Note: This post was originally published in August of 2010. It is being reposted today to support a lesson on fiscal policy in my year 2 IB Economics class.
In the seemingly endless and currently ongoing debate over the role of the government in the macroeconomy, there are two main camps: Those who think the governments of the developed economies have not done enough to get their economies out of recession, and those who think they have already done too much, and therefore need to start rolling back stimulus and reducing deficits.
At the heart of this debate are the two macroeconomic schools of thought, the Keynesian demand-side theories and the classical, supply-side theories. Two intellectuals have emerged in the last several years representing the two sides of the macroeconomic debate. On the demand-side, representing the Keynesian school of thought, is 2008 Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Representing the classical, supply-side school of thought is Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson. These two have squared off in many forums over the last three years, Krugman arguing for more and continued fiscal stimulus to prop up and increase demand in the economy, Ferguson arguing for smaller deficits, lower taxes and less government spending to increase private sector confidence and thereby supply in the economy.
During our long summer break the two squared off once again in the aftermath of a G20 meeting in which the governments of several major economies from Europe and North America announced plans to begin rolling back the stimulus spending they embarked on throughout 2008 and 2009. The reason for increased “austerity measures” (policies that reduce the budget deficit and slow the growth of national debt), argue global leaders, is to reduce the chances of more countries experiencing debt crises like that experienced in Greece this spring.
International investors realized earlier this year that Greece's budget deficits were a much larger percentage of its GDP than previously thought, and very quickly decided that Greek government bonds were an unsafe investment. Almost overnight the cost of borrowing in Greece shot up above 20%, bringing investment in the economy to a halt and forcing the government to cut its budget, leading to higher unemployment and reduced social benefits for the people of Greece. If investors were to look at the growing budget deficits in other developed countries and then suddenly lose faith in other government's ability to pay back their debts, then a similar crisis could occur in much larger economies, including the UK, Germany and the United States. Hence these country's apparent desire to begin reducing deficits and rolling back stimulus spending; measures that may just plunge these economies into an even deeper recession than that which they have experienced over the last two years.
The videos below show the leading intellectuals on both sides of the stimulus/austerity debate presenting their arguments. Below each video are discussion questions to help guide your understanding of their views. Watch the videos and respond to the discussion questions in the comment section below.
Deflation: a decrease in the general price level of goods and services of an economy. Sounds great, right? Lower prices mean the purchasing power of our income increases, making the “average” person richer! On the surface, it could be concluded that deflation may actually be a good thing. And in some cases, it is!
If prices of goods are falling because of major technological advances (think of the price of cell phones and laptop computers over the last 20 years) or because of massive improvements in the productivity of labor and capital (think of the price of manufactured consumer goods during the Industrial Revolution), then deflation could be considered a sign of healthy economic growth. Put in terms an IB or AP Economics student should understand, a fall in prices caused by an increase in a nation's aggregate supply is good, since it is accompanied by greater levels of employment and higher real incomes. But if the fall in prices is caused by a decline in spending in the economy (in other words, by a decrease in aggregate demand), the consequences can be catastrophic.
It just so happens that the United States, Great Britain, and my own home of Switzerland are all faced with demand-deficient deflation at this very moment. I'll allow the Economist to elaborate:
…With unemployment nearing 9% (in the United States), economic output is further below the economy’s potential than at any time since 1982. This gap is likely to widen. House prices are not part of America’s inflation index but their decline is forcing households to reduce debt , which could subdue economic growth for years. As workers compete for scarce jobs and firms underbid each other for sales, wages and prices will come under pressure.
So far, expectations of inflation remain stable: that sentiment is itself a welcome bulwark against deflation. But pay freezes and wage cuts may soon change people’s minds. In one poll, more than a third of respondents said they or someone in their household had suffered a cut in pay or hours…
Does this matter? If prices are falling because of advancing productivity, as at the end of the 19th century, it is a sign of progress, not economic collapse. Today, though, deflation is more likely to resemble the malign 1930s sort than that earlier benign variety, because demand is weak and households and firms are burdened by debt. In deflation the nominal value of debts remains fixed even as nominal wages, prices and profits fall. Real debt burdens therefore rise, causing borrowers to cut spending to service their debts or to default. That undermines the financial system and deepens the recession.
From 1929 to 1933 prices fell by 27%. This time central banks are on the case. In America, Britain, Japan and Switzerland they have pushed short-term interest rates to, or close to, zero…
…inflation is easier to put right than deflation. A central bank can raise interest rates as high as it wants to suppress inflation, but it cannot cut nominal rates below zero… In the worst case, rising debts and defaults depress growth, poisoning the economy by deepening deflation and pressing real interest rates higher….Given the choice, erring on the side of inflation would be less catastrophic than erring on the side of deflation.
Deflation poses several threats to an economy that is otherwise fundamentally healthy, such as the United States'. What are some the threats posed by deflation?
The expectation of future deflation can have as equally devastating effect. Why is this?
What evidence does the article put forth that an economy experiencing deflation may eventually “self-correct”, meaning return to the full employment level of output in the long-run?
