Thursday, August 06, 2009


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."


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


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


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


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."


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."


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


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.