“U.S. Unemployment Rates and FED/Central Bank Policy (Becker on “Becker-Posner” Blog)

22 12 2012

The Becker-Posner Blog (http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/) features the economic point-counter point discussions of Gary Becker and Richard A. Posner.

Gary Becker is University Professor Department of Economics and Sociology Professor, Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago.  He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992 and received the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. He is currently a Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.  His homepage is found here.

Richard A. Posner is a legal scholar and Federal Judge on the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and Senior Lecturer, University of Chicago Law School.  His home page is found here.


Following is and excerpt from Gary Becker’s latest post (12/16/2012) on “The Unemployment Rate and Central Bank Policy“, posted at the following web address:


The Unemployment Rate and Central Bank Policy-Becker

Low inflation and “full” employment have been statutory goals of the Federal Reserve for the past 35 years. Often, however, inflation received the most attention, as when former Fed chairman Paul Volcker in the early 1980s sharply raised interest rates and put the economy in recession in order to wring inflationary expectations out of the system.

On December 12th, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Fed, indicated that the Fed would pursue what one might think is simply a variant of the full employment target by keeping nominal interest rates close to zero until the US unemployment rate dips below 6.5%-it is currently 7.7%- or until inflation is forecast to exceed 2.5%. The challenge facing this proposal is that while an unemployment rate target may seem to be just the flip side of the full employment target, unemployment can be nudged by other government policies in ways that have little effect on employment.

The present high level of unemployment in the US in good measure reflects the slow rate of recovery of real GDP and employment from its recession levels. According to “Okun’s Law”, the recovery in employment from a recession is simply related to the recovery in real GDP (see the discussion of Okun’s Law in my blog post on 11/4/2012). Okun’s Law implies that a central bank can use the recovery in real GDP as a proxy for the recovery in employment toward a full employment goal.


The complication is that changes in unemployment rates during business cycles are not just mirror images of changes in employment rates. This has been especially the case during the Great Recession. By definition, the unemployed equals the difference between the number of persons in the labor force and the number of persons working. The unemployment rate is then defined as the number of individuals who are unemployed as a fraction of the labor force. It follows from the definition of unemployment that the unemployment rate equals one minus the employment rate (the ratio of the number of persons employed to the number of persons in the labor force). This relation shows that changes in the unemployment rate would be equal to but opposite in sign to changes in the employment rate only as long as the labor force remained fixed.

During business cycles, the employment rate and the unemployment rate do move in opposite directions, but the relation is far from one to one, especially during severe recessions. The reason is that the labor force also changes over the course of a business cycle. Especially during severe recessions, some workers get discouraged about finding jobs and leave the labor force. This would tend artificially to reduce the unemployment rate even when both employment and unemployment did not change. This is why the official unemployment rate is usually supplemented with measures of the “total” unemployment rate that include both individuals who got discouraged and withdraw from the labor force, as well as those working part time because they could not find full time jobs. This total unemployment rate now stands at 14.4%, much above the 7.7% official rate.


The unemployment rate is also affected by policies that affect eligibility for unemployment compensation, such as the extension of unemployment benefits during this recession to 99 weeks. Such an extension increases unemployment because it encourages individuals to become or remain unemployed in order to collect unemployment benefits for a longer time. The net effect of extensions in unemployment benefits is to increase the unemployment rate differently from any decline in the employment rate.


A major risk of trying to implement an unemployment target through present Fed policies is that the inflation rate could increase in a futile attempt to bring down further the unemployment rate to a targeted rate, as happened in the 1970s. To its credit, the Fed protected against this possibility by setting its target at a relatively high unemployment rate of 6.5%, even though the rate prior to the onset of the recession in 2007 was well under 5%. The Fed also directly faced the risk of creating excessive inflation by setting its target as no more than 6.5% unemployment only as long as the inflation rate does not rise about 2.5%, a modest rate of inflation.


