Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Eco-Fascism Roundup

Below is a collection of essays written in the wake of the El Paso mass shooting and the alleged shooter's manifesto:

What is Eco-Fascism, the Ideology Behind Attacks in El Paso and Christchurch?
Luke Darby
GQ
@dukelarby

The Eco-Fascism of the El Paso Shooter Haunts the Techno-Optimism of the Left
Jesse Goldstein
Society + Space
@JesseGoldstn

Eco-Fascisms and Eco-Socialisms
Max Ajl
Verso Books
@ajl_max

After the El Paso Massacre, the Choice Is Green Socialism or Eco-Fascism
Jeet Heer
The Nation
@HeerJeet

El Paso Terrorism Suspect’s Alleged Manifesto Highlights Eco-Fascism’s Revival
Alexander C. Kaufman
HuffPost
@AlexCKaufman

Eco-Fascism: the Racist Theory That Inspired the El Paso and Christchurch Shooters
Tess Owen
Vice News
@misstessowen

Eco-fascism: The ideology marrying environmentalism and white supremacy thriving online
Sarah Manavis
New Statesman
@sarahmanavis

The El Paso Shooter Embraced Eco-Fascism. We Can’t Let the Far Right Co-Opt the Environmental Struggle.
Natasha Lennard
The Intercept
@natashalennard

To Fight Hate, Celebrate Capitalism
Jeffrey A. Tucker
American Institute for Economic Education
@jeffreyatucker

Goats and Dogs, Eco-Fascism and Liberal Taboos
Tom Walker (Sandwichman)
EconoSpeak
@sandwichman_eh

UPDATE:here are some more articles & essays

Why an Heiress Spent Her Fortune Trying to Keep Immigrants Out 
Nicholas Kulish and Mike McIntire
New York Times
@mmcintire
@nkulish

Eco-fascism: justifications of terrorist violence in the Christchurch mosque shooting and the El Paso shooting
Berhard Forchtner
Open Democracy
@openDemocracy

An alternative to the new wave of ecofascism
Micah White
Guardian
@beingMicahWhite

The Menace of Eco-Fascism
Matthew Phelan
New York Review Daily
@CBMDP
@NYRDaily

Nature writing’s fascist roots
Richard Smyth
New Statesman
@RSmythFreelance

Understanding the Alt-Right's Growing Fascination with 'Eco-Fascism'
By Tom Bennett
Vice News

Eco-fascism is undergoing a revival in the fetid culture of the extreme right
Jason Wilson
Guardian
@jason_a_w

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Goats and Dogs, Eco-Fascism and Liberal Taboos

When remembered at all, Edward Abbey is mostly thought of as an environmentalist and anarchist but there is no gainsaying the racism and xenophobia on display in his 1983 essay, "Immigration and Liberal Taboos." The opinion piece was originally solicited by the New York Times, which ultimately declined to publish it -- or to pay him the customary kill fee. It was subsequently rejected by Harper's, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Mother Jones and Playboy before finally being published in the Phoenix New Times as “The Closing Door Policy.”

Various white nationalist blogs applaud what they view as Abbey's foresight and forthrightness regarding immigration, presumably oblivious to how those views relate to his ideas about wealth inequality, industrial development and authoritarianism. Conversely, Abbey fans on the left who seek to insulate his nature writing from the taint of his anti-immigrant bigotry ignore the way in which, as Michael Potts put it, "a xenophobic and racist image of the immigrant as pollution... map[s] cultural and ethnic prejudices on to an idealised landscape." (Dumping Grounds: Donald Trump, Edward Abbey and the Immigrant as Pollution) Abbey's admirers on both the right and the left thus resort either to blinkers or lame apologetic to redeem him for their political preferences.

My interpretation is that Abbey was a curmudgeon and contrarian whose intended target was liberal hypocrisy. Immigrants were merely "collateral damage" of his colorful diatribes. In the pursuit of being provocative, though, he revealed more than he bargained for about his prejudices. It is precisely this flawed complexity, though, that makes Abbey's writing a kind of Rosetta Stone for deciphering the dire social hieroglyphics of our time. Presumably, Abbey did not think of himself as racist. He was indignant when accused of racism. But the institutions of the society he grew up in transmit racism in their DNA.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Have We Been Blocked?

