Archive for the 'Business Cycle' Category

Jan 28 2010

The best Econ rap… EVER!! – A new resource for Econ teachers and students, from Russ Roberts and John Papola

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!

2 responses so far

Oct 17 2008

Advice from an economic oracle – buy American stocks now!

Op-Ed Contributor – Buy American. I Am. –

So Wall Street has recently experienced its worst shocks since the great depression. Every day the Dow Jones is like a roller coaster, DOWN 800 points, then  UP 500 points, then DOWN 200 followed by another rally of 600! In just three weeks the Dow has gone from 11,500 to below 900 points. Surely, the wise thing to do is get OUT of the stock market, right? WRONG! At least, so says the richest man in the world, Warren Buffet, someone who should know a thing or two about smart investing.


A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up. So if you wait for the robins, spring will be over.

A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.

Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.

You might think it would have been impossible for an investor to lose money during a century marked by such an extraordinary gain. But some investors did. The hapless ones bought stocks only when they felt comfort in doing so and then proceeded to sell when the headlines made them queasy.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn’t. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts.

Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky’s advice: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

I don’t like to opine on the stock market, and again I emphasize that I have no idea what the market will do in the short term. Nevertheless, I’ll follow the lead of a restaurant that opened in an empty bank building and then advertised: “Put your mouth where your money was.” Today my money and my mouth both say equities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does holding cash seem like the smart thing to do during periods of volatile stock prices like the last month or so? Why does Mr. Buffet think that holding cash is NOT so smart?
  2. Mr. Buffet’s advice is counter-intuitive to some. Buying more of something that is falling in value (American stocks) may appear unwise… but what is Buffet’s rationale for why buying now may in fact be the smartest thing for an investor to do?
  3. Does the behavior of investors on the stock market reflect the behavior of consumers in a typical product market? In other words, do the laws of supply and demand apply to the stock market? Discuss…

12 responses so far

Oct 16 2008

Those who foresaw the meltdown…

The Huffington Post – Economic Honor Roll

The liberal blog and news site, Huffington Post, has an interesting post sharing excerpts from the writings of some prominent economists over the last several years who foresaw the economic meltdown now underway in the world’s financial markets. It’s interesting to read these passages today and realize that the financial crisis that seemed to take Washington by such surprise in the last few weeks was something economists have seen coming for quite some time.

Nouriel Roubini, NYU professor of economics: from “The Rising Risk of a Systemic Financial Meltdown: The Twelve Steps to Financial Disaster” (subscription req’d), February 5, 2008

…it is possible that some large regional or even national bank that is very exposed to mortgages, residential and commercial, will go bankrupt. Thus some big banks may join the 200 plus subprime lenders that have gone bankrupt.[…]

Ninth, the “shadow banking system” (as defined by the PIMCO folks) or more precisely
the “shadow financial system” (as it is composed by non-bank financial institutions) will
soon get into serious trouble.[…]

Tenth, stock markets in the US and abroad will start pricing a severe US recession
rather than a mild recession – and a sharp global economic slowdown.[…]

A near global economic recession will ensue as the financial and credit losses and the
credit crunch spread around the world. Panic, fire sales, cascading fall in asset prices will
exacerbate the financial and real economic distress as a number of large and systemically
important financial institutions go bankrupt. A 1987 style stock market crash could occur
leading to further panic and severe financial and economic distress.
In this meltdown scenario US and global financial markets will experience their most
severe crisis in the last quarter of a century.

Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist (and winner of the 2008 Nobel Price for Economics)

Krugman has been warning about the dangers of the housing bubble for years, and the terrible toll it could take on the economy when it pops. Here is a Krugman warning from August 29, 2005:

These days Mr. Greenspan expresses concern about the financial risks created by “the prevalence of interest-only loans and the introduction of more-exotic forms of adjustable-rate mortgages.” But last year he encouraged families to take on those very risks, touting the advantages of adjustable-rate mortgages and declaring that “American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage.

If Mr. Greenspan had said two years ago what he’s saying now, people might have borrowed less and bought more wisely. But he didn’t, and now it’s too late. There are signs that the housing market either has peaked already or soon will. And it will be up to Mr. Greenspan’s successor to manage the bubble’s aftermath.

How bad will that aftermath be? The U.S. economy is currently suffering from twin imbalances. On one side, domestic spending is swollen by the housing bubble, which has led both to a huge surge in construction and to high consumer spending, as people extract equity from their homes. On the other side, we have a huge trade deficit, which we cover by selling bonds to foreigners. As I like to say, these days Americans make a living by selling each other houses, paid for with money borrowed from China.

One way or another, the economy will eventually eliminate both imbalances.

