Archive for the 'Macroeconomics' Category

Sep 27 2012

Deflation: why lower prices spell doom for any economy!

The Fed should focus on deflation | The greater of two evils | The Economist

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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. 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?
  2. The expectation of future deflation can have as equally devastating effect. Why is this?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?

65 responses so far

Sep 20 2012

Measuring the Macroeconomic Objectives – research activity

The activity below is to introduce Economics students to the three primary Macroeconomic objectives of any government or policy making body. These are :

Full employment of the nations work force: This means that nearly everyone who wants to work in the country is able to find a job. It does not mean that there is no unemployment, rather that the unemployment that does prevail in the economy is voluntary, i.e. it exists because workers are simply not willing to work at the prevailing wage rate. If there is involuntary unemployment in the economy, then the country is not meeting its macroeconomic objective, and there is likely a recession caused by a lack of overall demand (aggregate demand) for the nation’s goods and services.

Resources for learning about Full Employment:

Price level stability: Changes in the average price level of goods and services in the nation are measured by calculating inflation, commonly using a consumer price index to do so. Low and stable inflation is one of the macroeconomic objectives since price level volatility (high inflation or deflation) has several harmful effects on a nation’s households and business firms. Keeping inflation low and stable promotes a healthy environment for achieving business investment, full employment and economic growth

Resources for learning about Price level stability:

Economic growth: The third macroeconomic objective is to increase the output of the nation’s goods and services year after year. Economic growth refers to the increase in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and can be measured by finding the total value of a nation’s output one year, comparing it to the previous year, and adjusting it for any changes in the price level between the years. Economic growth is a desirable goal because it generally means that incomes are rising and people’s lives are getting better. Of course, GDP only measures the physical output of goods and services, and does not include many non-economic variables that also should be considered when measuring people’s well-being. But rising incomes and output are deemed worthy goals since they are associated with rising living standards.

Assignment: Complete the readings and online activities above. Then use the data in the table linked below to answer the quesitons that follow.


Questions:

  1. Calculate the unemployment rates for each of the years in the table. Describe what happened to unemployment over the years displayed.
  2. Calculate the inflation rates between each of the years in the table. Describe what happened to inflation over the years displayed.
  3. Calculate the Real GDP for each of the years in the table.
  4. Calculate the Real GDP growth rates between each of the years in the table. Describe what happened to real GDP from one year to the next in the years displayed.
  5. Describe the relationship between the inflation and unemployment rates you calculated for each of the years. Is there any correlation in how the figures change from year to year?
  6. Based on your analysis of the data above, to what extent has the United States succeeded in achieving its three macroeconomic objectives of:
    • Full employment?
    • Price level stability?
    • Economic growth?

9 responses so far

May 08 2012

Loanable Funds vs. Money Market: what’s the difference?

Update: Once again I have updated this post with a few minor changes. Notably, I have added to graphs illustrating a separate shift in supply and demand for loanable funds. Based on discussions with readers via email, it appears that my previous graph illustrating in one diagram the shifts of both supply and demand was confusing and could be considered double counting the effect of an increase in deficit spending. Thanks again to Professor Chuck Orvis for his valuable input.

*Click on a graph to see the full-sized version

Two markets for money, right? Yes… so do they show the same thing? NO! You must know the distinction between these two markets. First let’s talk about the MoneyMoney Market Market diagram.

This market refers to the Money Supply (M1 and M2). The Money Supply curve is vertical because it is determined by the Fed’s (or central bank’s) particular monetary policy. On the X axis is the Quantity of money supplied and demanded, and on the Y axis is the nominal interest rate. A tight monetary policy (selling of bonds by the Fed) will shift Money Supply in, raising the federal funds rate, and subsequently the interest rates commercial banks charge their best customers (prime interest rate). On the other hand, an easy money policy (buying of bonds by the Fed) shifts Sm out, lowering the Federal Funds rate and thus the prime interest rate.

You should also know why a tight money policy is considered contractionary and why an easy money policy is considered expansionary monetary policy. Higher nominal interest rates resulting from tight money policy will discourage investment and consumption, contracting aggregate demand. On the other hand, an easy money policy will encourage more investment and consumption as nominal rates fall, expanding aggregate demand.