KC Fed Financial Stress Index => Still low U.S. Financial Stress in October 2012

15 11 2012

The Kansas City Federal Reserve calculates a monthly Financial Stress Index (here).  See the following description to by the KC Fed of the KCFSI….


KC Fed – Financial Stress Index

The Kansas City Financial Stress Index (KCFSI) is a monthly measure of stress in the U.S. financial system based on 11 financial market variables.

A positive value indicates that financial stress is above the long-run average, while a negative value signifies that financial stress is below the long-run average. Another useful way to assess the current level of financial stress is to compare the index to its value during past, widely recognized episodes of financial stress.

How should the index be interpreted? The KCFSI is constructed to have a mean value of zero and a standard deviation of one. A positive value of the KCSFI indicates that financial stress is above the longrun average, while a negative value signifies that financial stress is below the long-run average. A useful way to assess the level of financial stress is to compare the index in the current month to the index during a previous episode of financial stress, such as October 2008.


The most recent KCFSI report for October is available at the following web address, with exerpts from the report to follow:


“The Kansas City Financial Stress Index (KCFSI) continues to indicate that financial stress remains low. The KCFSI measured -0.40 in October, a slight increase from September’s value but below its long-run average. This is the first increase in the KCFSI since May 2012.”

Comment by Daniel O’Brien – blog author:

These numbers seem to indicate that the U.S. economy is not in extreme financial stress in the fall of 2012 to the degree that it was in the fall of 2008.  These findings suggest that although serious financial issues are facing the U.S. economy and the U.S. consumer, at this time the U.S. is not experiencing a period of extreme financial stress.  If one political party in the U.S. was basing its 2012 election campaign on jobs and economic growth potential being lost, it may just be that some significant numbers of swing voters among the American public at large was not feeling or perceiving enough personal, kitchen table level economic stress to motivate them to change the party in presidential power.

Looking to Free Market Economic Foundations: “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman (1962)

13 11 2012

Capitalism and Freedom.jpg

The contribution of Milton Friedman’s book Capitalism and Freedom (1962) is described in an article from the Library of Economics and Liberty website (here)

“In Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman wrote arguably the most important economics book of the 1960s, making a case for relatively free markets to a general audience. He argued for, among other things, a volunteer army, freely floating exchange rates, abolition of licensing of doctors, a negative income tax, and education vouchers. (Friedman was a passionate foe of the military draft: he once stated that the abolition of the draft was almost the only issue on which he had personally lobbied Congress.)”

A Wikipedia article (here) provides a chapter by chapter summary of Friedman’s key ideas in the book. (Great credit goes to this Wikipedia author for this summary / synopsis)


The introduction lays out the principles of Friedman’s archetypal liberal, a man who supports limited and dispersed governmental power. Friedman opts for the continental European, rather than American, definition of the term.
1) The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom

In this chapter, Friedman promotes economic freedom both a necessary freedom and also as a vital means for political freedom. He argues that, with the means for production under the auspices of the government, it is nearly impossible for real dissent and exchange of ideas to exist. Additionally, economic freedom is important, since any “bi-laterally voluntary and informed” transaction must benefit both parties to the transaction.
2) The Role of Government in a Free Society

According to the author, the government of a liberal society should enforce law and order and property rights, as well as take action on certain technical monopolies and diminish negative “neighborhood effects.” The government should also have control over money, as has long been recognized in the constitution and society.
3) The Control of Money

He discusses the evolution of money in America, culminating in the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Far from acting as a stabilizer, the Federal Reserve failed to act as it should have in several circumstances. Friedman proposes that the Federal Reserve have a consistent rule to increase the money supply by 3-5% annually.
4) International Financial and Trade Arrangements

This chapter advocates the end of the Bretton Woods system in favor of a floating exchange rate system and the end of all currency controls and trade barriers, even “voluntary” export quotas. Friedman says that this is the only true solution to the balance of trades problem.
5) Fiscal Policy