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist: Washington Post, “The Iraq War Will Cost Us $3 Trillion, and Much More,” March 9, 2008

We face an economic downturn that’s likely to be the worst in more than a quarter-century.

Until recently, many marveled at the way the United States could spend hundreds of billions of dollars on oil and blow through hundreds of billions more in Iraq with what seemed to be strikingly little short-run impact on the economy. But there’s no great mystery here. The economy’s weaknesses were concealed by the Federal Reserve, which pumped in liquidity, and by regulators that looked away as loans were handed out well beyond borrowers’ ability to repay them. Meanwhile, banks and credit-rating agencies pretended that financial alchemy could convert bad mortgages into AAA assets, and the Fed looked the other way as the U.S. household-savings rate plummeted to zero.

It’s a bleak picture. The total loss from this economic downturn — measured by the disparity between the economy’s actual output and its potential output — is likely to be the greatest since the Great Depression.

Daniel Altman, author, economic journalist and Huffpo blogger, from “Contracts So Complex They Imperil The System”, February 24, 2002

When companies that rack up huge hidden debts and traders who illicitly amass mountains of risk are exposed, Wall Street’s big players rush to cut their losses and collect on their debts. If that kind of rush were ever to result in a shortage of cash, it would paralyze the financial system. Stock markets would tumble and banks would close, putting the savings of households at risk.

One response so far

Feb 21 2008

Inflation in the headlines!

I was checking out the Shanghai Daily’s macro-economics news page this morning and here’s the headlines to the three latest stories:

Inflation fears grow on price rise figures — Shanghai Daily – English Window to China News

German producer prices rose at the fastest annual pace in 13 months in January, underlining European Central Bank concern that inflation is accelerating.

Prices for goods from newsprint to plastics jumped 3.3 percent from the same month a year earlier, compared with 2.5 percent in December, the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden said yesterday, Bloomberg News reported. Economists expected a 2.8- percent gain…

“Energy prices are clearly the main driver of inflation,” said Peter Meister, an economist and bond analyst at BHF Bank in Frankfurt. “While inflation should moderate in the coming months we don’t expect the rate to fall into the ECB’s comfort zone before year-end.”

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Feb 12 2008

A 17 year old’s critique of Washington’s “fiscal stimulus” package

Here’s a comment from student Alice Su to a previous post about Washington’s $170 billion fiscal stimulus package:

It seems to me that this tax rebate is not truly addressing the problem of recession–undoubtedly, it does, as Nancy Pelosi said, “put money in the hands of hardworking Americans”, and this looks like a nice act done under a bipartisan agreement that makes lots of citizens feel better. But only in the short run. Offering a one-time tax rebate like this is like trying to stick a band-aid on a bullet wound.

So the question isn’t “Why put more medicine in now than is necessary?” but rather, “Does this medicine actually do anything to help?” It looks like all it does is temporarily reassure Americans, maybe make the recession a little more cushioned and make the government able to say “LOOK we’re cutting back on taxes! Don’t you love us?”, but it won’t actually do anything that will feasibly fight against the “vicious cycle.”

So does this mean that recessions are inevitable, that there really is nothing you can do to fight them except… wait for it to get better?

In the podcast they mentioned something about fine-tuning interest rates and such to prevent occurrences like the Great Depression. How does that actually work though? And how is the government supposed to know how they should “fine-tune” taxes and interest rates and government spending if they’re in a period of growth/peak? They won’t know what’s needed until they’ve entered the recession, and by then it seems like it’s too late to stop it and all they can do is try methods like the tax rebate in this blog post to just “slightly offset the negative effects.”

Sometimes students simply amaze me in their uncanny ability to pierce through the logical fallacies of the world in which we live. Despite the lauding rhetoric coming from politicians about how this package will help lead the economy towards a new period of expansion, the package’s true impact will probably be more of, as Alice so astutely points out, “like a band-aid on a bullet wound”.

Here’s the kind of thing you’ll hear from Washington:

Bush signs stimulus package – Feb. 11, 2008:

President Bush said Monday he is pleased with the $170 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress last week. The White House announced that he plans to sign it Wednesday.

The government hopes the package, which will send most Americans tax rebate checks by May, will either prevent a recession or make one relatively brief…

“I really want to thank the Congress for getting this bill done,” Bush said. “It’s going to help deal with the uncertainties in this economy.”

But is it enough, asks Alice? And what about the “fine-tuning” of interest rates going on at the Fed? How are fiscal and monetary policies supposed to be employed by governments to fight recession?

These are some of the questions we’ll be discussing in the next unit of AP Macroeconomics. Stay tuned for the answers… and in the mean time, students, keep reading critically and asking those tough questions that politicians simply hope Americans are just too ignorant to think about! Great job, Alice, thanks for the insightful commentary!

One response so far

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