by ilene - September 8th, 2010 11:31 pm
When I teach the History of Economic Thought, one thing we focus on is how views on the role of the state have changed over time. It has a natural cycle to it, with eras such as the highly interventionist Mercantilist years followed by Physiocratic and Classical views stressing minimal government intervention. This is followed by a rebound in the other direction, and so it goes with a Keynes followed by a Friedman in the 50s, a rebound back to Keynes in the 60s, to classical ideas following the experience of the 70s, and so on, and so on. We are involved in the same debate, and a smaller version of the grand historical lurches in each direction, yet again today:
What is the role of the state?, by Martin Wolf: It is … a good time to ask … the biggest question in political economy: what is the role of the state? This question has concerned western thinkers at least since Plato (5th-4th century BCE). It has also concerned thinkers in other cultural traditions… The perspective here is that of the contemporary democratic west.
The core purpose of the state is protection. This view would be shared by everybody, except anarchists… Contemporary Somalia shows the horrors that can befall a stateless society. Yet horrors can also befall a society with an over-mighty state. …
Mancur Olson argued that the state was a “stationary bandit”. A stationary bandit is better than a “roving bandit”, because the latter has no interest in developing the economy, while the former does. But it may not be much better, because those who control the state will seek to extract the surplus over subsistence generated by those under their control.
In the contemporary west, there are three protections against undue exploitation by the stationary bandit: exit, voice … and restraint. By “exit”, I mean the possibility of escaping from the control of a given jurisdiction, by emigration, capital flight or some form of market exchange. By “voice”, I mean a degree of control over, the state, most obviously by voting. By “restraint”, I mean independent courts, division of powers, federalism and entrenched rights.
This, then, is a brief background to … the problem, which is defining what a democratic state … is entitled to
by ilene - August 10th, 2010 11:43 am
As I noted in a previous post, economists define three types of unemployment: frictional, structural, and cyclical:
Frictional unemployment is defined as the unemployment that occurs because of people moving or changing occupations. Demographic change can also play a role in this type of unemployment since young or first-time workers tend to have higher-than-normal turnover rates as they settle into a long-term occupation. An important distinguishing feature of this type of unemployment, unlike the two that follow it, is that it is voluntary on the part of the worker.
Structural unemployment is defined as unemployment arising from technical change such as automation, or from changes in the composition of output due to variations in the types of products people demand. For example, a decline in the demand for typewriters would lead to structurally unemployed workers in the typewriter industry.
Cyclical unemployment is defined as workers losing their jobs due to business cycle fluctuations in output, i.e. the normal up and down movements in the economy as it cycles through booms and recessions over time.
In a recession, frictional unemployment tends to drop since people become afraid of quitting the job they have due to the poor chances of finding another one. People that already have another job lined up will still be willing to change jobs, though there will be fewer of them since new jobs are harder to find. However, they aren’t counted as part of the unemployed. Thus, the fall in frictional unemployment is mainly due to a fall in people quitting voluntarily before they have another job lined up.
But the drop in frictional unemployment is relatively small and more than offset by increases in cyclical and structural unemployment. One of the big questions right now is whether the US economy is suffering, for the most part, from structural or cyclical unemployment. If it’s cyclical, then there’s a good chance that government intervention can help. If it’s structural, i.e. a decline in automobile production and manufacturing more generally, a decline in home construction, and a decline in the financial industry all of which free workers that need to be absorbed elsewhere in the economy, there’s less that can be done and some do not think that government can do much at all about this type of problem (though as I…
by ilene - June 20th, 2010 5:15 pm
Courtesy of Mark Thoma, Economist’s View
There’s been a lot of speculation about the motives of the Austerians — those who want to begin balancing budgets now because they believe that’s what markets want. For example, Paul Krugman attributes it, in part, to
moralizing and posturing. Germans tend to think of running deficits as being morally wrong, while balancing budgets is considered virtuous, never mind the … economic logic. “The last few hours were a singular show of strength,” declared Angela Merkel … after a special cabinet meeting agreed on the austerity plan. And showing strength — or what is perceived as strength — is what it’s all about.
