Thursday, January 30, 2014

Basic Econometrics: Tiptoe through the Type II Tulips

An ancient bit of American folk wit asks, "If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a cow (dog, horse, pig) have?"

The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one. No amount of regression analysis virtuosity is going to "predict" or "estimate" that phantom fifth leg at a statistically significant level.

So what I'm going to say about Munnell and Wu's analysis and Type II errors may seem redundant. And if it was just Munnell and Wu's report that was at stake, it would be. But, as I pointed out in my earlier post, I'm looking at a minor genre of do-older-workers-take-jobs-from-the-young lump-of-labor boilerplate. This crap proliferates like the heads of Hydra, cut one off and it grows two more. So think of what follows as "cauterizing the stumps."

Type I versus Type II errors

In hypothesis testing, a Type I error is made when the null hypothesis is rejected although it is true. A Type II error is made when the null hypothesis is accepted but is actually false. This gets rather convoluted in that the null hypothesis posits "no effect", rejecting the null hypothesis implies probably finding an effect and thus the Type I error would find an apparent effect that doesn't actually exist. A Type II error would find no effect even though there is one.

"Statistical significance" refers exclusively to a low probability of committing a Type I error. It has no bearing either on the size of the effect or on the probability of making a Type II error.

Munnell and Wu reported the following finding with regard to the "crowding out" effect:
If crowding out were occurring, an increase in older persons’ employment would increase youth unemployment. However, the coefficient is negative and statistically insignificant, that is the increase in the employment rate for older people has no impact on youth unemployment. The second column presents the results for youth employment. Again, no sign of crowd out is evident. Instead, a 1-percentage-point increase in the employment rate for older people is associated with a 0.07 percentage points increase in youth employment. This finding strongly contradicts the crowd-out hypothesis.
How "strongly" does this finding contradict the crowd-out hypothesis? That depends on the statistical power of the test, which Munnell and Wu didn't report on and perhaps didn't even consider. In The Cult of Statistical Significance, Stephen Ziliak and Deirdre McCloskey reported the findings from their surveys comparing how statistical significance testing was used in papers published in the American Economic Review in the 1980s and the 1990s. Only 4.4% of papers published in the 1980s considered the statistical power of the test. By the 1990s, practice had improved somewhat -- to 8%!

Baroudi and Orlikowski give a succinct summary of the relationship between statistical power, Type II error and the reporting of statistically non-significant results:
Statistical power becomes particularly crucial to the interpretation of results in those cases where the null hypothesis is false; that is, when the phenomenon being investigated does exist. If the test reveals non-significant results in these circumstances, the usual response is to accept the null hypothesis and conclude that the effect being examined does not exist. Such a conclusion, however, would not be appropriate if the phenomenon actually exists but was undetected because the statistical test was not powerful enough. In such a case, a conclusion of "no effect" would be misleading; we would be generating a spuriously negative result - committing a Type II error. 
Was Munnell and Wu's statistical test powerful enough to conclude, as they did, that their statistically insignificant finding "strongly contradicts the crowd-out hypothesis"? They don't say. But a cursory glance at a scatter-plot of the 55-64 year old employment rate and the 20-24 year old unemployment rate strongly suggests it wouldn't matter anyway. There's nothing to see there. As Thomas Pynchon wrote in Gravity's Rainbow, "'If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers."

The crowding-out hypothesis is a red-herring. Plain and simple. This pseudo-econometric farce is about fabricating a rationale for raising the pension-eligibility age.


The Death of Communist Idealism

The deaths within a short time of two highly respected men in their mid-90s, who both were members of the Communist Parties of their nations, and only somewhat reluctantly abjured their past associations raises questions that must be more seriously considered.  It has been trivial since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War to dismiss orthodox Communism as a dead doctrine, only followed by lunatic oppressors in North Korea (although they officially went nationalist rather than Marxist/Communist some years ago), or those about to die, such as Castro in Cuba.  But it is a hard fact that both the most respected person on the planet, Nelson Mandela, and the freshly dead American folk music icon, Pete Seeger, were not only members of their respective national Communist parties, but maintained substantial elements of support for those even after they formally abjured their party memberships, that act itself a matter of some contention.

Not only that, but revelations of details of these facts has inspired various critics to denounce both of these widely admired figures for their apparent failures either to denounce their former associations (more for Seeger) or even to have joined the party in the first place (Mandela, whose membership was denied by him in his autobiography).  So, Bryan Caplan has denounced Mandela for his even joining the South African Communist Party (SACP, although in the old days they were the CPSA), with him having actually been a member of their Central Committee at the time of his arrest in 1962, with on them praising him for this on his death.

Regarding Pete Seeger, as a 17-year-old freshman at Harvard in the same class as JFK in 1936 he attended a few Communist Party meetings, joining the Young Communist League (YCL) and then the party itself in 1941, only to leave it in 1950.  Details of all this and other matters I shall refer to can be found at his Wikipedia entry, the New York Times obit for him, an article by David Graham at the Atlantic, while various sources have denounced him for his reluctance to denounce Joseph Stalin, although he would eventually do so in the 1990s, notably after the fall of the Soviet Union when he was given Kennedy Center Honors by Bill Clinton in 1994, when he apologized for having been slow to realize that Stalin was not just a "hard driver, but a brutal dictator."  He had in 1982 sung for the Polish Solidarity movment, which many take as a denunciation of Stalin, although it took until 2007 for him to write a song openly and clearly denouncing Stalin specifically, "Big Joe Blues."

So, before proceeding further I shall make observations on my own position.  In 2001, my Russian-born wife Marina, now in a plane over the Atlantic on the way to Moscow to visit her mother, and I took our then nearly 12-year old daughter, Sasha, to Moscow, and as a matter of history I took her to look at the corpse of Lenin in his Mausoleum on Red Square.  As one approaches this view, one passes the roughly 20 herms with busts just behind it (there being two further layers, mere tombs, and then those "in the Kremlin Wall," the US's John Reed in that first layer, and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in the latter).  Among those herms is the one above the corpse of Stalin, who had initially lain next to Lenin after his death, then moved to a secret grave after Khrushchev delivered his deStalinization speech in 1956, only to be moved back to his remaining location just behind the mausoleum after Brezhnev overthrew Khrushchev a half century ago (with Brezhnev's corpse now lying beneath a similar herm in that row now that nobody any longer seeks to join).  Anyway, ahead of us in line was an elderly man wearing many medals from his service in WW II, and Sasha got a serious lesson when we had to wait while this man stood for a long time and bowed very slowly and very deeply to the herm with Stalin's bust, even as she had been told that he was a mass murderer who killed millions and also personally had her much-respected great grandfather, Boris Mokhov, thrown in prison and profoundly tortured.  While at that time those men still walked the streets of Moscow with their medals clanking proudly, they do so no longer, only appearing in small numbers in wheelchairs on the May 9 anniversary celebration of VE Day, their numbers rapidly dwindling.

While I have just provided what is viewed in Russia and some other parts of the former USSR as the main reason why Stalin might be defended, that in alliance with the US and UK, he oversaw the main push that defeated Hitler, with 20-30 million Soviet citizens dying in this effort, which included the deadliest battle in world history that turned the war around, Stalingrad (now Volgagrad), and the world's largest tank battle at Kursk, which was the ultimate death knell for Hitler.  Needless to say some argue that Stalin killed more than Hitler, but if one counts Soviets who died in this war as a result of Hitler invading the USSR on June 22, 1941 with Operation Barbarossa as due to Hitler, it is  not close (although the Black Book of Communism's number for Mao of 65 million puts him way ahead of both of them).

So, Dave Graham argues that Seeger's communism was "all-American."  There is something to this, even if Seeger and many others naively followed the doctrine longer than could be justified by anyone paying close attention to what was going on. In the year Seeger joined the YCL, the party was in its Popular Front phase, allying itself with movements in other countries, with its publicly open national convention that year in the US looking like one would find today from the Dems or GOP more recently, lathered with flags and patriotic music and speeches.  Then CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder declared that communism was "20th century Americanism," and Seeger believed him, even though Browder was a paid sycophant-toady for Stalin.

I personally think that what was going on with Seeger, whom I profoundly admire as the Grand Old Man of American Folk Music and the composer of  many songs that will be sung as long as Americans sing songs, was a Yankee stubbornness that did not like people telling him what to do.  His great grandfather had been a famous abolitionist, and his father had been a Conscientious Objector in WW I.  It is ironic given this that his most criticized act was producing a pacifist recording with the Almanac Singers in early June, 1941, in line with the then CPUSA and Stalin line of peace between Hitler and Stalin, broken weeks later with the Operation Barbarossa German invasion of the Soviet Union (with Seeger after this serving the war effort in the US), and during a period when the US itself was still neutral in the war.  In any case, I observe that even many libetarians, who are often strongly anti-Communist, admire his resistance in 1955 when he stood against the demands of the House Un-American Committee (HUAC), a body that in retrospect must be viewed as the epitome of unAmericanism itself, and unlike any other witness in the post-Hollywood-Ten era did not refuse to testify by invoking the Fifth Amendment, but forthrightly declared his right not to reply to certain questions on the basis of the First Amendment, free speech, as foundationally all-American as you can get.  They brought a conviction against him for his temerity in 1957 as "Contempt of Congress," (snort), which was overturned on a technicality in 1962.  I shall quote his most famous rejoinder to them in the hearing that no one has ever overturned:

      "I feel in my whole life I have never done anything of a conspiratorial nature.  I am not going to answer any question as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs [he was a practicing Unitarian Universalist at his death], or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs.  I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."

