Monday, February 8, 2016

Sanders is Right: Why We Should Break Up the Big Banks

The presidential campaign has brought new attention to the problem of banks that are too big to fail (TBTF).

As everyone agrees, the largest banks are bigger than ever. As the following chart shows, the share of all bank assets held by the four largest banks rose from 33 percent in 2007 to 41 percent by 2015. Over the same period, the combined assets of the four largest banks, as a share of GDP, grew from 28 percent to 40 percent.

The major candidates disagree, not on whether the largest banks are too big to fail, but on what to do about it. Senator Bernie Sanders has made breaking up the banking giants a centerpiece of his campaign. Hillary Clinton favors a continuation of the regulatory approach embodied in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The GOP candidates favor an approach that combines deregulation with market discipline.

Sanders' anger at the banks seems to resonate well with voters, but influential voices in the media skeptical. The Editorial Board of the Washington Post has argued against breaking up the big banks. The New York Times has done likewise, prominently featuring an opinion piece written by Steve Eisman, a managing director of the investment firm Neuberger Berman. Politico also thinks breaking up the banks would be a bad idea.

I find the arguments of these critics unpersuasive. In what follows, I will examine the three approaches to dealing with the problem of TBTF and explain why I think Sanders is right to think that a reduction in the size and influence of the largest banks should be a part of any comprehensive plan to improve the stability of the financial system. >>>Read more

Friday, January 8, 2016

How to Facilitate a Liberal-Conservative Dialog on Climate Change

Can liberals and progressives talk to conservatives about climate change? Some on the left say, “No.” Theyhave the idea that it is a waste of time to bring conservatives into the discussion—conservatives have nothing to contribute, and they are all deniers anyway.
I disagree. Here is why I think discussion of the issue across political lines can be fruitful, if it is approached in the right way.

Why talk to conservatives about climate change?

The first reason for progressives to talk to conservatives, then, is that outright denial is out of fashion, at least if you believe data from surveys of public opinion. According to one recent poll, even among those who self-identify as conservative Republicans, some 54 percent believe that the earth is warming and that human activity is contributing to it. Only 9 percent of conservatives deny outright that climate change is happening.  As GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie has said, “Global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it. The question is what we do to deal with it.”
Instead of denial, what we now have is a debate over the magnitude of the human impact on global warming. Climate sensitivity is a key concept in this debate. Climate sensitivity means the amount by which global temperatures increase for each doubling of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. >>>Read more

Monday, January 4, 2016

Does Global Inequality Cause Climate Change or Vice-Versa? Analysis with Policy Implications

P151214-1Progressives see climate change and economic inequality as two of the big problems of our time. As the global aid organization Oxfam points out in a recent media briefing paper, “Extreme Carbon Inequality,” the two are “inextricably linked.” But just what is the nature of the linkage? Does inequality cause climate change? Does climate change cause inequality? Is there an inherent tradeoff between mitigation of climate change and reduction in global inequality, or is there a way to address both problems at once? These questions deserve a closer look.

Are the rich responsible for climate change?

The principal message of the Oxfam study is that that the rich are disproportionately responsible for climate change. As evidence, it supplies the following chart showing “lifestyle carbon emissions” by income class of global population. The report defines lifestyle emissions as those that arise from consumption of goods and services, with emissions from producing those goods attributed to the country in which consumption takes place, even if they are produced elsewhere.
The chart indicates that the poorest half of the global population is responsible for only 10 percent of total global emissions while nearly 50 percent can be attributed to the wealthiest 10 percent. The rich have average carbon footprints 11 times as high as the poorest half of the population, and 60 times as high as the poorest 10 percent.
I have no trouble with the proposition that wealthy consumers contribute more than proportionately to climate change, but to be fair, the Oxfam chart exaggerates that tendency, and in more than one way. >>>Read more

Monday, December 7, 2015

Parsing the Polls: Does US Public Opinion Realy Support a Strong Climate Policy?

The latest polls of US public opinion bring both good news and bad for the success of the COP21 climate talks now underway in Paris.

On the positive side, a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds that two-thirds of Americans think their country should join an international treaty requiring it to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming. That includes a slim majority of Republicans. When pollsters pointed out that such a treaty is likely to involve tradeoffs between stimulating the economy and protecting the environment, respondents favored protecting the environment by 54 to 34 percent.

