Sunday, June 30, 2013

"The Always Wrong Club"

Paul Krugman, via Floyd Norris, rounds up the usual suspects:
Aha. Floyd Norris reminds us of the 23-economist letter from 2010, warning of
dire consequences — “currency debasement and inflation” — from quantitative easing. The signatories are kind of a who’s who of wrongness, ranging from Niall Ferguson to Amity Shlaes to John Taylor. And they were wrong again.

But that won’t diminish their reputations on the right, even a bit. How do I know that? Well, also on the list — presumably because they asked him to be there — is Kevin Hassett, co-author of Dow 36,000 and also a prominent denier of the existence of a housing bubble. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me yet again — hey, never mind.

Quite amazing.

"What to Do with the Hypertrophied Financial Sector?"

hy·per·tro·phy  (hi-pûr-tro-fe)
n. pl. hy·per·tro·phies
A nontumorous enlargement of an organ or a tissue as a result of an increase in the size rather than the number of constituent cells.
intr. & tr.v. hy·per·tro·phied
To grow or cause to grow abnormally large.
Back in 2011, I wrote:
In 1950, finance and insurance in the United States accounted for
2.8% of GDP…. Today, it is 8.4% of GDP…. If the US were getting good value from the extra 5.6% of GDP that it is now spending on finance and insurance--the extra $750 billion diverted annually from paying people who make directly useful goods and provide directly useful services--it would be obvious in the statistics… diverting that large a share of resources away from goods and services directly useful this year is a good bargain only if it collectively has a substantial amount of what financiers call "alpha", only if it boosts overall annual economic growth by 0.3%--or 6% per 25-year generation….
Why has the devotion of a great deal of skill and enterprise to finance and insurance sector not paid obvious economic dividends? There are two sustainable ways to make money in finance: find people with risks that need to be carried and match them with people with unused risk-bearing capacity, or find people with such risks and match them with people who are clueless but who have money…
Over the past year and a half, in the wake of Thomas Philippon and Ariel Resheff's estimate that 2% of U.S. GDP was wasted in the pointless hypertrophy of the financial sector, evidence that our modern financial system is less a device for efficiently sharing risk and more a device for separating rich people from their money--a Las Vegas without the glitz--has mounted. Bruce Bartlett points to Greenwood and Scharfstein, to Cechetti and Kharoubi's suggestion that financial deepening is only useful in early stages of economic development, to Orhangazi's evidence on a negative correlation between financial deepening and real investment, and to Lord Adair Turner's doubts that the flowering of sophisticated finance over the past generation has aided either growth or stability.

Inflation is too damned low!

We constantly hear noise about the inflation bugaboo. Not because we're experiencing inflation, but because it's a convenient scare word in certain circles wedded to the economics of austerity. But, of course, inflation is the least of our problems - in fact, if anything "inflation is too damned low!"

Binyan Applebaum @ The New York Times' Economix shows that "Yes, We Have No Inflation":

      Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis 
Inflation remained sluggish in May. Prices continued to rise at the slowest pace in at least half a century, up just 1.1 percent over the previous year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said Thursday. While some other measures of inflation are rising a little more quickly, the Federal Reserve regards this one as most accurate.
Slow inflation may sound like a good thing, but it’s not. Particularly not now.
Economic research suggests that inflation is best in moderation. Price increases lead to wage increases, which makes it easier to repay existing debts, like mortgages, and more attractive to incur new debts, like borrowing to start a company.
Inflation also functions as a kind of economic WD-40, easing shifts in the allocation of resources.  It is easier for struggling companies and industries to adjust by withholding cost-of-living increases than by seeking to impose wage cuts.
Perhaps most importantly, moderate inflation keeps the economy at a safe distance from deflation, or general price declines, which can freeze activity as would-be buyers wait for lower prices. Such a buffer would be particularly valuable now because the Fed is already stretching the limits of its ability to stimulate the economy, leaving the United States unusually vulnerable to any new shocks...