     While he "drifted away from" the Communist Party after 1949, he declared that he remained a "communist with a small 'c'" for the rest of his life, even as he eventually mocked "socialists" for not noticing that no nation with a publicly-owned post office "produced a Federal Express."

     Although they are both greatly revered and were near the same age and died near the same time, Nelson Mandela's relationship with the Communist Party was quite different from that of the arguably naive Seeger.  I think that in the end Mandela's was also idealistic, but he operated at a much more difficult level and was as far from naivete as one can get.  It has long been known that his ANC, which he co-founded the Youth League of in 1944 prior to the introduction of official apartheid in South Africa, allied itself for practical reasons with the SACP at an early stage.  It was long known that many at the top of the ANC went further and joined the party in this alliance, including Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki (and Mbeki's father who went to jail in Robben Island with Mandela in the early 1960s).

      The SACP was a much more serious player in South Africa than was the CPUSA in the US, and after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, was largely brought into play against the black nationalist Pan African Congress (PAC), the racist rival of the ANC, it was not ridiculous for those in the ANC who sought a non-racist solution to the problems in South Africa and were looking at severe repression from the then hardline apartheid government, would look to the SACP for support, which remained and continues to the present day, against the racisms of both whites and blacks, even if the ally was severely flawed as the CPSU most certainly was.  We can poke at Mandela for covering up for this link, but after 27 years in jail and his peace-making performance after his release, such griping looks pretty minor. That he was the most respected person on the planet at his death is not seriously challenged by this information in the grand scheme of things, my friend Bryan Caplan notwithstanding.

There is another player here who is not disconnected from the deeper issue I am aiming at here.  That is Martin Luther King, Jr.  J. Edgar Hoover attempted to discredit him with several presidents by whispering in their ears not only the tales of his marital infedelities, but his links with the Communist Party.  Now, unlike both Seeger and Mandela, he was never a member of the party.  However, he did have two senior advisers in the Sourthern Christian Leadership Conferenc (SCLC) who had been member of the CPUSA up to the moment in the late 1950s that they moved to advise him, Stanley Levison and Jack ["Hunter Pitts"] O'Neill, the former Jewish and the latter African-American.

So, this brings me to a bottom line that is not generally recognized but should be.  While the Communist Parties of the world were involved with deep and serious evils, certainly any of those who supported either the Soviet Union based on the Stalin model, or its rival in China led by the even bloodier Mao Zedong, not to mention such lesser bloody dictators as Kim Il Sung.  Nevertheless, in certain nations at certain points in time where they were not in power, they came to be the only poltical entity that stood for an important principle: civil rights for all irrespective of their racial or ethnic background.  We know that in the USSR Stalin did not follow this always, but he stood in sharp contrast on this matter to Hitler whose raison d'etre was to exterminate a particular group, the Jews. In the 1920s and 1930s the CPUSA was the only political body standing for racial civil rights in the US, and in South Africa in 1960-62 its South African counterpart was doing so likewise in conjunction with the African National Congress (ANC).  That Nelson Mandela resisted, advisers to Martin Luther King, Jr. had adhered, and particularly that the great grandson of a prominent abolitionist who would compose "If I Had a Hammer" and put together the universally sung version of the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" would get his back up when pushed on the matter of his idealistic youthful party membership when pushed by HUAC and others of similar unAmerican ilk, must be considered in the light of this one great moral triumph and virtue of this party that otherwise must be viewed as covered in nauseating shame.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Inaugural Issue of Review of Behavioral Economics (ROBE)

A post discussing in some detail some of the papers in the recently released inaugural issue of the Review of Behavioral Economics (ROBE), of which I am the founding Editor-in-Chief, is available at a site at James Madison University.

Barkley Rosser

Basic Econometrics: Robots Demand Shorter Hours!

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
There are some facts that no amount of regression analysis can annul. For example, the following sentence appears in a report on the "Role of governments and social partners in keeping older workers in the labour market" from the so-called European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions:
Perceptions that early exit of older workers should be supported to help generate jobs for young people, linked to a view of the existence of a fixed supply of available jobs (the so-called 'lump of labour' fallacy), have been discredited (see Walker, 2000).
I, Sandwichman, am AKA the "Walker, 2000" cited above. And here is a sequel from the International Journal of Discrimination and the Law:
There is also a misconception that if older workers remain in employment, there are fewer jobs for younger people (Bisom-Rapp and Sargeant, 2013); which is often referred to as the ‘‘lump of labor fallacy’’ (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2013: 8; OECD, 2011: 76; Walker, 2000).
Zhang and Zhao cite Walker, 2007 in their paper on "The Relationship between Elderly Employment and Youth Employment: Evidence from China," as do Banks, Blundell, Bozio, and Emmerson in "Releasing Jobs for the Young? Early Retirement and Youth Unemployment in the United Kingdom." Only the latter authors, however, present evidence of actually having read the article by Walker they cited, "Walker (2007) expresses a sceptical view of the idea that economists have been able to prove the 'lump-of-labor' to be a fallacy indeed." Indeed. Thank you, Banks, Blundell, Bozio and Emmerson!

In a category all its own was the 2008 IMF working paper by Jousten, Lefèbvre, Perelman and Pestieau, which, although they didn't explicitly cite "Walker, 2005 (draft)", somehow managed to replicate almost verbatim two complete sentences of my draft without "any recollection of reading your article during the course of our research." A coincidence, no doubt. What are the odds?

The long and the short of it is: the Sandwichman has become, by way of citation (five, if you count plagiarism as de facto citation), somewhat of an authority on the relationship between retirement and youth employment. Also somewhat of a witness on standards of scholarship. But... econometrics?

As Bob Dylan said, or sang, "you don't need a weatherman," and certainly you don't need an econometrics textbook to know when someone's "model specification" blatantly violates ordinary common sense. But it can't hurt:
3. Dropping a variable(s) and specification bias. When faced with severe multicollinearity, one of the "simplest" things to do is to drop one of the collinear variables. Thus, in our consumption-income-wealth illustration, when we drop the wealth variable, we obtain regression (9.5.4), which shows that whereas in the original model the income variable was statistically insignificant, it is now "highly" significant. 
But in dropping a variable from the model we may be committing a specification bias, or specification error.  Specification bias arises from incorrect specification of the model used in the analysis. Thus, if economic theory says that income and wealth should both be included in the model explaining consumption expenditure, dropping the wealth variable could constitute specification bias. 
... [bunch of math omitted] 
From the preceding discussion, it is clear that dropping a variable from the model to alleviate the problem of multicollinearity may lead to the specification bias. Hence the remedy may be worse than the disease in some situations because while multicollinearity may prevent effective estimation of the parameters of the model, omitting a variable may seriously mislead us as to the true values of the parameters. (Gujarati, Basic Econometrics)
Note the phrase in the second paragraph, "if economic theory says..." This may lead even the avowed non-econometrician to conclude that omitting or not omitting a variable is a decision that should be guided by -- or at least in some way constrained by -- economic theory.

What theory? In the case of the retirement/youth employment literature -- of which the Sandwichman is an acknowledged authority (see above) -- the relevant theory would appear to be "the theory that the 'theory' of the lump of labor is a fallacy." I say "would appear" because such is the only explicit economic theory (loosely speaking) that appears in the articles' discussions.

It's an odd theory that boils down to "the amount of work is not fixed." What possible refinement could regression analysis add to the obvious conclusion, that the supply of available jobs is not "fixed", one could readily draw from a most cursory glance at the unembellished time-series data itself?

Does the technical term, "bullshit," ring a bell? Just look at the freakin' data, man! Munnell and Wu used data from the March supplement to the Current Population Survey spanning the years 1977 to 2011. You don't need an econometrician to show that when unemployment goes up, youth unemployment goes up, too. When the unemployment rate of older people goes up, the employment/population ratio of older people goes down. It's not rocket science. And, finally, the unemployment rate of older people is highly correlated with the overall unemployment rate.

Without putting too fine a point on it, something BIG pushes youth unemployment and the employment of older people in opposite directions. Even IF there were an association between retirement and youth employment, it stands to reason it would be SMALL in magnitude compared to the BIG thing that drives them apart. One doesn't have to be a weatherman, an econometrician or a rocket scientist to remain unsurprised when a relatively minor disturbance doesn't register as "statistically significant" in a regression analysis -- omitted variable or no omitted variable.