But there is another argument based upon the notion of "never let a crisis — or the manufactured threat of one — go to waste." This is an opportunity to "starve the European Beast" in the eyes of many European conservatives, and there are those who are using the "that’s what markets want" argument as cover for an ideological agenda:
The spectre of laissez-faire stalks Britain, by Jeremy Seabrook, CIF: The relish with which David Cameron announced that our whole way of life would be affected for years by impending cuts, and no one in the land would be exempt from the asperities about to be inflicted, suggested to many that he and his fellow cabinet-millionaires will probably weather the coming storm better than the rest of us.
His parade of Margaret Thatcher, who resembled nothing so much as a faded kabuki performer, outside 10 Downing Street, was also highly symbolic. It was a redemptive moment, the "ultimate" triumph of policies she advocated (but did not entirely follow) 30 years ago. It exhibited the qualities of purification ritual, reversion to a more severe form of capitalism; and in the process a transformation of nanny state into stepmother state.
Nick Clegg’s pious assertion that cuts would be fair and compassionate was at odds with Cameron’s gusto, which is familiar enough in Conservative rhetoric: Cameron confronting an overweening state, which will be shrunk so the private sector might flourish once more. When he said the effects of his policies would be felt for decades to come, he meant something more than a mere diminution of the structural deficit. He admitted as much…
While cutting back big government may appear a
by ilene - January 5th, 2010 8:04 pm
Courtesy Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns
As a writer, Matt Taibbi is a lot more vitriolic than I am. He curses, makes some pretty over-the-top personal attacks, and divines a policymaker’s intent where I don’t think he can. But, this goes mostly to style. Substantively speaking, he has a lot to say and we should take notice.
I wanted to highlight a piece he wrote yesterday called Fannie, Freddie, and the New Red and Blue. The crux of his argument is this: The partisan rhetoric is on full display in the dust-up over the unlimited liabilities coming from Fannie and Freddie thrust upon taxpayers on Christmas Eve. This rhetoric is not just beside the point, it is specifically designed to obscure the point, namely that both Democrats and Republicans, private industry and the government are culpable in the shambles our economic system has become.
Over the Christmas holiday a nasty thing happened: Tim Geithner’s Treasury Department decided to lift the cap on aid to the Government-Sponsored Entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac, apparently in response to Obama administration fears that the two agencies would become insolvent. The cap was raised from $200 billion on each and government backstopping of the mortgage market will apparently now extend into infinity for at least three years, through 2012.
The move has already inspired a mini-firestorm, with several outlets delving deeply into the recent history of the GSEs and uncovering some disturbing new facts…
Sometimes I’m amazed at the speed with which highly provocative information like this GSE business can be converted into distracting propaganda in this country…
What worries me is that we’re… starting to see fault lines develop, where one side blames the government while another side blames Wall
Streetfor the messes of the last two decades…
Everyone was involved in the mortgage scam. At the lender level the deceptions were myriad; liar’s loans, fraudulent income documentation, negative amortization loans, HELOCs, etc. The rush to get as many loans written as possible and then get those hot potatoes moved to the next sucker in the line was furious and extended from coast to coast, sinking one lender after another in Ponzoid debt and indictments….
Everyone had a hand in the bubble,
by ilene - December 18th, 2009 1:32 pm
Courtesy of Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns
Mark is right that time is not on Chairman Bernanke’s side. If you saw the Ron Paul video earlier today, you can see what’s happening. I don’t have a strong view, although I believe most of the other bloggers are against.
Reminder: This is what Mark wrote about the Chairman’s being re-appointed in June.
I’d reappoint him. If forced to choose between Yellen and Summers, I’d choose Yellen.
Question: are these still the alternatives if Bernanke is not confirmed?
(video embedded above)
See also Bernanke’s nomination approved by Senate banking panel from the BBC