I just tried to read Econospeak and was told it was blocked due to "porn content."  Has  anyone else run into this?  Are we being hacked and suppressed?  It said "contact system administrator if this is wrong." Can this get fixed, please, somebody?

As it is, I am on vacation in Door County, Wisconsin right now.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Krugman on Trump and Trade: Not Tariffic

I’m no fan of the Trump tariff tantrum, but weak criticism of it does no one a service.  And while I agree with Paul Krugman on a lot of things, he has a long history of being misguided on trade policy.  Alas, his op-ed in today’s New York Times continues the legacy of the Bad Krugman, not the good one.

Before getting to the theoretical meat, let’s take a moment to observe the holes in his argument that should have been identified and vetted before publication.

1. He cites a graphic from the Peterson Institute for International Economics that claims that Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods have risen to 21.5% this month from 3.1% under Obama (under the Most Favored Nation provision).  Applied to $500 billion in imports from China, that comes to almost $100 billion more in tariff collections, right?  Not so fast.  He reproduces a FRED chart that shows tariff revenue rising by only about $35 billion during the same period.  He hedges a bit (“the revenue numbers don’t yet include the full range of Trump tariffs”) and then tries to squirm his way out of the evidence that US consumers aren’t really paying $100 billion more for these goods.  We’ll get to the squirm in a moment, but note that some portion of the tariff will be paid by Chinese producers in the form of lower prices to maintain market share, and the evidence suggests that this portion is much too great to simply handwave away.

2. The squirm is Krugman’s assertion that the missing tariff revenue can be partly explained by trade diversion, where some goods formerly supplied by China will now come to us from producers in other countries like Vietnam.  Here there are two problems.  First, trade diversion does not explain the missing tariff revenue, since we are still looking at $500 billion of Chinese exports to the US.  Second, it is wrong to assume, as Krugman apparently does, that the shift from Chinese to Vietnamese suppliers can be interpreted as a hidden tax on US purchasers—“instead of importing from China, we buy stuff from higher-cost sources like Vietnam”—since there a multiple reasons why Vietnam might be a less desired source than China at the same price, such as quality, delivery reliability or Chinese domestic content rules.  Yes, there might be some diminution in the satisfaction we get from substituting non-Chinese goods, but this is not a tax in the macroeconomic sense.

3. Finally, to the extent tariffs function like a tax on domestic consumers—and of course they do insofar as we pay them—they can be offset through fiscal expansion.  Krugman is right to snicker at the Trump tax cut, whose benefits mostly accrued to corporations, which in turn mostly used them to finance stock buybacks.  So far, so good.  But in principle we could institute other, more beneficial types of fiscal expansion; in fact, that’s a central pillar of the Green New Deal.  So the bottom line is that, while there is a modest fiscal drag from unproductive tariffs on Chinese goods, what makes this a macroeconomic problem is that there isn’t a corresponding fiscal lift from environmental and infrastructure spending.

Now on to the theoretical problem, which psychologically if not analytically drives everything else.  Krugman is a high priest of the doctrine that trade balances are caused by capital account balances, which in turn are caused by macroeconomic “fundamentals”.  You can read all about it in the textbook he coauthored with Maurice Obstfeld; it will set you back only $300.  (Not mainly PK’s fault, of course.)  It shows up in his op-ed when he says, “Trade balances are mainly about macroeconomics, not tariff policy. In particular, the persistent weakness of the Japanese and European economies, probably mainly the result of shrinking prime-age work forces, keeps the yen and the euro low and makes the U.S. less competitive.”

The theory that trade balances are determined by macroeconomic aggregates (via impacts on exchange rates) is as close to being objectively wrong as any in economics.  First, the trade balance, or more accurately, the current account balance, is not one thing which can cause or be caused by another thing called the capital account, which expresses differences in national savings and investment.  They are one identical thing, the country’s international position.  We are talking identities here, three little parallel lines (≡), not two (=).  It is essentially what economists call a general equilibrium problem, where what is to be determined is not this component or that but all of them simultaneously, much the way the demand for natural gas can’t be said to “cause” the demand for coal, or vice versa, but both are reflections of underlying factors.  Elsewhere I’ve laid out the evidence that, based on what we know about transmission mechanisms, there is no general dominance of “macro” factors over “micro” ones.

