Blog - Views on the Economy and the World

Views on the Economy and the World

A blog by Jeffrey Frankel

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23 posts

The Fed and Inequality

| Oct. 28, 2016

Populist politicians, among others, have claimed in recent years that monetary policy is too easy and that it is hurting ordinary workers.   But raising interest rates is not the way to address income inequality.It is a strange claim for anyone to make, but especially for populists.  Low interest rates are good for debtors, of course, and bad for creditors. Throughout most of US history, populists have supported easy monetary policy and low interest rates, to help the little guy, against bankers, who had hard hearts and believed in hard money.

As the G-7 Leaders gather in Ise-Shima, Japan, on May 26-27, the still fragile global economy is on their minds.  They would like a road map to address stagnant growth. Their approach should be to talk less about currency wars and more about fiscal policy.Fiscal policy vs. monetary policyUnder the conditions that have prevailed in most major countries over the last ten years, we have reason to think that fiscal policy is a more powerful tool for affecting the level of economic activity, as compared to monetary policy.

The ITC Wednesday released its mandated report on the economic effects estimated to result from the TransPacific Partnership.  As is usual in standard trade models, the estimated welfare gains may sound small: on the order of ¼ % of income.  But that would still be way worth doing.    Furthermore the ITC study, by design, leaves out a lot.  For example, the Petri-Plummer study from the Peterson Institute estimates income gains from TPP that are twice as large, in part because it takes into account Melitz-style opportunities for  more productive firms to expand.

How should one evaluate the agreement reached in Paris December 12 by the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)?   Some avid environmentalists may have been disappointed in the outcome.  The reason is that the negotiators did not commit to limiting global warming to 1 ½ degrees centigrade by 2050, nor will the new agreement directly achieve the 2 degree limit.But such commitments would not have been credible.  What came out of Paris was in fact better, because the negotiators were able to agree on meaningful practical near-term steps.

The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) that was finally agreed among trade negotiators of 12 Pacific countries on October 5 came as a triumph over long odds.  Tremendous political obstacles, domestic and international, had to be overcome over the last five years.  Now each country has to decide whether to ratify the agreement.Many of the issues are commonly framed as “Left” versus “Right."  The unremitting hostility to the negotiations up until now from the Left – often in protest at being kept in the dark regarding the text of the agreement -- has carried two dangers.

World oil prices have been highly volatile during the last decade.   Over the past year they have fallen more than 50%.Should we root for prices to go up, down, or stay the same?   The economic effects of falling oil prices are negative overall for oil-exporting countries, of course, and positive for oil-importing countries.  The US is now surprisingly close to energy self-sufficiency, so that the macroeconomic effects roughly net out to zero.  But what about effects that are not directly economic?   If we care about environmental and other externalities, should we want oil prices to go up or down?  Up, because that will discourage oil consumption?  Or down because that will discourage oil production?The answer is that countries should seek to do both: lower the price paid to oil producers and raise the price paid by oil consumers.

The World Economy in 2015

| Dec. 28, 2014

I am posting in three parts the results of an interview on the year-end outlook.  (The questions come from Chosun Daily, leading Korean newspaper. The interview is to be published there January 1.)Part 1. The Global Economy in 2015Q: Around this time next year, which countries do you predict will be the winners, and which will be the losers of the year?A: The big gainers will be oil-importing economies, particularly China, India and other Asian countries.Russia will be the big loser. It has now become clear to all how fragile and vulnerable the Russian economy was, especially with respect to world oil prices.

Discussions in Beijing between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping – the leaders of the world’s two largest carbon-emitting countries – produced an unexpected, groundbreaking bilateral agreement on greenhouse-gas emissions. Under the new deal, the US is to reduce its emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels within 20 years, and China’s emissions are to peak by 2030. In the absence of a binding global agreement, such unilateral or bilateral commitments by countries to rein in their contribution to global warming represent the most realistic hope for addressing climate change.

My preceding blog post described how market-oriented mechanisms to address environmentally damaging emissions, particularly the cap-and-trade system for SO2 in the United States, have recently been overtaken by less efficient regulatory approaches such as renewables mandates.   One reason is that Republicans — who originally were supporters of cap-and-trade — turned against it, even demonized it.One can draw an interesting analogy between the evolution of Republican political attitudes toward market mechanisms in the area of federal environmental regulation and hostility to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Markets can fail.  But market mechanisms are often the best way for governments to address such failures.  This has been demonstrated in areas from air pollution to traffic congestion to spectrum allocation to cigarette consumption.    Markets for emission allowances - in which those firms that can cheaply cut pollution trade with those that cannot - achieve desired environmental goals at relatively low economic costs.   As of a decade ago, that long-standing economic proposition had become widely recognized and put into action.