Results for “Larry Summers” 186 found
Read blogger Daniel Drezner on Larry Summers as President of Harvard.
Money quote: “Those dumb enough not to recognize Summers’ smarts are headed for a great fall. The next few years are going to be fun for those who write about Harvard.”
The New York Times Magazine from today (registration required) has a good article on Larry Summers as President of Harvard. His bracing manner, and willingness to engage in frank debate, is more popular with students than with faculty. He wants a world where an ignorance of scientific knowledge is as embarrassing as ignorance of a Shakespeare play. He thinks knowledge of literature is more important than a knowledge of the latest in literary theory. He is still thinking about whether affirmative action is a good idea, he would like to see more facts. Some parts of Harvard, including some of the sciences, appear to be moving to Allston and out of Cambridge. Most of all, he is willing to make enemies to be an effective leader.
In one of the best papers of the year, Anna Stansbury and Larry Summers present what is to me the best non-“Great Stagnation” story of what has gone wrong, and I have read many such accounts. Here is their abstract:
Rising profitability and market valuations of US businesses, sluggish wage growth and a declining labor share of income, and reduced unemployment and inflation, have defined the macroeconomic environment of the last generation. This paper offers a unified explanation for these phenomena based on reduced worker power. Using individual, industry, and state-level data, we demonstrate that measures of reduced worker power are associated with lower wage levels, higher profit shares, and reductions in measures of the NAIRU. We argue that the declining worker power hypothesis is more compelling as an explanation for observed changes than increases in firms’ market power, both because it can simultaneously explain a falling labor share and a reduced NAIRU, and because it is more directly supported by the data.
There is a good deal of critical thinking about how different macroeconomic trends fit together, and a willingness to consider disconfirming evidence, so I do recommend you read through this one.
I have five main worries about the argument:
1. Rather than labor losing bargaining power, I think of the key development as “management measuring the marginal product of labor more precisely.” Admittedly that does lower the bargaining power of the majority of workers, given the 20/80 rule, or whatever you think the proper proportions are (Stansbury and Summers themselves presumably are underpaid, but in general wage dispersion has been going up in high-skilled sectors).
A minority of highly productive workers have much more bargaining power than they did before, which doesn’t quite fit the “lower bargaining power per se” hypothesis. And under my interpretation, easier unionization may not be much of a solution, since the problem here is the actual reality of who produces what. Consistent with my view, labor’s share is not really down if you consider the super-talented labor/owners/capitalists who start their own companies. That is a return to labor as well.
2. It is a noted advantage of the Stansbury and Summers approach that is explains the now-lower natural rate of unemployment. The puzzle, I think, is to explain both lower NAIRU and the slower labor market matching observed over the post-2009 labor market recovery. Their hypothesis seems to predict a higher degree of worker desperation, and thus quicker matches, than what we actually observed.
If you think, as I do, that employers are now better aware of the diversity of worker quality, and that only ex post do they learn that quality, employers will be more careful upfront, which probably does slow down matching speeds, thus fitting the data better.
3. If you play down market power, and postulate a fall in the share of labor, you might expect investment to be robust, but measured investment clocks in as mediocre. The authors discuss this point at length on pp.45-46 and offer multiple rebuttals, but I suppose I still think the first-order effect here ought to be stronger than what we (seem to) observe.
4. If corporate profits are so high, how is this consistent with the persistently low demand postulated by Summers’s “secular stagnation” hypothesis? The paper does consider this question very directly on p.56, but I genuinely (just as a matter of grammar) do not understand the answer the authors are suggesting. Here goes:
A fair question about the labor rents hypothesis regards what it says about the secular stagnation hypothesis that one of us has put forward (Summers 2013). We believe that the shift towards more corporate income,that occurs as labor rents decline,operates to raise saving and reduce demand. The impact on investment of reduced labor power seems to us ambiguous, with lower labor costs on the one hand encouraging expanded output and on the other encouraging more labor-intensive production, as discussed in Section V.So,decreases in labor power may operate to promote the reductions in demand and rising gap between private saving and investment that are defining features of secular stagnation.
