Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

IN MEMORIAM: PAUL A. SAMUELSON

On Sunday, December 13th, Paul A. Samuelson has died at the age of 94 (link).


He was on the economic giants of the 20th century. His ideas reshaped the economic science and revolutionized the mode of economic thinking around the world. With the mathematical rigour and analytical mastermind, his groundbreaking approach to economic analysis transfored the economic science into a dynamic problem-solving tool. In this short essay, I will present my reflections on the life and contributions of Paul A. Samuelson to the economic science.

I first came across Paul Samuelson in the year before I entered the university. In the first year of the undergraduate class, Samuelson and Nordhaus's Economics was the assigned reading for the Introductory Macroeconomics. I read the textbook back and forth and I liked it; not because of its simplicity in introducing the analytical framework of economics but rather because of the clarity, intuition and incentives to undertake a rigorous pursuit of analytical economics at the theoretical and empirical level. In addition, Samuelson penetrated the application of linear programming to economic problem-solving.

Together with Milton Friedman, Paul A. Samuelson is the economic giant of the 20th century. Hardly any economist could take the same place in the scope of influence as an economic thinker. He conducted the Neoclassical synthesis. As an interested reader can verify in his Nobel prize lecture (link), Samuelson's synthesis combined a Keynesian macroeconomics with a rigorous Marshallian microeconomics. In microeconomics, Samuelson extended the Marshallian analysis of partial equilibrium with strong mathematical articulation of demand and supply curves, cost curves and deadweight loss. On the abstract level, together with Abram Bergson, he constructed social welfare functions based on three marginal conditions and extracted from earlier work of Kaldor-Hicks-Scitovsky analysis (link). In macroeconomics, Samuelson further affirmed the dominance of Keynesian macroeconomics with a strong emphasis on the role of fiscal policy in stimulating full-employment output. In addition, he invented the term multiplier and the acceleration, the former relating to the effect of change in exogenous macro variables on endogenous variable (notably, output) and the latter referring to the partial adjustment of aggregate investment to the capital stock. Samuelson-Hansen multiplier-accelerator principles spurred the theoretical foundations of Keynesian economic policy. He also popularized Overlapping Generations Model which later became the corner stone of innovations in the modeling of aging population. In macroeconomics, Samuelson also proposed the so-called "Samuelson-Mishi condition for the efficient provision of public goods. When the condition is satisfied, it implies that further substitution of private goods provision for public goods will result in a diminishing social utility.

Assuming Pareto efficiency, Samuelson-Mishi condition satisfied the criteria for Lindahl equlibrium. The equilibrium states that when individuals are willing to pay for the provision of public goods according to marginal benefits, it will be Pareto efficient. However, such condition is not compatible with the incentive mechanism since it requires the complete knowledge of individual demand functions for particular public good which could result in the asymmetric distribution of benefits in response to relevation-principled taxation.

As a student of international economics, I came across the influential theoretical work of Paul Samuelson. Modern international economics is a combination of mathematical economics, advanced microeconomics, game theory and international finance. One of the most interesting and penetrating areas of international economics are theorems in international trade. Under particular assumptions theorem postulate axiomatic explanations based on previous statements. Back in 1941, he proposed Stolper-Samuelson theorem together with Wolfgang Stolper. The theorem quickly became a source of academic debate. In its simplest form, the theorem states the following: assuming constant returns to scale and perfect competition, a rise in the relative price of good will lead to higher return on the factor which is used more intensively in the production of the good and to the fall in the return to the other factor. Stolper and Samuelson wrote:

"Second only in political appeal to the argument that tariffs increase employment is the popular notion that the standard of living of the American worker must be protected against the ruinous competition of cheap foreign labor… In other words, whatever will happen to wages in wage good (labor intensive) industry will happen to labor as a whole. And this answer is independent of whether the wage good will be exported or imported."

The theorem showed that the international trade between two countries could lead to the opposition of international trade since the relative price of labor-abundant good in the high-wage country will be higher than the world price of that good, reflecting the relative abundance of capital or human capital. The theorem quickly became the main theoretical weapon of opponents to free trade. Even today, Stolper-Samuelson is the best explanation of why labor unions in high-wage countries oppose free trade agreements and further economic integration with low-wage countries.

Another important contribution of professor Samuelson is the so called Ballasa-Samuelson effect which states that higher growth productivity growth rate in tradable goods relative to non-tradables will lead to the real exchange rate appreciation. Balassa-Samuelson effect also went through numerous time-series regression. The effect has been tested 60 times in 98 countries. Cross-section regression studies of Ballasa-Samuelson effect were analyzed in 142 countries. In a vast majority, the empirical evidence of Ballasa-Samuelson hypothesis was supported. The main empirical findings emphasize that productivity differential between tradeable and non-tradable sector is positively correlated with differences in relative prices. The empirical evidence also supported Samuelson's initial proposition that productivity differentials translate into higher purchasing power parity through real exchange rate appreciation.

In finance, Paul Samuelson penetrated the analytical aspects of lifetime portfolio selection. In 1972 he published The Mathematics of a Speculative Price which later became the ground of option pricing. Based on discoveries of Bachelier's pioneering work, he laid the foundations of stohastic price movements and random forecasting matches. His pioneering work in financial theory of speculation and random walk (stohastic) movements in stock prices became the underlying theoretical foundation in the emerging financial industry. In an article entitled Probability, Utility and the Independence Axiom (Econometrica, 1952), he discussed the role of probability models in measuring the overall utility. In this sense, he relied on Keynesian defence of subjective theory of probability and argued that thesubjective perception of probability does not inhibit the proper functioning of financial markets. In 1965, he published A Proof that Properly Anticipated Prices Fluctuate Randomly where he provided the foundation of the efficient market hypothesis that has been further developed by Eugene Fama and other scholars. For a detailed discussion of Paul Samuelson's contribution to financial economics, see Merton Miller's contribution in Britannica (link).

In addition to his theoretical and empirical work, he is the founding member of the Econometric Society and its president in 1951. In 1961, he was the president of American Economic Association. In the political sense, Paul A. Samuelson influenced the economic policy of the Kennedy Administration. In 1960, the U.S headed for the recession. President Kennedy, following Samuelson's advice, enacted tax cuts and a balanced budget. In 1964, when Kennedy tax cuts were enacted, top marginal tax rate was reduced from 91 percent to 70 percent. The economic reasoning behind tax reductions was firmly laid in the Keynesian multiplier (1/(1+c)(1+t)). Paul Samuelson and Walter Heller (Chairman of Council of Economic Advisers during Kennedy Administration) argued that lower tax rate would stimulate consumption spending and boosted output and employment. Throughout the 1960s, the U.S economy experienced one of the longest periods of stable economic growth, favorable employment outlook and balanced federal budget. Here is how JFK, following Samuelson's advice, supported the tax reduction (link). Also, David Greenberg's article on Kennedy tax reduction is a worthy source of further information on that topic (link).

On Sunday, the economic titan passed away. He not only revolutionized the field of economic science but also spurred the interest for economics and popularized it in a manner that turned dismal science into a problem-solving science based on theoretical foundations and empirical verification of theoretical postulates. His approach to economic analysis combined Marshallian microeconomics and Keynesian macroeconomics which he joined together after the WW2 in a Neoclassical synthesis. Compared to other economic thinkers, he knew how to formulate theoretical postulates in a manner that stimulates the research interest for further investigation.

He will be missed and remembered as the giant of the economic thought and a titan of economic theory.

Monday, December 07, 2009

MACROECONOMICS READING CLUB

For those of you who study macroeconomics and finance, here are some interesting articles on macroeconomic issues:

Menzie Chinn, The Employment Situation in the Graphs, Econobrowser, December 4, 2009 (link)

Menzie Chinn, Debt and Interest Rates; Some Empirical Evidence, November 23, 2009 (link)

Olivier Blanchard, Marianna Riggi, The Price of Oil and the Macroeconomy, Vox, December 7, 2009 (link)

Roel Beetsma, Massimo Guliodori, The Macroeconomic Costs and Benefits of the Economic and Monetary Union, Vox, November 27, 2009 (link)

THE CASE FOR CARBON TAX

Ted Gayer of the Brookings Institution testified before the U.S Senate, discussing the economic benefits of carbon tax over cap-and-trade (link)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

AUSTRALIA'S INFLATION, RECOVERY AND INTEREST RATE

Reserve Bank of Australia decided to continue the increase in benchmark interest rates by 25 basis points to 3.75 percent in the light of short-term inflationary expectations (link). Here (link) is a brief macroeconomic outlook of Australia.