First watch this video lesson, which defines and introduces the money market diagram (skip ahead to 0:43 to hear the definition and explanation of the money market):

[youtube]http://youtu.be/BoDjLCKov9I?t=43s[/youtube]

Government deficit spending and the money market: Does an increase in government spending without a corresponding increase in taxes affect the money market? You may be inclined to say yes, since the Treasury must issue new bonds to finance deficit spending. After all, when the Fed sells bonds, money is taken out of circulation and held by the Fed, thus it’s no longer part of the money supply.

When the Treasury issues and sells new bonds, however, the money the public uses to buy the bonds is put back into circulation as the government spending is increased. Therefore, any leftward shift of the money supply curve caused by the buying of bonds by the public is offset by the injection of cash in the economy initiated the government’s fiscal stimulus package takes effect (be it a tax rebate or an increase in spending). Therefore, money supply should remain stable when the government deficit spends.

However, since the money demand curve depends on the level of transactions going on in a nation’s economy in a particular period of time, an increase in government spending on infrastructure, defense, corporate subsidies, tax rebates or other fiscal policy initiatives will increase the demand for money, shifting the Dm curve rightward and driving up interest rates. The higher interest rates resulting from the greater demand for money reduces the quantity of private investment; in this way the crowding-out effect can be illustrated in the money market.

Now to the loanable funds market. Loanable funds represents the money in commercial banks and lending institutions that is available to lend out to firms and households to finance expenditures (investment or consumption). The Y-axis represents the real interest rate; the loanable funds market therefore recognizes the relationships between real returns on savings and real price of borrowing with the public’s willingness to save and borrow.

Watch this video for a clear explanation of the loanable funds market and how it can be used to illustrate the crowding-out effect (skip ahead to 3:18 for a definition and explanation of the loanable funds market):

[youtube]http://youtu.be/mwjvutjDhOw?t=3m25s[/youtube]

Since an increase in the real interest rate makes households and firms want to place more money in the bank (and more money in the bank means more money to loan out), there is a direct relationship between real interest rate and Supply of Loanable Funds. On the other hand, since at lower real interest rates households and firms will be less inclined to save and more inclined to borrow and spend, the Demand for loanable funds reflects an inverse relationship. At higher interest rates, households prefer to delay their spending and put their money in savings, since the opportunity cost of spending now rises with the real interest rate.

Government deficit spending and the loanable funds market: We learned above that only the Fed can shift the money supply curve, but what factors can affect the Supply and Demand curves for loanable funds? Here’s a few key points to know about the loanable funds market.

  • When the government deficit spends (G>tax revenue), it must borrow from the public by issuing bonds.
  • The Treasury issues new bonds, which shifts the supply of bonds out, lowering their prices and raising the interest rates on bonds.
  • In response to higher interest rates on bonds, investors will transfer their money out of banks and other lending institutions and into the bond market. Banks will also lend out fewer of their excess reserves, and put some of those reserves into the bond market as well, where it is secure and now earns relatively higher interest.
  • As households, firms and banks buy the newly issued Treasury securities (which represents the public’s lending to the government), the supply of private funds available for lending to households and firms shifts in. With fewer funds for private lending banks must raise their interest rates, leading to a movement along the demand curve for loanable funds.
  • This causes crowding out of private investment.

Another, simpler way to understand the effect of government deficit spending on real interest rates is to look at it from the demand side.

  • Deficit spending by the government requires the government to borrow from the public, increasing the demand for loanable funds. In essence, the government becomes a borrower in the country’s financial sector, demanding new funds for investment, driving up real interest rates.
  • Increased demand from the government pushes interest rates up, causing banks to supply a greater quanity of funds for lending. The private, however, now has fewer funds available to borrow as the government soaks up some of the funds that previously would have gone to private borrowers.
  • This leads to the crowding out of private investment, in which private borrowers face higher real interest rates due to increased deficit spending by the government.