So what is really happening here? Why is this regression analysis elephant being belabored to give birth to this non-significant statistical mouse? It's about "keeping older workers in the labour market." Because, pensions. Or, to put it less delicately, it is about "improving living and working conditions" by cutting pensions. It is kind of hard to explain how taking things away from people will make them better off, which explains why one needs to do "regression analysis" that doesn't conform to the principles of Basic Econometrics.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Mystery of Economic Identities

Dean Baker has a takedown of Robert Z. Lawrence on his website today.  RZL said that reduced US fossil fuel exports can’t have an effect on the current account, since the current account is determined by net national savings, and changes in energy sources don’t affect the determinants of net savings.  Dean showed how, step by step, changes in the destination of US purchases can alter savings.  He also showed how the value of the dollar doesn’t have to adjust to maintain a constant current account position.

I hate to take issue with Dean, a much nicer guy than his public pit bull profile would suggest, but both sides of this dispute are mired in confusion.  At issue is one version of the macroeconomic net savings and current account identity:

(S – I) + (T – G) ≡ CA

where S is a country’s total savings, I is investment, T tax revenue, G government purchases, and CA is the current account balance.  (I prefer the financial balances version of this, but they are equivalent.)

What RZL did was to say that changes in spending decisions can’t change the CA because it’s determined by decisions to save, invest, spend public money and tax, and these haven’t changed.  What Dean did was to say that, au contraire, changes in spending decisions that redirect money to domestic producers can create more domestic income, which alters S and T, thereby altering CA.

What I object to is treating this identity like an equation.  What’s the difference between = and ≡?  The thing on the left side of = is presented as equal in measure to the thing on the right side.  The left can determine the right or the right the left, or perhaps the equation fails and they end up not being equal this time.  When you see an ≡, however, the thing on the left is the same thing as the thing on the right.  One does not cause they other; they are two different ways of expressing one identical entity.

The ultimate basis for macroeconomic identities lies in individual identities: a purchase is identically a sale, non-consumption of income is identically saving, and a credit asset is identically a debt liability.  One doesn’t cause they other, and they can’t add up to different quantities, ever, even for a really, really short period of time.

The problem with Dean’s answer, then, is that it is couched in causation and sequence.  A happens, which then causes B and C.  This opens the door to needless disputes over what causes what and what happens first.  Of course, there are causal mechanisms at work, but they are operating in all directions and simultaneously.  And measured net saving is the consequence of all of them taken together, as is the current account balance—which is simply net saving using a different set of measurement categories.

Meanwhile, regarding the possibly offsetting role of exchange rates in response to expenditure switching, RZL is pledging allegiance to the venerable specie flow mechanism, according to which changes in the trade balance automatically engender a change in relative prices that restores the initial trade balance.  It didn’t work under the gold standard, however, and it doesn’t work under floating exchange rates either.  This is an empirical reality, universally agreed to by those who study such things.  One often gets the impression with RZL that the policy conclusions constitute the fixed point, and arguments are adduced as needed to support them.

UPDATE: OK, I was flip in the last paragraph.  Species flow is an internal adjustment, and offsetting exchange rate movements are an external adjustment.  You could believe in one and not the other.  The fact that they are both pollyana-ish is not material in analytical terms.  Nevertheless, it remains the case that there isn't an empirical tendency for exchange rate adjustments to automatically offset CA imbalances.

Robert Samuelson Dumps On Bernanake

Well, this title is a bit strong.  Robert J. Samuelson in a column yesterday in the Washington Post, "Why Bernanke fell short," does say many nice things about Fed Chair Ben Bernanke on the eve of his retirement.  He "helped quell an intensifying financial panic and, arguably, averted a second Great Depression." RJS also reasonably credits him with "competence, candor, decency, and dignity" during difficult times.  He is even kind enough to avoid mentioning what many other observers have faulted Bernanke with: failing to foresee what was coming prior to the crash and doing much to prevent it, or even to deal with the housing bubble as it peaked and went downhill, although most of its rise happened prior to his becoming Chairman.  For Dean Baker, this latter lacuna simply reflects RJS's ongoing failure to recognize that there was a housing bubble.  (Sorry, does not look like this link is going all the way through to Dean's post yesterday, just to cepr, phooey.)

Nevertheless, Samuelson proclaims that "Bernanke's ambition transcended calamity prevention. He sought to kickstart the economy by keeping interest rates low..."  On this he is declared a failure, only getting GDP to grow "an anemic annual rate of 2.4 percent. Payrolls are still below their 2007 peak..." and so on.  "Bernanke's weapons were less powerful than assumed or hoped."  His "massive exertions to improve the recovery have so far yielded paltry returns."  While the stock market "recovered," this failed to lead to real investment growth as "Some chief financial officers said they financed investment from internal funds, not borrowing; others said investment was tied more to demand than to interest rates," although both of these claims have been standard stuff for years long before the recent period.  Bernanke's "ultimate reputation" remains up in the air, and "He was hindered by the high expectations of set in the Greenspan years."

All right, so much of this must be granted, although noting that in 2007 "half of Americans expressed confidence in the Fed; by 2012, only 39 percent did," does not seem all that bad given how badly the economy has performed since 2007 relative to before it.  In any case, it seems to both Dean Baker and me that RJS overdoes all this, including putting too much blame on Bernanke for the failure to get the economy going more as all had hoped and ignoring various other headwinds operating to make it difficult to do so, many of them not under the control of the Fed, with some of them even noted by Bernanke himself at points in time.

What has Dean Baker most annoyed is Samuelson's ignoring of the role of the trade deficit.  The economy would have done better if that had been smaller.  However, I think  Dean misses the point a bit on this.  In fact one outcome of the quantitative easing (QE) policies was that the dollar depreciated somewhat against some currencies of major US trading partners, notably the Chinese yuan/rmb and the euro.  Indeed, when the second round of QE was announced, leading officials in both China and Germany complained loudly on this very point, arguing that the US led by the Fed was trying to engage in classic "beggar thy neighbor" policies through depreciation.

As it was, Samuelson (and Dean) completely ignore, that compared to Europe, the US economy has performed quite well.  That 2.4% growth rate may well be "anemic" by historic US standards, but it is much better than what has happened in both the Eurozone and the UK, where double dip recession has been widespread, if now ending in most parts.  The US has managed to avoid this, even as the previously expanding BRICS economies are decelerating, in some cases falling into recession or near to it recently.  There is no question that employment growth in the US has been anemic, but it looks a lot better than in many other nations around the world, with more than one observer assigning a revived global leading role to the US economy under the circumstances.  In the face of all this, Bernanke's performance does not look quite so bad, even if the US public is disappointed.

Finally, there is the matter of fiscal policy.  While that of the US has not been as austerely contractionary as what has gone down in most of Europe, it has not been all that expansionary since the initial stimulus in 2009, with the deficit falling sharply since then, even as most of the public remains unaware of this simple fact, along with the sharp declines in employment that emanated from the state and local sectors until last year.  Needless to say, this is a matter over which Bernanke had no control, although he occasionally did point out the need for more fiscal stimulus.  On this point, neither Samuelson nor Baker give him any credit nor mentioned its role in the proceedings.

So, I grant that Robert Samuelson says appropriately kind words and recognizes Bernanke's role during the worst of the crash.  I also note that he ignores Bernanke's failures prior to the crash.  But RJS is too stingy with credit in the aftermath, failing to note things he did that were stimulative and how the performance in the US looks better than in most other countries, not to mention his ignoring the role of failed fiscal policy both here and abroad.  More credit is due than has been granted.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Arithmetic and Heritage Foundation’s Chief Economist

Heritage Foundation has a new “chief economist”?
That's why Heritage's most recent hire could mark a potential return to normalcy and respectability for the foundation. The new man is Stephen Moore, most recently of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, who is joining Heritage as its chief economist. He has previously worked at Heritage in the 1980's, the Cato Institute, and Club for Growth before spending the last nine years at the Journal.
I’ve read some of what Stephen Moore has written in the past and I was shocked that anyone would call him an economist. But I hear he did receive an M.A. in economics over 30 years ago. But seriously. Paul Krugman notes:
Moore has adamantly denied that the demand side can ever matter, at all. And he has done so in flat-out know-nothing terms: hey, never mind “fancy theories” that conflict with “common sense”.
Never mind fancy theories – let’s talk about 3rd grade arithmetic. Several years ago, Moore tried to convince his National Review readers that corporate income was subject to a 73% effective tax rate by summing the 35% corporate tax rate with an 38% individual rate faced by high income households. Never mind that this calculation ignores the deferral benefits most corporate tax attorneys get – it is just incredibly bad math as was pointed out by Kevin Drum and Brad DeLong. Suppose your shares in IncrediblyBadTaxPlanning Corporation generated $100 in pretax income in 2013 and they actually paid you a $65 dividend immediately. You pay a 38% tax on the $65 – not the $100. That comes to $24.70 – not $38. Brad found another arithmetic error with his:
Wall Street Journal Total Fail: Stephen Moore Takes a Weighted Average of 2% and 48% and Gets 50
Stephen Moore really did write:
Federal workers on balance still receive much better benefits and pay packages than comparable private sector workers, the Congressional Budget Office reports. The report says that on average the compensation paid to federal workers is nearly 50% higher than in the private sector, though even that figure understates the premium paid to federal bureaucrats. CBO found that federal salaries were slightly higher (2%) on average, while benefits -- including health insurance, retirement and paid vacation -- are much more generous (48% higher) than what same-skilled private sector workers get.
Let’s generously assume that the weight for benefits should be 30%. Then the weighted average is less than 16%. I’m told that Stephen Moore is not trying to deceive his readers as he actually believes the nonsense he writes. But then my question is why would anyone call someone who is this challenged by simple arithmetic their “chief economist”?