Friedman argues against the continual government spending justified to “balance the wheel” and help the economy to continue to grow. On the contrary, federal government expenditures make the economy less, not more stable. Friedman uses concrete evidence from his own research, demonstrating that the rise in government expenditures results in a roughly equal rise in GDP, contrasting with the Keynesian multiplier theory. Many reasons for this discrepancy are discussed.
6) The Role of Government in Education

The policy advocated here is vouchers which students may use for education at a private school of their choice. The author believes that everyone, in a democracy, needs a basic education for citizenship. Though there is underinvestment in human capital (in terms of spending at technical and professional schools), it would be foolish of the government to provide free technical education. The author suggests several solutions, some private, some public, to stop this underinvestment.
7) Capitalism and Discrimination

In a capitalist society, Friedman argues, it costs money to discriminate, and it is very difficult, given the impersonal nature of market transactions. However, the government should not make fair employment practices laws (eventually embodied in the Civil Rights Act of 1964), as these inhibit the freedom to employ someone based on whatever qualifications the employer wishes to use. For the same reason, right-to-work laws should be abolished.
8) Monopoly and the Social Responsibility of Business and Labor

Friedman states, there are three alternatives for a monopoly: public monopoly, private monopoly, or public regulation. None of these is desirable or universally preferable. Monopolies come from many sources, but direct and indirect government intervention is the most common, and it should be stopped wherever possible. The doctrine of “social responsibility”, that corporations should care about the community and not just profit, is highly subversive to the capitalist system and can only lead towards totalitarianism.
9) Occupational Licensure

Friedman takes a radical stance against all forms of state licensure. The biggest advocates for licenses in an industry are, usually, the people in the industry, wishing to keep out potential competitors. The author defines registration, certification, and licensing, and, in the context of doctors, explains why the case for each one of these is weaker than the previous one. There is no liberal justification for licensing doctors; it results in inferior care and a medical cartel.
10) The Distribution of Income

Friedman examines the progressive income tax, introduced in order to redistribute income to make things more fair, and finds that, in fact, the rich take advantage of numerous loopholes, nullifying the redistributive effects. It would be far more fair just to have a uniform flat tax with no deductions, which could meet the 1962 tax revenues with a rate only slightly greater than the lowest tax bracket at that time.
11) Social Welfare Measures

Though well-intentioned, many social welfare measures don’t help the poor as much as some think. Friedman focuses on Social Security as a particularly large and unfair system.
12) Alleviation of Poverty

He advocates a negative income tax to fix the issue, giving everyone a guaranteed minimum income, rather than current measures, which he sees as misguided and inefficient.
13) Conclusion

The conclusion to the book centers on how, time and time again, government intervention often has an effect opposite of that intended. Most good things in the United States and the world come from the free market, not the government, and they will continue to do so. The government, despite its good intentions, should stay out of areas where it does not need to be.

From the article “Excerpts from Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), Chapter 1,…” (here), come the following relevant quotes….

“Economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself. In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom.”

“Viewed as a means to the end of political freedom, economic arrangements are important becuase of their effect on the concentration or dispersion of power. The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.”

“Historical evidence speaks with a single voice on the relation between political freedom and a free market. I know of no example in time or place of a society that has been marked by a large measure of political freedom, and that has not also used something comparable to a free market to organize the bulk of economic activity.”

Web references:

1) Wikipedia article: “Capitalism and Freedom”   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism_and_Freedom

2) Library of Economics and Liberty Article:  “Milton Friedman (1912-2006)”  http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Friedman.html

3) Excerpts from Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), Chapter 1, “The Relation Between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom,” pp. 7-17.   https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/ipe/friedman.htm

US Economic “Growth, Deficits, and the Future” (J.D. Foster – Heritage Foundation)

4 12 2008

Following is an article by J. D. Foster, Ph.D., who is the Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation (http://www.heritage.org/).