DEFLATION - JAPAN'S FIRST BIG "D"

The Economist discussed the return of deflation in Japan (link). Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan has published an interesting publication of macroeconomic overview of the Japanese economy (link).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LIBERALISM vs. SOCIALISM

Today's Hardtalk on BBC World News (link) discussed the political, economic and social aspects of communism versus liberal capitalism with Slavoj Zizek ,a philosopher and professor at European Graduate School.

Mr. Zizek discussed the role of liberal capitalism in the modern age. He condemned communism as a failure of the mankind and reaffirmed the liberal capitalism as the greatest invention of the mankind. The topic discussed was the future of liberal capitalism. In arguable words of Mr. Zizek, liberal capitalism, although dynamic and powerful in delivering ends of political and economic freedom, is doomed to fail and it thus requires new politico-economic alternative, divisible at the intersection of market and the state. Despite the interactive debate, I would like to add some points to the discussion which were, in my opinion, either mismatched or misinterpretated.

The evolution of liberal capitalism throughout the course of human history has been emphasized by the expansion of economic, political and human freedom. The greatest inventions in human history were not conducted under dictatorial political regimes. But they were conducted during the age of limited government and free innovation environment. Anytime the powerful wit of government was enforced, innovation and discoveries suffered. Although Mr. Zizek recognizes the failure of totalitarian regimes to stimulate intellectual creativity, his analysis of liberal capitalism inherently neglects its role.

The ability of individuals and firms to pursue their own goals in liberal capitalism is enabled not because of the design of desirable goals but because the free-market capitalism evolved as an undesigned system of ideas under strong rule of law. If liberal capitalism, as Mr. Zizek argues, would be doomed to fail, the individuals never witnessed an unparalleled increase in prosperity and in the 20th and 21st century.

What has distinguished communist political regimes from liberal democracies are the institutions of economic freedom. There is a clear and remarkably positive empirical relationship between economic freedom and standard of living. The experience has shown that political liberty is a neccesary but not sufficient condition for prosperity. Both, the neccesary and sufficient condition for the pursuit of prosperity is economic freedom. Without economic freedom, when governments replace the rule of law with the rule of man, and heavily interfere with free-enterprise activity, these countries are doomed to stagnate. Totalitarian political ideology, claiming to create heaven on earth, has always turned towards the hell on earth.

During the interview, Mr. Zizek argued several times that liberal capitalism can eat itself and fail in a similar vain as communism did. The Soviet Union and the communist block certainly hadn't failed because of the lack of technological investment, but because communist political ideology erased the system of incentives. Even today, when several politically totalitarian countries sustained high growth rates, the superiority of liberal capitalism is even more obvious. The motion behind the economic miracle of Gulf countries, such as UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, is the institutional arrangement that promotes solid economic performance under robust system of law, market economy and incentives that allocate scarce resources into the most appropriate uses. In the interview, Mr. Zizek described Dubai's miserable labor conditions as "labor concentration camps" where workers from other countries reside. Although this view sounds very compelling to Marxist philosophers and political thinkers, no government agency forced foreign workers to go to Dubai and work there.

In fact, the economy of United Arab Emirates went through a remarkable restructuring with the creation of the robust financial and service sectors. As productivity growth and capital investment soared in recent decade, wage rates in Dubai are much higher than in other Arab countries. Still in doubt? Ask foreign workers in Dubai how many of them would leave the place and returned to work in their home countries; and why they don't do that. In addition, in Mr. Zizek's home country, labor conditions for foreign physical workers mostly from ex-Yugoslavia are not the envy of the world despite the most regulated labor market in the world.

There is also a wide array of case studies from recent economic history that show how economic freedom crucially determines the wealth of nations. In 1955, Hong Kong was a miserable place flooded with refugees from the mainland China. In 1960, Hong Kong's average income per capita was 28 percent of that in Great Britain. In 1996, it rose to 137 percent of that in Britain. Neither the dictatorial political regimes led to the economic boom in Hong Kong, nor the desire to create heaven on earth. It was a set of strong rule of law of British origin, limited government spending and free markets that propelled Hong Kong to the climb up the ladder.

Mr Zizek arguably enforced the proposition that global financial crisis led to the crisis of liberal capitalism. Although the global financial crisis led to the recession, high unemployment and deflating prices, it certainly has not put the existence of liberal capitalism into doubts.

The origins of the last year's financial crisis go back to the New Deal and presidential time of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton whose administrations, as benevolent social engineers, enforced numerous acts to boost home ownership. Back in 1996, president Clinton signed Community Reinvestment Act which forced banks to allocate housing borrowings to low-income neighborhoods. In the aftermath, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securitized risky sub-prime mortgage loans to save banks from default. Meanwhile, they inflated debt-to-equity ratio to 60:1. It means that for deposit of USD, there were 60 USD behind in debt that nobody was willing to bear.

In addition, the monetary policy of the Greenspan era kept low interest rates for too long which causeed an asset bubble and led to the decrease of mortgage values It led to the federal bailout of Bear Sternes and the failure of Lehman Brothers. It also triggered innumerable quests for federal bailout of financial institutions. Thus, it would be foolish to speak about the crisis of liberal capitalism after the financial meltdown. Is liberal capitalism to blame? Of course not. It is rather the greedy political apetite for destructive policies that compromised the stability of the world economy for the sake of short-term political goals.

Mr. Zizek wisely avoided the question of the post-communist politico-economic status of Slovenia after the collapse of Tito's Yugoslavia. True, Slovenia's superior economic performance in Yugoslavia was mainly due to its export orientation and higher growth compared to the rest of Yugoslavia. At the beginning of the independence in 1991, Slovenia was, by all measures, the most developed former communist country; far ahead of countries such as Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia. Today, Czech Republic virtually caught-up Slovenia's level of standard of living. In 2008, Czech Republic's GDP per capita was 94 percent of that in Slovenia. In 1991, it was merely of 60 percent of that in Slovenia. The politicians, of the same "market socialist" politico-economic beliefs as Mr. Zizek, designed the statist economic policy based on high tax rates, state-owned enterprises, weak rule of law and rigid market structures. Today, Slovenia's economic and political system more closely resembles Russia's mafia state than a liberal society based on economic freedom, rule of law and limited government. In a great part, thanks to the political ideology of "market socialism."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NEW EVIDENCE ON THE EFFECTS OF FISCAL POLICY

From Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna (link):

"We examine the evidence on episodes of large stances in fiscal policy, both in cases of fiscal stimuli and in that of fiscal adjustments in OECD countries from 1970 to 2007. Fiscal stimuli based upon tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than those based upon spending increases. As for fiscal adjustments, those based upon spending cuts and no tax increases are more likely to reduce deficits and debt over GDP ratios than those based upon tax increases. In addition, adjustments on the spending side rather than on the tax side are less likely to create recessions. We confirm these results with simple regression analysis"

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FISCAL POLICY AND DEFICIT BOMB

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former CBO director, discussed the negative effects of the new fiscal policy in the U.S (link).

CHINA'S CURRENCY POLICY AND YUAN REVALUATION

The Economist published a thorough discussion (link) of China's currency policy and reasons why yuan is unlikely to revaluate any soon.

JAPAN: THE LAND OF DEFLATION

The Economist updated the report on the Japanese economy which again suffered from monthly deflation (link). The forecasts for the end of the year forsee deflation as a structural problem of the Japanese economy and not as a short-term phenomena that would reflect temporary declines in domestic or foreign demand. True, the financial crisis and the recession depressed Japanese exports but the real cause of the deflationary persistence is to be found in the design of the monetary policy which pushed the Japanese economy in deflationary trap back in early 1990s.

The OECD's preliminary report on the Japanese economic outlook (link) suggested the Bank of Japan to keep interest rates low and immediately implement quantitative easing measures to boost the economic activity as long as the expected inflation remains firmly positive.