Why don't governments and central banks just sit back and let the economy self-correct? In other words, why are fiscal and monetary policies being used so aggressively by the US, Great Britain and Switzerland during this economic crisis?
Deflation or Inflation:Watch the video below, see if gives you any clues as to the causes and effects of deflation. What do you think John Maynard Keynes would say in response to the deflationary fears expressed in the Economist article?
The most important graph used in Macroeconomics today is almost certainly the Aggregate Demand / Aggregate Supply (AD/AS) model. This graph can be used to illustrate most macroeconomic indicators, including those objectives that policymakers are most interested in achieving:
The AD/AS model, on its surface, is a very simple diagram, showing the total, or aggregate demand for a nation's output and the total, or aggregatesupply of goods and services produces in a nation. It is very similar to the microeconomics supply and demand diagram, except that instead of comparing the quantity of a particular good to the price in the market, the AD/AS model plots the national output (Y) against the average price level (PL). The model shows an inverse relationship between aggregate and price level, and a direct relationship between aggregate supply and price levels.
What makes this seemingly simple model so interesting, however, is that there are two wildly different opinions among economists on one of the its two primary components. Some economists, whom we shall refer to as Keynesians, believe that the AS curve is horizontal whenever aggregate demand decreases, and vertical whenever AD increases beyond the full employment level of output. On the other side of this debate is whom we shall refer to as the Hayekians who believe that AS is vertical, regardless of the level of demand in the nation. The two views of AS can be illustrated as follows.
Underlying the two models above are very different ideas about a nation's economy. The Keynesian AS curve implies that anything that leads to a fall in a nation's aggregate demand (either household consumption, investment by firms, government spending or net exports) will cause a relatively mild fall in prices in the economy but a significant decline in the real GDP (or the total output and employment in the nation). The neo-classical AS curve, on the other hand, being vertical (or perfectly inelastic), implies that no matter what happens to AD, the nation's output and employment will always remain at the full employment level (Yfe).
Behind these two models of AS are two schools of economic thought, one rooted in Keynesian theories and one rooted in the theories of an intellectual rival and contemporary of John Maynard Keynes', Friedrich Hayek. Keynes and Hayek were the most pre-eminent economists of their era. Both lived in the first half of the 20th century, and rose to prominence in between the two World Wars. Both economists saw the world fall into the Great Depression, but each of them formulated their own distinct theory on the best way to deal with the Depression. The episode of Planet Money below goes into some detail about the lives and the theories of these to most influential economists.
Keynes believed in what we today call demand-management. The idea that through well planned economic policies, governments and central banks could intervene in a nation's economy during periods of economic downturn to return the economy to its full-employment level, or the level of output the nation would be producing at if everyone who was willing and able to work was actually working. Keynes believed that aggregate demand was the most vital measure of economic activity in a nation, and that through its use of fiscal and monetary policies (changes in the tax rates, the levels of government spending, and the interest rates in the economy), the government and central bank could provide stimulus to a depressed economy and create demand for the nation's resources that would help move a depressed economy back towards full employment.
Hayek and his disciples, on the other hand (sometimes referred to today as the supply-siders) had a different interpretation of the macroeconomy. Hayek was what many today refer to as a libertarian. He believed that the government's best strategy for handling an economic downturn was to get out of the way. Any attempt by the government to influence the allocation of resources through “stimulus projects” would only reduce the private sector's ability to quickly and efficienty correct itself. The free market, argued Hayek, was always superior to the government when it came to allocating resources towards the production of the goods and services consumers demanded, so why allow government to intervene in the economy at all. All a government should do, argued Hayek, was provide a few basic guidelines to allow the economy to function. A legal system of property rights, for instance. The government need not provide anything else. The free market would take care of health care, education, defense, security, infrastructure, and anything else the market demanded.
During depressions, Hayek believed that government could only make things worse by trying to intervene to restore full employment. At any and all times, government's best action would be to lower taxes, reduce its spending on goods and services, and thereby encourage private entrepreneurs to provide the nation's households with the output they demand. Any regulation of the private sector, including minimum wages, environmental regulations, workplace safety laws, government pensions, unemployment benefits, welfare payments, or any other measures by government to redistribute wealth or promote equality or social welfare would reduce incentives for individuals in society to achieve their full productivity and strive to maximize their potential output. By minimizing the government's role in the economy, argued Hayek, a nation would be likely to recover swiftly from a 1930′s style Depression, and output can be maintained at a level that corresponds with full employment of the nation's resources.
The graphs below show how the two competing ideologies view the effects of a fall in aggregate demand in the economy.
On the left we see the Keynesian model, which shows output (real GDP) falling with a fall in AD. The fall in output corresponds with a fall in employment, and therefore a recession (or Depression). To return to full employment, aggregate demand must move back to the right (or increase). To facilitate this, Keynes and his contemporaries believed that government should increase its spending, decrease taxes (to encourage households and firms to spend) and lower interest rates (to make saving less appealing). All that is needed, say the Keynesians, is a dose of stimulus to get back to full employment (Yfe).