 J.D. Foster, Ph.D., The Heritage Foundation

Foster’s article addresses the anticipated impact of further government spending (i.e., fiscal stimulus) upon the U.S. economy, in the short run and beyond.  Foster provides a counter-argument to the recommendations and justifications of Economist Paul Krugman for further government spending.  The crux of the article is that the most healthy approach to helping the U.S. economy to recover from the current recession is not by increased fiscal stimulus, but rather by reducing taxes at all levels of the economy to encourage growth in private, nongovernment business.

Following are some noteworthy selections from the complete article (here).  (Bold, italicized,  and underlined text are provided by myself to draw attention to key thoughts in Foster’s article.)  


“Growth, Deficits, and the Future”

by J.D. Foster, Ph.D., The Heritage Foundation
WebMemo #2150, December 3, 2008

Paul Krugman, in his article in The New York Times on December 1, “Deficits and the Future,” discusses deficit spending reflecting both the weakening state of the economy and his response to the changed political climate in Washington, D.C.  Krugman tells a good story, but in calling for even more spending he misses the punch line badly. Tax rate reduction, not another dose of deficit spending, is the key to a stronger economy.

Globally, and certainly in the United States, an intense debate is underway as to the proper magnitude of fiscal stimulus programs to “jumpstart,” “jolt,” or otherwise stimulate national economies as the global economy slides into a deep contraction. For some, a big boost to government spending is the natural solution, especially since they can identify so many “unmet needs” awaiting federal largesse. Neither desperation nor opportunism justifies ineffective and misguided action. These troubled times demand policies that work.

Fiscal Stimulus That Works

The global economic downturn looks to be quite deep. Even optimists do not foresee the recession that began in the United States at the end of 2007 to end until the second half of 2009. Naturally, the focus is on a government response, as though all solutions come from Washington. And, naturally, the response from Washington is to do what Washington excels at: spending money.


Suppose for a moment that the fiscal stimulus is effective in pumping up aggregate demand. The budget deficits under current policy for 2009 through 2011 are already around $1 trillion for each year, not counting the budget effects of the various financial bailouts. Put those figures in perspective: In dollar terms, the largest federal budget deficit ever was recorded in 2004 at $413 billion. As a percent of the economy, the largest was 6 percent in 1983. Even before any new policies, the deficit in 2009 is already an astonishing 8 percent of gross domestic product or more. If deficit spending stimulates the economy, then a $1 trillion deficit should suffice to launch a rapid expansion. If $1 trillion is not enough to end the recession, then another $500 billion in deficit spending surely will not do any better.

No Downsides to Deficit Spending?

… The (often wrong) conventional wisdom is that Congress will pass a fiscal stimulus plan of a half trillion dollars or more early in 2009, including some mixture of extended unemployment insurance benefits, food stamp spending, relief to the states, highway spending, and whatever other ingredients can be tossed into the fiscal goulash.

Krugman argues that there can be none of the traditional crowding out of private investment when government increases its borrowing (driving the deficit up from a trillion dollars). There may be none of the traditional downsides, but there are none of the promised upsides, either. The simple fact is that when government borrows a dollar, either the dollar was borrowed at home (reducing domestic consumption or investment) or it was borrowed from abroad, thereby increasing the trade deficit. Either way, the increase in aggregate demand from government spending is matched by a reduction in aggregate demand from the private sector.

Investing for the Future

The economy is weak and weakening, so prudent, effective fiscal stimulus is certainly called for. But that does not mean increased spending. At a minimum, it means making the tax relief enacted in 2001 and 2003 permanent–especially the reductions in individual income tax rates, the reduction in the dividends tax rate, and the reduction in the capital gains tax rate. Threatening rate increases is no way to stimulate an economy, as Krugman notes in his editorial. …

Keeping current tax policy is not stimulus; it is the elimination of a threat. True stimulus means cutting individual and corporate tax rates to encourage entrepreneurs to start new businesses and existing businesses to invest more. The economy is certainly weak today, but business startups and investment are about the future. Current economic troubles will pass and the economy will regain its strength. Lower tax rates will encourage businesses to prepare better now for future growth and in so doing will bring about a future of stronger economic growth. An effective fiscal stimulus means cutting tax ratesnot because of the resulting higher deficits but because tax rate cuts improve the incentives for workers, investors, and producers to do more, thus stimulating the economy.

