Results for “interest rates risk fed”
58 found

Can the Fed in fact pop bubbles?

Megan McArdle wonders:

Prospectively, if you want to do it effectively, you probably need to intervene in the very early stages.  The Fed raised interest rates in the late 1920s, to no effect–indeed, it encouraged foreign capital to flow in.  Iceland’s central bank, too, tried to quiet its financial bubble, but borrowers simply ignored them–borrowed at the higher rate, or stupidly took on currency risk by getting auto loans and mortgages from abroad.  Meanwhile, more lenders were attracted by the higher rates.  If you think house prices will go up 10% every year, a 1% increase in mortgage interest rates is not really that worrying.

Do you know any good pieces on this topic?  Daniel Gross also says it is hard to do.  Here is one article on Bernanke’s bubble laboratory.

The Minimum Wage, Rent Control, and Vacancies or Who Searches?

In an interesting new paper Federal Reserve economists Marianna Kudlyak, Murat Tasci and Didem Tüzemen look at what happens to job vacancy postings when the minimum wage increases.

The vacancy data in our analysis come from the job openings data from the Conference Board as a part of its Help Wanted OnLine (HWOL) data series. HWOL provides monthly data on vacancies at detailed geographical (state, metropolitan statistical area, and county) and occupational (six-digit SOC and eight-digit O*Net) levels starting from May 2005. HWOL covers around 16,000 online job boards.

…Our identification strategy exploits the idea that different occupations can be differently impacted by minimum wage hikes due to differential mass of occupation-specific wage distributions concentrated around the prevailing minimum wage. We formalize this idea by analyzing wage distributions by occupation at the state level using micro data from the Current Population Survey (CPS). We identify occupations with large shares of employed workers at or near the state-level effective minimum wage and we refer to these occupations as “at-risk occupations.” We then estimate vacancy growth in at-risk occupations relative to vacancy growth in other occupations around the time when minimum wage increase takes place in the state, and relative to growth in vacancies in at-risk occupations at the national level.

…We find a statistically significant and economically sizeable negative effect of the minimum wage increase on vacancies. Specifically, a 10 percent increase in the level of the effective minimum wage reduces the stock of vacancies in at-risk occupations by 2.4 percent and reduces the flow of vacancies in at-risk occupations by about 2.2 percent.

…We find that firms cut vacancies up to three quarters in advance of the actual minimum wage increase. This finding is consistent with the firms’ desire to cut employment and vacancies being a forward-looking tool to achieve it. This finding is also consistent with a typical announcement effect of a policy change. Formally testing for the parallel trends assumption in our triple-difference identification, we find that at-risk and not-at-risk occupations do not have statistically significant differences in their vacancy trends prior to the typical announcement period. But the negative effect persists even four quarters after the minimum wage increase. The cumulative negative effect of a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage on total vacancies is as large as 4.5 percent a year later.

…We find that vacancies in occupations that typically employ workers with lower educational attainment (high school or less) are affected more negatively than vacancies in other occupations. The negative effect on vacancy posting is exacerbated in counties with higher poverty rates, which highlights another trade-off that policymakers might want to take into account.

This reminded me of a similar paper on rent controls (ungated) by Are Oust that Tyler and I mention in the forthcoming edition of Modern Principles of Economics.

Are Oust studied rent controls in Oslo, Norway and found that during the rent control era it was common for landlords to require their tenants to be of a certain gender, age, occupation and even religion (which would be illegal in the United States). Landlords would also find ways to charge extra by asking renters for extra services such as baby-sitting, garden work or snow-clearing. When rent control was eliminated, however, the number of apartments increased and landlords no longer advertised these kinds of requirements. Perhaps most telling, in the rent-control era it was common for renters to advertise “Apartment Wanted” but when rent controls were lifted it became much more common for landlords to advertise “Apartments for Rent!”

In other words, in a free market firms search for employees and landlords search for renters but under the minimum wage and rent control, workers must search for jobs and renters must search for apartments to a much greater extent.

Nellie Bowles interviews me on inflation

So I called someone smart (Tyler Cowen, an economist, author, and professor at George Mason University) to explain the dynamics to me.

“Inflation right now is still transitory in that we can choose to end it,” Cowen told me. The Federal Reserve could disinflate and raise interest rates—mortgage interest rates today remain well below 3%—though that risks starting a recession.

Cowen explained that the reason the inflation-wary are still pretty quiet is that all the anti-Obama Republicans were so wrong in 2008. After the Obama-era bailout during the Great Recession, Republicans were convinced inflation would run rampant. And they said so. A lot. But inflation stayed mostly in control. “They all got egg on their faces after that,” Cowen said. “So the crowd that would complain now, they’re whispering about it but not shouting yet.” (Larry Summers and Steve Rattner have sounded the alarm.)