I suppose I had thought of low rates of profit as a (though not the?) defining feature of secular stagnation, but again I may not have understood this passage correctly.
5. Matt Rognlie found that the decline in labor’s share went to housing and land ownership, not capital.
In any case, here is a whole paper full of economics, go and enjoy it.
Larry Summers is my favorite liberal economist because even while maintaining his liberal values he never stops thinking like an economist. That makes him suspect among the left but it means that he is always worth listening to. The video below with Saez, Summers and Mankiw (with Rampell moderating) is excellent throughout. I cribbed a number of points from Summers:
“I have studied last week’s twitter war very carefully and I have to say that I am 98.5% convinced by the critics that the Zucman-Saez data are substantially inaccurate and misleading.”
The arguments around political power are not persuasive. Most of what is wrong with politics is because that is what the people want (I’m filling in a bit here from comments throughout). A wealth tax does nothing about corporate lobbying and would increase the incentive to give to political organizations. If you cut wealth at the top by 30% that wouldn’t change relative political power in the slightest.
Wealth is up in large part because interest rates are down which means that permanent income hasn’t increased.
Forced savings programs like social security and unemployment insurance mean that people at the bottom need to save less and thus their wealth falls even as their welfare increases.
A wealth tax increases the incentive to consume instead of save and invest.
On employee stock ownership plans: “When you put workers in control of firms and you give them substantial control–see Israeli kibbutz’s, see Yugoslav cooperatives, see universities where faculties have a powerful voice–the one thing you do not get is expansion. You get more for the people who are already there. That does not seem to be an attractive position for progressives.”
In the Q&A Summers just goes to town on Saez when Saez claims 90% tax rates are a great American invention. “The people who were around in the Kennedy administration who were at least as progressive as you are were united in the belief that 90% tax rates were a bad idea….The number of people who paid those 90% tax rates was trivial and it wasn’t because there weren’t a lot of rich people.” Greg Mankiw, who gives a nice parable in his remarks, has to stifle a laugh as Summers lets rip.
The body language in the Q&A is very interesting.
Larry Summers reflects on Ken Arrow with a memory that captures well the academic life. I had similar experiences watching my father, a professor of mechanical engineering, interacting with his students in our home.
My mother’s brother, the Nobel economist Kenneth Arrow, died this week at the age of 95. He was a dear man and a hero to me and many others. No one else I have ever known so embodied the scholarly life well lived.
I remember like yesterday the moment when Kenneth won the Nobel Prize in 1972. Paul Samuelson—another Nobel economist and, as it happens, also my uncle—hosted a party in his honor, to which I, then a sophomore at MIT, was invited. It was a festive if slightly nerdy occasion.
As the night wore on, Paul and Kenneth were standing in a corner discussing various theorems in mathematical economics. People started leaving. Paul’s wife was looking impatient. Kenneth’s wife, my aunt Selma, put her coat on, buttoned it and started pacing at the door. Kenneth raised something known as the maximum principle and the writings of the Russian mathematician Pontryagin. Paul began a story about the great British mathematical economist and philosopher Frank Ramsey. My ride depended on this conversation ending, so I watched alertly without understanding a word.
But I did understand this: There were two people in the room who had won Nobel Prizes. They were the two people who, after everyone else was exhausted and heading home, talked on and on into the evening about the subject they loved. I learned that night about my uncles—about their passion for ideas and about the importance and excitement of what scholars do.