The Grand Teton Mountains, Wyoming, USA (www.ohranger.com)


Critical View of Keynesian Economics (Peter Boettke – The Austrian Economists Blog)

3 12 2008

Following is an article on “The Legacy of Lord Keynes” by Peter Boettke of George Mason University, one of the authors of  “The Austrian Economists” Blog (here) .  Here is a link to the full article:


 The Austrian Economists (economics.gmu.edu)

In this article, Boettke is critical of the fruits of Keynesian economic policies as practice in various countries since 1940.  His view is consistent with the “Austrian School” of economics which in general is very supportive of free market economic policies with limited government interference.  Correspondingly, this school of economic thougth typically takes a very dim view of the effectiveness government fiscal intervention upon economic growth.  

As you can deduce, Austrian economists are typically NOT in favor of the types of government fiscal intervention being practiced in these days.  For more on this train of economic thought I would encourage you to visit such websites as the Ludwig von Mises Institute (http://mises.org/), the CATO Institute (http://www.cato.org/), The Heritage Foundation (http://www.heritage.org/), The Foundation for Economic Education (http://www.fee.org/) and other free market economics-oriented websites.

My own personal leaning is in this “free market”, limited interventionist direction.  That said, I surely respect such capable economists as Greg Mankiw and Larry Summers.  Lets hope that capable and sound economic advice is provided to the incoming administration in regards to policies that will truly promote long term economic growth in the U.S., with as much limitation as possible in the debt leverage of the U.S. government upon the U.S. economy.

Following are a few pertinent exerpts from Peter Boettke’s article taking a critically constructive view of Keynesian economic practices.


The Legacy of Lord Keynes

By Peter Boettke, George Mason University, pboettke@gmu.edu


“The problem with economics since 1940 has been the thorough victory of Keynes throughout the democratic western nations.  We have Keynesian theory, the development of Keynesian inspired data collection, the “testing” of Keynesian theory via Keynesian data with the purpose of providing tools for Keynesian policy.  This exercise survived the Monetarist and New Classical intellectual challenge, and it survived the Supply Side revolution in policy.  All that remained was an oscillation between liberal and conservative Keynesianism, never a serious challenge to the paradigm of Keynesian policy manipulation of the economy.”

“Instead of reading Keynes one more time with feeling, I would suggest an alternative reading experience. (Or at least an additional one)  Start with Henry Hazlitt, ed., The Critics of Keynesian Economics, move on to Hazlitt’s The Failure of the “New Economics”, graduate to W. H. Hutt’s The Keynesian Episode, and then read closely Buchanan and Wagner’s Democracy in Deficit and then Higgs’s Crisis and Leviathan and War, Depression, and Cold War.”

“Sincerely, you want to know what is going on in 2008 — it is the consequence of the bad economic ideas of Lord Keynes that have led to the victory of Keynesian policy (of either the liberal or conservative variety) since 1940.  We are living through the consequences of Keynes’s ideas. The Soviet Union had to confront the legacy of Marxist-Keynesianism in the 1980s, and we are dealing with the consequences of Social Democratic-Keynesianism in the 2000s.”