“I think the inflation will last two to three years, and it will be bad,” Cowen said. But really grim hyper-inflation à la Carter-era, he thinks is unlikely. It could only happen if the Federal Reserve decides it’s too risky to trim the sails of cheap money. “I’d put it at 20% chance that the Fed will think, ‘Trump might run again, and we don’t want Biden to lose . . . history’s in our hands, so we’ll wait to tighten.’ And then it just goes on, and then it’s very bad.”

But a recession is also bad. It’s hard to sort it all out.  “As the saying goes, ‘If you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on,’” Cowen told me.

That is from the Bari Weiss Substack, other topics are considerd (not by me) at the link.

The wisdom of Scott Sumner

Meanwhile, young tweeters seem to forget the Great Inflation happened, or perhaps that it was caused by some sort of oil shock. How oil shocks cause double digit NGDP growth has never been explained. Everything we learned about unreliable Phillips Curves and shifting inflation expectations seems to have been forgotten. You simply can’t have too much stimulus.

I suppose their ignorance is understandable. If parents expertly adjust the thermostat to keep the house temperature at 71 to 73 degrees for 20 years, with a 72 degree target, can you blame the kids who grew up in that house for thinking that thermostats don’t have much impact on temps? (Let’s hope Powell knows!)

My views are orthogonal to this intra-Keynesian debate. I don’t think the fiscal stimulus is a good idea, but not because I expect much inflation. The inflation rate will be determined by the Fed. Rather it’s a reckless policy because it will lead to higher tax rates in the future and won’t do much to generate growth beyond Q3. (Deficits do cause higher interest rates, but only slightly higher in a country like the US.)

For 250 years of American history, politicians have held the peacetime budget deficit in check because of fears of either inflation or higher interest rates (or perhaps a loss of confidence in the gold standard.) What would happen if they begin to sniff out that the actual risk is not inflation or much higher interest rates next year, rather the risk is higher taxes in 20 years, after they’ve safely retired? How would they respond to this information?

I fear that we are about to find out.

There is more at the link.  As an aside, I am amazed how much “but the job market recovered so slowly last time” is considered a relevant argument here.

Why bitcoin will not take over the world

Yes it is here to stay, and it is not a bubble, but…here is one part of the argument:

If you hold or trade with a stablecoin, you incur several risks. First, the stablecoin peg to the dollar may someday be broken, an old problem with pegged exchange rates that Milton Friedman often warned about. Second, to the extent stablecoins and other crypto assets become a major part of the financial system, they will attract more regulatory interest. That in turn will limit many of their advantages over the traditional bank sector. The U.S. government does not want a financial system that evolves outside the purview of the Federal Reserve, FDIC and other regulatory institutions.

Third, the formal banking sector will improve, for instance by moving to more rapid clearing, or by introducing electronic reserve currencies. With the latter, you could transfer your electronically-based dollars within the accounting system of the central bank, and achieve a non-intermediated transfer without resorting to crypto. It is not obvious that crypto will be the market winner once more mainstream institutions learn some lessons from the success of crypto.

And in sum:

The more utopian scenarios for crypto, whether proponents realize it or not, rely on the notion that crypto remains simultaneously fringe and mainstream. That will be a hard trick to pull off.

Your rebuttals, and more, are considered at the link to my latest Bloomberg column.

Robert B. Wilson, Nobel Laureate

Here is his home page.  He has been at Stanford Business School since 1964, and born in Geneva, Nebraska.  Here is his personal website.  Here is his Wikipedia page.  He has a doctorate in business administration from Harvard, but actually no economics Ph.D. (bravo!)  Here is the Nobel designation.

Most of all Wilson is an economic theorist, doing much of his most influential work in or around the 1980s.  He is a little hard to google (no, he did not work with Philip Glass), but here are his best-cited papers.  To be clear, he won mainly for his work in auction theory and practice, covered by Alex here.  But here is some information about the rest of his highly illustrious career.

He and David Kreps wrote a very famous paper about deterrence.  Basically an incumbent wishes to develop a reputation for being tough with potential entrants, so as to keep them out of the market.  This was one of the most influential papers of the 1980s, and it also helped to revive some of the potential intellectual case for antitrust activism.  Here is Wilson’s survey article on strategic approaches to entry deterrence.