There was a brief symposium, here are the results:
President Emeritus of Harvard University, Former Chief Economist of the World Bank
My sense is that cap and trade is not the route to the future. It did not make it politically in the US at a moment of great opportunity in 2009. And European carbon markets have been plagued by constant problems. And globally it’s even harder. My sense is that the right strategy has three major elements. First, as the G20 vowed in 2009, there needs to be a concerted phase out of fossil fuel subsidies. This would help government budgets, drive increases in economic efficiency and substantially reduce global emissions. Second, there needs to be assurance of adequate funding for all areas of basic energy research. As a practical matter my guess is the world will produce non fossil fuel power in the next 25 years at today s fossil fuel prices or it will fail with respect to global climate change. Third, there is a strong case for concerted carbon taxes to further discourage greenhouse gas emissions. But this is a follow-on step for after the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.
Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School
The only way to move towards a long-term reduction in emissions is if green energy becomes much cheaper. If it cost less than fossil fuels, everyone would switch, including the Chinese. This, of course, requires breakthroughs in green technologies and much more innovation.
At the Copenhagen Consensus on Climate (fixtheclimate.com), a panel of economists, including three Nobel laureates, found that the best long-term strategy to tackle global warming was to increase dramatically investment in green research and development. They suggested doing so 10-fold to $100bn a year globally. This would equal 0.2% of global GDP. Compare this to the EU’s climate policies, which cost $280 billion a year but reduce temperatures by a trivial 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.
Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University
Neither the developed nor the developing world will accept large reductions in their standard of living. As a result, the only solution to global climate change is innovations in green technology. A carbon tax will induce innovation as people demand a way to avoid the tax. A carbon tax, however, will be more politically acceptable if technologies to avoid the tax are in existence before the tax is put into place. Prizes for green innovations can blaze a path down a road that must be traveled, making the trip easier. The L-prize successfully induced innovation in LED technologies, the X-Prize put a spacecraft into near space twice within two weeks and Google’s Lunar X prize for putting a robot on the moon is close to being awarded. Prizes have proven their worth. To speed both the creation and diffusion of green technology, green prizes should be awarded at the rate of $100-$200 million annually.
Professor of Economics, George Mason University
This is a problem we are failing to solve. Keep in mind it is not just about getting the wealthy countries to switch to greener technologies, but we also desire that emerging economies will find green technology more profitable than dirty coal. A carbon tax is one way forward but the odds are that will not be enough and besides many countries are unlikely to adopt one anytime soon. Subsidies for technology could occur at a very basic level and we could make a gamble that nuclear fusion will finally pay off. We also need a version of green technology that will fit into existing energy infrastructures and into countries which do not have the most reliable institutions. The most likely scenario is that we will find out just how bad the climate change problem is slated to be.
There are further responses at the link.
Addendum: Ashok Rao adds comments.
The LA Times reports that Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner “raised warning flags” about the loan guarantee program for renewables long before the Solyndra bankruptcy. The article doesn’t have a lot of new information (the key players are clearly protecting themselves) but it does link to a fascinating briefing memo written for the President in October of 2010 by Summers, Ron Klain (then chief of staff to the Vice President), and energy advisor Carol Browner.
The memo says that OMB and Treasury were concerned about three problems, “double dipping” (massive government subsidies from multiple sources), lack of “skin in the game” from private investors and “non-incremental investment,” the funding of projects which would occur even without the loan guarantee.
The memo then illustrates with one such program, the Shepherds Flat Loan guarantee. Here is the relevant portion of the memo:
The Shepherds Flat loan guarantee illustrates some of the economic and public policy issues raised by OMB and Treasury. Shepherds Flat is an 845-megawatt wind farm proposed for Oregon. This $1.9 billion project would consist of 338 GE wind turbines manufactured in South Carolina and Florida and, upon completion; it would represent the largest wind farm in the country.
The sponsor’s equity is about 11% of the project costs, and would generate an estimated return on equity of 30%.
Double dipping: The total government subsidies are about $1.2 billion.
Federal 1603 grant (equal to 30% investment tax credit)
State tax credits
Accelerated depreciation on Federal and State taxes
Value of loan guarantee
Premium paid for power from state renewable electricity standard
Skin in the game: The government would provide a significant subsidy (65+%), while the sponsor would provide little skin in the game (equity about 10%).