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Wisdom of Robert Waldman

 At Angry Bear:

"The assumption of a unique exogenous long run growth path absolutely does not follow from the D, S, G or E parts of DSGE. It is a separate assumption –a methodological a priori not an implication of other standard


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fallacy vs. Fallacy

"It may be reading too much into recent experience, but one could also argue that under certain constraints the lump of labour fallacy is no fallacy at all." -- R.A., The Economist Free Exchange blog
So much for the lump of labor, then, but how about the fallacy of the null-hypothesis significance test? Although not quite as alliterative and comical as the lump of labor, the latter fallacy has the merit of referring to something economists actually do -- and frequently do wrong, as Stephen Ziliak and Deirdre McCloskey argued in their book, The Cult of Statistical Significance.

I want to call attention to a rare direct encounter between the fallacy of the lump of labor and the fallacy of the null-hypothesis significance test that was highlighted in an Associated Press story,"Will Surge of Older Workers Take Jobs From Young?"  at the beginning of the year. The AP story revolved around a research report from the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, "Will delayed retirement by the baby boomers lead to higher unemployment among younger workers?"

After trotting out the ersatz theory of the lump of labor as a red herring and/or stalking horse, the authors of the report, Alicia Munnell and April Wu, conducted a regression analysis to find out if there was any "crowding out" of youth by increased employment of older people. To make a long story short, Munnell and Wu didn't find any crowding out.

To be more precise, however, what they actually "found" was no statistically significant association between older workers' employment and young people's unemployment. Surprising as it may sound, the two finding are not identical. In this particular case, there may be grounds to suspect that the statistical result yields no credible information about whether or not there is an effect.

Explaining why gets a bit technical, so bear with me. Munnell and Wu point out, in a footnote, that their model has excluded the state unemployment rate "when outcome variables are age-specific unemployment/employment rates by state, due a to a high degree of collinearity." Superficially, that sounds like a reasonable thing to do because otherwise the said high degree of collinearity would confound the results of the analysis. But is it? You can take the collinearity out of the model but you can't take it out of the sample you are studying.

Here's what Kevin Arceneaux and Gregory A. Huber wrote about multicollinearity in 2007 (emphasis added):
First, where MC exists, it is a basic characteristic of a sample. No amount of statistical machinations, however clever or sophisticated, will allow a researcher to identify the independent effects of regressors that are obfuscated by MC. A simple way to diagnose MC is to calculate the pairwise correlations between potentially collinear independent variables or to calculate Variance Inflation Factor scores (Gujarati 1992). If MC obscures the independent effects of certain variables, a joint significance test will nonetheless allow the researcher to test whether the variables are statistically significant as a group. 
Second, omitting variables from a regression model in an effort to eliminate MC is a cure certainly worse than the disease. This method requires strong assumptions about values of parameters and potentially introduces bias into the remaining model coefficients. At the very least, researchers who drop variables in this way are making the assumption that an omitted variable, X, has no effect on Y, rather than demonstrating so. 
Third, especially in small samples, where even moderate MC can make finding statistically significant coefficients for individual covariates with a real effect on Y less likely, the lack of statistical significance of a coefficient estimate should not be taken as grounds for concluding that the variable has no effect. In small samples, MC can reduce statistical power dramatically, obscuring effects where they exist and leading researchers to make inferential errors if they decide to drop a seemingly extraneous variable.
To sum up: collinearity is a characteristic of the sample, omitting variables is a cure worse than the disease and lack of statistical significance should not be taken as evidence of no effect. At the very least, then, one would expect Munnell and Wu to cushion their reported results with academic qualifications and cautions. But no.

Let's take a look at how an earlier economist, using prose instead of regression analysis dealt with the same issue that Munnell and Wu study. Harold L. Sheppard,"The Issue of Mandatory Retirement," (1978)
In times of prosperity and worker scarcity, however, discrimination against older workers can still prevail, all of which suggests that the phenomenon cannot be strictly understood within narrow economic variables. But regardless of the economic environment, much of our thinking regarding mandatory retirement and its relationship to job opportunities may, in the opinion of some economists, reflect the time-honored and -worn doctrine of other economists of a fixed lump-of-labor theory, that regardless of economic policies, there are only so many jobs to be passed around, and that the only remaining issue is how to ration them among would-be workers of varying socioeconomic categories. 
In this connection, there are other aspects of the retirement issue that should be noted; for example, a special form of involuntary retirement just as compelling as a formal mandatory retirement age. In my own analysis of data from the Department of Labor's National Longitudinal Survey, it was determined that the level of area unemployment may influence the rate of early retirement. For instance, in areas with an unemployment rate of more than 6 percent in 1973, 31 percent of white males 60-64 were retired, compared to 28 percent in areas with 4.1-6.0 percent unemployment, and only 24 percent in areas with 4 percent or less unemployment. This is a type of involuntary retirement that is rarely noted. 
The other economic doctrine somewhat in contrast to the fixed-lump-of-labor one is that an increase in employment (or in this case, the retention of a given group of workers), through a variety of policies, produces sufficient purchasing power to stimulate the further hiring by employers of all, or many, of the remaining cohort of would-be workers. According to this purchasing power doctrine, then, it is possible to remove so many "older" workers from the labor force that total purchasing power declines, support costs go up, and the resources for hiring other cohorts thereby are diminished -- and few, if any, win. However, there has been no systematic and reliable testing of either of these doctrines.
Note that other economic doctrine! Might this be a case of fallacy vs, fallacy vs. fallacy

Labour Markets: "A crazy explanation for what is happening to workers"

Ryan Avent at the Economist:

"It may be reading too much into recent experience, but one could also argue that under certain constraints the lump of labour fallacy is no fallacy at all."

One could, couldn't one?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Origin of the Term "Econoblogosphere": An Egomaniacal Post

Oh, I cannot resist.  I am going to claim to be the original neologizer of the now widely used term, "econoblogosphere."  Miles Kimball has just posted a video on its .future , which has also been linked to by the intrepid Mark Thoma on his links for 01-17-2014.  I have also seen it increasingly used by, well, lots of widely read people, including Paul Krugman and many others.  So, I am going to lay out my claim to be the first to coin the term and use it in, well, the eonoblogosphere, indeed anywhere in cyberspace or any other space, :-).

I did so in my very first post on this blog, back on September 2, 2007, not in the title, but in the body of the message, when I introduced myself to readers of this blog.  It appears on line 5 of the second paragraph.  I cannot say for sure that it is the first such usage, however, I know that when I used it there, I had not seen it before and consciously made it up.  Now, I have done some checking, inspired by this missive by Miles, googling all sorts of combinations, names, years, dates, this and that, and it appears that shortly after my post on September 2, others started using it later that month, Andrew Samwick on Sept. 22 and Felix Salmon on Sept. 29, being the first two I could find, but none others prior to them.

I am not going to claim that they got it from me, although this is not out of the question as Tyler Cowen had posted about me posting at Econospeak just before my first post on his Marginal Revolution, so maybe they checked it out and got it from there.  However, more likely is that at least one if not both of them thought it up on their own.  The term "econobloggers" had been floating around for months, so it was an obvious neologism to make.  This is probably one of those cases of near simultaneous independent invention that often happens, such as with Newton and Leibniz for the calculus (obviously a much less important issue than this one, :-))., but I am going to stake my ground here and now as probably being the first to have done so, until someone proves otherwise, :-).

Barkley Rosser

Added and see first comment:  Have since found earlier use on November 13, 2006 by Mark Newmark of Newmark's door discussing the ranking of eocnomics blogs by Gongol.  Sic transit gloria, :-).

"The long-debunked fallacy known as Say’s Law..." -- a perplexing guide to the perplexed

"With this I buy bread?"
"You want bread? Bang a baker!"

