of those with a high school education or less.

The household dynamics are complex, but here is my first blush takeaway. The demand for housing is still essentially “pent up” unless the marriage rate is declining.

It’s not enough for the marriage rate to be low because that alone will not produce a higher equilibrium household size. It will simply time-shift household formation towards a new matriarch formation point.

Now, I don’t know what produces a matriarch in the absence of marriage. Probably not simply death of the old matriarch. There is likely some other dynamic that occurs when a daughter defines her own household even without marriage occurring. What that is I don’t know.

My standard thinking is that it is not really important to think about the men. Its female household formation and evolution that matters. Men will simply become attached or detached from the female stem line but the women are the core of the household and the men can be treated as white noise about that core.

I am specifically going to ask Yglesias, Drum, Cowen, Ozimek and Barro (Josh) to chime in on this. Anyone else feel free as well, but I would like to hear from these guys.

I don’t care if Mitt Romney pays negative taxes, cheated on his mistress with her daughter, fired his Grandmother while at Bain, and lied to kids to get the GOP nomination, etc.

What are the significant differences that you think we could actually see come to pass from a Romney Presidency versus an Obama Presidency?

I am generally a better-the-devil-you-know kind of guy, but I am pretty open here. So, let me here it.

Scott Sumner had a post a while back on “why no short recessions” and I can’t remember whether I responded to it or not.

However, a point that I want to keep making is that from the top it looks like recessions really are different. Or, to put it in terms I prefer: a recession is a general phenomenon, not a set of phenomena in general.

Here are both Unemployment and Excess Industrial Capacity in the US economy.

FRED Graph

First, especially in the unemployment rate, we can play “some of these periods are not like the others.” Specifically the time horizon over which unemployment rises is extremely short and the increases are really fast. The time horizon over which unemployment is declining are long and the declines typically fairly slow.

Second, for the most part these two phenomena move together. That is to say there are workers with out plants and the same time there are plants without workers, and that’s not a coincidence.

A recession doesn’t seem to be when capital and labor both happen to be underutilized but when something happens that underutilizes both capital and labor.

The one of the few really weird periods is the late 90s when excess capacity started to rise but unemployment continued to fall. That really was about a big structural change in the economy where the US was losing manufacturing jobs at the fastest pace on record but was gaining so many tech and service jobs that unemployment continued to fall.

One of the hardest things to keep in mind as an intellectual – and I see this played out in the blogosphere – is that the deep influence is often synonymous with obscurity. Once it makes perfect sense, no one remembers who said it first.

And, they shouldn’t. Intellectual progress is measured by the number of things we are able to stop thinking and talking and arguing about.

So in theory I am working towards a larger exposition on this issue, but as I get the chance I will shoot out various notes. Barry Ritholtz gives me such a chance.

In other words, yes, we can figure out actual causation.

Where I part ways with Hume is in looking at causation analysis as merely competing stories tying two facts together. It is larger than that, there is Causation-in-Fact. At the very least, we can eliminate the narratives that are demonstrably false. But to do so, we need to avoid the over simplifications, the correlation errors, the misapplied data, and recognize the complexity of causation in the world of finance.

Suppose you had figured out actual causation. How would you know?

Power is not something that you take. Power is something that you have.

Arnold Kling writes

In an actual business, you are not given a demand curve and a cost function; instead, you grope. The internal alignment of an organization cannot be taken for granted; instead, a lot of time and effort goes into just trying to keep people focused on common goals. Day-to-day life in a organization is a soap opera, with individuals and departments often working at cross-purposes. No one, including the CEO, has full knowledge or control.

When I came to think of every organization is a dysfunctional family, it affected my mental model of markets and government. I don’t assume that organizational units know what they are doing. Instead, I ask: what institutional pressures exist that ensure that more effective units survive and less effective units disappear? That in turn leads me to be relatively pessimistic about government as an institution, because I see the tools of voice (elections and representative democracy) as less effective than the tools of exit (consumer choice, leading to profit and loss).

MIT’s contribution to producing technocrats was what it did not teach. It did not teach humility. It did not teach that the world is too complex for technocrats to control.

There is a lot here that I agree with, but I want to push back against the sentiment I suspect underlies the last sentence, in particular.

One cannot not govern. This is true on a meta-physical level. On a more practical level I would point out that even Lassize-Faire must be enforced at the point of a gun.

Violence exists. The government must chose how when and where to suppress violence and when to execute it. Even the choice to never suppress and never to execute is a choice with some set of real consequences.

As such the question is always: what is my best guess at the best use of my power. Humility proper plays no role in the question. You could believe yourself a fool. It does not make the question any less pressing or your decision any less consequential.

If you chose Laizze-Faire and you must chose, then you do so with the belief – well informed or not – that this is the best policy. If you are an idiot and you know you are an idiot then you do this knowing that this may very well be an idiotic choice. But, you must make some choice nonetheless.

To ground this a bit more, the choice of a free society over a totalitarian society is in no way a more humble choice on the part of the leadership.

In both cases your action or inaction will lead to some world. You must believe that this world is better than the world that would have arisen with a different action or inaction. The case for not acting cannot be that it is more humble, for it presumes consequences just as real as acting.

It must be that to not act is better.

Moreover, this is an argument that is not common sense in the cases we often bring up. That to refrain from restricting trade in goods is better than to restrict trade is not a common sense notion.

Therefore, not only is it not less humble on some fundamental, it is not even likely to be advocated by humble people. To think the masses are wrong and you are right requires a fair bit of arrogance.

Lastly, one cannot escape this even by rejecting patterned outcomes altogether. Here you are simply moving the problem to a meta-consequential level. However, you still must say that I believe that this theory of the good is superior to its alternatives, knowing that this choice has real consequences. Either the good will be enacted or it will not.

The JOLTS data provide hree major challenges to any disruptions hypothesis of the Great Recession. That is, any hypothesis that says the United States was engaged in some form of economic production that was disrupted by event X and that led to a huge recession until we could get back on our feet. This includes the vast majority of structural theories.

The first problem is that job destruction fell dramatically during the Great Recession.

FRED Graph

Second, Job Hires are typically very close to separations. However, in late 2008 the two broke apart.

FRED Graph

Even still the gap, though enormous up to 700K was still small in comparison to the low point in hires 3600K.

What’s more is that third, if you look closely at the pattern of separations and hires, it looks like what happened was that separations stalled in late 2008 while hires continued its downward trajectory.

image

 

Here I just used a straight line but if you were to follow the logarithmic path of hires you would wind up with an even smaller gap and even fewer job losses to make up for during the recovery.

So, to really get at the heart of everything we not only have to explain why overall churn including separations and hires started to fall – that is why the employment structure of the economy started changing at a slower rate. We also have to answer why the stall

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