Non-incremental investment: This project would likely move without the loan guarantee. The economics are favorable for wind investment given tax credits and state renewable energy standards. GE signaled through Hill staff that it considered going to the private market for financing out of frustration with the review process. The return on equity is high (30%) because of tax credits, grants, and selling power at above-market rates, which suggests that the alternative of private financing would not make the project financially non-viable.
Carbon reduction benefits: If this wind power displaced power generated from sources with the average California carbon intensity, it would result in about 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions through 2033. Carbon reductions would have to be valued at nearly $130 per ton CO2 for the climate benefits to equal the subsidies (more than 6 times the primary estimate used by the government in evaluating rules).
In my view, the Summers/Klain/Browner analysis was a damning indictment of the Shepherds Flat project. The taxpayers were expected to fund by far the largest share of the bills and also of the risk and in return they weren’t getting many benefits in terms of reduced pollution. In contrast, Caithness Energy and GE Energy Financial Services, the corporations behind the project, weren’t taking much risk but they stood to profit handsomely. I guess that is why they call it “green” energy.
In short, the Shepherds Flat project was corporate welfare masquerading under an environmental rainbow.
So are you surprised to learn that shortly after the memo was written the Shepherd Flats loan guarantee of $1.3 billion was approved? Of course not; no doubt you also saw that the memo authors were careful to inform the President that the “338 GE wind turbines” were to be “manufactured in South Carolina and Florida.” Corporate welfare meet politicized investment.
In the Solyndra case just about everything went wrong, including bankruptcy and possible malfeasance. Caithness Energy and GE Energy Financial Services are unlikely to go bankrupt and malfeasance is not at issue. As a result, this loan guarantee and the hundreds of millions of dollars in other subsidies that made this project possible are unlikely to create an uproar. Nevertheless, the real scandal is not what happens when everything goes wrong but how these programs work when everything goes right.
The authors show variance ratios of 1.11 to 1.21, I take a VR of 1.16. If we set the female variance to 1 this implies the standard deviation for female ability is 1 and for male ability 1.077. Using an online calculator for the Normal distribution you can find that given their standard deviation .0102% of males have ability of 4 or greater (4 female sds) but given their sd only .0032% of females can be expected to have the same level of ability, thus a gender ratio of 3.18.
Note that we are assuming that mathematical ability is normally distributed – we know the data fit this distribution around the mean but we don’t know much about what happens at the very top.
It has been extreme:
I know an unpopular economic policy when I see one. And the consensus among economists about the tax cuts and deregulations announced last week by UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is almost universally negative. Larry Summers noted: “I think Britain will be remembered for having pursued the worst macroeconomic policies of any major country in a long time.” Willem Buiter described it as “totally, totally nuts.” Paul Krugman is skeptical. As Jason Furman summed it up: “I’ve rarely seen an economic policy that is as uniformly panned by economic experts and financial markets.”
That is from my latest Bloomberg column. I certainly can see reasons why one might oppose the plan, but the skies are not going to fall:
I see no evidence that the markets are beginning to doubt the UK’s ability to repay its debts. The UK, and earlier Great Britain, has arguably the best debt repayment history of all time (though it did default on some of its debts to Italian lenders in the 13th century). It even repaid its extensive debts from the Napoleonic Wars, though they were more than 200% of GDP.
There are different ways you might measure the marginal cost of UK government borrowing, but I don’t see any measure where it is high and under many measures it is negative in real terms. Remember when people used to tell us this meant there was no major problem on the fiscal side?
I do criticize the Bank of England for not doing more to reign in inflation, plus the government should have coordinated better with the Bank. And don’t forget this:
The Truss plan offers many admirable deregulations, including an attempt to get the UK economy to build more residential structures, as it so badly needs. It is difficult to say now just how successful this plan will be, but it is definitely a step in the right direction, as are most of the other deregulations, including lifting the ban on onshore wind generators. By calling the Truss plan the worst thing ever, commentators make it unlikely that these ideas will get the approbation they deserve.