Wilson has a famous paper with Kreps, Milgrom, and Roberts.  They show how a multi-period prisoner’s dilemma might sustain cooperating rather than “Finking” if there is asymmetric information about types and behavior.  This paper increased estimates of the stability of tit-for-tat strategies, if only because with uncertainty you might end up in a highly rewarding loop of ongoing cooperation.  This combination of authors is referred to as the “Gang of Four,” given their common interests at the time and some common ties to Stanford.

His 1982 piece with David Kreps on “sequential equilibria” was oh so influential on game theory, here is the abstract:

We propose a new criterion for equilibria of extensive games, in the spirit of Selten’s perfectness criteria. This criterion requires that players’ strategies be sequentially rational: Every decision must be part of an optimal strategy for the remainder of the game. This entails specification of players’ beliefs concerning how the game has evolved for each information set, including information sets off the equilibrium path. The properties of sequential equilibria are developed; in particular, we study the topological structure of the set of sequential equilibria. The connections with Selten’s trembling-hand perfect equilibria are given.

Here is a more readable exposition of the idea.  This was part of a major effort to figure out how people actually would play in games, and which kinds of solution concepts economists should put into their models.  I don’t think the matter ever was settled, and arguably it has been superseded by behavioral and computational and evolutionary approaches, but Wilson was part of the peak period of applying pure theory to this problem and this might have been the most important theory piece in that whole tradition.

From Wikipedia:

Wilson’s paper “The Theory of the Syndicates,”JSTOR 1909607 which was published in Econometrica in 1968 influenced a whole generation of students from economics, finance, and accounting. The paper poses a fundamental question: Under what conditions does the expected utility representation describe the behavior of a group of individuals who choose lotteries and share risk in a Pareto-optimal way?

Link here, this was a contribution to social choice theory and fed into Oliver Hart’s later work on when shareholder unanimity for a corporation would hold.  It also connects to the later Milgrom work, some of it with Wilson, on when people will agree about the value of assets.

Here is Wilson’s book on non-linear pricing: “What do phone rates, frequent flyer programs, and railroad tariffs all have in common? They are all examples of nonlinear pricing. Pricing is nonlinear when it is not strictly proportional to the quantity purchased. The Electric Power Research Institute has commissioned Robert Wilson to review the various facets of nonlinear pricing.”  Yes, he is a business school guy.  Here is his survey article on electric power pricing, a whole separate direction of his research.

Here is his 1989 law review article about Pennzoil vs. Texaco, with Robert H. Mnookin.

Wilson also did a piece with Gul and Sonnenschein, laying out the different implications of various game-theoretic conjectures for the Coase conjecture, namely the claim that a durable goods monopolist will end up having to sell at competitive prices, due to the patience of consumers and their unwillingness to buy at higher prices.

Wilson was the dissertation advisor of Alvin E. Roth, Nobel Laureate, and here the two interview each other, recommended.  Excerpt:

Wilson: As an MBA student in 1960, I wrote a class report on how to bid in an auction that got a failing grade because it was not “managerial.”

And here is an Alvin Roth blog post on the prize and the intellectual lineage.

The bottom line?  If you are a theorist, Stockholm is telling you to build up some practical applications  — at the very least pull something out of your closet and sell it on eBay!  A lot of people thought Roberts and maybe Kreps would be in on this Prize, but they are not.  The selections themselves are clearly deserving and have been “in play” for many years in the Nobel discussions.  But again, we see the committee drawing clear and distinct lines.

Let’s see what they do next year!

Are central banks manipulating asset prices?

That case still needs to be made, here is Cullen Roche:

1) Are Central Banks “pushing money” on people? 

The whole premise of the first paragraph is that Central Banks have implemented QE and forced money onto people which has resulted in a lot of asset chasing.¹ I’ve never understood this mentality to be honest. When the Fed engages in QE they expand their balance sheet and buy a bond from the private sector. In a low inflation environment bonds become increasingly similar to cash so these sellers of bonds are selling one cash-like instrument for another. As a result, the private sector ends up holding more low interest bearing cash-like instruments and the Fed holds higher interest bearing cash-like instruments. So the whole basis of this theory is that if someone who was already holding a risk averse asset then sells that risk averse asset for something very similar then they will suddenly become less risk averse and run out and drive up stocks? That doesn’t even make sense. If I have a moderate risk tolerance and hold a portfolio of 50% bonds and 50% stocks and I want to sell my bonds because I read a scary article about how bonds are super risky because interest rates are going to rise (more on this later) then I will swap out some part of my 50% bonds for cash or something else that’s relatively low risk (to maintain my moderate risk profile). I don’t swap out my whole bond position for a stock position or a role of the dice at the roulette wheel.

