Deficit hawks are destroying our children’s future

The combined impact of fewer workers and lower productivity is enormous. In 2008, before the true extent of the recession was known, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that by 2017 the economy’s potential would be 29 percent larger than it had been in 2007. In its most recent report, the CBO puts the economy’s potential for 2017 at just 16 percent more than its 2007 level. This difference of 13 percentage points translates into more than $2 trillion a year in today’s economy.

It’s also well worth noting that this lost output is income that disproportionately would have gone to those at the middle and bottom of the income ladder. The people who don’t get employed in a weak economy are overwhelmingly African Americans, Hispanics, and workers with less education. Furthermore, in a weak labor market, workers at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder aren’t well positioned to get wage increases. The weakness of the labor market in the Great Recession and the anemic recovery that followed were both associated with a large shift in national income from wages to profits. In short, this was a hard punch to the belly for large segments of the working population.

Continue reading

Antitrust in the era of Amazon

This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust—specifically its pegging competition to “consumer welfare,” defined as short-term price effects—is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output. Specifically, current doctrine underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational—even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational and therefore implausible. Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend. This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors.

Continue reading

Share of economic growth enjoyed by workers is at its lowest since the second world war

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits. Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made aremarkable concession. It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west.

Continue reading

Negative Interest Rates

“Negative interest rate” is a phrase seemingly designed to confuse all but the experts. Instead of paying interest on commercial banks’ “excess” reserves held by the central bank, the central bank taxes these deposits. The idea is to impel the banks to reduce their unspent balances and increase their lending or investments. In the case of the European Central Bank, there is a technical reason: to increase the supply of high-class bonds for President Mario Draghi’s ongoing program of quantitative easing. Continue reading

IMF: Neoliberalism and austerity policies don’t work

Osborne said his austerity programme would give the government more flexibility in the event of a future crisis, but the IMF said taking out this sort of insurance policy would only be worth it if the benefits exceeded the costs.

“It turns out, however, that the cost could be large – much larger than the benefit. The reason is that, to get to a lower debt level, taxes that distort economic behaviour need to be raised temporarily or productive spending needs to be cut – or both. The costs of the tax increases or expenditure cuts required to bring down the debt may be much larger than the reduced crisis risk engendered by the lower debt.”

The economists rejected the notion that austerity could be good for growth by boosting the confidence of the private sector to invest. It said that in practice, “episodes of fiscal consolidation have been followed, on average, by drops rather than by expansions in output. On average, a consolidation of 1% of GDP increases the long-term unemployment rate by 0.6 percentage points.” Continue reading

Karl Polanyi has a lot to say about today’s politics and economy.

The vast majority of Sanders’s supporters are not Marxists clamoring for a dictatorship of the proletariat or the nationalization of industry. Most are, probably without knowing it, secret followers of Karl Polanyi. Polanyi’s classic, The Great Transformation, was published in 1944—the same year that FDR promised a “Second Bill of Rights” guaranteeing employment, housing, social security, medical care, and education to all Americans. Today, Polanyian arguments are once again in the air. Since his ideas seem to be everywhere but he is rarely mentioned, a (re-)introduction to his thinking, and its relevance to politics in 2016, is in order. …

Polanyi’s work dismantles this argument in two important ways. The first is to show that markets are planned everywhere they exist. Economic organization is always the result of the state. “Laissez-faire,” he writes, “was planned. . . . [The] laissez-faire economy was the product of deliberate state action.”

Polanyi says that the economy is “embedded” in society—part of social relations—not apart from them. He believes that a pure free market society is a utopian project, and impossible to realize, because people will resist the process of being turned into commodities. In fact, he calls labor a “fictitious commodity,” along with land and money. And this process of turning fictitious commodities into market commodities can only be carried out by the state.

But I’m involved in markets for land, money, and labor all the time!

Yes, but Polanyi argues that none of these things were created for the purpose of being a commodity to be exchanged. As Polanyi writes:

Labor is only another name for a human activity which goes with life itself, which in its turn is not produced for sale but for entirely different reasons, nor can that activity be detached from the rest of life, be stored or mobilized; land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man; actual money, finally, is merely a token of purchasing power which, as a rule, is not produced at all, but comes into being through the mechanism of banking or state finance.

As Polanyi writes:

To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment . . . would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity “labor power” cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused without affecting the human being who happens to be [its] bearer.
. . . In disposing of a man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity “man” attached to the tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure [and] social dislocation. . . . Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled,
. . . the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed. Finally, the market administration of purchasing power would periodically liquidate business enterprise, for shortages and surfeits of money would prove as disastrous to business as floods and droughts were in primitive society.

Polanyi says that a market society is impossible to achieve, in any case, because people resist being turned into commodities. When they are exposed to too much of the market—when markets try to “disembed” from society—people resist, demanding protection from excessive commodification. Lives are more than commodities for those who are living them. This is what Polanyi describes as the “double movement”—the drive for laissez-faire inevitably produces a protective countermovement that insists on shelter from the damaging effects of the market. Welfare and different forms of social insurance are canonical products of this resistance; Polanyi believed fascism was another possible response. …

Gøsta Esping-Andersen made a different use of Polanyi in his groundbreaking The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, published in 1990. He found that the right way to understand the differences between the welfare states of the United States, Sweden, and France isn’t necessarily to look at how much money they spend, but at how much they decommodify labor. Decommodification, for him, means that “a service is rendered as a matter of right, and when a person can maintain a livelihood without reliance on the market.” The United States actually spends a lot on welfare, but mostly for people who already have jobs—in the source of income boosts, tax-free benefit packages, and the like—so this spending does little to decommodify labor. …

Sanders here offers a straightforward defense of decommodification—the idea that some things do not belong in the marketplace—that is at odds with the kind of politics that the leadership of the Democratic Party has offered more or less since Carter and the narrow policy “wonk” focus that tends to dominate coverage. …

Whether or not Sanders has read Polanyi—similar language about economic and social rights was also present in FDR’s New Deal, which Sanders argues is the basis of his brand of socialism—Polanyi’s particular definition of socialism sounds like one Sanders would share:

Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society. It is the solution natural to industrial workers who see no reason why production should not be regulated directly and why markets should be more than a useful but subordinate trait in a free society. From the point of view of the community as a whole, socialism is merely the continuation of that endeavor to make society a distinctively human relationship of persons.

Karl Polanyi for President






Sectoral balances and Clinton’s budget surplus

A sectoral balances analysis starts with the recognition that the U.S. economy, like any national economy, is roughly comprised of three sectors. There’s the government sector: the federal government, the Federal Reserve, and the state and local governments. There’s the private domestic sector: individuals, households, businesses, the banks, all the major industries, etc. And then there’s the foreign sector: i.e. the rest of the world, or every entity outside the U.S. national border that we trade with.

Each of these three sectors are in a state of surplus or deficit at any given moment. The government is either taxing more than it spends (surplus) or spending more than it taxes (deficit). Households and businesses in the private domestic sector are either saving more than they’re spending (surplus) or vice versa (deficit). And the rest of the world is either exporting more to America than it imports (surplus), or importing from the U.S. more than it exports (deficit). (Perhaps confusingly, the foreign sector balance is the inverse of the U.S. trade balance; i.e. a surplus in the foreign sector actually means a U.S. trade deficit.)

Continue reading