In the Hayekian model, no government intervention is needed at all when aggregate demand falls. In fact, in an economy with very limited government, a fall in AD will have little or no effect on output and employment. Without minimum wages or laws making it difficult or expensive for firms to reduce wages or fire and hire workers, firms faced with falling demand will simply lower their employees' wages and reduce the prices of their products to maintain their output. If there is no more demand for some products, those firms will shut down and their workers will go to work for firms whose products are still in demand, at whatever wage rate the market is offering. Wages and prices are perfectly flexible in the Hayekian view, because there is no government interfering, demanding workers for big government projects, competing wages up, enforcing a minimum wage, or paying unemployment benefits to those out of work: all policies that make it difficult for wages to adjust downwards during a recession. Without government intervention, wages and prices rise and fall with the level of demand in the economy, but output remains constant at its full employment level.
The two models could not be more different. In one (Keynes') recessions will occur anytime demand falls below the level needed to maintain full employment. In the other (Hayek's), recessions are impossible as long as government gets out (and stays out) of the way.
Which models is the right model? For most of the last 100 years, most Western economies have demonstrated more of the characteristics of the Keynesian model. As the last several years show, recessions certainly are possible. Wages and prices have NOT fallen as much as Hayek's model suggest they should, and economic output has declined in many Western nations and remains below the levels achieved in 2007 in many places. Most economists would argue that this prolonged recession is likely due to a weak level of aggregate demand. And the economic policies of many Western nations have reflected the Keynesian belief that government can “fix the problem” through stimulus plans involving tax cuts, spending increases, and low interest rates.
But two years of Keynesian policies are now being reversed. US President Obama's latest attempt at a Keynesian-style stimulus (his $447 billion “American Jobs Act”) has been rejected by the US Congress. Across Europe, government spending is being slashed and taxes are being raised, both policies that threaten to further reduce aggregate demand. Deregulation is the battle cry of the Republican Party in the United States one year before the next presidential election. Presidential candidates are promising to “cut taxes, cut spending and cut government”, which sounds like a Hayekian battle cry. Less government will lead to more competition, greater efficiency, more employment and a stronger economy, goes the thinking. Government cannot solve our problems, government is our problem.
This debate is not a new one. It has been going on since the 1930s when two scholars, one an Englishman from Cambridge, the other an Austrian at the London School of Economics, went toe to toe on the role of government in a nation's economy. The two models of aggregate supply above survive to this day, and 80 years later, in the midst of what may be the second Great Depression, economists and politicians still haven't figured out which theory is correct. Part of our problem is that in our Western democracies in which economic policies are determined by politicians who are often only in office for two to four years, we have not had the opportunity to truly put either economic theory to the test. Less than three years ago Barack Obama, freshly elected, embarked on the greatest experiment in Keynesianism since Franklin Roosevelt's “New Deal”, which was widely credited with getting the US out of the Depression. Now, with another election looming, we have politicians promising to bring America back to economic prosperity in a truly Hayekian fashion, by “cutting, cutting and cutting”.
Directions: Macroeconomics is an area of study with precise goals attached to it. Macroeconomists generally agree that there are three primary goals towards which policies should be used to try and achieve:
Understanding the indicators used in macroeconomics to measure the success in these three areas is important. In the activity that follows, you will research, define, and explain the various types of inflation, unemployment and economic growth. You will also research and record examples of these indicators from several countries. Finally, you will investigate your OWN country, and determine what precisely makes up the total amount of economic activity in your country.
Part 1: Using your notes and your textbook (Welker's chapters 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15), answer the following questions. Most of the country data you are asked to find can be found in the CIA World Factbook.
Define and explain the various types of each of the following:
Define inflation[2 marks]
Type 1 [1 mark]:
Type 2 [1 mark]:
Research and identify the current inflation rates in [3 marks]:
Define unemployment [2 marks]
Type 1 [1 mark]:
Type 2 [1 mark]:
Type 3 [1 mark]:
Research and identify the current unemployment rates in [3 marks]:
In the last two weeks, both my countries, America and Switzerland, have put forward stimulus packages aimed at helping their economies avoid entering a second recession. The US American Jobs Act, announced by President Obama to the US people two weeks ago today, will provide relief to American businesses and households mostly in the form of tax cuts. Some new spending on infrastructure, primarily schools and transportation, is provided, as is continued relief for unemployed Americans.
The chart below shows how the American Jobs Act plans to spend the proposed $447 billion.
Clearly, the largest single category of spending proposed by the AJA is in the form of tax cuts for American households and firms (a combined 54.8% of the total). The purpose of tax cuts, of course, is to provide households with more disposable income with the hope that household consumption will increase, thereby increasing demand for goods, services, and ultimately labor, which would bring down unemployment. Businesses will also enjoy a cut in the taxes they pay when employing workers, so the costs to firms that hire new workers will be lower if the bill is passed. Extending benefits to workers who are already unemployed makes up a relatively small component of the American stimulus plan, while infrastructure and education spending, both which contribute to the long-run growth potential of the US economy, make up less than a third of the $447 billion package.