If you want to know why some countries like the US have trade (and current account) deficits year after year, while others, like Germany, China and the Scandinavian countries, have chronic surpluses, the places to turn are international political economy and the varieties of capitalism literature in sociology and political science.  That would give us an entirely different agenda for repositioning the US within the global division of labor and finance, not Trumpian but not Krugmanian either.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Barro’s Misstated Case for Federal Reserve Independence

I guess I should applaud Robert Barro for standing up for the independence of the Federal Reserve and hoping it can resist political pressure to lower interest rates too much. But there are two aspects of his case that strike me as silly to say the least starting with his opening sentence:
In the early 1980s, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, was able to choke off runaway inflation because he was afforded the autonomy necessary to implement steep interest-rate hikes.
This statement glosses over the fact that we had a macroeconomic mess in 1982. This mess was in part to blame on an ill advised fiscal stimulus initiated the moment St. Reagan took office. But clearly the Federal Reserve overreacted. To be fair – Barro continues his magical history tour in a reasonable way until we get this absurdity:
one could infer the normal rate from the average federal funds rate over time. Between January 1986 and August 2008, it was 4.9%, and the average inflation rate was 2.5% (based on the deflator for personal consumption expenditure), meaning that the average real rate was 2.4%. The long-term normal real rate can be regarded as an emergent property of the real economy. From an investment and saving standpoint, economic equilibrium balances the benefit from a low safe real interest rate (which provides low-cost credit for investors) against the benefit from a high real rate (which implies higher returns for savers). In the Great Recession, the federal funds rate dropped precipitously, reaching essentially zero by the end of 2008. That was appropriate, owing to the depth of the crisis. But what few expected was that the federal funds rate would remain close to zero for so long, through the end of then-Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s term in January 2014 and beyond.
While it is nice that one conservative economist has finally decided that the low interest rates policies during the Great Recession were appropriate and not the harbinger of hyperinflation, Barro seems to be saying the long-run real interest rate has been the same for the last 23 years. There has been a lot of research to suggest otherwise. Rather cite all of this research, let’s just check out the interest rate on the 10-Year Treasury Inflation-Indexed Security, which used to hover around 2 percent before the Great Recession but is now less than 0.3 percent. I agree with Barro that the Federal Reserve should resist Donald Trump’s push for significantly lower interest rates at this time but I also hope that the Federal Reserve resists the temptation to increase real interest rates as much as Barro’s devotion to some 23 year average would suggest.

A Serious Problem For Dems

It is that progressive Dems some time ago glommed onto the idea that protectionism is "progressive."  It has been going on so long and has become so ingrained that Bernie Sanders has been running around bragging about how he is more protectionist than Trump.  Elizabeth Warren has been a bit more subtle about it, calling to renegotiate all existing US trade agreements to make them super strong on labor and environmental standards.

The problem is that one of the biggest disasters of the Trump presidency has been his trade wars, now pushed further with his latest move to raise tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese imports.  Stock markets and oil markets took huge dives all over the world on this.  The Fed has just cut interest rates to offset the negative effect on the world economy of Trump's trade wars.  Trump has delivered a big fat zero in terms of anything positive from his protectionist moves, and even industries that were crying for protection, such as steel and and autos, are now complaining about his trade wars.  And this has done a big fat zero for workers as well, whom supposedly our great "progressive protectionists" claim they are spouting their now completely irrelevant drivel.

This is going to be one of the biggest issues in the coming campaign, and while so far almost nobody is focusing on it, both Sanders and Warren are complete and totally worthless disasters on it.  I find this very frustrating given that on so many other issues they make a lot of sense.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Climate Equity: What Is It?

While action against climate change languishes, the rhetoric keeps getting more intense.  For several years now it hasn’t been enough to demand climate policy; we need climate justice.  We will not only eliminate fossil fuels in a decade or three, we will solve the problems of poverty and discrimination, and all in a single political package.  It sounds good, but what does it mean?

You might look for an answer in new legislation introduced by AOC and Kamala Harris, the Climate Equity Act.  As reported yesterday, it establishes a federal Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability, whose job would be to evaluate all proposed regulations according to their impact on low income communities.  No doubt this would bring more attention to issues at the intersection of green politics and social justice, which is all to the good, but creating new layers of oversight still doesn’t answer the question, what is climate justice?