Paul Krugman wonders why don't da bunk stay debunked? He should ask a falleontologist (rhymes with paleontologist). When I was at Cornell, many decades ago, I came across an article and then a doctoral dissertation by Daniel Ellsberg that demonstrated the difference between risk and ambiguity. More recently I encountered a lovely explanation by Jeff Gill of the invalidity of the "probabilistic modus tollens" ("Ho" signifies the null hypothesis):
The basis of the null hypothesis significance test rests on the logical argument of modus tollens (denying the consequent). The basic strategy is to make an assumption, observe some real-world event, and then check the consistency of the assumption given this observation. The syllogism works like this:  
If A then B | If Ho is true then the data will follow an expected pattern
Not B observed |The data do not follow the expected pattern
Therefore not A | Therefore Ho is false.  
The problem with the application of this logic to hypothesis testing is that the certainty statements above are replaced with probabilistic statements, causing the logic of modus tollens to fail. To see this, reword the logic above in the following way:  
If A then B is highly likely | If Ho is true then the data are highly likely to follow
an expected pattern
Not B observed |The data do not follow the expected pattern
Therefore A is highly unlikely |Therefore Ho is highly unlikely 
Initially, this logic seems plausible. However, it is a fallacy to assert that obtaining data that is atypical under a given assumption implies that the assumption is likely false: almost a contradiction of the null hypothesis does not imply that the null hypothesis is almost false (Falk and Greenbaum 1955). For example (Cohen 1994; Pollard and Richardson 1987):  
If A then B is highly likely | If a person is an American then it is highly unlikely
she is a member of Congress
Not B observed | The person is a member of Congress
Therefore A is highly unlikely | Therefore it is highly unlikely she is an American.  
From this simple little example and the resulting absurdity it is easy to see that if the P(CongresslAmerican) is low (the p-value), it does not imply that P(Americanl Congress) is also low.
The ambiguous subject matter of economic analysis is thus not once but twice removed from the logical syllogism of modus tollens. Is it any wonder that economists keep trying to shine their boots with poop? I repeat: risk is not ambiguity, lime is not coconut, probability is not logic, coconut is not hedgehog. Therefore, the hedgehog is not a lime.

What does this have to do with the lump of labor? Plenty. Dudley Dillard (1988) called Say's Law a corollary of the Wages-fund doctrine. John Wilson (1871) denounced a "trade unionists' version" of the by then discredited Wages-fund doctrine that latter came to be known as the "Theory of the Lump of Labour" (Alfred Marshall dubbed his version of the lump of labor fallacy, the fallacy of the fixed "work-fund" an obvious play on the old wages-fund notion). Raymond Bye, whose introductory economics textbooks were ubiquitous in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, denounced the lump of labor fallacy because it violated Say's Law. Jevons's Paradox... And so, on and on we go, round and round, where it stops nobody knows. Say's Law is/isn't Say's Law is/isn't the Wages-fund doctrine is/isn't the lump of labor fallacy is/isn't Say's Law.

Just remember: ambiguity is not risk, risk is not logic, ambiguity is not logic.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish Cuts to the IRS Budget

Multinationals of the world rejoice:
The Senate, by a vote of 72–26 on Jan. 16, passed the omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 3547) to fund the federal government through fiscal year 2014. The bill now moves to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature. The House passed the appropriations bill Jan. 15 by a vote of 359-67. The legislation allocates $11.3 billion to the Internal Revenue Service, a decrease of $526 million, or 4.4 percent compared to the previous year's enacted level.
[Source: BNA]. Reducing the IRS budget allows multinationals to abuse transfer pricing in order to source less income in the U.S. I guess multinationals might be upset that some of our trading partners are increasing their transfer pricing enforcement. But as long tax rates abroad are lower than ours – particularly in those tax havens – allocating less of their profits here means lower effective tax rates. Of course, U.S. based multinationals must defer the repatriation of their profits at least until Congress decides once again to take the bone head move of offering another tax holiday on such repatriated profits. OK – we argued back in the Bush years that the repatriated profits would lead to more investment but we know the vast bulk of repatriated profits were paid as dividends to shareholders.

Say against Say: lower wages won't clear labor markets (It's the law!)

L'offre crée sa propre demande (supply creates its own demand) does not mean the same thing as un produit terminé offre, dès cet instant, un débouché à d’autres produits pour tout le montant de sa valeur (the finished product offers, from that moment, an outlet for other products for the entire amount of its value). For starters, la loi des débouchés is an argument about heterogeneity, not simply about quantity. It is also an argument about proportion, with "the entire amount of its value" qualifying the extent to which any given finished product constitutes a demand for other products.

La loi is thus more robust than "supply creates its own demand" but also more ambiguous. Critics of Say's Law have faltered on its robustness while proponents have ignored its ambiguity. In an 1821 letter to Malthus, Say supplied ammunition to those who would champion a doctrinaire reading of the law. With the proviso, "supposing even they immediately find capitals to set them to work at a fresh business," Say sought to refute Sismondi's objections to machinery as a cause of unemployment. Say's reasoning may seem circular here but I think the error is more substantial even than a mere affirming of the consequent: a rigorous application of Say's law of markets would conclude the opposite of what Say assumes in his letter to Malthus!

How so? In assuming displaced workers "immediately" are set to work in a "fresh business," Say at once treats labor as a commodity in two incompatible ways. On one hand, Say treats labor as a differentiated "finished product" that can be displaced by a machine which substitutes for its speciality. On the other hand, though, labor (power) is assumed to be an undifferentiated general capacity that can readily be adapted to a new trade. The elixir for this fantastic transformation from leaden particularity to golden generalization is, presumably, the wage. Given a wage of zero in their former occupation and a positive wage, however low, in the fresh business, displaced workers can be counted on to make the transition. The only fly in this alchemical ointment is the stubborn aversion of workers to low wages.

Of course not every redundant blacksmith can make the leap to concert pianist, even given a low enough starting wage. But people are adaptable, so the thinking goes. For finished products, though, Say's law offers no such reprieve. There can be no general glut of overproduction, only overproduction of some products co-existing with underproduction of others. The "fresh business" idea would come in handy here. If there are too many overshoes produced, it is simply a matter of re-labeling them as flower pots, of which there happens to be a shortage!

Sarcasm aside, Say's segue from workers being displaced by machinery to workers set to work in fresh business, from the particular to the general, raises the spectre of a general glut in the labor market, which -- because all labor is treated as homogeneous -- is not amenable to "redirection" by wage signals from localized gluts to localized shortages. Furthermore, in some industries the substitution of machines for labor power would be irreversible other than, hypothetically, at a negative wage because of the sunk costs in machinery.

With regard to labor markets, the phrase "supply creates its own demand" is not only not Say's Law; it violates Say's Law!

Will The US Congress Choose To Go To War With Iran?

Unfortunately this looks like a serious possibility.  I know that the entire rest of the world, with the exception of the Israeli leadership and the leaders of the Saudi royal family, want the Congress not to pass the current bills to impose further economic sanctions on Iran, just as the Obama administration has succeeded in getting an interim nuclear agreement on nuclear weapons with them, with negotiations ongoing to achieve a final agreement, which would almost surely be ended by the Congress passing these bills.  While public opinion, including a solid majority of the US Jewish population, supports this agreement, we have a bipartisan group of Senators now approaching getting enough votes for this insane legislation to overcome a presidential veto.  This is a new low for a body that has already put on so many shows of mass stupidity in the past, although this time there are a bunch of Democrats on board rather than it being some circus put on by Tea Party dingbats.

Iran's leader, Ali Khamenei, has issued fatwas against nuclear weapons.  I have posted this point more times than I can count, but regularly when I tell people this, the reaction is, "Oh, he is just doing that to trick us."  Not likely. He is a religious leader issuing a religious proclamation, and it should be taken seriously.  Of course while Ahmadinejad was president it was easy to ignore that Khamenei was really in charge and to focus on all the crazy statements that Ahmadinejad would make on a regular basis.

Then there is the myth that if the US just presses hard enough, this will be like South Africa or the USSR and the system will collapse to be taken over by pro-US  reformers who will abjure nuclear weapons.  Well, first of all, US pressure on Iran, just like the sanctions on Cuba, simply allow hardliners in Iran to justify their repressions and general bad behaviors.  However, the part that most people really do not understand is that the vast majority of Iranians, including openly and clearly the Green Movement opposition, support Iran having a civilian nuclear program, which is what the government has always claimed is what they are pursuing.  If somehow a bunch of secular reformers were to overthrow the Islamic regime, they would continue the programs, although maybe then we would say it is OK.  After all, the Iranian nuclear program originally started back when the Shah was in power with US assistance.

While passing the sanctions would end this round of negotiations and put the hardliners back in charge over reformist President Rouhani, the Iranians probably would not move to obtain nuclear weapons immediately because of Khamenei's fatwas.  But he is old, and if it becomes clear that it is simply impossible to achieve any sort of agreement on the matter with the US, his successor as Vilayat-al-faqi might well overturn his anti-nuclear weapons fatwa, and war might well then be the result.