Let's now look at the Swiss stimulus package, approved by the Swiss parliament today following a debate that lasted just seven hours. (For comparison, the American Jobs Act will require months of deliberation and when it is ultimately passed will likely have been completely modified by the American congress). The chart below shows where the $950 million of spending announced by Switzerland will be spent.
The biggest difference, as can be seen, is that a full 57.5% of the Swiss stimulus comes as relief for unemployed Swiss workers, compared to just 14% of America's package. The 24.4% spent on research and development will go towards “a research and innovation programme, helping to translate ideas into successful business plans.” The subsidies for Switzerland's tourist industry will come in the form of low-interest loans to businesses in the hotel and travel industry, which has been adversely affected by the recent appreciation of the Swiss franc, which has reduced tourism in Switzerland as Europeans and others have found it more expensive to travel to the country in recent months. Tourism is one of the largest sectors in the Swiss job market, so the spending on unemployment benefits will bring direct relief to individuals affected by that industry.
To compare the two country's stimulus packages (America's is only in the proposal stage, while Switzerland's has been approved and will begin being implemented soon), is a study in two different economic philosophies. One major difference is the obvious lack of tax cuts in the Swiss plan. Such cuts were proposed by the conservative party in Switzerland, but the country's finance minister, supported by the center-left party, argued that “tax policy should not be shaped by the current monetary situation.” She is referring to the fact that Switzerland's stimulus in needed in response to the strong Swiss franc, not due to any underlying problems in the Swiss economy. The Swiss plan targets relief directly at those industries affected by the strong currency, tourism and high skilled manufacturing, which stands to benefit from increased spending on R&D.
The US plan, on the other hand, includes over $240 billion (almost 55% of the total) in tax cuts, which while they do increase households' disposable incomes, do very little to guarantee an increase in total spending in the economy. The last two rounds of stimulus in the United States, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the 2008 tax rebate program under George W. Bush, both included significant tax cuts to Americans (all of the Bush stimulus was a tax refund). Neither of these packages produced much growth for the United States, although the ARRA likely prevented unemployment from rising higher than it would have without a stimulus.
Switzerland's plan includes no tax cuts, instead it offers direct support to particular industries in the form of government spending, and helps unemployed workers continue to spend and contribute to aggregate demand by maintaining their incomes during their period of unemployment. Switzerland's stimulus, it could be argued, is more of a demand-side fiscal stimulus than America's, which, due to its large tax cuts, places more of the responsibility for increased aggregate demand on the private sector. However, the 31% of the American plan that goes towards school and transportation infrastructure, and the 14% that goes towards continued unemployment benefits, should have positive demand-side effects, and should help increse employment and output in America if the bill is passed.
What is meant by the claim that Switzerland's stimulus package is more of a demand-side policy than the United States'? How will the various types of spending in the Swiss plan contribute to the country's aggregate demand?
Another difference between the two plans is how they will be paid for. In Switzerland, “the money is to be taken from an expected 2011 budget surplus,” while the US budget for 2012 is expected to have a deficit of around 10% of the country's GDP. How does the budget situation in the two country's impact the ability to use fiscal expansionary fiscal policy to promote the macroeconomic objective of full employment?
Which is more likely to have a direct expansionary effect on aggregate demand, tax cuts of a certain size or government spending of the same size? Explain your answer.
As yet another school year begins, we once again find ourselves returning to an atmosphere of economic uncertainty, sluggish growth, and heated debate over how to return the economies of the United States and Europe back onto a growth trajectory. In the last couple of weeks alone the US government has barely avoided a default on its national debt, ratings agencies have downgraded US government bonds, global stock markets have tumbled, confidence in the Eurozone has been pummeled over fears of larger than expected deficits in Italy and Greece, and the US dollar has reached historic lows against currencies such as the Swiss Franc and the Japanese Yen.
What are we to make of all this turmoil? I will not pretend I can offer a clear explanation to all this chaos, but I can offer here a little summary of the big debate over one of the issues above: the debate over the US national debt and what the US should be doing right now to assure future economic and financial stability.
There are basically two sides to this debate, one we will refer to as the “demand-side” and one we will call the “supply-side”. On the demand-side you have economists like Paul Krugman, and in Washington the left wing of the Democratic party, who believe that America's biggest problem is a lack of aggregate demand.
Supply-siders, on the other hand, are worried more about the US national debt, which currently stands around 98% of US GDP, and the budget deficit, which this year is around $1.5 trillion, or 10% of GDP. Every dollar spent by the US government beyond what it collects in taxes, argue the supply-siders, must be borrowed, and the cost of borrowing is the interest the government (i.e. taxpayers) have to pay to those buying government bonds. The larger the deficit, the larger the debt burden and the more that must be paid in interest on this debt. Furthermore, increased debt leads to greater uncertainty about the future and the expectation that taxes will have to be raised sometime down the road, thus creating an environment in which firms and households will postpone spending, prolonging the period of economic slump.
