Stephanie Kelton | Biden Can Go Bigger and Not ‘Pay for It’ the Old Way – The New York Times

” . . .  That’s why to avoid short-run constraints like supply bottlenecks, the U.S. government can look elsewhere for capacity. American businesses can make use of depressed conditions abroad, buying from countries with economies that might be struggling to fully recover from the economic downturn and that will be more than happy to mutually benefit from our boom. There will be no lack of eager foreign producers if we need to relieve some demand pressure on the domestic front.

So it was unfortunate that in his long-awaited infrastructure speech, President Biden promised “not a contract will go out, that I control” that isn’t for “a company that is an American company with American products, all the way down the line, and American workers.”

This “buy American” philosophy is well intentioned but could lead to counterproductive trouble, particularly since the president has promised that “no one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up” — a pledge that takes raising taxes on the middle class, which has a higher marginal propensity to spend, off the table as a potential inflation offset.” . . . . . .

” . . . Modern Monetary Theory is not alone here. For a historical outlook, we can revisit what John Maynard Keynes proposed in “How to Pay for the War: A Radical Plan for the Chancellor of the Exchequer,” a lesser-known work of his. To the contemporary ear, the title suggests that Keynes was trying to figure out how to come up with the money to finance World War II spending. He wasn’t.

Keynes understood that the British government, which controlled its national currency, could create all the money needed. The purpose of the book was to show the government how to scale up and sustain higher levels of spending while containing inflationary pressures along the way. It noted the soldiers, bombers, tanks, combat gear and more that would be needed to prosecute the war and how the entire economy would need to be reoriented, quickly, to supply those things.

We’ve all grown accustomed to thinking about taxes as an important source of revenue for the federal government. That’s in part because it’s easy to think of the federal government as being like state and local governments, which without sufficient revenue — from income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and more — could not finance their operations. Yet these entities don’t have the federal government’s currency-issuing powers, which greatly changes the spending capacity of government.

In 1945, a man named Beardsley Ruml delivered a fiery speech before the American Bar Association titled “Taxes for Revenue Are Obsolete.” He wasn’t a crank. He was the chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. As Mr. Ruml explained in that speech, taxes first and foremost help to avoid a situation where too much money chases after too few goods: “The dollars the government spends become purchasing power in the hands of the people who have received them,” he said, while “the dollars the government takes by taxes cannot be spent by the people.”

More recently, economists like L. Randall Wray and Yeva Nersisyan have begun to think about how to pay for a Green New Deal using Keynes’s earlier “radical” framework. And even if one were to accept the terms of the old deficit-oriented budgeting currently favored in Washington, going even bigger on infrastructure, if executed carefully, is still doable: Larry Summers, the former Obama White House senior economist, admitted in 2014 that “public infrastructure investments can pay for themselves” and that “by increasing the economy’s capacity, infrastructure investment increases the ability to handle any given level of debt.”

We face enormous intersecting crises: a climate crisis, jobs crisis, health crisis and housing crisis, among others. It is going to require a lot of money to do what is necessary. As Kate Aronoff recently wrote in The New Republic, “To meet the emissions targets outlined in the Paris Agreement, experts estimate the United States government will need to spend at least $1 trillion annually.” And the White House’s infrastructure proposal, while historically ambitious, still falls far short of the scale of the problem.” . . .

Who Is Ben Harris, the Quiet Architect of Biden’s Economy Plan? – By Jim Tankersley – The New York Times

Penny Pritzker, the billionaire commerce secretary under President Barack Obama, would lead off with an overview of Mr. Biden’s plans. But the worried capitalists always wanted details, and for that, Ms. Pritzker would turn over the video calls to the little-known fulcrum of the Biden campaigns economic policymaking: a 43-year-old tax and budget specialist named Ben Harris.

Mr. Biden has a sprawling and secretive orbit of economists offering him policy advice as he seeks to pacify an insurgent liberal wing of economic thinkers within the Democratic Party and the business leaders who still feel mistreated by the Obama-Biden administration. Mr. Harris, an economist who is relatively anonymous even to other economists, has taken a starring role in both efforts.

A former chief economist for Mr. Biden in the White House, Mr. Harris helped fashion a campaign agenda from the work of a small inner circle and hundreds of outside economists and sell it to the donors, executives, labor unions and activists whom Mr. Biden needs behind him to win the election. He has two other jobs but works up to 50 hours a week for Mr. Biden, unpaid.

Opinion | Who Is Driving Inequality? You Are – by David Brooks – The New York Times

“Who is driving inequality in America? You are. I am. We are.

Did you read to your kids before bed when they were young? If you did, you gave them an advantage over kids whose parents were working the evening shift at 7-Eleven. Did you spend extra on tutoring or music lessons? Since 1996, affluent families have spent almost 300 percent more educating their young while everybody else’s spending has been mostly flat.

Did you marry before having kids and raise your kids in a two-parent home? The children of the well educated are now much more likely to grow up in stable families, and those differences in family structure explain 32 percent of the growth of family income inequality since 1979.

If you did these things, you did nothing wrong. You invested in your children’s flourishing as any decent parent would.

But here’s the situation: The information economy rains money on highly trained professionals — doctors, lawyers, corporate managers, engineers and so on.

Daniel Markovits, author of “The Meritocracy Trap,” estimates there are about one million of these workers in America today. They work really hard, are really productive and earn a lot more. In the mid-1960s, profits per partner at elite law firms were less than five times a secretary’s salary. Now, Markovits notes, they are over 40 times.”