That is the topic of my Bloomberg column, here goes:
Critics of the policy see it as rewarding Democratic supporters and interest groups, including university faculty and administrators but most of all students. This perception, regardless of whether it’s true, will influence political behavior…
Republicans, when they hold political power, are likely to strike back. They may be more interested in draining the sector of revenue. The simplest way of doing this would be to limit tuition hikes in state universities. De facto tuition caps are already common, but they may become tighter and more explicit, especially in red and purple states. Such policies might also prove popular with voters, especially during a time of high inflation.
A second set of reforms might limit the ability of public universities to spend money on hiring more administrators, including people who work on so-called DEI issues. Given the fungibility of funds, and the ability of administrators to retitle new positions, such restrictions may not be entirely enforceable. Still, they would mean less autonomy for public universities as policy in many states tried to counteract their current leftward swing.
Another possible reform could tie funding for a school or major to the future earnings of graduates. That likely would penalize the humanities, which already tend to be one of the more politicized segments of the modern university…
Longer-term, a future Republican administration might decide to restructure the entire system of federal student loans. How about making student loans dischargeable through normal bankruptcy proceedings? That might sound like a pretty unremarkable idea to most voters, and many economists, including Larry Summers, favor it. It would also allow for some measure of debt relief without extending it to the solvent and the well-off.
Still, the long-term consequences of this reform would probably lead to a significant contraction of lending. Most enrolled students do not in fact finish college, and many of them end up with low net worth yet tens of thousands of dollars of debt. (By one estimate, the net worth of the median American below age 35 is $13,900.) So the incentives to declare bankruptcy could be relatively high. This would make federal student loans a more costly and less appealing proposition. Private lenders would be more wary as well. Higher education would likely contract.
The net effect of the president’s loan-forgiveness initiative — which is an executive order and thus does not have an enduring legislative majority behind it — could amount to a one-time benefit for students, no impact on rising educational costs, and the intensification of the culture wars over higher education.
Sad but true.
I can’t quite bring myself to call it the Inflation Reduction Act. One thing I have learned from experience is how hard it is to judge such bills upfront. For instance, I just learned that the electric vehicle tax credits do not currently apply to any electric vehicle whatsoever, nor will they obviously apply to any electric vehicle to be produced in the near future. Now the United States might take a larger role in battery production, or perhaps the law/regulation will be modified — don’t assume these standards will collapse. Still, the provisions are going to evolve. Or maybe there is a modest chance that provision of the bill simply will never kick in.
I don’t know.
How about the corporate minimum tax provisions? It sounds so simple to address unfairness in this way, and how much opposition will there be to a provision that might cover only 150 or so companies? But a lot of the incentives for new investment will be taken away, including new investment by highly successful companies. (You can get your tax bill down by making new investments, for instance, and that is why Amazon has paid relatively low taxes in many years.) Most of the companies covered are expected to be manufacturing, and didn’t we hear from the Democratic Party (and indeed many others) some while ago that manufacturing jobs possess special economic virtues? Furthermore, some of the tax incentives for green energy investments will be taken away. Has anyone done and published a cost-benefit analysis here? That is a serious question (comments are open!), not a rhetorical one.
Here are some other concerns (NYT):
“The evidence from the studies of outcomes around the Tax Reform Act of 1986 suggest that companies responded to such a policy by altering how they report financial accounting income — companies deferred more income into future years,” Michelle Hanlon, an accounting professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Senate Finance Committee last year. “This behavioral response poses serious risks for financial accounting and the capital markets.”
Other opponents of the new tax have expressed concerns that it would give more control over the U.S. tax base to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, an independent organization that sets accounting rules.
