Friday, October 18, 2013

Is the Recovery of the Baltic Economies a "Success Story for Austerity"? Lessons for US Fiscal Policy

While EU members along the shores of the Mediterranean struggle with a seemingly endless slump, others who dip their toes in the Baltic are making a strong comeback. As the following chart shows, real GDP growth in the Baltic 3—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—has recently run well above the euro area average. Meanwhile, the Med 4—Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal—continue their downward trajectories. Official forecasts call for their economies to bottom out in 2014, but predictions have been wrong before.

Some readers might object that this chart is misleading, since, to facilitate comparison, it shows output in all of the economies on a scale with 2004 equal to 100. Isn’t it simply the case that the Baltic countries are much poorer, and it is easier to grow from a low base? Besides, what is there to brag about when real GDP in the Baltic 3 hasn’t even gotten back to its pre-crisis peak? >>>Read more

Friday, October 11, 2013

What Should We Do About China's and Japan's Currency Manipulation?

Recently a bi-partisan group of 60 U.S. Senators made headlines with a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The letter urged him to add a clause to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement prohibiting currency manipulation. The Senators cited a Peterson Institute study that claimed currency manipulation had cost the United States 5 million jobs. Subsequent discussion of the issue focused on China and Japan as the biggest manipulators. How big is the threat? What should we do about it?

China’s traditional currency manipulation

There is no doubt that China is a currency manipulator in the traditional sense that it treats its exchange rate as an explicit goal of economic policy. It shares this distinction with other countries whose currency regimes are of the “fixed” or “managed float” varieties. We could quibble about which of these categories China belongs to. Its currency regime is less rigidly fixed than, say, the currency boards of Bulgaria and Hong Kong, but less flexible than the managed float of, say, Russia. Either way, as the following map shows, currency manipulators—the light green and blue countries—are clearly in the majority among the world’s economies.

What is at issue, then, is not whether China is a currency manipulator, but rather, how effective its manipulation is and whether and how that manipulation poses a threat to the United States. Over the past three years, I have written a series of posts [1] [2] [3] arguing that China’s currency manipulation has not been highly effective and that the harm done to the United States is often exaggerated. >>>Read more

Thursday, October 3, 2013

As We Move into Budget Chaos, Just How Bad is our Fiscal Policy?

Those of us who live in the United States woke Tuesday morning to a “partial government shutdown.” Partial means, roughly speaking, that air traffic controllers go to work but park rangers do not. The shutdown is the result of the failure of Congress to pass a budget—or in lieu of a budget, a continuing resolution—in time for the October 1 start of the 2014 fiscal year.

Even if the shutdown is resolved in the next few days, another round of chaos looms at mid-month, when Congress must authorize an increase in the debt ceiling in order for the government to continue making interest and principal payments on debts that the same Congress previously authorized the government to accumulate.

Many conservative Republicans say that measures like government shutdowns and debt-ceiling freezes are necessary because taxation and government spending are out of control and public debt is rapidly  becoming unsustainable. How much truth is there to those charges? Just how bad, really, is U.S. fiscal policy, and what should be done to fix it? >>>Read more