Those numbers suggest the kind of strong public backing that US negotiators would need to achieve a treaty with real teeth in it. To most economists, whether conservative, progressive, or libertarian, “real teeth” can only mean carbon taxes or some other mechanism to subject frontline decision makers in households, businesses, and governments to the grinding, day-to-day pressure of market prices. Are you going to drive your Prius instead of your SUV to the store today? Are you going to serve a smaller steak for dinner? Are you going to diversify your giant energy company away from fossil fuels before it goes the way of Kodak? Probably not, if failing to act costs you nothing.

But before you get the your hopes up, let’s take a closer look at those opinion polls. US public support for strong action on climate change may be broad, but there are indications that it is also shallow and fragile. >>>Read more

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is the Federal Debt Out of Control? Here is Why it is Not

Note to Readers: Ed Dolan's Econ Blog is back, now that I have finished a time-consuming revision of my econ textbook (to be released soon). Thank you for your patience.
The GOP primary has become an orgy of fear mongering, and not just about immigrants and terrorists. The candidates regularly portray the federal debt, too, as a dire threat to America’s future. Some samples:
  • Marco Rubio: “We have a $19 trillion bipartisan debt and it continues to grow as we borrow money from countries that do not like us to pay for government we cannot afford. . . The time to act is now. The time to turn the page is now. If we — if we don’t act now, we are going to be the first generation in American history that leaves our children worse off than ourselves.”
  • Chris Christie: “We have $19 trillion in debt. . . And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? . . . Are you concerned like I am that the debt and deficits of Washington, D.C. are endangering America’s future?”
  • Mike Huckabee: “I do not want to walk my five grandkids through the charred remains of a once great country called America, and say, ‘Here you go, $20 trillion dollars of debt. Good luck making something out of this mess.’ ”
  • Rand Paul: “You know, I left my medical practice and ran for office because I was concerned about an $18 trillion debt. We borrow a million dollars a minute. Now, on the floor of the Congress, the Washington establishment from both parties puts forward a bill that will explode the deficit. It allows President Obama to borrow unlimited amounts of money. I will stand firm. I will spend every ounce of energy to stop it. I will begin tomorrow to filibuster it. And I ask everyone in America to call Congress tomorrow and say enough is enough; no more debt.”
An exploding debt certainly sounds scary, but are federal finances that far out of control? Not really. If we look at the numbers, we can see that the debt is far from the dire threat the Republican candidates make it out to be. >>>Read more

Follow this link to view or download a slideshow tutorial with additional examples and charts related to sustainability of the federal debt.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why Greece is More Like Argentina than Like Israel

Bernard Avishai, who teaches business at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, published an article in The New Yorker this week titled “Why Greece Needs the Euro.” A key part of his argument hinges on a comparison between Greece and Italy. In fact, Avishai has it backwards. A closer look at the Israeli experience shows that Greece does not need the euro. Here is why:

After considering the argument that Canada’s flexible exchange rate helped it recover rapidly from the global crisis of 2008, Avishai writes that “Israel is a more telling example than Canada, having suffered an economic crisis much like Greece’s, in the early eighties.” In response to the crisis, he explains, Prime Minister Simon Peres introduced a new shekel pegged to the dollar. “The Israeli government’s decision to keep the new shekel constant and to seek free access to American and European markets was the foundation of the entrepreneurial economy that emerged in Israel during the nineties,” he concludes.

A strange argument. What Avishai inexplicably fails to mention is that Israel quickly abandoned its fixed exchange rate as unsustainable. >>>Read more

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Trump Blames US Export Woes on Chinese Currency Manipulation. Really?

Donald Trump is surging in the GOP primary polls, partly on the basis of a carefully crafted reputation for telling it as it is. Even rival Ted Cruz thinks Trump is “teriffic” and “brash,” saying, “I think he tells the truth.” But when he comes to China’s exchange rate policy, he is about as far from the truth as he could get.

Last week Jake Tapper, host of  CNN's "State of the Union," interviewed Trump on a wide range of issues. It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to trade, jobs, and China. “You have to take the jobs back from China” before you can even begin to solve problems like the national debt and healthcare, Trump asserted.

Tapper slyly pointed to a Trump necktie he had put on for the occasion. “Isn’t it hypocritical of you to talk about this,” he asked, “while you’re manufacturing your clothes in China?”

“Not at all,” Trump replied. “A lot of them are made in China, because they've manipulated their currency to such a point that it's impossible for our companies to compete with them.”
So, does China really manipulate its currency? Can we blame China for the lack of American competitiveness? We’re going to hear a lot about Chinese currency manipulation before this presidential campaign is over, so it might be a good idea to do some fact checking right at the outset. >>>Read more