“The potential politicization of the F.A.S.B. will likely lead to lower-quality financial accounting standards and lower-quality financial accounting earnings,” Ms. Hanlon and Jeffrey L. Hoopes, a University of North Carolina professor, wrote in a letter to members of Congress last year that was signed by more than 260 accounting academics.
How bad is that? I do not know. Do you? My intuition is that the book profits concept cannot handle so much stress. By the way, kudos to NYT and Alan Rappeport for doing that piece. It is balanced but does not hold back on the skeptical side.
And here’s one matter I haven’t seen anyone mention: the climate part of the bill, and indeed most of the accompanying science and chips bill, assume in a big way that private sector investment is deficient in solving various social problems and needs some serious subsidy and direction.
Now the direction of that investment is a separate matter, but when it comes to the subsidy do you recall Kenneth Arrow’s classic argument that the private sector does not invest enough in risk-taking? Private investors see their private risk as higher than the actual social risk of the investment. This argument implies subsidies for investments, as much of the rest of the bill and its companion bill provide, not additional taxes on investment. This same kind of argument lies behind Operation Warp Speed, which most people supported, right?
And yet I see everyone presenting the new taxes on investment in an entirely blithe manner, ignoring the fact that the rest of the bill(s) implies private investment needs to be subsidized or at least taxed less.
Overall the ratio of mood affiliation and also politics in this discussion, to actual content, makes me nervous. The bills went through a good deal of uncertainty, and so a significant portion of the intelligentsia has been talking them up. Biden after all needs some victories, right? And at some point the green energy movement needs some major legislative trophies, right? What I’d like to see instead is a more open and frank discussion of the actual analytics.
It is very good when a top economist such as Larry Summers has real policy influence, in this case on Joe Manchin. But part of that equilibrium is that other economists start watching their words, knowing some other Democratic Senator might fall off the bandwagon. There is Sinema, Bernie Sanders has been making noise and complaining, someone else might have tried to extract some additional rents, and so on.
The net result is that you are not getting a very honest and open discussion of what is likely to prove a major piece of legislation.
However, since the first half of 2021, U.S. inflation has increasingly outpaced inflation in other developed countries. Estimates suggest that fiscal support measures designed to counteract the severity of the pandemic’s economic effect may have contributed to this divergence by raising inflation about 3 percentage points by the end of 2021.
That is from a recent San Francisco Fed piece by Òscar Jordà, Celeste Liu, Fernanda Nechio, and Fabián Rivera-Reyes.
I recall not so long ago when the overwhelming majority of Democratic-leaning economists on Twitter and elsewhere strongly favored the additional $2 trillion in stimulus. In the campaign, it was a kind of electorally defining policy of the Biden administration. I also recall that Larry Summers explained in very clear terms why this was the wrong policy, and hardly anyone listened. “Progressive catnip” is the phrase I use to describe such policy options. It involved “stimulus,” “sending people money,” and it “boosted demand,” all popular catchphrases of the moment. It was seen as part of a broader push simply to be sending people money all the time.
This has to count as one of the biggest economic policy failures of recent times, and we still are not taking seriously that it happened and what that implies for our collective epistemic capabilities moving forward.
2. “The first lunar dust collected by Neil Armstrong from the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 is headed to auction, with an estimated value of between US$800,000 and US$1.2 million.” Link here.
4. Ezra Klein and Larry Summers (NYT).
5. New and relatively rigorous study of social media and well-being. Small negative effects, highly dependent on age, somewhat dependent on gender. Evidence consistent with causality running in both directions. This is not a zero negative effect, stronger than usual for girls 12-14, and for men 26-29, but overall not consistent with the doomsaying accounts. Here is NYT coverage. Note this from the NYT: ““There’s been absolutely hundreds of these studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” said Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University who has conducted a meta-analysis of 226 such studies.”
5. Wayne Thiebaud, RIP, passed away at 101 (NYT).
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.