What could shift the supply of loanable funds to the right? Easy, anything that increases savings by households and firms, known as the determinants of consumption and saving. These include increases in wealth, expectations of future income and price levels, and lower taxes. If savings increases, supply of loanable funds shifts outward, increasing the reserves in banks, lowering real interest rates, encouraging firms to undertake new investments. This is why many economists say that “savings is investment”. What they mean is increased increased savings leads to an increase in the supply of loanable funds, which leads to lower interest rates and increased investment.

On the other hand, an increase in demand for investment funds by firms will shift demand for loanable funds out, driving up real interest rates. The determinants of investment include business taxes, technological change, expectations of future business opportunities, and so on (follow link to our wiki page on Investment).

It is important to be able to distinguish between the money market and the market for loanable funds, as both the AP and IB syllabi xpect students to understand and explain the difference between these concepts.

283 responses so far

Apr 30 2012

Seeing the forest through the trees – An intro to Macroeconomics!

At this point in the course, you may find yourself asking, “what is the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics?” It has been a long time since we first defined these terms at the beginning of the course. The purpose of this post is to introduce some basic Macro concepts help clear up the confusing and not so obvious differences between these two areas of economics.

A teacher of mine once explained the difference between micro and macro using the example of a tree and a forest. Microeconomics is the like the study of an individual tree, standing in a thick forest of thousands of individual trees of different species. A microeconomist might study the systems that make an individual tree function efficiently, providing it with the sustanence it needs to thrive in the forest. A macroeconomist, however, will take a broader look at the forest as a whole, and observe how the thousands of trees work together in conjunction with the sun, the soil, the oxygen, nitrogen, and H2O in the environment that make the entire forest function efficiently as one giant organism.

Put literally, the tree is like an individual market. This may be a product market like the market for apples, or a resource market like the market for apple pickers. Microeconomists will study the characteristics of an individual market: the firms and their costs, tradeoffs, challenges presented by competition or the inefficiencies that result from a lack thereof, and the buyers in the market: the alternatives and trade-offs they face, the utility they receive and the decisions they make based on these factors. Microeconomics concerns itself not with the health of the economy as a whole, rather with the individual markets, firms, and consumers within the economy, and the challenges of efficiency and resource allocation faced by those markets.

Macroeconomics, on the other hand, studies the health of the economy as a whole. Macro deals with aggregates, or “collections of specific economic units treated as if they were one. ” For example, instead of studying price of a product, as a microeconomist would, a macroeconomist looks at the price level in the whole economy. Whereas a microeconomist looks at supply and demand in a particular market, a macroeconomist studies aggregate supply and aggregate demand, assessing the collective marginal benefit of all consumers and marginal costs of all producers. Instead of quantity supplied, the macroeconomist examines aggregate output, or gross domestic product. Instead of underallocation and overallocation of resources, the macroeconomists concerns himself with unemployment and inflation.

When it comes to the role of government, macroeconomics has a lot more to say about the role a central government should play in managing the economy as a whole. One major theme of microeconomics is that competitive markets, when left alone by government, tend to achieve efficient allocations of resources. You’ll find that in Macro, however, the government often plays a central part in stimulating and slowing down the level of economic activity in the economy, using tools such as fiscal and monetary policy.

Also in macroeconomics, we’ll study in more depth the role that comparative advantage plays in the economic exchanges that take place between nations. International trade also involves the exchange of foreign currencies, which we’ll try to understand by studying exchange rates and the role that governments play in manipulating and controlling the values of their currencies.

Macroeconomics will prove to be particularly relevant to the events going on in the recent turbulent global economy.  If have listened to the news lately you’ve heard world leaders, political pundits and commentators from all political and economic leanings use words like “bailout”, “fiscal stimulus”, “monetary easing”, “deficit spending” and others; all concepts having to do with macroeconomics. In the next few months, you will begin to see the forest through the trees as we take on the exciting  and challenging field of macroeconomics.

Assignment: Using your economics text and the Economic Dictionary at Econclassroom.com, complete the table below.

  • On the left are microeconomics concepts you have already studied as part of the course. Each of these  concepts needs to be defined or explained. 
  • In the right column are the macro concept that corresponds with each of the micro concepts. Each of these terms or concepts needs to be defined and/or explained. 
Definitions and explanations can be entered into the spreadsheets linked below: (my students: you must be logged in to your school Google Docs account to edit this document!)