The demand-siders, however, believe that debt is only a problem if it grows more rapidly than national income, and in the US right now income growth is almost zero, meaning that the growing debt will pose a greater threat over time due to the slow growth in income. Think of it this way, if I owe you $98 and I only earn $100, then that $98 is a BIG DEAL. But if my income increases to $110 and my debt grows to $100, that is not as big a deal. Yes, I owe you more money, but I am also earning more money, so the debt burden has actually decreased.
In order to get US income to grow, say the demand-siders, continued fiscal and monetary stimulus are needed. With the debt deal struck two weeks ago, however, the US government has vowed to slash future spending by $2.4 trillion, effectively doing the opposite of what the demand-siders would like to see happen, pursuing fiscal contraction rather than expansion. As government spending grows less in the future than it otherwise would have, employment will fall and incomes will grow more slowly, or worse, the US will enter a second recession, meaning even lower incomes in the future, causing a the debt burden to grow.
Now let's consider the supply-side argument. The supply-siders argue that America's biggest problem is not the lack of demand, rather it is the debt itself. Every borrowed dollar spent by the goverment, say the supply-siders, is a dollar taken out of the private sector's pocket. As government spending continues to grow faster than tax receipts, the government must borrow more and more from the private sector, and in order to attract lenders, interest on government bonds must be raised. Higher interest paid on government debt leads to a flow of funds into the public sector and away from the private sector, causing borrowing costs to rise for everyone else. In IB and AP Economics, this phenomenon is known as the crowding-out effect: Public sector borrowing crowds out private sector investment, slowing growth and leading to less overall demand in the economy.
Additionally, argue the supply-siders, the increase in debt required for further stimulus will only lead to the expectation among households and firms of future increases in tax rates, which will be necessary to pay down the higher level of debt sometime in the future. The expectation of future tax hikes will be enough to discourage current consumption and investment, so despite the increase in government spending now, the fall in private sector confidence will mean less investment and consumption, so aggregate demand may not even grow if we do borrow and spend today!
This debate is not a new one. The demand-side / supply-side battle has raged for nearly a century, going back to the Great Depression when the prevailing economic view was that the cause of the global economic crisis was unbalanced budgets and too much foreign competition. In the early 30′s governments around the world cut spending, raised taxes and erected new barriers to trade in order to try and fix their economic woes. The result was a deepening of the depression and a lost decade of economic activity, culminating in a World War that led to a massive increase in demand and a return to full employment. Let's hope that this time around the same won't be necessary to end our global economic woes.
Recently, CNN's Fareed Zakaria had two of the leading voices in this economic debate on his show to share their views on what is needed to bring the US and the world out of its economic slump. Princeton's Paul Krugman, a proud Keynesian, spoke for the demand-side, while Harvard's Kenneth Rogoff represented the supply-side. Watch the interview below (up to 24:40), read my notes summarizing the two side's arguments, and answer the questions that follow.
Summary of Krugman's argument:
Despite the downgrade by Standard & Poor's (a ratings agency) there appears to be strong demand for US government bonds right now, meaning really low borrowing costs (interest rates) for the US government.
This means investors are not afraid of what S&P is telling them to be afraid of, and are more than happy to lend money to the US government at low interest rates.
Investors are fleeing from equities (stocks in companies), and buying US bonds because US debt is the safest asset out there. The market is saying that the downgrade may lead to more contractionary policies, hurting the real economy. Investors are afraid of contractionary fiscal policy, so are sending a message to Washington that it should spend more now.
The really scary thing is the prospect of another Great Depression.
Can fiscal stimulus succeed in an environment of large amounts of debt held by the private sector? YES, says Krugman, the government can sustain spending to maintain employment and output, which leads to income growth and makes it easier for the private sector to pay down their debt.
With 9% unemployment and historically high levels of long-term unemployment, we should be addressing the employment problem first. We should throw everything we can at increasing employment and incomes.
Is there some upper limit to the national debt? Krugman says the deficit and debt are high, but we must consider costs versus benefits: The US can borrow money and repay in constant dollars (inflation adjusted) less than it borrowed. There must be projects the federal government could undertake with at least a constant rate of return that could get workers employed. If the world wants to buy US bonds, let's borrow now and invest for the future!
If we discovered that space aliens were about to attack and we needed a massive military buildup to protect ourselves from invasion, inflation and budget deficits would be a secondary concern to that and the recession would be over in 18 months.
We have so many hypothetical risks (inflation, bond market panic, crowding out, etc…) that we are afraid to tackle the actual challenge that is happening (unemployment, deflation, etc..) and we are destroying a lot of lives to protect ourselves from these “phantom threats”.
The thing that's holding us back right now in the US is private sector debt. Yes we won't have a self-sustaining recovery until private sector debt comes down, at least relative to incomes. Therefore we need policies that make income grow, which will reduce the burden of private debt.
The idea that we cannot do anything to grow until private debt comes down on its own is flawed… increase income, decrease debt burden!
Things that we have no evidence for that are supposed to be dangerous are not a good reason not to pursue income growth policies.
When it comes down to it, there just isn't enough spending in the economy!
Summary of Rogoff's argument:
The downgrade was well justified, and the reason for the demand for treasuries is that they look good compared to the other options right now.