After all, two months after he became president, Bush ended the ongoing negotiations about nuclear weapons with North Korea, with advisers inspired by Nicholas Eberstadt's prophecies of the imminent collapse of the regime whispering in his ears.  Instead, the North Koreans moved to obtain nuclear weapons, and their noxious regime remains in place, possibly worse than ever under the rule of Kim Jong-Un.  A similar outcome in Iran would be highly likely if Congress passes this awful legislation.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Outsourcing ObamaCare and Transfer Pricing

Robert Oak is not happy with the decision to give Accenture the responsibility for running
We pointed out earlier that the failed Obamacare website was poetic justice as CGI Federal is also an offshore outsourcer of U.S. jobs. But now the poster boy for labor arbitrage, offshore tax havens, and bloated, often failed government contracts is in charge, Accenture ... Accenture is incorporated offshore and has been the subject of many a Congressional hearing on inverted companies incorporated in Bermuda or the Caymans to avoid taxes.
Mr. Oak spends a fair amount of time on the offshoring of jobs by Accenture before going into the tax issue. Accenture’s 10-K filing for fiscal year ended August 31, 2013 indicates that its average annual pretax income for the past 3 years has been $3918.5 million and that its average annual tax bill $941 million for an effective tax rate = 24%. This is not particularly that low for a multinational domiciled in a tax haven. But looking more closely at the details, a somewhat odd picture emerges. If we look at Accenture’s reported foreign taxes as a share of foreign sourced income, this ratio over this 3-year period has been 21.4% whereas its U.S. taxes as a share of U.S. sourced income has been 33.5%. The 24% effective tax rate should be seen as a weighted average of these two ratios with U.S. sourced income being less than 21.4 percent of worldwide income (on an average annual basis, U.S. income was only $837.1 million). Accenture, however, reports that 37% of its revenue is from U.S. business. How the share of U.S. sourced income was so low when 37% of its revenue was from U.S. sourced business is not clear from a reading of its financials as reported on this 10-K. One would have thought the U.S. still owned some of the worldwide Accenture intangibles so under arm’s length pricing we would have seen more U.S. sourced income. Then again as Mr. Oak notes – Accenture does offshore the responsibility for performing on U.S. based contracts.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Are People Being Mean To Those Doing DSGE Models, Or Is It The Other Way Around?

There has been an outbreak recently of people picking on the usefulness of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models in analyzing macroeconomies, particularly for policymaking and forecasting purposes.  This has been going on for a long time, and I confess to having been one of the guilty parties.  In the past those of us doing it have tended to emphasize the unreality of assumptions in these models, such as rational expectations and general equilibrium.  Although newer models have allowed for limited versions of heterogeneous agents, many of them have also assumed a homogeneous agent.  Positivist instrumentalism is used to justify making obviously unrealistic assumptions in order to achieve empirical understanding and especially forecastibility.  While the calibration of DSGE models have allowed them to be able to replicate past outcomes, their ability to forecast the future or provide even conditional policy advice, the latter what they are supposed to do best given their supposed ability to satisfy the Lucas Critique, has proven very poor, with 2008-09 the poster boy for this.  Supposedly front room central bankers are highly frustrated with what they are getting from their DSGE modelers in the back rooms (although they also use Klein-style quasi-Keynesian models and purely atheoretical VAR-type time-series models as well), with these complaints becoming public and many criticizing these models.

The most recent outbreak first showed up on the infamously anonymous Econ Job Market Rumors site only to get repeated by Noah Smith and some others who note that these models simply are not used by any private consultants or investment firms or, well, any private firm that anybody has been able to dredge up in lengthy comments, although one commenter noted that at least one firm uses an ability to DSGE model as a screening device for hiring people, given that this does take some quantitative skills, even though these people are not being hired to actually do any DSGE modeling.  This lack of any such use by the private sector is touted as the final bottom line proof of the ultimate worthlessness of these models.

On the other hand others argue that this is unfair and overblown, with Tyler Cowen weighing in that even if there are problems with DSGE models, people should merely "devalue" rather than "dismiss" them, the latter argued to be unreasonable and narrow-minded, .  (This has a link to Noah's post, which I seem to be unable to  link to for whatever reason.).  The comments on Tyler's post go further in defending the DSGE approach more generally on the basis of its consistency with micro optimization that is foundational for micro, and this is all about microfoundations naturally, and "we cannot throw out all our textbooks!" blah blah blah.  One defender did claim that DSGE models, "in all but name," are used by private firms, although without mentioning any specifically, and somebody on Noah's site brought up Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) models, which are used by private firms, but only for micro rather than macro purposes.

So why has all this back and forth become so heated and nasty?  Part of it is that the defenders of DSGE have been fully arrogant and have fought back and maintained their position, even as they have been ridiculed and attacked by many.  I dislike invoking what looks like conspiracy theory, but the hard fact is that the advocates of DSGE modeling in its varied forms continue to control both the top journals as well as the top departments in economics.  One of the more serious alternatives that has been put forward to DSGE models has been Agent-Based Models (ABM).  I know that not a single ABM paper has been published in a top 4 journal.  I know that when these are submitted, they are rejected on such grounds as "this is not an equilibrium model," which is a sign that failure to fit into the DSGE paradigm is sufficient for the papers to be rejected.  The defenders of DSGE trumpet this lack of such papers getting into the top journals, actually bragging about it, although most loudly on anonymouse sites like EJMR.  Rather than evidence of suppression of competing ideas, this is seen as proof positive of the rightness of their position.  It is this, and their stranglehold on the research departments of most central banks as well, which draws forth the ridicule and opposition when their models have so clearly failed to deliver the advertised goods.

Let me recognize that DSGE modelers are trying hard to make their models more useful for studying things that have occurred.  They are introducing heterogeneous agents in the form of intervals containing continua of agents who as an interval act like the homogeneous agent of the older models, although allowing some endogeneity of the distribution across the interval, such as a wealth distribution.  They are introducing financial frictions into them, thereby supposedly Minskyizing them.  Some now even have forms of bounded rationality rather than full rationality in the form of extra elements added to the stochastic shocks that are already assumed to be driving everything in these models.  T'hey have long had price and wage stickiness in them, leading to the New Keynesian forms of these models, with such ad hoc devices as the Calvo pricing mechanism fairy, although most Post Keynesians and even some other Keynesians view wage and price stickiness as far from being key to a model being "Keynesian."  Indeed the idea that wage and price flexibility will eliminate business  cycles is a serious myth, speculative bubbles showing that excessive price flexibility can cause and aggravate them, and the general failure of the DSGE models to handle those one of their biggest weaknesses.

In any case, given the combination of arrogant self-satisfaction and defensiveness by the DSGE modelers in their various redoubts and the clear annoyance and dismissal of these models, most crucially by many who should be their main customers, policymakers, with this added rub of their complete non-use by the private sector, this fight is likely to continue.  They may provide "discipline," as their advocates note, but I also know that their appeal to micro is not accepted particularly by real micro general equilibrium theorists, who pretty much scorn DSGE models.  

Barkley Rosser

Added: DSGE models should be distinguished from Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) models.  These are open to some of the same criticisms as DSGE, but not nearly as much so. These have been around for a long time and used for policy purposes, but are strictly micro.  A well-known example is their use in predicting impacts on trade flows by sector NAFTA.  Several competing models were used that gave answers with different numbers, qualitatively similar answers in terms of which sectors would be affected how, although one can argue that this qualitative matter could be determined without them.  In any case, their strictly micro focus differentiates them from DSGE models, and while flawed, are used by private sector firms and viewed as more successful than DSGE ones.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Noah Smith And His Commenters Miss Boat On Fiscal Policy In 2013

I cannot make the link seem to work, but earlier this evening at Noahopinion, he posted on Bad Event Studies, arguing that the supposedly contractionary fiscal policy implied by the sequestration that started after March, 2013, may have provided a bad event study to test the relative strengths of monetary and fiscal policy, particularly market monetarism versus Keynesianism.  He proposed various combinations of outcomes, and in the end basically said we do not know because people may have been acting in earlier years on expectations about what was going to be done in 2013 in monetary and fiscal policies.  However, throughout, he and all the commenters accept the idea that fiscal policy was contractionary during the year.

This is wrong.

As is so often the case, what was going on at the state and local levels was completely ignored.  From June 2009 until the end of 2012, roughly 750,000 government jobs were lost.  Of those about 36,000 were at the federal level, while the rest were at the state and local level, with a good 500,000 of them at the local level.  Quite a few people in fact noticed during this period that the biggest drag on the economy was this downward pull from coming from the fiscal "policy" of the state and local governments aggregated, which of course is not somthing consciously controlled, and hence we do not think of it as "policy."

In 2013, all that changed.  In February, local governments began to hire and by midyear state governments did also.  I was only able to get numbers on this from a Washington Times report of all places in September, which drew on BLS numbers I could not find, but they reported that the combined increase in employment by the two together from February through August was 74,000.  Given that housing prices have continued to rise since then and they play a major role in this, it is near certain that this number was higher by the end of 2013.

I did find from a BLS report in December the total of federal government jobs lost for the year through November. That was 92,000 and can be blamed on the sequester.  Looks like pretty much of a wash.

So, the bottom line is that looking at fiscal policy in its entirety for 2013, it was neither stimulative nor contractionary.  The contraction coming from the federal sequester appears to have been about offset by expansion at the state and local levels.  There is simply no way to use 2013 to test any of this for this reason.

Yasraeh's Law

"In other words, the economy grows with every new worker." -- Allen Greenberg

As the above chart shows, "supply creates its own demand" only began to make its mark in the 1930s and "Say's Law" is not much older than that. Thomas Sowell, Robert Clower and Steven Kates have all tried to clear up what Clower has termed a "mare's nest" of confusion about what Say said and meant. "To this day," wrote Clower, "the source of the Keynes phrase ‘supply creates its own demand’ remains a mystery."
Whatever its original source, the phrase ‘supply creates its own demand’ is a far cry from Say’s phrase that ‘products pay for products’. 
After much pondering of Keynes’s remarks on Say and classical economics in the General Theory and earlier, I now conjecture that Keynes confused Mill’s interpretation of Say’s ‘theory of markets’ with the problematic presumption that seems to run through the writings of most pre-Keynesian economists, to the effect that there are unspecified forces (invisible fingers or hands?) operating ‘behind the scenes’ to ensure short-run viability of private-ownership economies.
So Say didn't say what Keynes said Say said, see? But note "the problematic presumption that seems to run through the writings of most pre-Keynesian economists." For clarity's sake, let call that problematic presumption Hearsay's Law. Supply creates its own demand. Technology creates more jobs than it destroys. A cheap market will always be full of customers. The economy grows with every new worker.