Opinion | Our Irrational Anxiety About ‘Slow’ Growth – by Ruchir Sharma – The New York Times

“Germany is one of at least five major economies on the verge of a recession, which is typically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. But the real issue is whether that definition still makes sense in a country with a shrinking labor force like Germany’s.

Its working population has been declining for years and is expected to fall to 47 million from 54 million by 2039. And it’s not alone in this. Forty-six countries around the world — including major powers like Japan, Russia and China — now have shrinking populations.

Demographics are usually the main driver of economic growth, so it is basically inevitable that these countries will now grow at a much slower pace. And we are not talking about minor population declines. Projections for 2040 show China’s working-age population falling by 114 million, Japan’s by 14 million. With a shrinking labor force, these economies will inevitably slow and, at times, contract. To keep calling two negative quarters in a row a “recession” implies that this outcome is somehow abnormal or unhealthy. That will no longer be the case.

To avoid overreacting, the discussion about economic health needs to shift to measures that better capture satisfaction and contentment, like per capita income growth. In countries with shrinking populations, per capita incomes can continue to grow so long as the economy is shrinking less rapidly than the population. This helps explain why, for example, Japan isn’t facing more social unrest. Its economy has grown much more slowly than that of the United States in this decade, but because the population is shrinking its per capita income has grown just as fast as America’s — around 1.5 percent per year.”

National Income Accounting for the Washington Post and Robert Samuelson | Beat the Press | CEPR

Written by Dean Baker
Published: 25 August 2011
“National income accounting is really basic stuff. It is taught in every intro economics class. It would be a really great thing if only the people who wrote about and implemented economic policy understand it.

Today Beat the Press features a quick lesson in national income accounting for folks who clearly do not know it: the Washington Post editorial board and its columnist Robert Samuelson.

Starting at the beginning, we know that we can add up GDP on the output side by summing its components, consumption, investment, government, and net exports. This must be equal to the incomes generated in production. This gives us a basic identity that:

1) C+I+G+(X-M) = Y

where Y stands for income. This identity must always hold, it is true by definition.

We can then divide Y into disposable income, which is total income, minus taxes. This gives us:

2) Y = YD + T

We can then divide disposable income into savings and consumption, since by definition any income that is not consumed is saved. This gives us:

3) YD = C+S

since we now know that Y = C+S+T, we can rewrite equation 1 as,

4) C+I+G+ (X-M) = C+S+T

we then eliminate consumption from both sides and we get:

5) I+G+(X-M) = S+T, rearranging terms gives:

6) (X-M) = (S-I)+(T-G)

This one actually has a clear meaning. X-M is exports minus imports, or the trade surplus, S-I is private saving minus private investment, and T-G is taxes minus government spending, or the budget surplus. This identity means that the trade surplus is equal to the sum of the surplus of private savings over investment and the government budget surplus. Remember, this is an accounting identity, it must be true.”

Source: National Income Accounting for the Washington Post and Robert Samuelson | Beat the Press | CEPR

Opinion | Tariff Man Has Become Deficit Man – by Paul Krugman – The New York Times

“Beyond that, however, Trump is completely wrong about what causes trade deficits in the first place. In fact, his own policies have provided an object lesson in the falsity of his vision.

In the Trumpian universe, trade deficits happen because we made bad deals — we let foreigners sell their stuff here, but they won’t let us sell our stuff there. So the solution is to throw up barriers to foreign products. “I am a Tariff Man,” he proudly proclaimed.

The reality, however, is that trade deficits have almost nothing to do with tariffs or other restrictions on trade. The overall trade deficit is always equal to the difference between domestic investment spending and domestic saving (both private and public). That’s just accounting.

The reason America runs persistent trade deficits isn’t that we’ve given away too much in trade deals, it’s that we have low savings compared with other countries.”

Opinion | A Smorgasbord Recession? (Wonkish) – by Paul Krugman – The New York Times

“The 2008 financial crisis is (duh) a decade in the past; employment has been growing steadily since early 2010. Since nothing is forever, and proclamations that the business cycle is over have always ended in embarrassment, lots of people are looking for the sources of the next recession.

The thing is, there’s nothing out there as obvious as the housing bubble of the mid-2000s, or even the tech bubble of the late 1990s. So here’s my thought: maybe the next recession won’t be caused by one big shock but instead by the combined impact of several smaller shocks. There are arguably several mid-sized bubbles out there, from private equity debt to emerging markets. Stocks are priced as if there’s no risk despite omens of trade war, consumer confidence similarly seems to discount dangers. There’s probably other stuff I’m missing.

The point, anyway, is that we might be looking at a smorgasbord recession, one that involves a mix of smallish things rather than a single dominant item. And there’s a model for that kind of recession: the slump of the early 1990s.”

Opinion | What Do We Actually Know About the Economy? (Wonkish) – Paul Krugman – NYT

“So let me talk about three things:

The unsung success of macroeconomics

The excessive prestige of microeconomics

The limits of empiricism, vital though it is

The clean little secret of macroeconomics

There’s a story about quantum physics – not sure where I read it – about the rivalry between the physicists Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman. Schwinger was first to work out how to do quantum electrodynamics, but his methods were incredibly difficult and cumbersome. Feynman hit upon a much simpler approach – his famous diagrams – which turned out to be equivalent, but vastly easier to use.

Schwinger, as I remember the story, was never seen to use a Feynman diagram. But he had a locked room in his house, and the rumor was that that room was where he kept the Feynman diagrams he used in secret.”