Is justice about taking care of, say, the bottom 20% of the income distribution?  The bottom half?  Some other number?  And what counts as an impact?

The first thing to notice is that, by limiting matters of justice to low income communities, the bill reinforces a politics that divides the world into the socially excluded, the poorest and most vulnerable, on the one hand and everyone else on the other.  The majority of voters are effectively enlisted as allies of those at the bottom.  This is the consequence of drawing the line where they do.  A very different politics was proposed by Occupy, placing 99% of us in one camp and the top 1% in the other.

The second thing is, again as reported, the bill does not specify what impacts are critical or what criteria should be applied to them; it is a plan to have a plan.  Presumably the justice accountability specialists will know how to do this, which is useful since, apparently, we are still debating it.

The limitations of AOC-Harris become clearer when you consider what the centerpiece of any meaningful climate policy has to be: suppressing the use of fossil fuels, which will entail putting a steep price on them.  (This can be done either with a permit system or taxes, quantity controls or price controls; permits are by far the better option.)  We are talking hundreds of dollars per metric ton of carbon, which translates to several dollars per gallon of gas at the pump and similar added costs for heating, electricity and other energy uses and sources.  Will this have a devastating effect on low income communities?  Absolutely, and it will be nearly as unbearable for everyone below the top fifth or so.  Fortunately, we also know the solution: rebate the carbon money back to the public, using the progressive formula of equal rebates to all households.  This approach does the best possible job of protecting the living standards of the majority of the population, at the same time assuaging, as much as any program can, the fears that might make a stringent carbon policy politically unattainable.

This is not everything a carbon policy has to do, but it is the one part that is non-optional.  It does not single out low income communities for protection, however, and one could argue that every dollar that goes to someone in the middle of the distribution in the form of a rebate is one less dollar for those near the bottom.  If climate justice is simply about that bottom tier, the politics of AOC-Harris are deeply misguided.  On the other hand, we can avoid a lot of superfluous bureaucracy by simply insisting that all, or close to all, carbon revenues be returned to those who pay them in higher energy prices, and that this be done according to a progressive formula like equal lump sums.  That would mean we would stop beating around the bush when it comes to identifying policy impacts and adopt a majoritarian conception of social justice.

Incidentally, the article accepts as proven that low income communities “are disproportionately affected by climate change because they are often in flood zones, near highways or power plants, or adjacent to polluted lands known as brownfields.”  Not really.  It is true that the poor are always more vulnerable to any social or environmental disruption because they can’t afford to prepare for or escape it, but climate change is pretty close to an equal opportunity ravager.  Low elevation land can be at greater risk, as it was with Katrina, but sea level rise particularly endangers coastal property—typically higher end—while forest fires are an existential threat to the high income homeowners who have chosen to nestle their getaways in what they thought would be sylvan paradises.  The real social justice concerns about climate change are global: the truly vulnerable are those living in tropical regions subject to extreme heat, drought and flooding risks, and more violent storms.  I’d love to see legislation that takes that moral emergency seriously.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Origin of the 2 Percent Inflation Target

I have made most of these comments as comments on Econbrowser and Angry Bear (an excellent post by Robert Waldman), as well as on Econbrowser in response to a serious post by Jeffrey Frankel. I note that pgl has added useful comments on this matter in the other blogs.

So it was 1990 that the New Zealand central bank became the first in the world to impose an inflation target of 0-0.002.  It worked out pretty well for NZ, and in general it has not done too badly in general where applied, well beyond the US.  Of course, global inflation has declined, with a handful of exceptions.

In the mid-90s the US grew better than it had  previously, and in the middle of the decade there was an important moment regarding policy.  There was no inflation directive but Fed Chair Greenspan was facing a de facto such directive based on central Fed estimates that there was a known "natural rate of unemployment (=NAIRU) that must not be passed.

As it was then Fed Gov Janet Yellen in the mid 90s convinced Greenspan not to raise interest rates  partly because of a paper by  her husband, Noblelist George Akerlof.  This famous paper from 1996 out of Brookings where George was due to Janet being at the  Fed,

His  now famous paper with Dickens and Perry redefined this whole debate. So the hard empirical fact is that that nominal wages do not decline. The Akerlof et al paper shows that there is  no downard movement in nominal wages. His group said that given no  wage downs, those gaining will  push wages up.