Anyhow, the evidence doesn’t even mesh with this. Global Central Banks have been implementing QE for 10 years now. The average annual return of the Vanguard Total World Index is 8.9% per year over that period. That is 0.02% higher than the average 35 year return. So, if investors are acting crazy today then they’ve been crazy for 35 years. Which might be true. It’s probably true. I actually think investors are usually kind of crazy. But they’re not any crazier today than they were 35 years ago.

Sensible throughout.

The Nanny Tax and the Miracle of Government Loaves

Before it descends into utter madness, Leslie Forde’s Slate article on Nanny pay opens with a good story:

“I’m sorry … but I can’t,” she told me over the phone. My heart sank. I was confident she’d take the job. Quickly, I went into negotiation mode, “But wait, can we talk about the pay? Do you need more to … ” She said no before I could finish. “I just can’t take a job (that pays) over the table. It’ll mess up my housing. I won’t be able to stay in my apartment. I’m sorry. I’ve already taken another job.” I ended the call. …my entire career was at risk because I couldn’t find a nanny—at least, one willing to be paid legally.

It’s estimated that less than 10 percent of 2 million domestic workers and the families who employ them pay employment taxes.

From that opening I was expecting the author to explain that nannies aren’t willing to work on the books because at the bottom of the income scale income is taxed twice–first by Federal and State direct taxes and second indirectly because higher income causes workers to lose benefits. As a result of this double taxation, in some states it’s possible for poor workers to face effective marginal tax rates above 100 percent. If you had to pay to work, would you work?

High marginal taxes rates on the poor are a problem. We ought to be able to agree on that, even if we disagree on proposals to address the problem such as a universal basic income or a negative income tax. But in Forde’s magical world, up is down and down is up and the problem is that taxes on the poor are too low. But not to worry because this presents a hidden opportunity!

There is, however, a hidden opportunity to provide help to our caregivers and the families who employ them. Right now, these under-the-table arrangements are creating a “tax gap”—billions of dollars in additional funding that would be available to support caregivers, if the majority of families and their caregivers paid into the system.

Did you get that? If nannies were taxed the government would have more money to provide nannies with benefits. Wait, it gets worse. According to Forde, we can make both families and nannies better off by giving them back the money the government takes and still have money left over!

The estimated “gap” from the lost tax revenue is a combination of the federal and state employment taxes typically paid by employees (Social Security, Medicare, and income taxes) and employers (in addition to Social Security and Medicare, they must pay federal and state unemployment taxes.) Imagine if just a portion of this revenue were used to reimburse families for more of their child care expenses and to provide caregivers access to better benefits than they get currently with their under-the-table jobs. (italics added, AT)

Indeed, wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world of pure imagination? One without tradeoffs. Where we could rely on the miracle of government loaves to solve all problems?

How tight is monetary policy now?, and some remarks on ngdp and market monetarism

I say “not that tight,” while leaving room open for the possibility that it should be looser.

What metrics might we look at?  Federal funds futures no longer expect imminent further rate hikes from the Fed.  Expected rates of price inflation have been very close to two percent.  No matter what you think about the structural component of labor supply, cyclical unemployment has recovered a great deal over the last few years.  And that is through the period of “taper talk” of almost two years ago.  Consumer spending is doing OK, not spectacular but not cut off at the knees.  And while in very recent times price expectations are headed downwards away from two percent, this seems to stem from negative real shocks, to which the Fed has responded passively (perhaps unwisely).  That’s different than the Fed tightening.  There was a quarter point rate hike from December, which is a small tightening for sure, but I don’t see much more than that.

So in sum, those data do not suggest severe monetary tightness, though again I am open to the argument that monetary policy should be looser.

By the way, I agree with Scott Sumner that we should not equate low interest rates with loose money.  Tight and loose money are multi-dimensional, cluster concepts, especially post-2008, and require reference to a variety of variables.  And if you are wondering, from this list of Lars Christensen monetary policy indicators I accept only #2, at least in a 2016 global setting where other real economies are volatile.

Given that I don’t see monetary policy as so tight right now, I suggested that if we have a recession it was likely to be a risk premium recession.  The big uptick in gold prices is consistent with this view, though hardly proof of it.

So what is the context here?  I am worried that if the United States has a recession this year (still unlikely, in my view, but maybe 20%?), that recession will be blamed on “tight money.”

To get more specific yet, I am very much a fan of the ngdp rule approach to monetary policy, but I am uncomfortable with one strand in market monetarist thought.  I worry when low ngdp growth is blamed for low growth rates of real gdp.

