Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Inside View of the Mortgage Crisis

Important op-ed piece in today's WSJ by economist Charles Calomiris. I agree that Wall Street was at fault a lot in bringing about the financial crisis, but so was the government, especially through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Calomiris helps doucment this.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nobel Prize Announcement

The new Nobel prize winners in economics are Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims for work in macroeconomics. An article from the WSJ is here. Sims' work is primarily econometric as he helped develop and popularize Vector Auto Regression. Sargent's work links monetary policy and fiscal policy. He helped build the reputation of the University of Minnesota's economics department. The Nobel site will have further explanations of the work of both men that should be of interest.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Is Small Business the Engine of Growth?

It is common for politicians and others to say that small businesses account for most job creation. This is somewhat misleading though. Many small businesses go out of business after a year or two, so that they are also responsible for a lost of job loss. A new working paper by Erik Hurst and Benjamin Wild Pugsley suggests that small businesses are small and do not account for a lot of new employment. They note that most small business owners are not the entrepreneurs that provide the "creative destruction" Schumpeter wrote about. Instead, most small business owners do not bring a new idea to the market and do not have a desire to grow large. Instead, many are starting small construction firms, a legal practice or small retail store or restaurant. The motive is often being one's own boss rather than starting the next Apple Corporation.

Most small businesses have no paid employees. For the state of Michigan, over half of all business establishments have fewer than five employees. The Small Business Administration provides regulations that determine the size limits for "small" businesses. A table of these limits for industries can be found here. The limits are given in revenues for some industries and in number of employees for some. For example, establishments in mining have employee limits of 500, while those in transportation manufacturing have limits of 1,000 employees.

Simple explanations of the economy or job growth generally miss the mark. But politicians often look for simple explanations and simple solutions. Promoting small business will not solve the employment problem. A better solution is to provide an environment that supports business activity regardless of the size of the firm.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tyler Cowen on Taxes

In his Sunday New York Times column, Tyler Cowen challenges the "no new taxes" pledge many of the Republican candidates are stressing. It is a worthwhile column to read as he notes that no new taxes today, without spending cuts that are not going to happen, means a pledge to higher taxes in the future--at least if one is "fiscally conservative."

Back when the Reagan tax cuts were being discussed, I favored the cuts for two reasons. The first is that I thought the marginal tax rates were too high and discouraged investment while encouraging tax avoidance behavior. Second, lowering federal income would be the only way to lower government spending. I still think I was correct on the first point but not on the second point. Government tends to borrow when its income is reduced. Now, one of the points Cowen is making, is that eventually taxes will have to be raised. But we are still able to delay that because of the position of the US in the world economy. We are not Greece. But postponing deficit reduction is not a sustainable position. Fiscal conservatism consists of two major points--over time we must balance the [operating] budget, and the size of the federal government should be limited.