Marx criticized it as "the theory of compensation as regards the workpeople displaced by machinery." Jevons upheld it as a "principle recognised in many parallel instances." Regardless of whether or not the principle is or was "Say's Law", what did Say have to say about this erstwhile "theory of compensation"? In book 1, chapter 7 of his Treatise on Political Economy, "Of the labour of mankind, of nature, and of machinery respectively," Say wrote:
Whenever a new machine, or a new and more expeditious process is substituted in the place of human labour previously in activity, part of the industrious human agents, whose service is thus ingeniously dispensed with, must needs be thrown out of employ. Whence many objections have been raised against the use of machinery, which has been often obstructed by popular violence, and sometimes by the act of authority itself. 
To give any chance of wise conduct in such cases, it is necessary beforehand to acquire a clear notion of the economical effect resulting from the introduction of machinery. 
A new machine supplants a portion of human labour, but does not diminish the amount of the product; if it did, it would be absurd to adopt it. When water-carriers are relieved in the supply of a city by any kind of hydraulic engine, the inhabitants are equally well supplied with water. The revenue of the district is at least as great, but it takes a different direction. That of the water-carriers is reduced, while that of the mechanists and capitalists, who furnish the funds, is increased. But, if the superior abundance of the product and the inferior charges of its production, lower its exchangeable value, the revenue of the consumers is benefited; for to them every saving of expenditure is so much gain. 
This new direction of revenue, however advantageous to the community at large, as we shall presently see, is always attended with some painful circumstances. For the distress of a capitalist, when his funds are unprofitably engaged or in a state of inactivity, is nothing to that of an industrious population deprived of the means of subsistence. 
Inasmuch as machinery produces that evil, it is clearly objectionable. But there are circumstances that commonly accompany its introduction, and wonderfully reduce the mischiefs, while at the same time they give full play to the benefits of the innovation. For, 
  1. New machines are slowly constructed, and still more slowly brought into use so as to give time for those who are interested, to take their measures, and for the public administration to provide a remedy. 
  2. Machines cannot be constructed without considerable labour, which gives occupation to the hands they throw out of employ. For instance, the supply of a city with water by conduits gives increased occupation to carpenters, masons, smiths, paviours, &c. in the construction of the works, the laying down the main and branch pipes, &c. &c. 
  3. The condition of consumers at large, and consequently, amongst them, of the class of labourers affected by the innovation, is improved by the reduced value of the product that class was occupied upon. 
Besides, it would be vain to attempt to avoid the transient evil, consequential upon the invention of a new machine, by prohibiting its employment. If beneficial, it is or will be introduced somewhere or other; its products will be cheaper than those of labour conducted on the old principle; and sooner or later that cheapness will run away with the consumption and demand. Had the cotton spinners on the old principle, who destroyed the spinning-jennies on their introduction into Normandy, in 1789, succeeded in their object France must have abandoned the cotton manufacture; every body would have bought the foreign article, or used some substitute; and the spinners of Normandy, who, in the end, most of them, found employment in the new establishments, would have been yet worse off for employment. 
So much for the immediate effect of the introduction of machinery. The ultimate effect is wholly in its favour. 
Indeed if by its means man makes a conquest of nature, and compels the powers of nature and the properties of natural agents to work for his use and advantage, the gain is too obvious to need illustration. There must always be an increase of product, or a diminution in the cost of production. If the sale-price of a product do not fall, the acquisition redounds to the profit of the producer; and that without any loss to the consumer. If it do fall, the consumer is benefited to the whole amount of the fall, without any loss to the producer. 
The multiplication of a product commonly reduces its price, that reduction extends its consumption; and so its production, though become more rapid, nevertheless gives employment to more hands than before. It is beyond question, that the manufacture of cotton now occupies more hands in England, France, and Germany, than it did before the introduction of the machinery that has abridged and perfected this branch of manufacture in so remarkable a degree.
Actually, that's not far off Dorning Rasbotham's 1780 Thoughts on the Use of Machines in the Cotton Manufacture. Unlike Squire Rasbotham, however, M. Say didn't indict some ephemeral, unspecified "they" as saying there is "a certain quantity of labour to be performed." Instead, in his 1821 fourth letter to Malthus, Say specifically refutes arguments made by Sismondi about the harmful effects of machinery.

Good for Say! And even better that Say specified his own assumptions for the providential reabsorption of the workers displaced by machinery: "supposing even they immediately find capitals to set them to work at a fresh business..." Got that? Assuming they immediately find new employment... it's all good. Alvin Hansen remarked on this convenient assumption in his 1931 article, "Institutional Frictions and Technological Unemployment":
If we could assume that the displaced workers had somehow found new employment and were again earning wages, then indeed there would be a net gain in total real purchasing power arising out of the additional goods which they produce. But this is to put the cart before the horse, to assume the problem solved without explaining how it happened. And this is, indeed, what Say, Mill and Ricardo did. They argued that increased product means increased purchasing power. They assumed, without explaining how it happened, that the increased production had already occurred. If idle productive factors are set to work to make goods there will be no want of a market. Goods are exchanged against goods. Such was their argument. But the mechanism of labor reabsorption they did not explain.
The Say-Mill-Ricardo analysis assumed without question that idle productive resources would ere long be set to work to produce goods. The only question to which they addressed themselves was whether or not the new production would find a market.
Thus the "problematic presumption" Clower mentioned is indeed connected to Say's Law of Markets but only as an assumption that the problem of unemployment has been already been solved without explaining how it happened. That is, if we suppose that displaced workers "immediately find capitals to set them to work at a fresh business" then the Law of Markets assures us that the new production will find a market. It is not the Law of Markets, however, that immediately sets them to work!

From Hearsay to Yasraeh

I have described the lump-of-labor fallacy claim as "an inverted Say's Law on steroids." But if the mare's nest formerly known as Say's Law isn't really Say's Law of Markets, then perhaps it would be more fitting to call the lump of labor claim an inverted Hearsay's Law on steroids or Yasraeh's Law, for short.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Does The Polar Vortex Over The Eastern United States Mean Global Warming Is Over?

Not particularly.  Record temps are going on in Australia, and it has been warmer over the North Pole and in Moscow than in parts of the eastern US.  November set an all time record for world average temperature and December was well above long term averages, despite it being colder than normal in that all important eastern US.

That noted, it must be recognized, and has been by serious climate watchers, that indeed the rate of increase of average global temperature has slowed substantially in the last 10 years, if not completely halted, although the global warming deniers spout on about it being 15 years, which is not the case given that 1998 was an outlier way on the upside.  In any case, global average air temperature is not clearly rising at this time, even as the polar vortex now exiting the US does not prove this.

However, this does not mean that global warming has stopped.  Curiously enough, warming above that predicted appears to be happening in the oceans below 700 meters.  The main models used by the IPCC observers model the air, the surface water, and the deep water.  Air is now not warming as much as predicted, but the deep ocean is doing more so than predicted.  Looking at the total surface, it looks like warming is still going on, although I recognize that the models are not doing a good job of explaining why we should be seeing this particular pattern.  But one must expect that warming at the depths will at some point manifest itself in the higher levels.  Maybe we do not need to worry about warming of the air for a few years, but we may well face much worse warming of the air in the not too distant future when this comes bubbling up, as it were.

There is also the matter discussed by Martin Weitzman in Philadelphia about how climate outcomes probably exhibit fat tails due to nonlinear dynamics effects.  But we do not know how to deal with such matters in policy terms.

Finally, I am not going to take sides in the matter of what the polar vortex shows or what caused it.  There is a serious argument that it may be due to global warming, the "warm ocean, cold continent" effect theory, which others dispute.  However, there is also the fact that contrary to the claim of Rush Limbaugh that the term "polar vortex" was cooked up for this particular event, its first use appears to have been in 1974 when it was invoked as part of the then seriously considered theory that we were moving into a new ice age and was part of that.

BTW, I have noted this before, but will repeat it again, just in anticipation of somebody handing me the standard story.  Yes, by 1974 and certainly the later 70s, the ice age theory was falling out of fashion and not appearing in academic papers, basically a media scare phenomenon by then, although in fact it was not until about the mid-70s that global average temperatures began to rise again after a period of gradual decline starting in the 1940s.  However, there was a close debate over global warming versus cooling in the early 70s, with the academic papers evenly split in 1971.  It was CO2 versus aerosols.  What tilted the argument was that aerosols fall out of the atmosphere quickly, whereas CO2 does not.  But this was not factored in properly in 1971 and in fact global cooling was going on, so there was a real debate at that time, even though it was basically over by 1975.