Ngdp is an accounting summation, so I still want to know the real cause of the slower growth in real gdp.  Let’s unpack at the most basic level whether the active cause was Fed tightening on the nominal side, or instead a negative real shock, followed perhaps by excess Fed passivity.  That is one reason why I think of it as information-destroying to cite ngdp as a cause of developments in rgdp.

More fundamentally, if a central bank is doing anything close to price inflation targeting, mentioning low ngdp and low real gdp growth rates is simply citing the same fact twice, or almost so, rather than explaining one variable with the other.  Angus once called the ngdp invocation a tautology; I’m not sure that is the right terminology, but still I wish to look for independent, non-ngdp measures of monetary policy when deciding how to allocate the blame for a recession, to real or nominal factors.

For further context, I was disquieted by some recent Lars Christensen posts on monetary policy and the American economy.  I read him as “revving up” to blame a possible recession on tight U.S. monetary policy.  I don’t think he provides much evidence that money is tight enough to cause a recession, other than citing the deterioration of some real variables.

I would encourage market monetarists to define — now — how tight or loose monetary policy really is.  Then stick with that assessment, based on whatever variables you consulted.

A year from now, I won’t count it if you say a) “well, ngdp growth is down, money was tight, therefore real gdp growth rates fell.  Tight money must have been the problem because low rates of ngdp growth are tight money.”

I would count it if you say something like b): “the dollar shock [or some other factor] was worse than the Fed had thought.  That started to push us into recession.  The Fed should have loosened, but they didn’t, and so the slide into recession continued, when the Fed could have moderated it somewhat by pursuing an ngdp target.”  (By the way, read Gavyn Davies on the strong dollar issue.  Alternatively, here is a Marcus Nunes take which I think is citing ngdp in exactly the way I am worried about.)

I also would count it if you said “I see the Fed tightening a lot right now, a recession is likely coming,” although I might dispute your evidence for that tightening.

Here is a recent Scott Sumner post, mostly about me.  It’s basically taking the other side of what I have been arguing, and I would suggest simply disaggregating the ngdp terminology into a more causal language of nominal and real shocks.  Surely there are other independent, ex ante signs for judging the tightness of monetary policy, rather than waiting for ngdp figures to come in, which again is citing a transform of the real gdp growth rate as a way of explaining real gdp.

I find these issues come up many, many times in market monetarist writings.  I think they have basically the right policy prescription, and could provide the world with billions or maybe even trillions of dollars of value, if only policymakers would listen.  But I also think they are foisting a language of causality on the business cycle problem which the rest of economic discourse does not easily absorb, and which smushes together real and nominal shocks into a lower-information accounting variable, namely ngdp, and then elevating that variable into a not entirely deserved causal role.  We ought to talk in terms of ex ante, independent measures of monetary policy looseness, not ex post measures which closely resemble indirect transforms of real gdp itself.

That, in a nutshell is why, although I usually agree with the market monetarists on policy, and their desire to lower the status of “hard money” doctrine within liberalism, and while I have long applauded and supported their efforts, I don’t call myself a market monetarist per se.

Addendum: Nick Rowe comments.  And Marcus Nunes comments.

What is the anti-austerity recommendation for Brazil?

At 70% of GDP, public debt is worryingly large for a middle-income country and rising fast. Because of high interest rates, the cost of servicing it is a crushing 7% of GDP. The Central Bank cannot easily use monetary policy to fight inflation, currently 10.5%, as higher rates risk destabilising the public finances even more by adding to the interest bill. Brazil therefore has little choice but to raise taxes and cut spending.

Too often, at the popular level, there is a confusion between “austerity is bad” and “the consequences of running out of money are bad.”

Sophisticated analysts of fiscal policy do not make this mistake.

By the way, here is a long study of how Brazilian fiscal policy has been excessively pro-cyclical (pdf).

And how is Brazilian output doing you may wonder?:

By the end of 2016 Brazil’s economy may be 8% smaller than it was in the first quarter of 2014, when it last saw growth; GDP per person could be down by a fifth since its peak in 2010, which is not as bad as the situation in Greece, but not far off. Two ratings agencies have demoted Brazilian debt to junk status. Joaquim Levy, who was appointed as finance minister last January with a mandate to cut the deficit, quit in December. Any country where it is hard to tell the difference between the inflation rate—which has edged into double digits—and the president’s approval rating—currently 12%, having dipped into single figures—has serious problems.