In 2009, the IMF's inflationary forecast is -1.1 percent. Recently, Deutsche Bank released an interesting report on the Japanese economy (link), emphasizing annual decrease in output by 7 percent country's record high public debt as well as its tearing debt scenario. Japan easily maintained high public debt because of low interest rates. In fact, most of the net value of the public debt has been denominated in yen which reduced government's interest payment risk and decreased the probability of government's debt default. Before the crisis, gross government debt stood at 172 percent of the GDP. The net debt, for instance, stood at 87.7 percent of the GDP mostly because public pension assets are counterbalanced by spending commitments.

The question is how to tackle Japan's disease of low output growth and persistent deflation that last well over the latest decade?

First, it is difficult to implement further quantitative easing for the Bank of Japan. If the Bank eventually decided to do so, the interest rate would go beyond zero ground, leading to higher future value of bond payments and, hence, higher indebtedness of the Japanese government. The Bank of Japan recently left the interest rate steady at 0.1 percent and decided to purchase government bonds to keep the monetary policy strongly accomodative.

Second, the Japanese experience with a long period of falling prices began when the Bank of Japan kept driving the expansionary monetary policy when temporary shocks in domestic and foreign demand led to lower capacity of the Japanese corporate sector. When output and prices started the recovery, excess reserves were compensated by further lowering of the central bank's policy rate. Low interest rates were not offset by the closing of the output gap so the measure to boost the aggregate private consumption, investment and exports hindered the goals of the economic policymakers. The result was a depressing decrease in the price level that couldn't be offset by quantitative easing and fiscal stimulus. The former would cause negative real interest rates while the latter would increase government spending, cause crowding-out effect and further increased the country's soaring public debt.

And third, Japan's unfavorable demographic trend pose a significant risk on the sustainability of government's pension system. As Japan's population is in decline, the overall private consumption decreases which leads the retail sector to cut prices to gain the market share. The rising aging population certainly endangers country's public finances, marred by budget deficits and the highest public debt in the OECD.

Japan's looming public debt and deflationary trap are the main inhibitors of country's long-term macroeconomic recovery. Pulling the economy out of deflation rate would require huge steps to reflate the prices such as charging banks for deposits at the central bank. That would raise the interest rate at the expense of decline in aggregate investment. However, the goal is not the mission impossible. What can save the Japanese economy from double D-trap is strong, persistent and high productivity growth. It would surely ease the burden of public debt, since the Japanese government's revenues would grow and thus, its borrowing abroad and raising the level of public debt were anchored. It would also allow for greater spending cuts. On the other hand, Bank of Japan could finally pursue the real credibility of the monetary policy and avoid the mismanaged quantitative easing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

POVERTY, INCENTIVES AND DEVELOPMENT

Daron Acemoglu wrote a marvelous article discussing the supportive role of incentives and institutions in global poverty reduction and economic development (link):

"If we know why nations are poor, the resulting question is what can we do to help them. Our ability to impose institutions from the outside is limited, as the recent U. S. experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate. But we are not helpless, and in many instances, there is a lot to be done. Even the most repressed citizens of the world will stand up to tyrants when given the opportunity. We saw this recently in Iran and a few years ago in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

WHAT EASTERN EUROPEAN TIGERS CAN TEACH WESTERN EUROPE

In yesterday's edition of WSJ, Johnny Munkhammar and Nima Sanandaji wrote a well-argued dissussion (link) on how Eastern Europe's advantage in terms of competitive tax rates, low tax burden and sizeable reform efforts in emerging from the crisis offer a great lesson for economic recovery of the Western counterparts.

DANGERS OF U.S FISCAL DEFICIT

The Economist has published two great articles on the anomalies of U.S fiscal deficit (link) (link).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

ECONOMIC COST AND BENEFITS OF GERMAN UNIFICATION

Yesterday, it has been 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall and the eventual collapse of communist political and economic system in Central and Eastern Europe. However, there is still discussion about economic costs and benefits of German reunification (Wiedervereinigung). I've been motivated to open this debate by professor Becker's analysis (link) on the size of countries and by the recent article in Financial Times by the contributing German economist (link).

Economists in Germany and the rest of the world have long warned against the consequences of the unification of East and West Germany. After the unification, German central bank set the exchange rate at 1:1. Because East German workers' relative productivity level lagged far behind the West German level, East German workers migrated to West Germany in search of higher wages. When wage rates between West and East Germany were equalized in the absence of productivity catch-up in East Germany, the excess labor supply in the East led to high unemployment and slow changes in the economic structure. As the exchange rate was equalized and wages prevented from the natural adjustment to productivity growth, the unemployment soared as East German manufacturing sector couldn't employ labor anymore. The unemployed received massive transfer payments which, even more than a decade after the reunification, still present about 4 percent of total German income.

Today, the figures suggest that East German GDP per capita is roughly 70 percent of the Western German level and the unemployment rate exceeds 12 percent - more than twice the Western level. Low population density and high share of rural population are the main structural obstacle to higher productivity growth in the East. The majority of models in economic geography and urban economics suggests that agglomeration economies occur where population density is high. The latter yields significant advantages in terms of spillovers, search cost, factor mobility, know-how and economies of scale. Low population density is a major obstacle in attracting investment mostly because firms are not eager to locate at the periphery in the presence of high search costs and in the absence of high-skilled labor, agglomeration and linkages to economies of scale. In the U.S, for instance, Pittsburgh's industrial restructuring from resource-based steel industry into knowledge-intensive information technology, biotechnology and software development required agglomeration which combined high-skilled labor, human capital, access to regional and international markets as well as high population density.

In Germany, for example, Hamburg generated the highest GDP per capita (€51,000) among cities and Bavaria (Bayern) generated the highest GDP per capita (€36,000) among German states. Hamburg and Munich, as well as the linking cities located in their vacinity are among the most densely populated areas which enabled them to develop core industries, spillovers, know-how and dynamic knowledge externalities. There is an overwhelming evidence that differences in population density are a good source of growth difference between east and west Germany.

After the unification, German fiscal policymakers favored an expansive fiscal policy which directed federal expenditures into poorer regions of the East to boost the development of infrastructure. However, at an exchange rate 1:1, West German firms were reluctant to invest in East Germany mainly because of higher relative price of labor. As East German workers moved to the Western part of the country, west German firms hired eastern workers. As brain drain became widespread, the convergence of east German income per capita slowed.

East Germany were far better off, if the country remained independent. The reunification of Germany would yield singificant economic benefits, if the unification itself were based on close economic integration with the establishment of free trade area and free movement of capital, goods and labor. If East Germany remained independent and retained its own currency without the uncovered exchange rate realignment to to West German exchange rate parity, the relative price of East German labor wouldn't increase and thus the unemployment rate would be significantly lower than it has been ever since the reunification. Thus, West German firms would easily find attractive investments in East Germany. The process would dramatically reduce disparities in population density compared to the West. Under such scenario, East Germany's macroeconomic stabilization and institutional reforms would be a lot easier and the overall economic and political transition much less painful.

BUBBLES AND MACRO RISK

Frederic Mishkin says not all bubbles are a threat to the economy (link):

"Nonetheless, if a bubble poses a sufficient danger to the economy as credit boom bubbles do, there might be a case for monetary policy to step in. However, there are also strong arguments against doing so, which is why there are active debates in academia and central banks about whether monetary policy should be used to restrain asset-price bubbles.

But if bubbles are a possibility now, does it look like they are of the dangerous, credit boom variety? At least in the US and Europe, the answer is clearly no. Our problem is not a credit boom, but that the deleveraging process has not fully ended. Credit markets are still tight and are presenting a serious drag on the economy..."

EUROPEAN ANTITRUST POLICY

From The Economist (link):

"Nevertheless, it is unclear how a transatlantic row can be avoided along the lines of the spat in 2001, when a planned merger between General Electric and Honeywell caused a stink. The commission worries that a union between Oracle and Sun would reduce competition in the market for corporate databases. Oracle is the world’s biggest seller of proprietary software to run such databases, with a market share of nearly 50%. Sun is the owner of MySQL, the most widely used “open-source” database software, which already competes with Oracle’s products and could become more of a threat in the future. Neelie Kroes, Europe’s competition commissioner, spoke of her “serious concerns” that the deal would reduce choice and lead to higher prices."