There is a panic going on as investors adjust to lower growth expectations, due to lack of leadership in the US and Europe.
This is not a classical recession, rather a “Great Contraction”: Recessions are periodic, but a financial crisis like this is unusual, this is the 2nd Great Contraction since the Depresssion. It's not output and employment, but credit and housing which are contracting, due to the “debt overhang”.
If you look at a contraction, it can take up to 4 or 5 years just to get back where you started.
This is not a double dip recession, because we never left the first one.
Rogoff thinks continued fiscal stimulus would worsen the debt overhang because it leads to the expectation of future tax increases, thus causing firms and households increased uncertainty and reduces future growth.
If we used our credit to help facilitate a plan to bring down the mortgage debt (debt held by the private sector), Rogoff would consider that a better option than spending on employment and output. Fix the debt problem, and spending will resume.
Rogoff thinks we should not assume that interest rates of US debt will last indefinitely. Infrastructure spending, if well spent, is great, but he is suspicious whether the government is able to target its spending so efficiently to make borrowing the money worthwhile.
Rogoff thinks if government invests in productive projects, stimulus is a good idea, but “digging ditches” will not fix the economy.
Until we get the debt levels down, we cannot get back to robust growth.
It's because of the government's debt that the private sector is worried about where the country's going. If we increase the debt to finance more stimulus, there will be more uncertainty, higher interest rates, possibly inflation, and prolonged stagnation in output and incomes.
When it comes down to it, there is just too much debt in the economy!
What is the fundamental difference between the two arguments being debated above? Both agree that the national debt is a problem, but where do the two economists differ on how to deal with the debt?
The issues of “digging ditches and filling them in” comes up in the discussion. What is the context of this metaphor? What are the two economists views on the effectiveness of such projects?
Following the debate, Fareed Zakaria talks about the reaction in China to S&P's downgrade of US debt. What does he think about the popular demands in China for the government to pull out of the market for US government bonds?
Explain what Zakaria means when he describes the relationship between the US and China as “Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)”.
Should the US government pursue a second stimulus and directly try to stimulate employment and income? Or should it continue down the path to austerity, cutting government programs to try and balance its budget?
Introduction: The two models below represent two very different views of a nation's aggregate supply curve. The theories behind the two models represent the ideas about the macroeconomy of two economists, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek.
Instructions: The videos introducing Keynes' and Hayek's theories can be found here: “Commanding Heights: the Battle for Ideas”. We will watch them in class, but if you need to review them you may watch them again from home. Once you've watched the videos and read chapter 17 from your Course Companion, answer the questions that follow each of the two models below.
The vertical AS curve above is sometimes referred to as the “flexible-wage and flexible-price” model of the macroeconomy. Why must wages and prices be perfectly flexible for this model to be an accurate representation of a nation's economy.
Hayek was an advocate for free markets, he felt that government intervention in a nation's economy would only interfere and disrupt the efficient allocation of resources. How does the model above reflect his belief that governments cannot improve a nation's level of output beyond what the free market is able to achieve?
Do you believe that the classical model of aggregate supply is representative of the real world? Why or why not? What evidence is there from recent history that the model is or is not accurate?
Figure 2: The Keynesian AD/AS model
Based on the model above, which level of aggregate demand corresponds with the macroeconomic goals of “full-employment and stable
Changes in which factors could cause aggregate demand to shift from AD2 to AD3? If AD falls to AD3, what happens to the price level in the economy? What happens to the level of output of goods and services? What happens to employment and unemployment?
Sometimes the Keynesian AS model is known as the “sticky-wage and sticky-price model”. How does the model reflect the idea that wages are downwardly inflexible, in other words, will not fall even if demand for goods and services fall? For what reasons might wages in an economy be downwardly inflexible (in other words, not fall even as total demand in the economy falls)?
How realistic is the Keynsian model of aggregate supply in the real world?
Can you point to any evidence from the last few years that it might be correct (in other words, that a fall in AD will lead to decrease in national output?) Find data on the GDP's of two Western European countries from 2008 and 2009 to support your findings.
Can you point to any evidence from the last few years that the model might be flawed (in other words, that a fall in AD actually does lead to a fall in the price level)? Find data on inflation in the same two Western European countries to examine whether or not wages and prices are completely inflexible downwards as the model suggests.
Figure 3: Our IB Economics AD/AS model
The diagram above represents a compromise between the classical AD/AS model and the Keynesian AD/AS model. This graph is the one we will use throughout the IB and AP Economics course when illustrating a nation's macroeconomy. Answer the questions that follow about the diagram.
How does the above model represent a compromise between Keynes' and Hayek's view of aggregate supply?
Why are there two aggregate supply curves? What is the difference between the two?
What happens in the SHORT-RUN when AD falls from AD2 to AD3 to the price level and output? What will happen in the long-run? In macroeconomics, the short-run is known as the “fixed-wage period” and the long-run the “flexible-wage period”. The main factor that can shift the SRAS curve is the level of wages in the economy (in other words, a change in wages will shift the SRAS). How does this help explain the adjustment from the short-run equilibrium and the long-run equilibrium following a fall in AD?