George (yes, an old very close friend), has  coauthored with his wife, Janet Yellen, on why workers do not accept nominal wage decreases.  It is a matter of social relations within workers, with A and Y publishing numerous papers on why  that no wages going down.

So, in 1990 the  New Zealand central bank worked out OK In the mid-90s Yellen convinced Greenspan to lay back because there is no NAIRU or natural rate of unemployment, although there has never been a credible argument that the"natural rate of employment equals the NAIRU."

Barkley Rosser

Friday, July 26, 2019

Why is John Cochrane Nodding to a Gold Bug?

John Cochrane gave a preview of a WSJ oped he wrote in response to something from James Grant. Permit me to be brief about the utter nonsense from Grant before noting the more worthwhile discussion from Cochrane:
Jim Grant: The Big Flaw in Ph.D-conomics: The Ph.D. standard of monetary management was the topic on the agenda at the July 15 panel at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Discretionary central-bank policy conducted by former tenured economics faculty, or by people imbued with the doctrines of those learned people, is the system in place today. We discussants pulled at our chins: Is the system any good at all? It’s a timely, down-to-earth question. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, though a lawyer by trade, does business in a building infused with
Sorry but I refuse to go on with this rant as to how people trained in economics do not have perfect forecasting record especially since it is written by someone who co-authored a 1999 prediction that the DOW would soon hit 36000. The entire purpose of Grant’s rant was to advocate a gold standard. Cochrane was kind enough to provide a link to something from Grep IP entitled:
Judy Shelton, a Goldbug Who Bends to Fit Trump
This WSJ oped is worth the read. Now to what Cochrane contributed:
Pegging the dollar to gold won't stop inflation or deflation. Inflation was already quite volatile in the 19th century, and it would be worse today...In particular, if the value of gold goes up, you have deflation, which many people are worried about today. The gold standard did nothing to stop the sharp deflation of the 1930s.
Quite right and he notes that broader commodity standards face similar problems – which is something Stephen Moore apparently does not get. Cochrane instead advocates that we adopt a CPI target, which means that the Federal Reserve should target a zero percent inflation rate and not the current 2 percent target. Of course, those of us who lived through the Great Recession and also worry that the Wicksellian real interest rate might drop below negative 2 percent are advocating a higher inflation target – not a lower inflation target. Correction:It seems James Glassman is a popular name. James Kenneth Glassman is the co-authored of DOW 36000 not be confused the chief economist at JPMorgan. Now James Grant - this particular gold bug is a journalist who has his own Grant’s Interest Rate Observer and once suggest Ron Paul should head the Federal Reserve. James Grant also wrote The Forgotten Depression, which I believe has been criticized on this very blog. Glassman - Grant - we need to program to keep these monetary nutcases straight! Sorry for the confusion.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Pledging Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030 or 2050: Does it Matter?

We now have two responses to the climate emergency battling it out among House Democrats, the “aggressive” 2030 target for net zero emissions folded into the Green New Deal and a more “moderate” 2050 target for the same, just announced by a group of mainstream legislators.  How significant is this difference?  Does where you stand on climate policy depend on whether your policy has a 2030 or 2050 checkpoint?

I say no.  Neither target has any more than symbolic value, and what the government does or doesn’t do to prevent a klimapocalypse (can we use this interlingual word?) won’t depend on which one gets chosen.

Endpoint targets have no constraining power at all.  A 2030 target won’t be met or unmet until 2030, and by then it will be too late.  Same, and worse, for a 2050 target.  Moreover, the whole target idea is based on a misconception of how carbon emissions work.  The CO2 we pump into the atmosphere will remain for several human generations; it accumulates, and the sum of the carbon we emit this year plus next plus the one after and so on is what will determine how much climate change we and our descendants will have to endure.  (The relationship between our emissions and the earth system’s response is complex and may embody tipping points due to feedback effects.)  Every additional ton of carbon counts the same, whether it occurs today or just before some arbitrary target date.

What we need instead is a carbon budget, an announced total quantity of emissions we intend to hold ourselves to, starting right now and continuing through the end of the century.  That way, whether we’re living up to our pledge or scrapping it is put to us each year based on how quickly we’re using up our quota.  It sets the meter running now.