RUSSIA'S ROAD TO ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Russia's recessionary contraction has been marked with several distinct features. First, capital account deteriorated significantly. In Q3:2009 it posted a $23.7 billion deficit, reflecting net capital outflows as a result of recovery uncertainties, exchange rate and oil price volatility and the inability of the Russian banking sector of debt repayment. Thus, net capital flows to the private sector decreased by 31.5 percent in Q3:2009.

During the economic crisis of 2008/2009, Russian fiscal policymakers increased government spending when the output gap was positive. Thus, from the mid-2008 onward, Russia faced high inflation rate which peaked well over 10 percent level. Even the fiscal outlook remains sluggish. In 2009, the non-oil government deficit is expected to reach between 11.0 and 12.5 percent of the GDP. The dynamics government deficit remains deteriorating until 2012. In 2010, the non-oil balance is expected at -14.20 percent of the GDP. In 2012, the balance is likely to improve by 1.40 percentage points from 2011. The decline of oil demand has rapidly eroded Russia's reserve fund earnings which decreased from 10.3 percent of the GDP in 2008 to 4.1 percent in 2009. Before the financial crisis, Russia's economic growth model was based mainly on fiscal policy reforms, confluence of high oil prices and access to external financing at low benchmark interest rates. The World Bank estimated that Russia's real GDP will return to pre-crisis level in late 2012. In the long term, Russia's growth quality will be improved only by more dynamic diversification of the economic basis, bold structural, governance and institutional reforms, trade openness, higher productivity growth and liberalized financial sector.

Russia's Macroeconomic Outlook
Source: Central Bank of Russia, Ministry of Finance, Bloomber
*denotes preliminary estimates

Economic Growth in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe and Advanced Economies


Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, October 2009

U.S ECONOMIC RECOVERY AND MACROECONOMIC OUTLOOK IN 2009/2010

The latest macroeconomic data from major world economies suggested that the recessionary contraction is likely to be ended in the light of positive news on GDP growth and midterm macroeconomic outlook. However, the road of the economic recovery remains uncertain. The policymakers responded to the great contraction of 2008 by decreasing interest rates close to zero rate. Massive injections of monetary stimulus boosted liquidity and attempted to accelerate credit expansion. However, monetary stimulus such as TARP in the U.S encouraged excess reserves. Thus, the banking sector published significant quarterly results as the stimulus package covered the overall losses from the credit crunch and subprime mortgage crisis of the previous year. In this brief article, I outline the economic recovery in the U.S in the ongoing year.

In Q3, the U.S economy grew by 2.4 percent despite the negative unemployment figures. While the U.S productivity grew by 6.8 percent in Q2:09 and by 9.8 percent in Q3:09, the unemployment rate is expected to reach 10.5 percent in December. The $787 billion stimulus from Obama administration to the ailing industries did little to prevent the fallout of demand and the financial difficulties of many firms. In fact, most of the stimulus has not already been spent. In spite of enormous fiscal emergency aid, the Obama administration effectively nationalized the auto industry as Detroit's auto industry declared bankruptcy. The auto industry is likely to recover gradually. Eventually, the fall of Detroit's giants was more likely a consequence of auto industry's inability to cope with high labor cost and fringe health and pension benefits.

The underlying economic theory and evidence teach that massive government intervention in the economy is inefficient as if government bailout hadn't occured. In Q3:09, financial industry posted significant quarterly earnings. Monetary stimulus inflated another asset bubble which translated into highly prospective annual data and higher volatility. Morgan Stanley's annual stock return currently stands at 133.4 percent (link). On the other hand, stock markets rallied in the light of significant quarterly earnings of the banking and financial sector. In one year, Dow Jones Industrial Average grew by 18.27 percent (link), S&P 500 increased by 22.16 percent (link) while Nasdaq Composite's annual growth rate stands at 36.91 percent (link). Stock markets rallied in the light of favorable earnings projections and cost reductions.

On the macroeconomic level, the U.S economy is likely to face a long L-shaped recovery. The underlying conditions are extremely low interest rate, high unemployment rate and high quarterly productivity growth rate. Much of the confidence in fiscal stimulus and expansionary fiscal policy was based on the initial assumption that spending multipliers will exceed 1 and boost short-term output and investment to reduce the negative output gap. Nevertheless, fiscal policy outlook remains sluggish and the prevailing evidence suggests that spending multipliers are hardly positive, except for when the unemployment rate exceeds 12 percent, causing a major fallout of capacity utilization. Robert Barro and Charles Redlick recently estimated the cost of fiscal stimulus. The Obama administration has already expressed commitment to raising the marginal tax rates. Tax increases are the unfortunate midterm alternative because excessive borrowing and the estimated 9.9 percent of the GDP fiscal deficit in 2009 (link) has already downgraded sovereign U.S debt outlook. Redlick and Barro showed that one-period lagged increase in the average marginal tax rate reduces, GDP growth by 0.56 percentage point. The overall effect on consumption purchases is -0.29 and the overall effect on investment is -0.35, both statistically significant at 99 percent.

The U.S dollar further depreciated against the euro (link), increasing the U.S inflation rate above the expected target, partly as a result of the increase in short-term yield on Treasury bonds. Purchases of Treasury bonds effectively increased demand for U.S dollars and triggered short-term depreciation trend. An effective reduction of fiscal deficit in the coming years is a necessary condition for mitigating the negative effects of U.S current account deficit. As fiscal deficit raises demand for imports in the U.S, real depreciation of the real effective exchange rate raises relative prices in the tradable sector compared to non-tradable sector. The main highlights of U.S economy recovery will be focused on restrictive fiscal policy and policy interest rates. Zero interest ground is a real disadvantage in economic recovery, mainly because the negative output gap and the Fed is likely to face hard time trading-off between higher inflation if interest rates remains at historic lows while the real sector's credit demand could surge and potential output contraction in the coming quarterly periods if the Fed will raised targeted federal funds rates. In the latter scenario, the U.S economy could repeat the Japanese disease from the 1990s, being faced with long, sluggish and slow economic recovery that could last for several years.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MINIMUM WAGE AND OBESITY

David O. Meltzer and Zhuo Chen explored the relationship between minimum wage rate in the U.S and body weight (link):

"Growing consumption of increasingly less expensive food, and especially “fast food”, has been cited as a potential cause of increasing rate of obesity in the United States over the past several decades. Because the real minimum wage in the United States has declined by as much as half over 1968-2007 and because minimum wage labor is a major contributor to the cost of food away from home we hypothesized that changes in the minimum wage would be associated with changes in bodyweight over this period. To examine this, we use data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from 1984-2006 to test whether variation in the real minimum wage was associated with changes in body mass index (BMI). We also examine whether this association varied by gender, education and income, and used quantile regression to test whether the association varied over the BMI distribution. We also estimate the fraction of the increase in BMI since 1970 attributable to minimum wage declines. We find that a $1 decrease in the real minimum wage was associated with a 0.06 increase in BMI. This relationship was significant across gender and income groups and largest among the highest percentiles of the BMI distribution. Real minimum wage decreases can explain 10% of the change in BMI since 1970. We conclude that the declining real minimum wage rates has contributed to the increasing rate of overweight and obesity in the United States. Studies to clarify the mechanism by which minimum wages may affect obesity might help determine appropriate policy responses."

OUTLOOK FOR THE NORWEGIAN ECONOMY

Norges Bank has recently published Monetary Policy Report 3/2009 (link) and a comprehensive list of figures and charts including major macroeconomic trends in Norway and abroad (link). Time series on unit labor cost, output gap and other macroeconomic indicators are interesting to observe, especially because Norges Bank has been the first central bank in Europe to announce a targeted increase in interest rate to mitigate midterm inflationary outlook. Here (link) is a closer look at NIBOR and monthly interest rate dynamics in Norway (link).

Friday, October 16, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

NOBEL PRIZE IN ECONOMICS 2009

This year's Nobel prize in economics goes to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson (link). Elinor Ostrom received the prize for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons while Oliver E. Williamson received the prize for his contributions to the economic governance, emphasizing the boundaries of the firm and its role in conflict resolution and case bargaining.