Don’t forget this:

Since the constitution’s enactment, federal outlays have nearly doubled to 18% of GDP; total public spending is over 40%. Some 90% of the federal budget is ring-fenced either by the constitution or by legislation. Constitutionally protected pensions alone now swallow 11.6% of GDP, a higher proportion than in Japan, whose citizens are a great deal older. By 2014 the government was running a primary deficit (ie, before interest payments) of 32.5 billion reais ($13.9 billion) (see chart).

Brazilian commodity prices have fallen 41% since their 2011 peak, so I say Ed Prescott has earned his Nobel Prize right there.

The first underlying article/op-Ed also is from The Economist.  Without intending any slight to their other recent issues, the January 2-8 issue is one of their best in a long time.  I am very pleased to have bought it in advance at the airport rather than waiting to get to my copy back at home.

Does the Obamacare mandate actually make people better off?

Here is my latest NYT Upshot column, on the topic of the Affordable Care Act.  Here is what is to me the key excerpt:

But there is another way of looking at it, one used in traditional economics, which focuses on how much people are willing to pay as an indication of their real preferences. Using this measure, if everyone covered by the insurance mandate were to buy health insurance as the law dictated, more than half of them would be worse off.

This may seem startling. But in an economic study, researchers measured such preferences by looking at data known as market demand curves. Practically speaking, these demand curves implied that individuals would rather take some risk with their health — and spend their money on other things — partly because they knew that even without insurance they still would receive some health care. These were the findings of a provocative National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “The Price of Responsibility: The Impact of Health Reform on Non-Poor Uninsureds” by Mark Pauly, Adam Leive, and Scott Harrington; the authors are at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

One implication is that the preferences of many people subject to the insurance mandate are likely to become more negative in the months ahead. For those without subsidies, federal officials estimate, the cost of insurance policies is likely to increase by an average of another 7.5 percent; even more in states like Oklahoma and Mississippi. The individuals who are likely losers from the mandate have incomes 250 percent or more above the federal poverty level ($11,770 for a single person, more for larger families), the paper said. They are by no means the poorest Americans, but many of them are not wealthy, either. So the Affordable Care Act may not be as egalitarian as it might look initially, once we take this perspective into account.

I should stress that, at this point, I don’t see any realistic alternative to trying to improve ACA.  Still, I find it distressing how infrequently this problem is acknowledged or dealt with, probably from a mix of epistemic closure, a “health insurance simply has to make people better off” attitude, and a dose of “let’s not give any ammunition to the enemy.”  In fact, I think a lot of Democratic-leaning economists and commentators are doing a real disservice to their own causes on this one.

It’s worth noting that Kentucky, one of the best-functioning ACA state exchanges, just elected a Republican governor who very explicitly pledged to tank the current set-up as much as possible, Medicaid too.  I think it’s time to admit this is not just Tea Party activism or Hee Haw political stupidity, rather a large number of the people subject to the mandate simply are not better off as would be judged by their own preferences.  And that is not a secondary problem of Obamacare, it is a primary problem.

Interestingly, I found the NYT reader comments on my piece to be fairly supportive, which is not always the case.  There’s a good deal of “this happened to me, too,” and not so much raw invective about whatever defects I may have.

I think it is a big mistake to argue Obamacare is on the verge of collapse, or whatever other exaggeration of the day may be at hand.  Still, I don’t find the current set-up of the exchanges to be entirely stable, at least not in terms of ongoing popularity, much less consumer sovereignty.

A key question is what happens moving forward.  One option, which I had not initially expected, is for the exchanges to narrow and evolve into an expanded version of some of the earlier plans for a segregated high-risk pool.  In that case, the argument would morph from “don’t worry, enough people will sign up for the exchanges” into “the welfare effects here are still positive, because fortunately not everyone signs up for the exchanges.”  The high risk pool would then at some point require additional subsidies.  In the past, I argued that the penalties for not signing up were too low, but under this scenario it may be desirable to lower rather than raise those penalties.

We’ll see.  The piece covers other issues as well, do read the whole thing.

Here is Megan on the costs of ACA plans.  Here are some interesting calculations from Jed Graham.

I worry about the carry trade

Remember, in a global economy with multiple currencies, or an economy with lots of price variation, the notion of a single “real interest rate” is tricky.  The standard Fisherian story implies real interest rate near-neutrality across a wide set of expected monetary policy decisions.  Say expected inflation goes up, the nominal interest rate goes up, and the real rate stays constant, except for a small liquidity effect.

But that story will not apply across the board.  If, for instance, you live and consume in Jakarta, and you do not hold a PPP theory of the exchange rate, as indeed you should not, well, borrowing in dollars just got more expensive in real terms (with complicated qualifiers depending on forward rates which in reality don’t predict future currency movements so well).  Or if the Fed lowers nominal rates, your real borrowing rate goes down, maybe by more or less the same percentage amount as the nominal rate went down for the Americans.