As a secondary point, caveat emptor about the “net” emissions thing.  Net of what?  Purchased offsets like in California?  (My emissions don’t count because I’ve given you money so you won’t increase yours by as much as you said you might, and I’m hoping no one else will step up and do your emissions instead.)  Or investments in forests, that may or may not continue to store carbon in the decades ahead, and which may or may not cause more harvesting of other forests?  A proper carbon budget isn’t net of anything; it’s an amount of fossil carbon we set aside for ourselves to burn, and that’s it.  Anything else, like bulking up our forests or pursuing other forms of carbon sequestration, should be additional, because at this point no feasible budget alone can be tight enough.

Repeat Message to the Mainstream Media: Stop Serving as Trump’s Propaganda Machine

I don’t usually like to repeat myself in these posts, but when it comes to the media getting suckered by Trump and serving as bots in his reelection campaign, I have to get shrill: no more headlines reporting on Trump’s tweets, taunts and tantrums!  Just stop!  Now!

The New York Times is one of the worst, and they would do well to read their own reportage on the matter.  Today’s edition carries an article entitled Trump Aims Words at Working Class, but Policies at Its Bosses, and the body says exactly that—which should come as no surprise to anyone who has been remotely paying attention the past two and a half years.  There is virtually no correspondence between what Trump says and what he does.  (And the exceptions, like border repression and the Muslim travel ban, are in policy realms in which he [unfortunately] enjoys majority support.)

Trumpian blather and obscenity are not an accident.  He has been doing this stuff for decades.  He gets to make his background and true agenda invisible while he slums as a dude with 1950s white working class politics, at the same time reaping the benefit of being perceived as unscripted, honest-for-better-or-worse and the opposite of every politician who has ever tried to put one past you.  But every word he utters is the opposite of what it claims to be: Trump’s themes are carefully scripted, cavalierly dishonest and political to the core.  It is all about misdirection, and like a devious martial arts move, it turns his opposition’s disdain to his own use.

The solution is simple.  The media should just stop megaphoning Trump’s mouth unless he is announcing a policy or personnel action he has actually taken.  Make Trump’s true agenda visible by stuffing everything else into the asides or back pages or just deleting it altogether.

Degeneration of Bipartisan Blog Sites: Econbrowser

This is probably just a whiny complaint of well-known and long running issues.  Indeed for a long time most blog sites (not to mention most twitterspheres and Instogram Idiotspheres) have been mono-partisan in those who participate in their discussions/debates. This has been true for a long time for most sites in the Econoblogosphere, including this site, which clearly tilts "left," even though we have always been open to comments from a wide variety of views.

I have in mind here a particular blog site that I respect and have been spending a lot of time and attention at for some time. It is Econobrowser, initially set up by Jim Hamilton, now at UCSD, and a leading time-series econometrician, long viewed as a nonpartisan technocrat. Some years ago he brought in Menizie  Chinn of UW-Madison as a co-blogger, with Menzie becoming the main poster recently, with Jim H only rarely now posting or commenting on anything.

This site has been for some time now one of the few among higher level economics sites where people from different partisan positions have been regularly posting, reasonably intelligently.  It has been for some time tilting "left," as Mr. Apolitical Jim H rarely posts, with Menzie Chinn dominating the site.  He served for both both Clinton and G.W. Bush as staffer on the CEA, giving him a cred cover of bipartisanship, although since Trump came in he has clearly been negative on Trump.

However, various pro-Trump commenters remain there, of varying degrees of intelligence and credibility.  But as even as some of them have disappeared (oh, where are you, Peak Trader?), some still hang on, even as the site has become dominated by leftist liberals, with me and this site's pgl among the most active there.

But a bottom line here is that I do not wish to see the various misinformed and trollish right wingers completely disappear from the site.   For its all its flaws, Econbrowser remains one of the few sites where one can encounter people making arguments from a variety of paradigmatic perspectives, and I am glad that they have achieved this, and I encourage them to continue with this useful public good.