Michael Spence, the 2001 Nobel prize winner, briefly summarized (link) the main contributions of Elinor Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson to the economic theory.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

THE MACROECONOMIC EFFECTS OF STIMULUS SPENDING

Robert Barro and Charles Redlick wrote an op-ed in WSJ (link) on their original paper (link) where they discuss the macroeconomic effects of fiscal stimulus and construct long-term time-series on U.S macroeconomic data to examine whether real GDP increases follows the spending multipliers and whether reductions in marginal tax rates, rather than spending increases, tend to exert a stronger effect on GDP growth.

"Our research also shows that greater weakness in the economy raises the estimated multiplier: It increases by around 0.1 for each two percentage points by which the unemployment rate exceeds its long-run median of 5.6%. Thus the estimated multiplier reaches 1.0 when the unemployment rate gets to about 12% ... For data that start in 1950, we estimate that a one-percentage-point cut in the average marginal tax rate raises the following year's GDP growth rate by around 0.6% per year. However, this effect is harder to pin down over longer periods that include the world wars and the Great Depression."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

THE ECONOMICS OF UNIONS

Gary Becker (link) and Richard Posner (link) opened a discussion on how unions influence policymaking decision. Recently, president Obama imposed punitive 35 percent tariff rate on imported Chinese tire (link) risking the coming trade war. Indeed, China may file a case against the U.S at the WTO, and the WTO may rule against the U.S for imposing illegal and discriminatory trade practices.

Many believe that president Obama enforced trade protection to win the support of the unions in health care reform. In fact, the bailout of GM and Chrysler was one of the major efforts to help unions, particularly the United Auto Workers, in paying the health-care and pension benefits that GM and Chrysler couldn't actually afford to pay.

Recently, the Congress has been split up on Employee Free Choice Act which suggests giving mandate to unions representing employee in arbitrating union-management contracts. I believe the Congresional Budget Office will yield a meaningful research on the economic effects of the act.

The empirical evidence on union activity is, in fact, quite clear. In OECD comparison panel (link), there is a strong, negative and significant relationship between the density of union membership and labor market rigidity. Sweden, for example, hasn't enforced a general level of minimum wages. Yet in 2007, over 7o percent of the working population was unionized. High union density further contributed to inflexible labor market structure which led to low employment growth, low productivity growth and exerted a strong upward pressure on real labor cost.

Yet, there is a distinctive character of trade unions within Europe. Traditionally, unions in Europe possessed a stronger influence on political decision in areas such as taxation, income redistribution and government size. However, there are significant disparities in union activity throughout Europe. In 1990s, Denmark enforced a series of reforms that deregulated labor market structure towards greater flexibility. Today, Denmark's labor market is cited as the most competitive in the world (link). From 1990 to 2007, union density decreased from 75.3 percent to 69.1 percent. On the other side, labor market structures in Continental and Mediterranean Europe are known for inflexible features, regulation and rigidity. Meanwhile, Anglo-Saxon countries, Britain and Ireland, are known for flexible labor markets and few barriers impeding labor market performance. Dismissing and employee costs 10 weekly salaries in Ireland compared to 56 weekly salaries in Spain.

Although variation in trade union density over time explains a relatively large part of variation in productivity, union activity and influence in political decision-making could be the decisive factor in explaining cross-country variation in labor market outcome. That would requiring the design of principal indicator that could measure union influence on the quantitive basis. The influence of trade unions has, in my opinion, a strong common connection to cultural patterns and informal institutions.

For instance, countries with weak rule of law, persistent corruption, high tax burden and barriers to trade and investment, tend to have larger underground economies. Empirical estimates on the size of underground economies suggest that, in Europe (link), Mediterranean countries (Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal) have the largest share of shadow economies. There is a significant cross-country variation. The estimates of shadow economies for 28 transition countries is 40.1 percent and 16.3 percent for the OECD. So, could union activity affect the size of shadow economies

If unions, as an interest group, exert a strong influence in politics, their political philosophy will probably lean left. Thus, if unions influence decisions on taxation issues, welfare benefits, pension schemes and government size, the outcome will probably induce more complexity, more regulation and more barriers to trade, entrepreneurship and investment. The combination of those factors can strongly influence labor and business incentives and, hence, also determine and productivity growth.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

HOW FISCAL AND MONETARY POLICY LED TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION

In the recent edition of WSJ, Arthur Laffer highlighted (link) how mismanaged fiscal policy during Hoover and Roosevelt administration led and prolonged the Great depression, and how contractionary monetary policy let it happen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

IS SLOVENIA THE NEXT SICK MAN OF EUROPE?

Recently released data from OECD Economic Outlook (link) suggest that the recessionary period is likely ending as the output in world's major economies is reversing the trend of the past year. In 2009, the U.S economy is expected to contract by 2.8 percent annually. Germany, suffering from a significant decline in inventory orders and foreign demand, is set to contract by 6.1 percent and Japanese economy is likely to decline by 6.8 percent. The end of the global recession will be continued by a slow recovery as the economic growth in the OECD economies is most likely to reach 0.7 percent in 2010 after a 4.1 percent decline in 2009.

Besides Israel and Estonia, Slovenia is the next country to join the OECD. The macroeconomic outlook for Slovenia, unfortunately, remains sluggish. In Q2:2009, Slovenian economy contracted significantly. The output decreased by 9.3 percent. In Q1:2009, the economic activity decreased by 9.However, the data on GDP decline is too optimistic compared to the real sector. According to the latest availible data, the industrial production in April contracted by 28.26 percent, followed by double-digit consecutive declines each month. Investment, which in 2008 accounted for 28.9 percent of the GDP declined significantly. In Q1:09, the business investment contracted by 32.3 percent.

The pre-crisis boom in business investment was surged by quantitative easing and low interest rate which contributed to historic highs of credit stock. In addition to deteriorating macroeconomic outlook, the export of goods and services, which once used to be the core engine of Slovenia's economic growth, contracted by 21.1 percent in the Q1:2009. Thus, during 2008, the economic activity experienced unusually high rates of economic growth spurred by investment, foreign demand and historically high consumption spending. Throughout 2008, the economy was starting to exhibit strong signals of overheating.

By the beginning of the crisis, the economic policy pursued a radical debt-driven infusions of liquidity in the banking and bailouts to the real sector. Consequently, the state of public finance changed dramatically. For decades, Slovenia maintained on of the lowest public debt/GDP ratios in Europe. As a fiscal measure, low public debt had been of the merits that enabled the fulfillment of convergence criteria before entering the EMU.

As a result of government intervention, debt guarantees and surging public spending, the public debt is likely to soar from 21.5 percent of the GDP in 2008 to 32.6 percent of the GDP in 2009. The public debt is expected to rise further. If the current trend continues, the public debt is estimated to soar up to 53.7 percent by 2013 (link).

The black line and the left axis on the graph show general government balance while the left axis and yellow bar show public debt. Both categories are expressed in percent of the GDP.


Public debt and general government balance as a percent of the GDP (2004-2013)


Source: Ministry of Finance (link)

As we can see, the primary budget deficit will move from -0.27 percent of the GDP in 2008 to 6.58 percent of the GDP in 2009. By 2013, the deficit is estimated to move to -7.4 percent of the GDP. Compared to small and open economies, Slovenia's primary budget deficit is higher than in most small and open economies. It is, for instance, higher than in Denmark, Greece, Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway. As far as I know, Norway is the only developed country without budget deficit in the near future (According to the OECD and Norges Bank, Norway will post 8.6 percent budget surplus in 2009, down from 18.8 percent in 2008. In 2010, the budget surplus will likely increased by 0.4 percentage point).

The government intervention in the real sector further regulated the labor market by introducing subsidies to employers to retain the employees and discourage layoffs to prevent the rise in unemployment. However, recent data suggested that public sector employment grew significantly while private sector employment declined respectively. In Q2:09, private sector employment decreased by 9.3 percent. Public sector employment, on the other hand, increased by 1.4 percent on the annual basis.

