The Dollar’s Doldrums
Economic commentators are better at rationalizing past exchange-rate movements than at forecasting future trends. So, when it comes to explanations for the dollar’s decline over the past year, we are confronted by an embarrassment of riches.
When Shall We Overcome?
In 1968, the year after riots erupted in cities throughout the US, the Kerner Commission, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson, famously concluded that the country was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” Sadly, it is conclusion that still rings true.
The Blockchain Pipe Dream
Even after a sharp correction earlier this year, the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has remained unsustainably high, and techno-libertarians have continued to insist that blockchain technologies will revolutionize the way business is done. In fact, blockchain might just be the most over-hyped technology of all time.
Economists vs. Scientists on Long-Term Growth
Artificial intelligence researchers and conventional economists may have very different views about the impact of new technologies. But right now, and forgetting the possibility of an existential battle between man and machine, it seems quite plausible to expect a significant pickup in productivity growth over the next five years.
The Fed Should Be Careful What It Wishes For
Major central banks’ fixation on inflation betrays a guilty conscience for serially falling short of their targets. It also raises the risk that in fighting the last war, they will be poorly prepared for the next – the battle against too-high inflation.
Working Toward the Next Economic Paradigm
Building support for a new unifying economic paradigm to replace the discredited Washington Consensus will be an analytically challenging, politically demanding, and time-consuming process. In the meantime, both economists and policymakers must ensure that the existing paradigm doesn't cause more damage than it already has.
The Market Dogs That Didn’t Bark
Did February’s equity-price reversal mark the end of the bull market, or was it just a temporary correction? In addressing this question, one must look not just at the stock market, but also at oil prices, long-term US interest rates, and currencies.
The Myth of Sound Fundamentals
The recent correction in the US stock market is now being characterized as a fleeting aberration – a volatility shock – in what is still deemed to be a very accommodating investment climate. In fact, for a US economy that has a razor-thin cushion of saving, dependence on rising asset prices has never been more obvious.
Pessimism Amid Plenty
While there is no shortage of challenges facing economies and societies today, they should not be allowed to obscure positive long-term trends. The best remedies for undue pessimism are practical: effective fact-based policymaking, shaped by scientific inquiry and social solidarity.
The Social Media Threat to Society and Security
It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. And there is a real chance that, once lost, those who grow up in the digital age – in which the power to command and shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies – will have difficulty regaining it.
When Will Tech Disrupt Higher Education?
Universities pride themselves on producing creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, yet higher-education teaching techniques continue to evolve at a glacial pace. Given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?
The CEOs of Davos were euphoric this year about the return to growth, strong profits, and soaring executive compensation. Economists reminded them that this growth is not sustainable, and has never been inclusive; but in a world where greed is always good, such arguments have little impact.
Are Oil Prices Heading for Another Spike?
The decline in the dollar’s exchange rate seems to have gathered momentum, in part because the person who has his signature on US currency, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, seems unperturbed by its weakness. If it continues, will energy costs spiral upward?
Blockchain’s Broken Promises
Boosters of blockchain technology compare its early days to the early days of the Internet. But whereas the Internet quickly gave rise to email, the World Wide Web, and millions of commercial ventures, blockchain's only application – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – does not even fulfill its stated purpose.
The Heightened Risks of a US Downturn
The US economy has experienced nine recessions during the last 50 years. What makes the current situation unusual and more worrying than in the past is the low level of short-term interest rates and the high (and rising) level of federal debt, which will limit policymakers' ability to provide the stimulus needed to counter a recession.
The World’s Priciest Stock Market
It is impossible to pin down the full cause of the high price of the US stock market. That alone should remind all investors of the importance of diversification, and that the overall US stock market should not be given too much weight in a portfolio.
Oil’s Uncertain Comeback
Unless there is a notable geopolitical shock, traditional oil producers should treat the recent oil-price gains as a temporary windfall, not a permanent state of affairs. To prolong the price recovery as long as possible, they should reinforce their collective production discipline.
The Missing Ingredients of Growth
Several positive macroeconomic trends suggest that the global economy could finally be in a position to achieve sustained and inclusive growth. But whether that happens will depend on whether governments can muster a more forceful response to changing economic and technological conditions.
The US Donor Relief Act of 2017
There is nothing about the GOP’s recently-passed tax package that lives up to its proponents' promises; it is neither a reform effort nor an equitable tax cut. Rather, the bill embodies all that is wrong with the Republican Party, and to some extent, the debased state of American democracy.
China, the Innovation Dragon
Given its own policies, and those of the US, China is on track to become the world’s innovation leader. By the end of 2018, it will likely be apparent to all just how quickly and easily this latest chapter in the Chinese success story will be written.
Economics and American National Security
The US government should focus on combating foreign governments’ trade policies – such as technology theft, non-tariff barriers to US exports, and forced technology transfers – that hurt American firms without any offsetting benefits to American consumers.
Monetary-Policy Normalization in Europe in 2018
As the European Central Bank pursues monetary-policy normalization in 2018, it should proceed with caution. It will need to balance mounting pressure from Germany for faster normalization with a realistic assessment of the durability and breadth of the unfolding recovery.
Will the Center Hold?
Changes in tax, regulatory, or budget policy can be rescinded – albeit with difficulty – by a subsequent administration. A perception that the US is no longer prepared to stand up for its allies in the international community is much less reversible.
The Global Economy’s Risky Recovery
As the advanced economies’ post-2008 recession fades into the distant past, global prospects for 2018 look a little better than in 2017. The shift from fiscal austerity to a more stimulative stance will reduce the need for extreme monetary policies, which almost surely have had adverse effects not just on financial markets but also on the real economy.