“Hayek warned us about the “tiger by the tail” problem of inflation and Buchanan warned us about the destruction of the “old-time fiscal religion” due to Keynesianism.  Yes, Marxism and Social Democracy caused serious problems as they reflected a breakdown in restraints on the power of government, but we have to also recognize the fundamental role that Keynesian ideas on economics and economic policy fed into this shift from constitutional democracy to social democracy throughout the 20th century in the West and the policy reality of conspicuous production for “growth accounting” in the Soviet Bloc nations after the Industrialization Debate in the 1920s, the Collectivization of the 1930s, and Five-Year Planning system from Stalin to Brezhnev. Keynesianism represented the pushing open of an already opened door to fiscal and monetary irresponsibility and opportunistic politicians left and right walked right through.  I am sure stating this sentiment this way will qualify me as a “wing-nut” in Brad De Long’s classifications, but instead of admitting my “wing-nutness” I would rather we have a serious discussion of the consequences of Lord Keynes with respect to world-wide fiscal imbalance associated with intergenerational accounting and world-wide inflation as governments attempt to meet those obligations through monetization of debt.  Somehow I doubt that will take place in our current intellectual and policy context.”



“Keynes isn’t the intellectual solution to our current woes, his ideas are one of the primary reasons we are in this mess in the first place. He was wrong in 1936, he was wrong in 1956 and 1976, and he is certainly wrong in 2008 and will be wrong in 2036.  Bad economic ideas result in bad economic policy which in turn result in bad economic consequences, and that simple linear relationship is true across time and place.  Until we come to grips with the implications of this, we will not understand the consequences of Lord Keynes for our economic future let alone the economic future of our grandchildren.”

See full size image
The Canadian Rockies (here)

“Far-Reaching Reforms Can Wait” According to Robert J. Samuelson

1 12 2008

In a December 1st article, Newsweek business and economics writer Robert J. Samuelson (background info) addressess the issue of whether or not the Administration of President-elect Barack Obama should aggressvely pursue various major reforms immediately in early 2009, or wait until the U.S. economy recovers. 

 Robert Samuelson’s weekly column explores political, economic and social issues. He began his journalism career in 1969 and has held positions at The Washington Post, The National Journal, and Newsweek. Samuelson has won numerous awards, including The Gerald Loeb Award for Best Commentary in 1993, 1986 and 1983 (Source for picture and description, Investor’s Business Daily Editorialshere)

Samuelson’s opinion on the preferable public policy / economic policy course for the Obama Administration to take is consistent with the title of the December 1st article, i.e., “Far-Reaching Reforms Can Wait”  The full article can be found at the following web address: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/12/obamas_hard_choice.html

Following are some key exerpts from the article, with underlines and bold text on areas that I personally think are most important to consider ….


Far-Reaching Reforms Can Wait

By Robert Samuelson, Newsweek, 12/1/2008

WASHINGTON — As he assembles his economic team, Barack Obama faces a central strategic decision that only he can make. Starting with his “economic stimulus” plan, will he focus mainly on reviving the economy and relieving the financial crisis? Or will he use the economic crisis as a vehicle to advance a more ambitious social and economic agenda? The two approaches are at odds. The first aims at building political consensus and economic confidence; the second would intensify political conflict and economic uncertainty.

The decision ought to be easy. Every new president is assaulted by his own supporters, who want him to put their particular agendas atop his “to do” list. That’s already happening, as Obama allies clamor for speedy action to provide universal health insurance, combat global warming and support trade unions. But Obama — and the nation — would be better served if he concentrated for his first year on stabilizing the economy while patiently laying the groundwork for more far-reaching proposals.

The hallmark of this economic crisis has been its capacity to surprise: the desperate plight of the Big Three U.S. automakers is the latest reminder. We can expect more surprises, because the U.S. and global economies continue to weaken at a worrying pace. Consumer confidence has plunged. In October, U.S. factory orders for durable goods (machinery, autos, appliances) dropped 6.2 percent. Abroad, signs are no better. Worldwide manufacturing production is declining at an 8 percent rate. Germany is in recession; China’s growth has slowed sharply.