What happens in the SHORT-RUN when AD increases from AD2 to AD1? What will happen in the long-run? How does the long-run flexibility of wages explain why output always seems to return to its full employment level of output in the long-run?
What does the model above indicate about the possible need for government intervention to help an economy achieve its macroeconomic goals of full-employment and price level stability in the short-run?
Supply-side economics, advocated by most Republican politicians, including presidential candidate John McCain, places great emphasis on the idea that investment is the main engine of economic growth, price level stability, and low unemployment. To encourage firms to invest, government should play a minimal role in the economy; taxes should be sufficiently low to incentivize firms to invest, while at the same time government spending should be reduced to avoid crowding-out of private investment.
Without a healthy level of investment, a country's capital stock wears out and is not replaced, raising costs of production and shifting short-run (and maybe even long-run) aggregate supply leftward. If investment remains sufficiently low, over time an economy's output could even begin to shrink.
In the article below, The Economist's Free Exchange explores the relationship between tax rates and long-run economic growth. The Economist takes the position of “supply-siders” who study the impact of tax rates on the level of output. The idea of supply-side economics is that lower taxes encourage more investment and thus higher growth rates.
Here's the gist of the supply-side argument:
Our baseline specification suggests that an exogenous tax increase of one percent of GDP lowers real GDP by roughly three percent.
On the other hand…
…we find that a tax cut of one percent of GDP increases real output by approximately three percent over the next three years.
In the case of the Laffer Curve, which shows the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue, the article concludes that:
Tax cuts don't exactly “pay for themselves”, but they also don't diminish revenue after about two years. That is, after about two years, the government receives revenues equal to what it would have received at the higher rate, but taxpayers enjoy a lower burden. It is an important advance to discover that because cuts do lead to an immediate dip in revenue, they often inspire offsetting tax increases that retard the growth effect of the origina cut. Nevertheless, the effect of cuts on output is generally strong enough to bring revenue back to where it would have been otherwise.
Supply-side economics, folks. Understanding the effects of fiscal and monetary policies on not only aggregate demand, but on aggregate supply (both short-run and long-run) is a crucial skill in answering AP free response questions.
I received the following email today, which gave me a great excuse to write a blog post about monetary policy! My reply to the teacher is below.
I hate to bug you, but I have a question. I am a first year AP Econ teacher and I know something is going to come up right away and I want to explain it in the simplest way. “Why can’t the govt. just print more money?” I know the inflation part of it, but when I am reading to look for quality ways of explaining it, I see plenty of information about it, but I can’t grasp it. Principle 9 in Mankiw text states “Prices rise when the govt. prints too much money.” I feel like a dumb kid and I am supposed to teach this!!!!
If you can help, great, if not, I will figure it out.
I love your question! It is definitely one of those issues that gets glossed over in most economics textbooks. Or it is assumed that the money supply diagram makes it obvious why excessive monetary growth leads to inflation. But I agree, this is one of those things that for the first couple of years I taught economics, I probably didn't really understand all that well either! So let me try to break it down in plain English for you. This will be good for me too, cause I always understand things more clearly myself after writing them (which is why writing a textbook is about the best PD I've every undertaken!)
So, here it goes:
Printing money and its effect on inflation is a bit more complicated than it sounds. In fact, it is the US treasury that prints money, but it is the Federal Reserve that determines how much money is actually in circulation in the economy. Money printed by the Treasury is distributed to the twelve Federal Reserve banks around the country. The treasury and the government of which it is a part does not have any say on how much money actually gets injected into the economy, as monetary policy decisions are left up to the Federal Reserve.
Traditionally, the Fed has one tool for injecting new money into the economy, a tool known as “open market operations”. (I say traditionally, because in the last three years the Fed has devised numerous new ways to “inject liquidity” into the economy, which I will not get into now). To increase the nation's money supply, the Fed buys US government bonds on the open market from commercial banks. Commercial banks invest some of American households' savings into government bonds just like they invest some of our money into individuals and businesses by making loans and charging interest on those loans. Commercial banks will want to buy government bonds if the interest on them rises and will want to sell those bonds when the interest rate falls.
If the Fed want to increase the money supply to stimulate spending in the economy, it will announce an open market purchase of bonds. When the Fed buys bonds, the demand for bonds increases, raising their prices and lowering their effective interest rate. As the interest on government bonds falls as a result of the Fed's open market operations, banks find them less desirable to hold onto as investments and therefore sell them to the Fed in exchange for, you guessed it, liquid money, fresh off the printing presses!
Remember, the money printed at the Treasury and held at the Fed was NOT part of the money supply, since it is out of reach of private borrowers. But as soon as the Fed buys bonds with that money, it is deposited into commercial banks' excess reserves and is therefore now in the commercial banking system and therefore part of the money supply. So, “printing money” does not immediately increase the money supply since newly printed money only ends up in the Fed; only once the Fed has undertaken an expansionary monetary policy (an open market bond purchase) does the newly printed money enter the money supply.
Now, commercial banks have just sold their illiquid assets (government bonds) to the Fed in exchange for liquid money. Picture the money market diagram and you will see the money supply increasing.