61 responses so far

Mar 30 2012

Does expansionary fiscal policy “pay for itself”?

A theory of fiscal policy: Self-sustaining stimulus | The Economist

Expansionary fiscal policy is a tool governments often turn to when the economy is facing high unemployment and sluggish or negative economic growth. Cutting taxes and increasing government spending can contribute to the overall demand in the economy and thereby lead to job creation and economic growth.

One of the oldest arguments against stimulus, however, is that which says when a government borrows money to pay for such a policy, it can lead to a decrease in private investment and a decrease in future demand as the higher level of debt must be paid back in the future. Short-term stimulus, therefore, is counter-productive since any debts incurred must be paid back in the future, leading to lower levels of spending and therefore higher unemployment sometime down the road.

The crowding-out effect of fiscal policy is explained in detail in the following video from The Economics Classroom:

A recent study by two leading American economists provides an argument against this view of the crowding-out effect of fiscal policy:

In a new paper* written with Brad DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley, Mr Summers, now at Harvard after a stint as Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, says that in the odd circumstances America faces today temporary stimulus “may actually be self-financing”…

Mr DeLong and Mr Summers are careful to say stimulus almost never pays for itself. When the economy is near full employment, deficits crowd out private spending and investment. In a recession the central bank will respond to fiscal stimulus by keeping interest rates higher than they would otherwise be. Both effects mean that in normal times the fiscal “multiplier”—the amount by which output rises for each dollar of government spending or tax cuts—is probably close to zero.

The “multiplier” referred to here is what economist refer to as the Keynesian spending multiplier, which is based on the theory that any increase in spending in an economy (say, through a new government spending package), will lead to further increases in spending (as households feel more confident and firms start to hire workers again), therefore the final change in national income resulting from a fiscal policy will be greater than the initial change in spending itself. This multiplier effect has formed the basis of the argument for expansionary fiscal policy since Keynes articulated it in the 1930’s.

The multiplier effect is explained in detail in the following video lesson:

If the multiplier is ZERO, there is no point in engaging in expansionary fiscal policies since there will be no additional increase in output as a government goes into debt to pay for a tax cut or an increase in spending. In the US today, argue Summers and Delong, the multiplier is probably not zero. Additionally, crowding-out is unlikely to occur.

Such constraints are not present now (meaning in the United States in 2012). Investment and demand are deeply depressed and the central bank, having cut interest rates to zero, is not about to raise them. The multiplier is higher than usual as a result…

Basically, Summers and Delong are trying to argue that the US government should engage in another round of fiscal stimulus, to offer additional support to the economy beyond 2009’s “Obama stimulus” and the current bill being debated in Washington, the American Jobs Act, a $470 billion tax cut and spending bill aimed at keeping unemployment from rising in America.

On one side of this debate are those like Summers and Delong who argue fiscal stimulus can pay for itself since it can leads to a larger increase in GDP than the increase in the government’s budget deficit needed to finance the stimulus. On the other side are those “deficit hawks” who believe that any increase in government debt will lead to a fall in current and future aggregate demand from the private sector, and therefore expansionary fiscal policies will just be crowded out by declining private sector spending.

By understanding the circumstances in which crowding-out is most likely and unlikely to occur, we should be able to make a more informed decision about future fiscal policy decisions. As these two economists argue, and as I have tried to present in this post and in a previous post A Closer Look at the Crowding-out Effect, today’s economy provides policy-makers with the perfect opportunity to stimulate aggregate demand by increasing the deficit and providing the US economy with the boost in demand it needs to get America back to full employment.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is crowding-out more likely to occur when an economy is already producing at or near its full employment level of output than when an economy is in recession?
  2. How are the theories of crowding-out and the multiplier effect used to argue for two different sides in the debate over the use of expansionary fiscal policy?
  3. Why might a government deficit, paid for with borrowed money, lead to an expectation of a future increase in taxes?
  4. Do you believe the government should take action during periods of economic hardship, or should it just get out of the way and let the economy “correct itself”?

2 responses so far

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