Sunday, September 27, 2009
A market system relies on well-defined property rights. Traditionally, we have put more effort into maintaining clear lines of ownership on real property--land and the buildings on land. Market systems also rely on bankruptcy laws that allow property to move to higher valued uses. The mortgage market in recent years may be bringing these two needs into conflict. It will be interesting to see how other state courts handle things. MERS did not cause the housing markets around the country to overheat, but it did facilitate the process.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
When Posner says that, "There is no professional consensus on the details of what should be done to arrest the downturn," he is correct. But he seems to imply there should be a consensus. But macroeconomics is complex because the macroeconomy is complex. Polls of economists have consistently found economists to be more of one mind on micro issues than macro issues. But, even in micro issues, there can be substantial disagreements. To take Posner's area, law and economics, there is not a consensus on whether capital punishment deters murder. There are philosophical differences, theoretical differences, and empirical differences among people who have examined the issue. This does not imply that we should give up on law and economics or that we should go back to economic analysis of law that predates Coase or Posner's early work.
If you check out his blog, you can see that Posner is also experiencing the rabid rage of Krugman and Brad DeLong because he criticized a speech Christina Romer gave. As a lawyer and judge, he seems thick-skinned enough to deal with the criticism.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
George Stigler noted that economists don't have influence on politicians. As proof he offered tariffs. Almost all economists think tariffs are bad but tariffs are still ubiquitous. The chicken tax is a reminder that once a tax or tariff is imposed, it is difficult to get repealed.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
The essay I like best is buy William White, "Some Fires are Best Left to Burn Out." He raises the question of whether the constant effort at preventing any and all recessions from occurring or from continuing increases the ultimate cost of a later severe recession. He uses an analogy from fighting forest fires. Fires thin out undergrowth and rejuvenate the forest. If all forest fires are prevented or immediately put out, it leads to a larger more dangerous forest fire later. The focus tends to be on the short term and causes problems in the long term.
White's point is important. It is common to hear laments in the financial press about businesses being too concerned about the profits of the next quarter. This short-term emphasis comes at the expense of long-term planning and profitability. But the same tendency exists in the public sector. Every recession that has taken place since I have been a professional economist has been seen as requiring immediate action to stop and get the economy growing again. This has been true of recessions that turned out to be relatively short or mild. The Obama administration argued that the end was near and the stimulus package was needed to prevent a depression. Never mind the huge deficits; we have to fix things now! I am not arguing for or against the stimulus package at this point. I am just noting the similarity between the private and public sectors. But what if firms that focus on the next quarter end up reducing their long-term viability? And what if the government's efforts to forestall or prevent any economic downturn ensure that there will be eventually a severe downturn? White says, "Just as good forest management implies cutting away underbrush and selective tree-felling, we need to resist the credit-driven expansions that fuel asset bubbles and unsustainable spending patterns."
(Note: I did not link the opinion pieces from the Financial Times since a subscription is required to upload the articles.)
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The Wall Street Journal now has an article on estimates the states are reporting to the federal government about the number of jobs created or saved. The figures are much less than the estimates of the federal government.
Monday, September 14, 2009
On another topic, a blog that relates economics and theology that I find very good is Kruse Kronicle. He is providing a series of posts on key economic issues. The first dealt with scarcity, a concept accepted by economists but there are theologians who dispute that scarcity if a worthwhile starting point.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Paul Krugman offers a critique of modern macroeconomics in his essay, "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?" He cites a concern for mathematical elegance over truth and reliance on efficient marekt theory as reasons for economists missing the instability in markets. But similar arguments could be made about the Keynesianism that Krugman advocates. In its heyday, Keynesianism included elegant mathematical models that demonstrated marekts are inherently unstable, and had its own version of an efficiency theory, only it was government that was efficient; a wise and good government could "fine-tune" the economy through appropriate fiscal policy, ignoring how real-world governments actually operated. While financial markets do fall short of perfection, the progression of the "perfect storm" of events that generated the worst recession since the Great Depression--the global saving glut, low interest rates, securitization, and government policy supporting homeownership--cannot be blamed on "extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds."
Krugman pays no attention to the approximately twenty-year period of good macroeconomic performance known as the "Great Moderation." He also ignores "bubbles" that didn't lead to recessions. Something is at work besides irrational financial markets. The market system works well most of the time. Perhaps a key factor affecting whether a shock to the system or even 'irrational exuberance" leads to a serious recession is the level of buffer stocks held by households and firms. When savings exist and debt levels are not inordinately high, the economy adjusts to a shock. But when debt levels are high and savings low, the bursting of bubbles in houses and equities can turn into a severe recession. The crucial question now is whether taking on huge levels of government debt is the best way back to sustainable growth.
We don't know if the letter will be published or not.