Monday, August 29, 2011

How Germany Free-Rides on the Euro

For years, I have warned my European students of the fiscal free-rider problem built into the structure of the euro area. My examples have always been fiscally undisciplined peripheral governments seeking political gain by running budget deficits at the expense of their euro partners. Now, though, as the debate unfolds over measures to cope with the European sovereign debt crisis, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Germany, the long-time locomotive of the euro, is also, in its own way, free-riding on the common currency.

The free-rider problem arises whenever someone is able to capture the full benefits of an action while shifting all or part of the the costs to others. I introduce the concept to my students with the example of ten friends eating dinner in a restaurant. If they know they will get separate checks at the end of the meal, they all order hamburgers and beer. If they know there will be one check, to be split equally among everyone at the table, they order steak and champagne.

In the case of  deficit-prone peripheral members of the euro, individual governments capture the full economic and political benefits of fiscal stimulus while shifting part of the costs to other euro members. This happens in two ways. Read more>>>

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Already Weak, US GDP Growth in Q2 2011 is Revised Downward

U.S. GDP growth for the second quarter of 2011 was revised downward to a 1 percent annual rate from the 1.3 percent advance estimate reported last month. The downward revision disappointed many observers. About 2.5 percent growth is generally considered necessary to keep unemployment from rising, when growth of the labor force is taken into account.

Although a recovery has been underway for two years, the level of U.S. real GDP has not yet reached its peak level of mid-2007, before the recession. When GDP finally reaches its previous peak, the economy will have been considered to make the transition from the recovery phase of the business cycle to the expansion phase.

About three-quarters of the growth of GDP was attributable to investment, mostly business fixed investment. Housing investment remained weak. Consumption grew by about 0.3 percentage points. The government sector contracted, with slight growth of federal government activity more than offset by falling state and local government purchases. Net exports barely edged up, with moderately strong export growth almost fully offset by growth of imports.

Follow this link to view or download a set of classroom-ready slides with graphical presentations of the latest GDP estimates.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Rick Perry's Position on Climate Change Makes Him a True Conservative

Rick Perry is a climate-change skeptic. Sure, he says, the world is getting warmer, but the climate has often changed. He doesn't buy in to the idea that human activity has an effect on the current warming trend. Friedrich Hayek would say that makes him a true conservative.
Hayek liked to view the political spectrum not as a left-to-right line with socialist and conservative poles, but as a triangle. Conservatives were at one corner, socialists at another, and liberals at the third. The terminology has changed a little since Hayek's time. Conservatives are still conservatives, but, at least in the United States, those on the left now prefer to identify themselves as progressives rather than socialists. Most of those who, in Hayek's time and before, called themselves liberals, today prefer to identify themselves as libertarians, or sometimes, classical liberals.
In a famous essay "Why I Am Not  Conservative," Hayek identified a number of characteristic tenets of conservatism, including:
  • Habitual resistance to change, hence the term “conservative."
  • A claim to self-arrogated superior wisdom in place of rational argument.
  • A propensity to reject scientific knowledge because of the consequences that seem to follow from it.
  • Use of state authority to protect established privileges against the forces of economic and social change.
All of these tenets feed into Perry's views on climate change. He resists any change to an American path of economic development based on cheap, carbon-intensive energy; a path economists sometimes call extensive as opposed to intensive growth. He proudly claims superiority of faith-based wisdom over rational argument. And, especially in the case of climate change, he is quick to reject scientific knowledge. Read more >>>

Monday, August 8, 2011

US Employment-Population Ratio Hits a New Low: Why It Matters for the Budget Debate

By and large, U.S. media have spun the July employment report as more positive than negative. The 117,000 new payroll jobs created last month and the upward revisions for May and June were a relief after two months of very bad data. The downtick in the unemployment rate, although slight, was also welcome. One indicator that rarely makes the headlines told a different story, however. The employment-population ratio fell to a new low of 58.1 percent. What does it mean? Why should we care?

We should care, because the sinking employment-population ratio has big implications for the budget debate. The cuts-only faction of budget balancers are demanding a cap on federal government spending at 18% of GDP. They tout that as a level we lived with happily in the past, and should therefore be happy to live with in the future. The trouble is, the future isn't going to be like the past. The smaller the fraction of the population that is working, the harder it becomes to put the country's fiscal affairs in order. That becomes even clearer if we take a closer look at the reasons the ratio is falling. Read More >>>

Friday, August 5, 2011

Data for the Classroom: US Labor Market Shows Slight Improvement in July

The U.S. labor market showed a slight improvement in July, if only in comparison to the very dismal June numbers.

The closely-watched figure for non-farm payroll employment showed a gain of 117,000 jobs. Private sector jobs increased across a broad range of sectors, but those gains were offset by continued declines in the state and local governments, which lost 37,000 jobs in the month. There was some good news in the form of an upward revision of very weak preliminary numbers reported earlier for May and June. May job gains were revised upward from 25,000 to 53,000 and June from 18,000 to 46,000.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Data for the Classroom: Weak Q2 GDP Growth, Downward Revisions

It is hard to find a good way to spin the latest US GDP data. The economy grew at an estimated 1.3% annual rate in Q2 2011. Although the January-March 2011 quarter was the 8th consecutive quarter of growth since the end of the recession that lasted from Dec 2007 to Jun 2009, the growth rate of 1.3% disappointed many observers. About 2.5% is needed to keep unemployment from rising, when increases in the labor force and productivity are taken into account.