34 Items

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

How China Compares Internationally in New GDP Figures

| May 31, 2020

The World Bank on May 19, as it does every six years, released the results of the most recent International Comparison Program (ICP), which measures price levels and GDPs across 176 countries.  The new results are striking.  It is surprising that they have received almost no attention so far, perhaps overshadowed by all things coronavirus.

For the first time, the ICP shows China’s total real income as slightly larger than the US.  It reports that China’s GDP was $19,617 billion in 2017, in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms, while the United States’ GDP stood at $19,519 billion.

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

History Warns Us to Avoid a W-shaped Recession

| May 03, 2020

“Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it.”  And the rest of us are condemned to repeat George Santayana.

Will the Coronavirus Recession of 2020 be V-shaped?  Or U-shaped?  If we fail to heed the lessons of history it is likely to be W-shaped, with incipient recovery followed by successive relapses into sickness and recession.

As has been widely noted, we would have been better prepared to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic in the first place if everyone had paid more attention to the past history of epidemics. Be that as it may, the world is now deep into the pandemic and its economic consequences, the most severe such events since the interwar period, 1918-1939.  As decision-makers in every country contemplate their next steps, they would do well to ponder the precedents of that interwar period.

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

Black Swans Like COVID-19 are Predictable

| Mar. 30, 2020

Events like the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the US housing crash of 2007-09, and the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, are called “black swans”: in each case, few people were able to predict them reliably, at least not with precision.  But they were known unknowns, not unknown unknowns.  That is, in each case, knowledgeable analysts were fully aware that such a thing could happen, even that it was likely to happen eventually.  They could not predict that the event would happen with high probability in any given year.  But the consequences of each of these events were severe, and predictably so.  Thus, policymakers should have listened to the warnings and should have taken steps in advance. They could have helped avert or mitigate disaster if they had done so.

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

Six Practical Proposals for Progressive Tax Policy

Jan. 02, 2020

It was quite a surprise, three years ago, when Donald Trump won a majority in the US Electoral College, thus becoming the 45th president.  In the search for explanations, one immediately dominated:  Democrats had not been sufficiently aware of the problem of income inequality or had neglected to propose good solutions to it.

This is presumably the logic behind radical proposals coming from some of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, has proposed an annual tax on the wealth of the wealthiest Americans (originally to be 2 % per year, but now up to 6 %).

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

Let’s Go Back to Good Old Tariff-Cutting

| Dec. 02, 2019

The “bicycle theory” used to be a metaphor for international trade policy.  Just as standing still on a bicycle is not an option — one has to keep moving forward or else the bike will fall over – so it was said that international trade negotiators must continue to engage in successive rounds of liberalization, or else the open global trading system would be pulled down by protectionist interests.  I don’t know if the theory was ever right.  (And, to be honest, I don’t entirely understand why forward movement keeps a bicycle from falling over.)  But if we had stood still on trade policy over the last three years we would be a lot better off than where we are now.

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

RMB Reaches 7.0; US Names China a Manipulator

| Aug. 12, 2019

The US-China trade war heated up in the first week of August.  On August 1, Donald Trump abruptly announced plans to impose a 10 % tariff on the remaining $300 billion of imports from China that he had not already hit with earlier tariffs.   The Chinese authorities then allowed their currency, the renminbi (RMB), to fall in value below the highly visible line of 7.0 RMB/$.  The US Administration promptly reacted on August 5 by naming China a “currency manipulator” — the first time any country had been given that designation in 25 years.   Pundits declared a currency war, while investors responded by immediately sending stock markets down.

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

Let’s Forget about 2% Inflation

| July 29, 2019

The Fed has some reasons for cutting interest rates at its meeting July 31, or subsequently if the US economy weakens. (And there are some good arguments on the other side as well, if growth remains as strong as it has been over the last year.)  But I find less persuasive one argument for easing: a perceived imperative to get inflation up to 2.0% or higher.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke set a 2% target for the US inflation rate in January 2012.  Some other countries had already done the same.  Japan followed suit a year later. Indeed Shinzo Abe’s successful accession to prime minister in late 2012 was predicated on the promise that monetary policy would raise inflation (Japan having previously suffered from negative inflation).

Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

Moore on Gold and Commodities

| May 01, 2019

A century ago, the gold standard was considered a guarantor of monetary stability.  That golden era is long-gone.  (If it ever really existed at all.  The general price level fell 53% in US and 45% in the UK during 1873-1896 due to a dearth of gold deposit discoveries.)

Continuing my thoughts on the Fed candidacy of Stephen Moore: he has said several times that he favors a return to gold.  In true Trumpian fashion, he recently denied having said it despite the clear video evidence.