Barkley RoSser





Monday, July 22, 2019

Mankiw Misrepresents a Story on Senator Sanders Campaign Worker Negotiations

Greg Mankiw reads this story and writes:
Staffers in the Sanders campaign, who are working on salary, complain that they are paid less than the $15 per hour that Senator Sanders advocates for the minimum wage. So Sanders raises their hourly wage. Does that increase their income? No, because he raised the hourly wage by cutting the number of hours they work! Of course, if a President Sanders raised the federal minimum wage, I am sure he would be confident that the change would not have any adverse employment effects. Downward-sloping demand curves may describe socialist political campaigns, but back in the actual capitalist economy, the laws of supply and demand work completely differently.
OK – he started his post by saying it is a wonderful story, which is true. But as I read the story, I saw a very different tale than the one Mankiw suggested:
Field organizers say they make a salary of $36,000 annually but work 60 hours per week, which is an average of $13 per hour ... Sanders' 2020 campaign was the first to unionize in March 2019. The union then made an agreement with the campaign that field workers were to be paid $36,000 annually. The contract, which began on May 2, also provides platinum level health care, paid vacation, sick leave and other benefits. Shakir also told Newsweek that leadership at the campaign previously offered a pay increase for field organizers, but that the offer was rejected in a formal vote. According to the Post, Shakir offered organizer pay to be raised to $42,000 annually and extend the workweek to six days. The offer was reportedly rejected because it would have elevated staff to a pay level in which they'd be responsible to pay more of their own health care costs.
Let’s note what Mankiw did not. The negotiations also involved what appears to be a decent level of fringe benefits in addition to a $36,000 per year salary. These workers are apparently working 60 hours a week, which if they did so for 50 weeks would indeed translate into 3000 hours per year at $12 per hour. Does Harvard require its faculty to put in such an incredibly demanding schedule? I hope not as we know Mankiw loves to spend time with his children. Now if one worked 6 days a week and 8 hours a day for 50 weeks, then $36,000 per year translates into $15 an hour. How Mankiw interprets this story into evidence that we are seeing a competitive labor market moving along a downward sloping demand curve is beyond me. I’m sure he can explain this all to his students at Harvard.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Frank Ackerman, 1946-2019


The world of economics suffered a sad loss a few days ago (July 15) with the death of Frank Ackerman.  Frank was a mainstay of the activist left within the profession; he was one of the founders of the magazine Dollars and Sense and could always be found at activities of the Union for Radical Political Economics.  He was notable for being one of the most exacting of critical economists, never substituting political passion for careful analysis and documentation of his evidence.  His “cool” personal style may have made him less prominent in the public eye, but those who knew him realized what an important role he served.

I crossed paths with him many times because of our mutual interest in, and horror at, benefit-cost analysis.  Frank coauthored his influential book Priceless: On Knowing The Price Of Everything And The Value Of Nothing to demonstrate that economic methodologies that promised to replace ideology with pragmatism were in fact riddled with ideology themselves.  His final book was Worst Case Economics, which argued sensibly for a prudential approach in finance and climate change.

I hope readers who have had a closer personal connection to Frank will use the comment thread or posts of their own to tell their stories.  This is an important transitional moment for dissident economics.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Hannity Calls For/Predicts War With Iran

OK, sorry if this is just over the top, but this evening Trump's close pal, Sean Hannity, has gone over the top both predicting and clearly supporting a full blown attack on Iran, "take out all their nuclear facilities."  Curiously a sign of how over the top this is was given by one of his guests, a colonel, warned that it would take nuclear weapons by the US to fully take out the most deeply buried  Iranian capabilities.

I am reasonably certain that part of why Hannity was sounding the war trumpet rather than his usual "investigate Hillary and the Steele dossier" baloney is that today Trump put himself into a difficult contradictory situation, having gone doubtful last night on his followers in NC chanting "Send her back" to supporting those chanters today. So, much easier to distract everybody with a possible war in the Persian Gulf (sorry, not "Arabian Gulf," not yet), especially given that there has been an ongoing escalation of incidents in the Gulf over oil tankers, with Iran pushing back against the US withdrawing from the JCPOA nuclear deal.

But the bottom line is that what Hannity spouts often ends up being what his close pal Trump ends up doing.  I take this spout from Hannity all too seriously.  We may well be in more serious war with Iran soon, with such an effort accompanied by far more massive lies than the Bush admin gave us when he stupidly invaded Iraq on false pretenses, although Hannity is assuring us that "It will be all over very soon, with no boots on the ground."  Yeah, we have heard that one before.

Barkley Rosser