And if those Indonesians are optimistic about the performance of their own currency vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, crikey! — their current real interest rates from dollar borrowing appear to be very low indeed.  And if we are considering the individuals who hold disproportionate shares of non-USD currencies, almost by definition they are overly optimistic about the non-USD currencies.

And there are yet further complications which the nice weather today prevents me from outlining (what if those Indonesians are the marginal investors and they push around the market price for the Americans?)

All of which makes the Fed’s job much tougher.  Here is the latest from Bloomberg:

Since the 2008 financial crisis, companies across emerging markets have been borrowing dollars and converting them into local currencies as part of a massive carry trade. This practice has helped U.S. dollar shadow banking go global as the effects of near-zero U.S. interest rates seep into all corners of the world economy.

That’s the main finding of a new report released Thursday by the Bank for International Settlements, an institution in Basel, Switzerland, known as the central bank for central banks.

The paper, co-authored by Valentina Bruno, a finance professor at American University, and BIS Economic Adviser and Head of Research Hyun Song Shin, serves as a follow-up to a report released by the bank in January that found firms outside the U.S. have borrowed $9 trillion in U.S. dollars, up from $6 trillion before the global financial crisis.

To be sure, we do not know how harmful these practices might be, or not.  Here is FT coverage of the same:

By doing so companies become shadow banks, financial intermediaries moving dollars into local economies. Note, manufacturers do not have to explicitly act like hedge fund managers. Simply depositing funds with a local bank will help it to extend credit to other customers, while buying local commercial paper provides funds to domestic businesses.

The realisation prompts further questions. If it becomes more expensive to borrow in dollars, because say China fears prompt less dollar lending, will the corporate carry trade stop? Will it matter if it does?

I simply wish to reiterate that, no matter how many times commentators cite the low rate of price inflation, there are risks on both sides of the Fed’s forthcoming monetary policy decision.

Here is my much earlier post on monetary policy and the carry trade.  Beware the too-rapid acceptance of the strict Fisherian equation!  Once again, we do not live in a representative agent world and furthermore the multiplicity of agents speak a variety of languages and use a variety of currencies.

The Ferguson Kleptocracy

In Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison I wrote:

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

The DOJ report on the Ferguson Police Department verifies this in stunning detail:

Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct.

… Our investigation has found overwhelming evidence of minor municipal code violations resulting in multiple arrests, jail time, and payments that exceed the cost of the original ticket many times over. One woman, discussed above, received two parking tickets for a single violation in 2007 that then totaled $151 plus fees. Over seven years later, she still owed Ferguson $541—after already paying $550 in fines and fees, having multiple arrest warrants issued against her, and being arrested and jailed on several occasions.

Predatory fining was incentivized:

FPD has communicated to officers not only that they must focus on bringing in revenue, but that the department has little concern with how officers do this. FPD’s weak systems of supervision, review, and accountability…have sent a potent message to officers that their violations of law and policy will be tolerated, provided that officers continue to be “productive” in making arrests and writing citations. Where officers fail to meet productivity goals, supervisors have been instructed to alter officer assignments or impose discipline.

Excessive, illegal and sometimes criminal force was used routinely:

This culture within FPD influences officer activities in all areas of policing, beyond just ticketing. Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority. They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence. Police supervisors and leadership do too little to ensure that officers act in accordance with law and policy, and rarely respond meaningfully to civilian complaints of officer misconduct. The result is a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; infringement on free expression, as well as retaliation for protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Here is one example:

In January 2013, a patrol sergeant stopped an African-American man after he saw the man talk to an individual in a truck and then walk away. The sergeant detained the man, although he did not articulate any reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. When the man declined to answer questions or submit to a frisk—which the sergeant sought to execute despite articulating no reason to believe the man was armed—the sergeant grabbed the man by the belt, drew his ECW [i.e. taser, AT], and ordered the man to comply. The man crossed his arms and objected that he had not done anything wrong. Video captured by the ECW’s built-in camera shows that the man made no aggressive movement toward the officer. The sergeant fired the ECW, applying a five-second cycle of electricity and causing the man to fall to the ground. The sergeant almost immediately applied the ECW again, which he later justified in his report by claiming that the man tried to stand up. The video makes clear, however, that the man never tried to stand—he only writhed in pain on the ground. The video also shows that the sergeant applied the ECW nearly continuously for 20 seconds, longer than represented in his report. The man was charged with Failure to Comply and Resisting Arrest, but no independent criminal violation.