For at least two decades of transition, Slovenia's gradualist economic policy favored rigid and inflexible labor market embodied in collective bargaining, high tax rates on labor supply and barriers to entry. The economic policymakers created discriminatory labor market structure which still discourages young graduates from entering the labor market after graduation. Consequently, unit labor costs are among the highest in the EU. Recently, The Economist snapped a nice chart, showing that tax burden on labor supply in Slovenia is the highest in the world (link). In combination with ageing population and of the youngest retirement generations in the world, the abovementioned labor market dualism further encouraged policymakers to raise health and social security contribution rates. It lead to one of the lowest growth rates of private sector employment in the EU. It further lead to the highest tax wedge in the EU and the unusually high growth of unit labor cost relative to productivity growth. In addition, strongly regulated labor market is the major cause of Slovenia's low productivity convergence relative to the EU15. The majority of central European and Baltic countries have been lowering the productivity gap behind the Euroarea much faster than Slovenia.

In 2009, Slovenia reach 90 percent level of EU27's GDP per capita. Compared to the Euroarea, Slovenia reached 83 percent level of the GDP per capita. Compared to EU15, which is a reasonable measure of comparison, Slovenia reached 81.7 percent level of GDP per capita. Compared to Switzerland, Slovenia sustains only 64 percent level of Swiss GDP per capita (link). Interestingly, if Slovenia were a part of the U.S, its GDP per capita would be at the 54 percent of the U.S level, even lower than in Mississippi and West Virginia - the least developed states in the U.S.

Although Slovenia is often cheered as being the "Switzerland of the East" and the most developed former communist country, its economy will likely resemble slow growth in Italy, Germany and France rather than dynamic growth in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and Switzerland. Current economic policies are the recipe for eurosclerosis, experienced by pre-Thatcher Britain. If such pattern of economic policy will continue, the Slovenian economy will, sooner or later, exhibit economic stagnation with low economic growth, onerous tax burden, high structural unemployment and rapidly ageing population.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

DOING BUSINESS 2010

The World Bank has recently released the latest Doing Business 2010 report, measuring the level of business and economic regulation around the world. In spite of the financial crisis and the global recession, Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the United States retained the leadership as the most friendly locations for doing business. Notably, some countries have achieved high ranks. For example, Saudi Arabia moved to 13th placed and Georgia, once the bastion of Soviet-style state capitalism, now ranks as 11th most friendly place for doing business with open investment environment and low regulatory barriers to trade, entrepreneurship and investment. Countries such as Georgia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia have surpassed countries such as Sweden, Finland and Iceland although there is a notable difference in international comparison of those countries when it comes to the issues of the rule of law, property rights and institutionaly quality.

Douglass North, the 1993 Nobel-winning economist once famously wrote the essence of institutionaly quality for economic development. He said that the inability of societies to develop effective low-cost institutions is the major reason of today's contemporary underdevelopment of the third world. In terms of the ease of contract enforcement, 3 out of top 10 countries are Iceland, Finland and Norway where institutional quality and the rule of law are on the high level by all international indices and comparison.

In recent decade, embracing free-market ideas has had a significantly positive impact on the institutional quality, regulatory barriers and the overall quality of business environment - all of which affect the size of transaction cost and, by empirical evidence, the standard of living and the wealth of nations. Global economic integration further induced institutional competition in terms of tax structure, regulatory environment, administrative barriers and labor market structures. Thus, when countries such as Georgia, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Liberia and United Arab Emirates, enacted the liberalization of the business environment, the results were significant ever after. The World Bank also published the list of top 10 reforms in 2010 among which are Rwanda, Kyrgyz Republic, FYR Macedonia, Egypt, Moldova, Belarus, Columbia, United Arab Emirates, Tajikistan and Liberia (link).

The efforts to deregulate and liberalize business environment worldwide, will have a strong impact on high-income countries to remove the existing barriers to trade and investment such as high tax burden, rigid labor market structure and government size relative to private sector. 2008/2009 financial crisis and the growing role of government in the economy will probably deteriorate the country ranking in the next year. However, the leadership in the quality of business and regulatory environment will depend on further liberalization of the business environment, particulary the labor market, which is a major backbone of high-income countries where union density and regulated labor markets are widespread.

If countries such as Italy, France, Germany and the rest of the developed world will hesitate in reforming the remaining barriers to trade, more direct investment flows will move to high-growing emerging markets where macroeconomic stabilization is proceeding and where policymakers impose reforms faster then their peers in the developed world.

If such trend continues, emerging markets will soon reap the benefits and could become the leaders in reforming the business environment, attracting direct investment and, by and large, in economic growth and catch-up with the rest of the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

THE END OF RECESSION

Words of wisdom from Gary Becker (link) on the prospects of recovery, unemployment figures and productivity outlook.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

THE ECONOMIC SURVEY OF ICELAND 2009

The OECD has released The Economic Survey of Iceland 2009 (link), discussing the origins of the banking crisis that eventually led to the collapse of the country's oversized banking sector relative to its GDP and the prospects of fiscal and monetary policy in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the recession.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

EFFECTIVE TAX RATES AROUND THE WORLD

Here's a short brief (link) by The Economist on effective tax rates around the world. At a stunning 55 percent effective tax rate on annual gross earning of $100,000, Slovenia is the most heavily taxed country on earth followed by India, Italy, Sweden and Argentina.


Source: The Economist (link)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

SWISS BANKS AND FINANCIAL PRIVACY

Pierre Bessard of the Liberales Institut in Switzerland, makes the case in NY Times (link) why financial privacy shouldn't be infringed and why Dept. of Justice and the European Union should not exert pressures on Swiss banks regarding financial privacy and client information disclosure to foreign governments:

"Switzerland, which is home to an impressive number of global corporations, has also come under fire from the European Union for offering too-favorable tax rules, including exemptions for income earned abroad. But what critics forget is that these practices also benefit other countries. Swiss firms alone employ hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and Germany, for example. Subsidiaries of multinational corporations usually pay income taxes where they operate, so having their headquarters in Switzerland can help companies avoid multiple taxation in high-tax countries, thereby safeguarding productive capital for investment."

ANTITRUST, MARKETS AND COMPETITION

Earlier today, I read Steve Forbes's discussion (link) of recent antitrust reaction to the announced Yahoo-Microsoft search-engine global partnership deal (here and here) by the Department of Justice. The merger of Yahoo and Microsoft is ought to create a new competitor to tackle Google's supposed 75 percent market share in search advertising. Back in 2008, Department of Justice swatted the aligned Google-Yahoo search-advertising partnership, saying that "it would have furthered Google's monopoly"(link). Google is currently also under investigation by Department of Justice which accusses Google of copyright infringement in company's book-scanning project (link). In addition, Christine Varney, Obama's antitrust appointee at the Department of Justice, targeted Google's dominance in search-ad market by blaming the company for "starting to colonize the emerging cloud-computing industry and amassing enormous market power" which customers would hardly escape.

The antitrust policy enhanced by Sherman Act, Clayton Act and Robinson-Patman Act prohibits the so-called "predatory behavior" that could restrain trade, induce monopolization efforts or impose unfair trade practices such as price discrimination. The antitrust targeting of Google has been inspired by the antitrust case from 1964 United States vs. Aluminium Company of America in which the court, headed by Judge Learned Hand, laid down a landmark decision that "under certain circumstances, a company may come to dominate its field through superior skill, foresight and industry." (here, here and here).

Donald Marron, former CEA economist, recently wrote a nice piece on how Google may defend itself against Department's potential antitrust investigation (link). First, Dept. of Justice will face a difficult task in defining Google's relevant market. Antitrust commentators often point out that Google possesses more than 70 percent of revenues in search-advertising market. However, Google's top antitrust attorney say that such definition of the relevant market is too narrow, arguing that the company actually receives less than 2 percent of revenues from search-ad market. The merger of Yahoo and Microsoft's internet search-engines could deteriorate Google's market share.

The enforcement of antitrust policy in preserving competitive market structures has resulted in complete failures several times. Recently, the European Commission imposed € 1.06 billion fine on Intel Corporation for exercising illegal practices such as giving loyalty discounts and implicit rebates to computer manufacturers and major retailer under the condition that Intel's chips are integrated into CPUs. The Commission argued that such "illegal practices" prevented customers from choosing alternative products (link) and thus, Intel supposedly abused the dominant position. That is against the provisions of EC Treaty.