Does Laurence Kotlikoff Understand Apple’s Business Model?

He wants to Abolish the Corporate Income Tax presumably because it would increase the real income for workers. Tax Justice Network has a must read challenging the supply-side nature of Kotlikoff’s argument. I just want to comment on this claim:
Apple’s tax return says it all: The company, according to one calculation, paid only 8.2 percent of its worldwide profits in United States corporate income taxes, thanks to piling up most of its profits and locating far too many of its operations overseas.
Tax Justice Network gives credit to Citizens for Tax Justice for this reality:
But Apple is a perfect example of a corporation that does not actually move many jobs offshore but rather is engaging in accounting gimmicks to make its U.S. profits appear to be generated in offshore tax havens.
Maybe Dr. Kotlikoff should read the latest 10-K filing for Apple. There he would learn a few things such as the fact that Apple outsources it production preferring to be in the design and distribution business. The vast majority of its R&D personal are U.S. employees. We also see this quote from their 10-K
As of September 28, 2013, the Company had approximately 80,300 full-time equivalent employees and an additional 4,100 full-time equivalent temporary employees and contractors. Approximately 42,800 of the total full-time equivalent employees worked in the Company’s Retail segment.
Since about 40% of Apple’s sales are to U.S. customers, it is reasonable to believe that over 16,000 of these Retail segment employees are also U.S. workers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Senate Approves Yellen

This is not going to be long or have  any links.  However, I am simply going to express my pleasure that finally the US Senate has confirmed the nomination of Janet Yellen to serve as Chair of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System.  One can argue that there should be no Fed or that it should be structured differently or that it is so under the thumb of this or that interest or set of interests that she will not be able to do anything useful or worthwhile.  But I think in spite of all of this, she is the best person to sit in that seat and deal with the issues that the Fed faces, which are very difficult indeed.  She is intelligent, knowledgeable, and with a calm personality that is needed for a position of such responsibility where one may have to face emergency situations.

I note that there were many Republicans voting against her.  I think that much of that was due to pressure from outside groups, particularly Heritage Action which has had the gall to "score" this vote thereby pressuring GOP senators to vote no, with this decision to score being based on their complaint that the Fed has become "politicized."  That this is supremely hypocritical is just screamingly obvious.

I shall also note that back in 2009 I was the first person to publicly call for her to receive this appointment.  I wish her the best in this challenging job.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Experts debunk 150-year-old theory

I like that headline. It's actually a sub-head. The top headline is Will surge of older workers take jobs from young (not to be confused with Will Surge of Older Workers Take Jobs From Young?). 

There's even a tiny bit of "balance," featuring Jamie Galbraith, sandwiched into the story:
Still, many remain unconvinced. 
James Galbraith, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, has advocated for a temporary lowering of the age to qualify for Social Security and Medicare to allow older workers who don't want to remain on the job a way to exit and to spur openings for younger workers.  
He doesn't buy the comparison of older workers to women entering the workforce and says others' arguments on older workers expanding the economy don't make sense. If there was a surplus of jobs, he said, there would be no problem with people working longer. But there isn't.  
"I can’t imagine how you could refute that. The older worker retires, the employer looks around and hires another worker," he said. "It's like refuting elementary arithmetic."
Experts refute 7000-year-old elementary arithmetic?

Why not? If experts can debunk a 150-year-old theory that's actually a 123-year-old parody of a theory, it should be elementary to refute that fusty old, Sumerian stuff. Go for it, April Wu!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Will Surge of Older Workers Take Jobs From Young?

"'We all cannot believe that we have been fighting this theory for more than 150 years,' said April Yanyuan Wu, a research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College... The theory Wu is referring to is known as 'lump of labor,' and it has maintained traction in the U.S., particularly in a climate of high unemployment." 
"The central intuition of Greek tragedy, as of psychoanalysis, is that there is one, unique fact which each individual anxiously struggles to conceal from himself, and this is the very fact that is the root of his identity." -- Harold Rosenberg, "The Riddle of Oedipus"
Over at The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman moans about "Zombies and Cockroaches" -- ideas "that should have died long ago in the face of evidence or logic" and ideas "whose wrongness is so obvious, once pointed out, that the people who stated it claim that they did no such thing... Next thing you know, however, the roaches have invaded all over again." 

Dean Baker at Beat the Press marvels at the cognitive dissonance inherent in the notion that according to various news sources, "at the same time we have no jobs because the robots took them we must also struggle with the fact that we have no one to do the work because everyone is old and retired."

I've got news for Krugman and Baker. It's not an ideas problem. It's an identity problem. Forget about zombies, cockroaches, robots and retirees for a moment. Consider, instead, that archetypal tragic Greek mother-fucker, Oedipus. Discussing "The Riddles of Oedipus," Rosenberg continues:
Kierkegaard describes a type of despair in which the self "wills desperately to be itself -- with the exception, however, of one particular, with respect to which it wills despairingly not to be itself." Action is heroic when, in addition to displaying courage, fidelity, etc., it involves an overcoming of this automatic will to ignorance, when it reverses the process that repels the one particular and forces the actor to embrace it. ...
The tension of Oedipus arises from its hero's insistence on continuing the investigation as an aim to be fulfilled after its horrid findings are as predictable as a result in mathematics. In action the disclosure of the self is an event in the self's coming into being as tragedy -- or as comedy.
So much for tragedy and the heroic. There is another word for action that doesn't remotely seek to overcome the will to ignorance: farce.  Marx's famous quip, in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, about world-historical facts and personalities occurring "the second time as farce" neglects to mention the third and fourth times and all the perpetual repetitions after that -- perhaps because all these clownish re-runs cease to be "world-historical" in any meaningful sense.

Helvetius offered another perspective on ignorance and foolishness: "Man is born ignorant;" he wrote in his Treatise on Man: His Intellectual Faculties and His Education, "he is not born a fool; and it is not even without labour that he is made one." (Might we edit that to say "it is not even without a lump of labour..."?) Helvetius went on to explain: 
The man who knows nothing may learn; it is only requisite to excite in him the desire of knowledge. But he who is falsely learned, and has by degrees lost his reason when he thought to improve it, has purchased his stupidity at too dear a rate ever to renounce it.
Much to the Sandwichman's dismay, an article appeared yesterday that rehearsed the fable that there is a lump-of-labor fallacy at the core of concerns about unemployment. I won't bother repeating the rebuttal beyond mentioning that the fallacy claim is a convoluted and dumbed-down version of Say's Law. Not only will an increase in labor supply automatically result in a proportionate increase in demand for labor, the "economists" maintain, but anyone who doubts such a auspicious outcome is guilty of believing that there is only "a fixed amount of work to be done." "Nonsense on stilts" doesn't begin to describe the arrogant stupidity of the claim. And, of course, it is impossible to refute such idiocy because it is so full of double-talk that no one can follow the claim itself, let alone the refutation.

Here is a list, in alphabetical order, of the headlines under which the story appeared yesterday and today:
AGING AMERICA: Will surge of older workers take jobs from young?
Are older people in the workforce stealing jobs from the young? Some experts ...
Are older workers stealing jobs from the young?
Are older workers taking jobs from young?
Do older workers steal jobs from younger ones?
Do older workers take jobs from the young?
Economists debunk claim that older workers who stay on keep younger workers...
Economists: Older workers aren't bad for young, economy
Economists: Older workers aren't hogging jobs
Experts debunk myth of old vs. young fight
Misconception: Older workers take jobs from young
Mythbuster: Elders don't take jobs from young
Old People are Stealing Jobs from Young People
Older Americans in workforce don't keep jobs from the young, economists say
Older workers aren't taking jobs from young, economists say
Older workers blamed for stealing jobs from young
Older workers don't take away jobs from young, experts say
Older Workers Taking Jobs from the Young? Nonsense! Say Economists
Older Workers Taking Jobs From The Young? Not So Much, Study Says
Perception persists that older workers take jobs from younger work force
Research: Boomers won't squeeze younger workers out of jobs
Researchers fight 'labor lump,' suggesting older workers are keeping jobs from...
Surge of older workers could take jobs from young
Will a surge of older workers take jobs from the young?
Will a surge of older workers take jobs from the young? Economists say the ...
Will A Surge Of Older Workers Take Jobs From Young?
Will Surge Of Older Workers Displace The Young?
Will surge of older workers take jobs from young?
Back in September of 2012, I wrote to April Yanyuan Wu and Alicia Munnell of Boston College, the authors of a Pew Charitable Trust report featured in the article. I explained that the fallacy claim was a canard and that I had written several scholarly articles rebutting the claim. Wu replied that she was "glad to hear that our results are consistent with those of your work." I wrote back to tell her that is not what I had said. I didn't receive a reply to my second message.

To Hell with April Wu, Alicia Munnell, Jonathan Gruber, Matt Sedensky and all the other hack economists and reporters who keep propagating this lie and calumny. What I want to know is why the non-hacks don't stand up to this perpetual hogwash. It wouldn't be hard to do, intellectually. But is there, perhaps, something in the economists' unspoken "code of honor" that prevents them from naming that "one unique fact" that is the root of their collective identity?

What might that "one unique fact" be?