Here is another, especially interesting, example:

While the record demonstrates a pattern of stops that are improper from the beginning, it also exposes encounters that start as constitutionally defensible but quickly cross the line. For example, in the summer of 2012, an officer detained a 32-year-old African-American man who was sitting in his car cooling off after playing basketball. The officer arguably had grounds to stop and question the man, since his windows appeared more deeply tinted than permitted under Ferguson’s code. Without cause, the officer went on to accuse the man of being a pedophile, prohibit the man from using his cell phone, order the man out of his car for a pat-down despite having no reason to believe he was armed, and ask to search his car. When the man refused, citing his constitutional rights, the officer reportedly pointed a gun at his head, and arrested him. The officer charged the man with eight different counts, including making a false declaration for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”) and an address that, although legitimate, differed from the one on his license. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in possession. The man told us he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government as a result of the charges.

Although the report says the initial stop was constitutionally defensible, the initial stop was also clearly bullshit. “The officer arguably had grounds to stop and question the man, since his windows appeared more deeply tinted than permitted under Ferguson’s code.” Deep tinting!!!

Missouri, like most states, has a window tint law which essentially requires that tinting not be so dark as to impede the ability of the driver to see out of the car. Ok. But why does Ferguson have a window tint law! What this means is that you can be fined for driving through Ferguson for window tinting which is legal in the rest of Missouri. Absurd. Correction: the code appears to be the same as the state code but passed as a municipal ordinance so fines were collected locally. The purpose of the law was simply to extract more blood:

NYTimes: Last year Ferguson drivers paid $12,400 in fines for driving cars with tinted windows. They paid another $4,905 for loud music coming out of their cars.

The abuse in Ferguson shouldn’t really surprise us–this is how most governments behave most of the time. Democracy constrains what governments do but it’s a thin constraint easily capable of being pierced when stressed.

The worst abuses of government happen when an invading gang conquer people of a different race, religion and culture. What happened in Ferguson was similar only the rulers stayed the same and the population of the ruled changed. In 1990 Ferguson was 74% white and 25% black. Just 20 years later the percentages had nearly inverted, 29% white and 67% black. The population of rulers, however, changed more slowly so white rulers found themselves overlording a population that was foreign to them. As a result, democracy broke down and government as usual, banditry and abuse, broke out.

Interview with John Cochrane

There are many interesting bits from the interview, sometimes polemic bits too, here is one excerpt:

EF: What do you think are the biggest barriers to our own economic recovery?

Cochrane: I think we’ve left the point that we can blame generic “demand” deficiencies, after all these years of stagnation. The idea that everything is fundamentally fine with the U.S. economy, except that negative 2 percent real interest rates on short-term Treasuries are choking the supply of credit, seems pretty farfetched to me. This is starting to look like “supply”: a permanent reduction in output and, more troubling, in our long-run growth rate.

This part reminds me of some ideas in my own Risk and Business Cycles:

There is a good macroeconomic story. In a business cycle peak, when your job and business are doing well, you’re willing to take on more risk. You know the returns aren’t going to be great, but where else are you going to invest? And in the bottom of a recession, people recognize that it’s a great buying opportunity, but they can’t afford to take risk.

Another view is that time-varying risk premiums come instead from frictions in the financial system. Many assets are held indirectly. You might like your pension fund to buy more stocks, but they’re worried about their own internal things, or leverage, so they don’t invest more.

A third story is the behavioral idea that people misperceive risk and become over- and under-optimistic. So those are the broad range of stories used to explain the huge time-varying risk premium, but they’re not worked out as solid and well-tested theories yet.

The implications are big. For macroeconomics, the fact of time-varying risk premiums has to change how we think about the fundamental nature of recessions. Time-varying risk premiums say business cycles are about changes in people’s ability and willingness to bear risk. Yet all of macroeconomics still talks about the level of interest rates, not credit spreads, and about the willingness to substitute consumption over time as opposed to the willingness to bear risk. I don’t mean to criticize macro models. Time-varying risk premiums are just technically hard to model. People didn’t really see the need until the financial crisis slapped them in the face.

I’ve long believed the risk premium is the underexplored variable in macroeconomics and finally this is being rectified.

The new “carry trade”?

Loosely regulated non-bank lenders have emerged as among the biggest beneficiaries of the Federal Reserve’s ultra-low interest rates with three specialist categories increasing their assets by almost 60 per cent since the height of the financial crisis.

Such lenders, widely considered part of the “shadow banking” system, have expanded rapidly on the back of investors who are clamouring for the higher returns on offer from financing riskier types of lending.

From the FT, there is more here.