The enactment of antitrust policy relies on the idea of competitive market structures. Microeconomic theory teaches that a monopoly leads to a deadweight loss and, thus, its relative efficiency is inferior to competitive market structure which operate under zero-profit assumption. However, the classic microeconomic theory neglects economies of scale in industries with significant fixed costs and entry costs such as high tech, health-care and airline.

However, antitrust policy embodied in Clayton Act, Sherman Act and other legislative acts, often leads to protectionist pressures from interest groups since the enforcement of antitrust is driven by the political process. Thomas DiLorenzo, famous Austrian economist, showed how interest group use lobbying pressures to exercise antitrust policy in favor of protecting competitors rather than competition (link).

In recent years Google acquired several smaller companies. The Federal Trade Commission and Dept. of Justice, for instance, put the acquisition of DoubleClick in 2008 under investigation. However, acquisitions in tech industry could produce significant efficiencies in distribution and consumer prices (link).

The notion of Sherman Act is that practices that restrain trade are illegal and doomed to be prosecuted. However, antitrust enforcers should recognized that high fixed costs and entry costs are not the result of market action or conspiracy but natural obstacle. Thus, industrial organization in technology, retail, health care and airline industries, enables significant economies of scale through lower average costs of production. This requires high levels of innovation including merging resources and joint cooperation. By the token of perfect competition for instance, Wal-Mart should be broken (link). If federal antitrust enforces forced Wal-Mart to split into more parts, gains in distribution which enable low prices and various discounts, would diminish considerably.

Thus, the real aim of antitrust enforcement should not be to prosecute successful firms and deprive them of productive gains, but to prevent alledged conspiracy that inhibits market entry and harms the consumers. In a free market, natural monopolies are short-lived and challenged by either new entrants or international competition.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

GERMAN ECONOMIC DISEASE

Hans Werner Sinn recently wrote a piece in WSJ discussing anemic growth prospects of the German economy (link). The German economy is expected to decline by about 6 percent annually, following a major decline in export sector. Foreign orders decreased by 43 percent in January and February. Many commentators emphasized the risk of Germany's exposure to foreign trade and its vulnerability to global economic shocks.

In spite of absorbing a rather strong shock from a decline in exports, the major backlash of the German economy is the rigid labor market and the lack of wage flexibility. In recent years, German policymakers launched the increase in minimum wages as an attempt to ward-off international low-wage competition from emerging market economies. What happened? In turn, workers in low-wage industries were protected againist labor-intensive producers from India, China and so forth.

In addition, as minimum wages grew, the labor cost of low-wage workers increased to such an extent that employers couldn't afford to hire them. Consequently, the creation of high-wage jobs was discouraged as "skills" were less abundant than low-wage jobs. High tax burden and extensive labor cost discouraged job formation and thus many young German minds voted with their feet and moved abroad to places such as neighboring Switzerland, Canada, United States and Australia.

It is simply not true that the expected output contraction will accelerate only because of the near collapse of export and manufacturing sector. Economists and policymakers often discuss the backbones to economic growth. The empirical studies showed that the rigidity of labor market comes at the cost of less job creation and productivity decline. This is exactly what happened in Germany.

When I was writing one of the forthcoming papers, I estimated the potential daily working time in OECD. While Korea hits the top with a stunning average of more than 9 hours of daily labor supply, Germany hits the bottom with no more than the average of 6 hours of daily labor supply. In microeconomics, this is a pure substitution effect - higher tax wedge discourage labor supply and induces individuals to consume more leisure. To stimulate labor supply, the policymakers should liberalize labor market and remove the disincentives to work. Second, the liberalization of the labor market goes hand in hand with the reform of the old-fashioned German welfare state. Keeping minimum wages above the wage rate in the private sector will not diminish the unemployment rate and stimulate job creation.

Also, providing the unemployed with generous entitlements and welfare benefits, will not cure the disease of low productivity. Third, in 2008, government spending reached equaled 45.7 percent of the GDP should be reduced. German economic performance lagged behind the EU. Between 1995 and 2009, the economies of EU15 grew by 27.1 percent on average. German economy expanded by 14.3 percent, only surpassing Italy, whose economy expanded by 11.9 percent during that period. A wise combination of deregulation of labor market, reform of the welfare state and reduction in government spending is the right path for German economic recovery.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

THE IMPACT OF RECESSION: GERMANY vs. AMERICA

Douglas J. Elliott of the Brookings Institution compares the impact of this year's recession in the U.S and Germany (link):

"Equally importantly, Germany is justifiably proud of its prowess in exports, particularly industrial machinery and automobiles. Somewhere between 40% and 50% of Germany’s GDP comes from exports, depending on when and how you measure it. This is more than three times that of the U.S., although it is important to note that Germany is a considerably smaller country and is closely integrated with its European neighbors, who are the largest importers of German products. (If the U.S. counted sales from the Northeast to California as exports, our figure would be sharply higher than it is.) Germans view their trade surplus as a sign of virtue and the source of overseas investments that will carry the country through a future in which their aging population cuts back on output and necessarily lives more on the fruits of past labor."

Monday, August 03, 2009

CANADIAN AND THE U.S HEALTH CARE SYSTEMS COMPARED

A study by June O'Neill and Dave M. O'Neill (link) suggests that the U.S health care system provides more choice, efficiency, better delivery and capacity than the Canadian system:

"Does Canada's publicly funded, single payer health care system deliver better health outcomes and distribute health resources more equitably than the multi-payer heavily private U.S. system? We show that the efficacy of health care systems cannot be usefully evaluated by comparisons of infant mortality and life expectancy. We analyze several alternative measures of health status using JCUSH (The Joint Canada/U.S. Survey of Health) and other surveys. We find a somewhat higher incidence of chronic health conditions in the U.S. than in Canada but somewhat greater U.S. access to treatment for these conditions. Moreover, a significantly higher percentage of U.S. women and men are screened for major forms of cancer. Although health status, measured in various ways is similar in both countries, mortality/incidence ratios for various cancers tend to be higher in Canada. The need to ration resources in Canada, where care is delivered "free", ultimately leads to long waits. In the U.S., costs are more often a source of unmet needs. We also find that Canada has no more abolished the tendency for health status to improve with income than have other countries. Indeed, the health-income gradient is slightly steeper in Canada than it is in the U.S."

THE ORIGINS OF OBESITY

David Cutler, Ed Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro provide the evidence of high rates of obesity in the United States (link):

"Americans have become considerably more obese over the past 25 years. This increase is primarily the result of consuming more calories. The increase in food consumption is itself the result of technological innovations which made it possible for food to be mass prepared far from the point of consumption, and consumed with lower time costs of preparation and cleaning. Price changes are normally beneficial, but may not be if people have self-control problems. This applies to some population."

ECONOMIC SURVEYS

The OECD has recently published Economic surveys of Greece (link) and Mexico (link)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MILTON

Milton Friedman died on November 16th 2006. July 31st remarks his birthday and an opportunity to reflect his profound legacy of economic thinking and ideas promoting individual liberty.

I first came across Friedman's ideas through one of his first research papers, Income from Independent Professional Service (link), coauthored with Simon Kuznets, wherein Friedman and Kuznets showed how shortage of physicians emerges from restrained labor supply and upward wage pressures. Together with Kuznets, Friedman applied statistical models to the analysis of income from professional services. The empirical results indicated that the regulation of professional services raises general income level for existing practitioners while, at the same time, reduces incentives for market entrants by raising fixed entry costs and compliance cost.

The paper was written in 1945 when orthodox Keynesian economic policies took a full-fledged march. Friedman's strong analytical rigour successfully challenged Keynesian economic establishment of that time. In Theory of the Consumption Function, Friedman showed how Keynesian theory of consumption fails to capture long-run behavior of households. In General Theory, Keynes postulated that household's consumption is determined by autonomous consumption and consumption induced by income. Since Keynes assumed that consumption is a linear function of income, higher income is ought to result in higher savings. Later on, Simon Kuznets showed that Keynesian consumption function suffers from empirical incosistencies. Even though it had been seemingly accurate in short-run cross-section data, it failed to predict household income pattern in time-series data over the long run. If Keynesian assumption was held true, the savings-to-income ratio would grow over time. On the contrary, the ratio remained constant over time in spite of relatively large income changes. Keynesian theory of consumption was further shook by new theories of consumption. Franco Modigliani, Nobel Laureate in Economics from 1985, challanged Keynesian consumption theory by introducing life-cycle hypothesis, showing how savings-to-income ratio changes over the entire lifetime, depending on household's life stage. Franco Modigliani and Richard Brumberg proposed the life-cycle income hypothesis with a more realistic assumption. He tested the following equation: C = aW + cY where a is marginal propensity to consume wealth (W), and c is marginal propensity to consume income (Y). The empirical results for the United States estimated the marginal propensity to consume from disposable income (c) at 0.7 and marginal prospensity to consume from wealth (a) at 0.06. The estimates were used to examine household consumption patterns. Thus, over the lifespan, as household's income went up by 1 percent, consumption expenditures wemt up by about 0.7 percent on average. Meanwhile, as household's wealth increased by 1 percent, the consumption expenditures grew by 0.6 percent on average.

