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Links (5/20/19)

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Don’t Give Trump Too Much Credit for the Soaring Economy - Alan Blinder In recent weeks, any number of commentators have taken note of what might be called the “paradox of polling” under President Donald Trump. Specifically, the president gets high marks from the public for his handling of the economy but low approval ratings overall. That disjunction is unusual. Presidents normally get high approval ratings when the economy does well (think Bill Clinton’s second term) and low approval ratings when it does poorly (think George W. Bush’s second term). Yet in this, as in seemingly everything else, Mr. Trump is abnormal. The reasons are manifold and simple: He lies about almost everything, defies the law, violates the Constitution, disparages our foreign allies, stokes fear of immigrants,

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Mark Thoma writes Links (6/23/19)

  • Don’t Give Trump Too Much Credit for the Soaring Economy - Alan Blinder In recent weeks, any number of commentators have taken note of what might be called the “paradox of polling” under President Donald Trump. Specifically, the president gets high marks from the public for his handling of the economy but low approval ratings overall. That disjunction is unusual. Presidents normally get high approval ratings when the economy does well (think Bill Clinton’s second term) and low approval ratings when it does poorly (think George W. Bush’s second term). Yet in this, as in seemingly everything else, Mr. Trump is abnormal. The reasons are manifold and simple: He lies about almost everything, defies the law, violates the Constitution, disparages our foreign allies, stokes fear of immigrants, disses every American who is not in his base, carries on embarrassing bromances with murderous dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, and places an incredible array of crooks and grifters in high positions. I could go on. One of the few things Mr. Trump doesn’t lie about, however, is the economy. It really is in great shape. Does he deserve credit?
  • Is the Hot Economy Pulling New Workers into the Labor Force? - FRBSF Labor force participation among prime-age workers has climbed over the past few years, reversing from the substantial drop during and after the last recession. These gains might suggest that the strength of the job market is pulling people from the sidelines into the labor force. However, analysis that accounts for underlying flows between labor force states shows that, rather than drawing new people in, the hot labor market has instead reduced the number of individuals who are dropping out.
  • Dr. Popper: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Metaphysics - Uneasy Money Introduction to Falsificationism Although his reputation among philosophers was never quite as exalted as it was among non-philosophers, Karl Popper was a pre-eminent figure in 20th century philosophy. As a non-philosopher, I won’t attempt to adjudicate which take on Popper is the more astute, but I think I can at least sympathize, if not fully agree, with philosophers who believe that Popper is overrated by non-philosophers. In an excellent blog post, Phillipe Lemoine gives a good explanation of why philosophers look askance at falsificationism, Popper’s most important contribution to philosophy.
  • Climate Change Heterogeneity - No Hesitations One can only go so far in climate econometrics studying time series like the proverbial "global average temperature", just as one can only go so far in macroeconomics with the proverbial "representative agent". Disaggregation will be key to additional progress, as different people in different places experience different climate "treatments" and different economic outcomes. The impressive new paper below begins to confront the massive tasks of data collection, manipulation, analysis, and visualization, in the context of a disaggregated analysis of the effects of temperature change on aggregate output. "Climatic Constraints on Aggregate Economic Output", by Marshall Burke and Vincent Tanutama, NBER Working Paper No. 25779, 2019. Abstract: Efficient responses to climate change require accurate estimates of both aggregate damages and where and to whom they occur. While specific case studies and simulations have suggested that climate change disproportionately affects the poor, large-scale direct evidence of the magnitude and origins of this disparity is lacking. Similarly, evidence on aggregate damages, which is a central input into the evaluation of mitigation policy, often relies on country-level data whose accuracy has been questioned. Here we assemble longitudinal data on economic output from over 11,000 districts across 37 countries, including previously nondigitized sources in multiple languages, to assess both the aggregate and distributional impacts of warming temperatures. We find that local-level growth in aggregate output responds non-linearly to temperature across all regions, with output peaking at cooler temperatures (<10°C) than estimated in earlier country analyses and declining steeply thereafter. Long difference estimates of the impact of longer-term (decadal) trends in temperature on income are larger than estimates from an annual panel model, providing additional evidence for growth effects. Impacts of a given temperature exposure do not vary meaningfully between rich and poor regions, but exposure to damaging temperatures is much more common in poor regions. These results indicate that additional warming will exacerbate inequality, particularly across countries, and that economic development alone will be unlikely to reduce damages, as commonly hypothesized. We estimate that since 2000, warming has already cost both the US and the EU at least $4 trillion in lost output, and tropical countries are >5% poorer than they would have been without this warming.
  • The Phillips curve is alive and well - Greg Mankiw Click on graphic to enlarge.
  • International evidence for Keynesian economics without the Phillips curve - VoxEU The economies of many countries are operating close to full capacity, but unemployment and inflation are both low. Using data from the US, UK and Canada, this column compares differences in the macroeconomic behaviour of real GDP, the inflation rate and the yields on three-month Treasury securities in the three countries. It shows that the Farmer monetary model, closed with a belief function, outperforms the New Keynesian model, closed with the New Keynesian Phillips curve. The data fit the multiple equilibria emphasised in the Farmer model well, rather than the mean-reverting processes assumed by the New Keynesian model.
  • How inequality makes us poorer - Stumbling and Mumbling I welcome the Deaton report into inequality. I especially like its emphasis (pdf) upon the causes of inequality: To understand whether inequality is a problem, we need to understand the sources of inequality, views of what is fair and the implications of inequality as well as the levels of inequality. Are present levels of inequalities due to well-deserved rewards or to unfair bargaining power, regulatory failure or political capture? I fear, however, that there might be something missing here – the impact that inequality has upon economic performance.