So the next question is, why does this lead to inflation?
Banks now hold more excess reserves, most of which are kept on reserve at their regional Federal Reserve bank. Reserves held at the Fed do NOT earn interest for the banks, and therefore actually lose value over time as inflation erodes the purchasing power of these idle reserves. Banks, of course, want to invest these reserves to earn interest beyond the rate of inflation and thereby create earn them revenue. In order to attract new borrowers, commercial banks, whose reserves have increased following the Fed's bond purchase, must offer borrowers a lower interest rate. The increase in the supply of money leads to a decrease in the “price” of money, i.e. the interest rates banks charge borrowers.
So here we see why an increase in the money supply leads to lower interest rates. With greater excess reserves, banks must lower the rate they charge each other (the federal funds rate) and thus the prime rate they charge their most credit-worthy borrowers and all other interest rates in the economy, in order to attract new borrowers and get their idle reserves out there earning interest for the bank.
Lower interest rates create an incentive for firms to invest in new capital since now more investment projects have an expected rate of return equal to or greater than the new lower interest rate. Additionally, the lower rates on savings discourages savings by households and thereby increases the level of household consumption. Households find it cheaper to borrow money to purchase durable goods like cars and it also becomes cheaper to buy new homes or undertake costly home improvements. So we begin to see investment and consumption rise across the economy as the increase in the money supply reduces borrowing costs and decreases the incentive to save. Aggregate demand has started to rise.
Additionally, the lower rate on US government bonds resulting from the Fed's open market purchase reduces the incentive for foreign investors to save their money in US bonds and in US banks, which are now offering lower interest rates. Falling foreign demand for the dollar causes it to depreciate. A weaker dollar makes US exports more attractive to foreign consumers, so in addition to increased consumption and investment in the US, net exports begin to rise as well, further increasing aggregate demand.
Increasing the money supply (not so much by printing money rather because of the “easy money” policy of the Fed), leads to increased consumption, investment, and net exports, and therefore aggregate demand in the economy. The rising demand among domestic consumers, foreign consumers, and domestic producers for the nation's output puts upward pressure on prices as the nation's producers find it hard to keep up with the rising demand. Once consumers start to see prices rising, inflationary expectations will further increase the incentive to buy more now and save less, leading to even more household consumption. Firms see price rises in the future and increase their investment now to meet the expected rises in demand tomorrow.
It does not take much for inflation to accelerate in such an environment. If the the government and the Fed do not slow down the increase in the money supply (STOP THE PRINTING PRESSES!) then soon enough workers will begin demanding higher wages and resource costs will start to increase in all sectors of the economy, causing the nation's aggregate supply to decline as firms find it harder to cover their rising costs. Now we have both demand-pull AND cost push inflation! The weaker currency also makes imported raw materials more costly to firms, further adding to the inflationary environment. An inflationary spiral is now underway!
Milton Friedman said that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon”. Controlling the rate of growth in the money supply, say the monetarists, will assure that the fluctuations in the business cycle will be mild and periods of dramatic inflation and deflation can be avoided. Stable money growth should lead to stable economic growth. But as soon as we start running the printing presses inflation will not be far behind. On the flip-side, contractionary monetary policies should in theory lead to the exact opposite of what I describe above and cause a deflation. If a central bank were to tighten the money supply too much, interest rates would rise, investment, consumption and net exports would fall, and falling prices would force firms to lay off workers, leading to high unemployment and an economic contraction.
I'll leave you with one question to ponder (the answer to which would require a much longer article than this one!). If Friedman was right, and increasing the money supply will always and everywhere lead to inflation, then how is it that the monetary base in the United States increased by 142% between 2008 and 2009, yet inflation declined over the same period and fell to as low as -2% in mid-2009? That's right, the money supply more than doubled, yet the economy went into deflation. Was Friedman missing something in his calculation that monetary growth always leads to price level increases? In other words, is an open market purchase of bonds by the Fed all that is needed to stimulate demand during a recession? Perhaps Friedman, who died in 2006 right before the US entered the Great Recession, would have to re-consider his famous quote if he could see the effect (or lack of effect) of America's unprecedented monetary growth over the last three years!
The long awaited rap video from George Mason University's Russ Roberts featuring the theories of John Maynard Keynes and F. A. Hayek has been released at last!
We've heard some decent Econ raps before (remember “Demand, Supply” by Rhythm, Rhyme, Results?) But this song covers all bases in the predominant macroeconomic schools of thought. Keynes and Hayek are brought back to life and their theories pitted against one another in an all out liquor fueled debate on the streets of New York City.
The video was just released this week. It is packed full of theory from the Classical, supply-side school of macroeconomics (represented by Hayek) and the demand-side school (represented, of course, by Keynes). The video includes cameos from Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whose role as bartenders filling Keynes glass reflects their role in the real economy at keeping the money supply and government spending at high levels, fueling economic booms and the eventual busts that result.
Stay tuned to this blog for more feedback on the video, including some graphical analysis and discussion questions for Macro teachers to use in class!