The research by Modigliani and Brumberg in 1957 and Kuznets paved way for Friedman's Permanent Income Hypothesis. In a proposed hypothesis, Friedman argued againist Keynesian consumption theory. Its major inability is the weakness of prediction and the inconsistency in consumption patterns between short-run and long-run results. Contrary to Keynes, Friedman argued that disposable income arises from permanent and transitory income. Permanent income held by household was defined as household's preference for a stable consumption over the long run. Friedman showed that consumer's choices are made not by transitory income but by permanent income expectations. Thus, transitory changes in income have little effect on consumption behavior. The empirical assessment of permanent income hypothesis showed that households with lower income tend to have higher marginal propensity to consume. Friedman concluded that consumer's spending is not affected by static expectations but rather by real wealth such as physical assets and human capital assets. These determine consumer's earning ability and enable consumers to forecast their lifetime income.

When Friedman received a Nobel prize in economics back in 1976, the Nobel Commission entitled the award for "...his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of complexity of stabilization policies..." Back in 1963, Friedman and Schwarz wrote the Monetary History of the United States 1867-1960 where they examined the monetary trends in the United States since the end of the civil war.

Through an extensive empirical observation of money supply, monetary policy and business cycles they showed that monetary intervention by the Federal Reserve System, which was established in 1913, in an attempt to stabilize the short-term cyclical shock in the financial market resulted in the worst economic depression in world history. Fed's intervention reduced the broad money supply, destroying the depository base. The intervention led to the banking panic. Lending operations were disabled and the banking system suddenly went insolvent. When Federal Reserve cut the money supply by one-third in 1929, the ordinary recession turned into the depression in the light of deflationary shock. As the leading voice of the monetarist school, Friedman showed that inflation is a monetary phenomena resulting excessive growth of money supply relative to output growth.

Friedman's empirical research on monetary trends over time led to important conclusions. The most notable conclusions were that (1) short-run changes in money supply affect output while (2) long-run changes in money supply affect price level. Friedman's empirical work on monetary economics dropped the Keynesian myth of inflation caused by oil price increases or upward wage pressures. Friedman suggested that Fed should increase the quantity of money by a rate, ranging from 3 to 5 percent, determined in advanced. In a debate with Walter Heller, the chairman of Council of Economic Advisers to President Kennedy, Friedman argued that fiscal policy is an inefficient demand management tool in stabilizing economic fluctuations.

Milton Friedman was also a leading and indispensable libertarian voice throughout the world. Back in 1962, he published Capitalism and Freedom. The book spread the ideas of economic and individual liberty around the world. Friedman wrote that economic freedom is a neccesary condition for individual and political freedom. The ideas of ending all currency controls, removing barriers to trade, drastically cutting government spending, privatizing social security, introducing school vouchers and ending progressive income tax structure, spurred the creation of liberal freedom movements around the world.

As one of the rarest voices around the world, Friedman proposed the negative income tax as an alternative to progressive income taxes. As the wealthy take advantage of various loopholes, exemptions and tax breaks, progressive income tax does not achieve its purpose but, contrary to expectations, it further increases the income inequality. The basic idea behind the negative income tax is that general allowance would be raised to guarantee the minimum income level while the income above basic exemption would be taxed at the flat rate. The books written by Milton Friedman truly revolutionized the world. Free to Choose, coauthored with Rose Friedman, introduced free-market ideas to the general public by popularizing cases for limited government, the rule of law, and various way to end government monopolies.

Friedman's ideas reached the arena of public policy in many countries. Although heavily criticized by the left-wing intellectuals, Friedman visited Chile and delivered a lecture in Santiago on economic freedom. He advocated deregulation, privatization and the case for floating exchange rate. Due to the decision of Chilean Ministry of Finance, the exchange rate was fixed to the U.S dollar as a cure to heel rampant inflation. Since the Central Bank of Chile hadn't reduce the money supply, dollar-denominated foreign loans deteriorated Chilean trade balance. The decision to fix the exchange rate in the absence of accomodative monetary policy, imports were inflated. Because exchange rate was not floating, the elimination of fixed exchange rate and a disinflationary policy of the central bank unavoidably resulted in a two-year recession.

However, nothing could be further from the truth than then assertion that free-market reforms destabilized Chilean economy. Output contraction is a natural consequence of disinflationary policy, following the reduction of money supply. After exchange rate controls were eliminated, and after the launch of the privatization of state-owned companies and the social security, deregulation and free trade, starting in 1985, Chilean economy grew at the robust rate. Industrial production increased and the unemployment went down. In the long run, Chile's GDP per capita has been the highest in the region with a vibrant economy facing stable institutions and an enviable Friedman's ideas influenced many leaders around the world.

His ideas inspired Margaret Thatcher to undertake the course of free-market reforms. Prior to the launch of fiscal and monetary policy reforms, the British economy was recognized as the sick man of Western Europe, facing high annual rates of inflation and unsuccessful Keynesian economic policy attempt to cure the ailing economy by boosting aggregate demand through government deficits. After Lady Thatcher slashed marginal tax rates, introduced deregulation, liberalized labor market and proposed the privatization of state-owned industries, the British economy thrived with economic growth rates reaching historic highs.

Milton Friedman left a wealthy legacy of free-market thinking and efforts to promote individual liberty, free economy and political freedom. The financial crisis of 2008/2009 that spurred the economic recession intiated the beginning of heavy government intervention. The pursuit of ideas in favor of individual liberty and economic freedom is the best weapon againist the growth of government and the welfare state. With an iron will of the classical liberal, he successfully battled the failures of the welfare state and government intervention. He surely is one of the greatest economists and thinkers of the time.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

LOWER CORPORATE TAX RATE IN ONTARIO

Chris Edwards, an economist at the Cato Institute, reports that Tim Horton's (Canada's "Starbucks") is moving its headquarters to Ontario, as the provincial policymakers are cutting the federal-provincial corporate tax rate down to 25 percent (link). That is 15 percentage points lower than the federal corporate tax rate in the U.S.

GLOBAL ENABLING TRADE REPORT 2009

World Economic Forum recently published its annual report on enabling trade around the world (link).

The report estimated broader openness to trade after taking all indicators, regulatory and administrative factors into account. Notably, among these are the ease of market access, customs administration, difficulty of export and import procedures, quality of transport infrastructure, the availibility of transport services and the use of ICT. The report found a positive and moderate correlation between the GDP per capita and enabling trade index. Thus, it implies that countries with higher GDP per capita, on average, tend to be more trade-friendly.

There are, of course, some other factors, aside from GDP per capita, that affect broader openness to trade. The research by the WEF found that the customs regulations, quality of regulatory and business environment and the quality of transport infrastructure and services significantly explain country's openness to trade flows fairly well.

Countries with the highest Enabling Trade Index (ETI) are Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden, followed by Canada, Norway, Finland, Austria and the Netherlands. In spite of robust growth of trade volume before the economic crisis, Russia ranks 109th out of 121 countries in the report, accompanied by countries such as Syria and Nepal. This suggests that Russia's growth of trade volume before the crisis can be assigned to its factor-driven economic growth. WEF's report reveals that Russia's score poorly in terms of border administration, market access and the business environment while performing modestly in terms of quality of transport infrastructure. Index of Economic Freedom noted that Russia's trade freedom is inhibited by the inefficient arbitrary customs administration. The latter restrains trade and is a popular protectionist policy measure. The least trade-friendly countries, according to the report, are: Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.