  • Those revenue-raising early central banks - Notes On Liberty In a piece on a rather different topic, George Selgin, director for the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives and editor-in-chief of the monetary blog Alt-M, gave a somewhat offhand comment about the origins of central banks: For revenue-hungry governments to get central banks to fund their debts is itself nothing new, of course. The first central banks were set up with little else in mind. (emphasis added) Writing about little else than (central) banks in history, you can imagine my surprise: Reasoned response: Selgin ought to know better than buying into this simplified argument. Less reasoned response, paraphrasing one of recent year’s most epic tweets: you come into MY house?! Alright, let’s make a quick run-through, then. Clearly, some simplification and lack of attention to nuances is permissible under the punchy poetic licenses of the economic blogosphere – especially so when the core of an argument lies elsewhere. But the conviction that early central banks (a) were created as revenue-raising devices for their governments, or (b) all central banks provided their governments with direct fiscal benefits, is a gross simplification of a much broader and much more diverse history of early public banks.
  • How to write - The Enlightened Economist I’ve been on my travels so have a stack of things to post about, but it will have to wait until I’ve waded through the backlog of emails. Meanwhile, though, I polished off Deirdre McCloskey’s Economical Writing: Thirty-five rules for clear and persuasive prose. You don’t have to be an economist to benefit from the book, but it will certainly help many economists – we are not famed for clarity and elegance of expression. I’m a big fan of McCloskey’s writing, although she is something of an acquired taste. But, importantly, she is always a model of clarity.
  • Update on the "Series of Unsurprising Results in Economics" - Dave Giles In June of last year I had a post about a new journal, Series of Unsurprising Results in Economics (SURE). If you didn't get to read that post, I urge you to do so. More importantly, you should definitely take a look at this piece by Kelsey Piper, from a couple of days ago, and titled, "This economics journal only publishes results that are no big deal - Here’s how that might save science". Kelsey really understands the rationale for SURE, and the important role that it can play in terms of reducing publication bias, and assisting with replicating results. You can get a feel for what SURE has to offer by checking out this paper by Nick Huntington-Klein and Andrew Gill that they are publishing. We'll all be looking forward to more excellent papers like this!
  • The new globalisation and income inequality - VoxEU Trade in intermediates (or ‘unbundling of production') and trade in capital have become increasingly important in last 25 years. This column shows that trade in intermediates generates a reallocation of capital across countries that exacerbates world inequality in both income and welfare. Unbundling of production hurts middle-income countries but helps those with high productivity. Trade in intermediates also increases within-country inequality, and this increase is U-shaped in the aggregate productivity level of the country.
  • Long-term and intergenerational effects of education - VoxEU Does investment in schools promote higher educational attainment—and do the effects improve students’ later lives and those of the next generation? This column examines the impact of over 61,000 primary schools built by the Indonesian government between 1973 and 1979, almost doubling the number in the country. The evidence shows that the men and women who accessed education provided by the construction programme benefited from significant improvements in their educational and later life outcomes. So too did their children.
  • Time for a Return of Large Corporation Research Labs? - Timothy Taylor It often takes a number of intermediate steps to move from a scientific discovery to a consumer product. A few decades ago, many larger and even mid-sized corporations spent a lot of money on research and development laboratories, which focused on all of these steps. Some of these corporate laboratories like those at AT&T, Du Pont, IBM, and Xerox were nationally and globally famous. But the R&D ecosystem has shifted, and firms are now much more likely to rely on outside research done by universities or small start-up firms. These issues are discussed in "The changing structure of American innovation: Cautionary remarks for economic growth," by Ashish Arora, Sharon Belenzon, Andrea Patacconi, and Jungkyu Suh, presented at conference on "Innovation Policy and the Economy 2019," held on on on April 16, 2019, hosted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
  • Antitrust Alone Is Not Enough to Combat the Problems Associated With Digital Platforms - When it comes to digital platforms, antitrust enforcement is rife with difficulties. Digital platform market structures tend to be concentrated due to network effects and very strong economies of scale and scope, made even stronger than in the past by the role of data. This challenge to enforcement—a challenge that requires all the resources and commitment of both agencies and courts—arises after 40 years of the United States effectively walking backwards on antitrust enforcement. The share of GDP spent on enforcement has been declining steadily; agency activity has been falling; the ideology that less enforcement is better has been marketed to the judiciary as good; measured markups charged by companies have been rising; the share of profits in GDP has been rising, while the labor share has been falling. So even before the rise of digital platforms, we already had a competition problem in ordinary industries where enforcement tools are well developed. Now, in order to catch up with our own economy, we need to develop tools and standards for a new area while we are on the back foot. The white paper by the market structure subcommittee of the Stigler Center’s Digital Platforms Project contains specific changes to both antitrust tools and standards that would help with effective enforcement.
Mark Thoma
Mark Allen Thoma (born December 15, 1956) is a macroeconomist and econometrician and a Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics of the University of Oregon. Thoma is best known as a regular columnist for The Fiscal Times through his blog "Economist's View", which Paul Krugman called "the best place by far to keep up with the latest in economic discourse", and as an analyst at CBS MoneyWatch. He is also a regular contributor to EconoMonitor.

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