Fake Brexit or No Brexit
If a hard Brexit is economically unacceptable to British business and Parliament, a soft Brexit is politically unacceptable to EU leaders, and a fake Brexit is unacceptable to almost everyone, just one alternative remains: no Brexit. That would mean revoking Britain’s withdrawal notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
Financial Investors’ Wish List for 2018
Given how well investors have been doing lately, many are probably hoping for more of the same in the coming year. But what they should really be wishing for is that economic and policy fundamentals improve to the point that they validate existing asset prices, while laying a foundation for greater gains.
Two Myths About Automation
While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.
Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America
In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
The Globalization of Our Discontent
Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US in recent years has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.
The US Is Exporting Obesity
Left unchecked, rapidly rising obesity rates could slow or even reverse the dramatic gains in health and life expectancy that much of the world has enjoyed over the past few decades. And by forcing its food culture on countries like Mexico and Canada, the US is making the problem worse.
The Long and Winding Road to a Haircut
There are significant differences between Puerto Rico and Venezuela regarding the origins of their economic crises, their political systems, their relationship with the US and the rest of the world, and much else. Nonetheless, some notable similarities are likely to emerge as their debt sagas unfold.
The Global Economy in 2018
The global economy will confront serious challenges in the months and years ahead, and looming in the background is a mountain of debt that makes markets nervous – and that thus increases the system's vulnerability to destabilizing shocks. Yet the baseline scenario seems to be one of continuity, with no obvious convulsions on the horizon.
Today’s Rational Exuberance
What many analysts still see as a temporary bubble, pumped up by artificial and unsustainable monetary stimulus, is maturing into a structural expansion of economic activity, profits, and employment that probably has many more years to run. There are at least four reasons for such optimism.
Central Banks in the Dock
Today, central banks are under attack for missing their inflation targets, failing to maintain financial stability or restore it in transparent ways, and ignoring the global repercussions of their policies. But compromising central bank independence in order to enhance political accountability would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The Plot Against America’s 99%
US President Donald Trump, in partnership with congressional Republicans, is pursuing tax cuts that will blow up the fiscal deficit and add to the public debt, while benefit the rich at the expense of middle- and working-class Americans. Once again, Trump has not hesitated to betray the people he conned into voting for him.
Has Trump Captured the Fed?
US President Donald Trump has an uncanny ability to embrace economic policies, such as the Republicans' proposed tax cuts, that benefit him personally. In choosing the relatively moderate Jerome Powell to chair the Federal Reserve, he realized that an extremist would raise interest rates – any real-estate developer’s worst nightmare.
Donald Trump’s Federal Reserve
Jerome Powell, US President Donald Trump's pick to succeed Janet Yellen as Fed Chair, will face some extraordinary challenges at the outset of his five-year term. But the greatest challenge of all will be to stay out of Trump's shadow and uphold the Fed's independence.
Big Tech Meets Big Government
In an ideal world, major tech companies would recognize and adjust to their growing systemic importance in step with external actors, including governments and consumers, thereby striking the right balance between innovation, consumer benefits and protection, and national security. But this is not an ideal world.
The Curious Case of the Missing Defaults
Usually, a sudden stop in capital inflows sparks a currency crash, sometimes a banking crisis, and quite often a sovereign default. Why, then, has the worldwide incidence of sovereign defaults in emerging markets risen only modestly?
Empowering China’s New Miracle Workers
China’s success in the next five years will depend largely on how well the government manages the tensions underlying its complex agenda. In particular, China’s leaders will need to balance a muscular Communist Party, setting standards and protecting the public interest, with an empowered market, driving the economy into the future.
Notwithstanding all the self-congratulatory flourishes in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s political report to the 19th National Congress, there is good reason to believe that the Chinese economy is only in the early stages of its long-heralded structural transformation. To reach its goal, China will have to resolve three contradictions.
How Money Could Unblock the Brexit Talks
With talks on the UK's withdrawal from the EU stalled, negotiators should shift to the temporary “transition” Prime Minister Theresa May officially requested last month. Above all, the negotiators should focus immediately on the British budget contributions that will be required to make an orderly transition possible.
Intellectual Property for the Twenty-First-Century Economy
Developing countries are increasingly pushing back against the intellectual property regime foisted on them by the advanced economies over the last 30 years. They are right to do so, because what matters is not only the production of knowledge, but also that it is used in ways that put the health and wellbeing of people ahead of corporate profits.
The Demise of Dollar Diplomacy?
Pundits have been saying last rites for the dollar’s global dominance since the 1960s – that is, for more than half a century now. But the pundits may finally be right, because the greenback's dominance has been sustained by geopolitical alliances that are now fraying badly.
Another Nobel Surprise for Economics
Richard Thaler has shown in his research how to focus economic inquiry more decisively on real and important problems. His research program has been both compassionate and grounded, and he has established a research trajectory for young scholars and social engineers that marks the beginning of a real and enduring scientific revolution.
Three Scenarios for the Global Economy
The International Monetary Fund, which in recent years had characterized global growth as the “new mediocre,” recently upgraded its World Economic Outlook. But is the IMF right to think that the recent growth spurt will continue over the next few years, or is a temporary cyclical upswing about to be subdued by new tail risks?
The price of Bitcoin is up 600% over the past 12 months, and 1,600% in the past 24 months. But the long history of currency tells us that what the private sector innovates, the state eventually regulates and appropriates – and there is no reason to expect virtual currency to avoid a similar fate.
Dealing with Damaging Institutional Inertia
Institutions matter, especially in a period of economic, political, and social fluidity, when they shield countries from frequent volatility and reduce the risk of costly shocks. The longer it takes to restore confidence in them, the greater the impediments to our wellbeing and that of our children.