Against this backdrop, the parallel pursuit of crisis management and sweeping domestic reform is at best distracting. In practice, it may be politically poisonous. Superficially, the two objectives can be made to seem compatible. Obama can plug “green” investments as a way to restore job growth; he can tout a more efficient health-care system as a way to control health costs. But these rhetorical debating points obscure as much as they reveal.

Any program to refashion the energy and health-care sectors — to take these obvious candidates — would be complicated and contentious. Some producers and consumers would win; others would lose. Proposals would create massive uncertainties for businesses and raise the probability of higher costs. To succeed in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, for example, any “cap and trade” program must involve higher energy prices.

The notion that “green” investments would be large, permanent net creators of jobs is mostly a mirage. Somehow these investments must be paid for. If that happens through higher prices, higher taxes or cuts in other government programs, then “green” jobs will mainly substitute for other types of jobs. As for curbing health-care costs, that’s desirable. The trouble is that the first effect of Obama’s health-care program would probably be the opposite. Expanding insurance coverage would initially raise health spending, as greater demand for medical care met a (relatively) fixed supply of doctors, hospitals and clinics.

Obama won the election, and in normal times, his campaign agenda ought to be front and center. But these are not normal times, and what’s most important now — as he repeatedly emphasizes — is to prevent the recession from feeding on itself. This is a clear danger. Consumer spending (70 percent of the economy) has declined for five consecutive months. Eroding tax revenues may result in state budget deficits between $200 billion and $250 billion through mid-2011, estimates the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal advocacy group. Required to balance their budgets, states face increased taxes or large spending cuts.

The compelling case for a big “economic stimulus” package is that it would cushion these and other spending declines. The odds are that any package will include the following: some direct payments to states; a renewed extension of unemployment benefits; tax cuts — reflecting Obama’s campaign pledge — of $500 for most single workers and $1,000 for most two-earner families; spending for infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools and, perhaps, windmills). Obama wants Congress to pass a stimulus package soon after his inauguration. Assuming he gets his wish, it’s then that he must make his crucial choice.

The temptation will be to press ahead with a “bold” legislative agenda — to ape the New Deal. This would be a mistake. The psychology of bruising legislative battles will not bolster confidence. The country does need to face its health and energy problems as well as deficit-ridden federal budgets. But trying to do too much too soon risks doing none of it well. We — and he — are caught up in a web of contradictions. In the long run, we need to discipline our appetite for health care and energy; we need to reconcile our desire for government benefits and our willingness to be taxed. But Obama’s first job is to avert an economic freefall.

Copyright 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

 The Andes of South America (amonty.wordpress.com)

Economist Greg Mankiw re: Proposed Fiscal Stimulus: $280,000 per job

24 11 2008

Congratulations and thanks to Harvard Economist Greg Mankiw for his recognition of the cost per job for the proposed fiscal stimulus package of President Elect Barack Obama.  Following is the web address for the article….



Monday, November 24, 2008

$280,000 per job

The Washington Post reports:

Facing an increasingly ominous economic outlook, President-elect Barack Obama and other Democrats are rapidly ratcheting up plans for a massive fiscal stimulus program that could total as much as $700 billion over the next two years….Obama has set a goal of creating or preserving 2.5 million jobs by 2011.


Let me amplify the last point with a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation. The average weekly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers is about $600, or about $60,000 over a two-year period. Granted, labor income is only about two-thirds of national income, and we have to add a few supervisors into the mix. So let’s say each job created means $100,000 of extra national income. If we are generating $100,000 of income with $280,000 of government spending, the multiplier is only 100/280, or 0.36. By contrast, traditional Keynesian models suggest a multiplier closer to 2.0.

Dividing one number by the other, that works out to $280,000 per job.
What is going on here? Logically, it must be one of three possibilities:
1. The fiscal stimulus is going to be much smaller than is being reported.
2. The new administration is setting a low bar for itself when it comes to job creation.
3. The Obama team believes in very small fiscal policy multipliers.


Greg Mankiw’s Blog address is http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/