Friday, October 31, 2014

Job vacancy rate is back to pre-crisis level

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Latest from Merle Hazard

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

National Economists Club

If you are in the DC area, you can hear me speak on November 13.  Click here for more information.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Profile of an Ec 10 Student

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

A great and balanced essay.  Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the pointer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Head Section Leader in Ec 10

Love teaching introductory economics?  Want to live in the Boston area?  Well, then, I have a job for you.

Mean Comments

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Inequality and Parenting

Click on graphic to enlarge. Source.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Congrats!

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2014 Economist Educators Best in Class Teaching Award. These three were chosen by the Board of the National Economics Teaching Association (NETA) from numerous submissions. Prizes are provided by Cengage Learning.

1st Place       Michael Enz, Roanoke College 

                Self Grading

 2nd Place       Sherri Wall, University of Alaska-Fairbanks

                Team Based Learning (TBL) - Econ Style!

3rd Place       Amy Cramer, Pima Community College

                Voices on the Economy, or VOTE.
 
Winners will receive a cash award for themselves and for their departments as well as a trip to the 10th Annual Economics Teaching Conference next month in San Diego.

You can see their submissions HERE.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Where danger lurks

A nice essay by Olivier Blanchard on the lessons we should learn from the financial crisis and Great Recession.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

On Textbook Prices

NPR takes a look.  Generally, a good and balanced treatment. But they play a bit too fast and loose with the difference between high and rising.  Some of the hypotheses they suggest can explain high prices but not rising prices.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A VoxEU Course Companion

Teachers of intermediate macroeconomics will find this new book of interest:
This Vox EU Course Companion, the first in the series, is a collection of carefully selected Vox columns designed to supplement Mankiw’s Macroeconomics textbook. Vox Course Companions provide relevant examples of economic theory in action and offer thought-provoking perspectives on arguments that come up time and again in exam-style questions. They bring together analyses of economic phenomena by leading economists as they happened, while applying and comparing the suitability of competing economic theories.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The IMF on Infrastructure

The IMF endorses the free-lunch view of infrastructure spending. That is, an IMF study suggests that the expansionary effects are sufficiently large that debt-financed infrastructure spending could reduce the debt-GDP ratio over time. 

Certainly this outcome is theoretically possible (just like self-financing tax cuts), but you can count me as skeptical about how often it will occur in practice (just like self-financing tax cuts).  The human tendency for wishful thinking and the desire to avoid hard tradeoffs are so common that it is dangerous for a prominent institution like the IMF to encourage free-lunch thinking.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Predicting the Nobel

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Monetary Policy Rules

Here is a website that gives up-to-date graphs of several policy rules.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Grading in Ec 10

An instructor in introductory economics asks:
I have a question that may be of interest to the students and faculty who read your blog. In searching the archives of your blog, I did not see a blog post on the following: 
How do you assess and evaluate those students? 
I have a colleague who administers only one assessment - a final. Most of the rest of my department uses a variety of activities, assessments and evaluations - homework sets, reading quizzes, writing, midterm and final.
 
Here is the weighting we use to grade each semester in ec 10 at Harvard: 40 percent on the final exam, 20 percent on each of two midterm exams, and 20 percent on work done with section leader (mostly grades on problem sets done as homework, though class participation may be given some weight as well).  In addition, we have an optional "unit test program" in which students can take practice tests throughout the semester and, if they pass, earn extra credit.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Correlation is not causation

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Follow or Break the Rule?

Lars Christensen plots with recent data a version of the Taylor rule I proposed some years ago (published here).  I suggested this rule as an approximate description of Alan Greenspan's monetary policy in the 1990s. Here is Lars's plot:

Click on graphic to enlarge 
 
I based this rule (the green line) on data only from the 1990s, but notice that it does reasonably well until 2009.  The red line is the rule with parameters estimated from the later period.

Taken at face value, the rule suggests that it is time for the Fed to start raising the federal funds rate.  If you believe this rule was reasonably good during the period of the Great Moderation, does this mean the Fed should start tightening now, as the economy gets back to normal? 

Maybe, but not necessarily. There are two problems with interpreting such rules today.

The first and most obvious problem is that odd things have been happening in the labor market for the past several years. The unemployment rate (one of the right hand side variables in this rule) may not be a reliable indicator of slack.

The second and more subtle problem is the nagging issue of the zero lower bound.  For several years, the rule suggested a target federal funds rate deeply in the negative territory.  We are out of that range now, but should the past "errors" influence our target today?  An argument can be made that because the Fed kept the target rate "too high" for so long (that is, at zero rather than negative), it should commit itself now to keeping the target "too low" as compensation (that is, at zero for longer than the rule recommends).  By systematically doing so, the Fed encourages long rates to fall by more whenever the economy hits the zero lower bound. Such a policy might lead to greater stability than strict adherence to the rule as soon as we leave negative territory.

The time for the Fed to raise the target rate may be soon, but I don't think we are quite there.

Update: Ricardo Reis writes to me the following useful observation:

There is another (related) argument for not raising rates now to offset shortfalls in the past. It is not about the interest rate. It is about the price level, the ultimate goal of monetary policy and measure of its performance.

If you plot the PCE deflator, there is a clear shortfall relative to a 2% price-level target. A 2% price level target fits very well during Greenspan's time.  By the end of 2008, we were exactly on the 1992-target. But when I look at that plot starting in 2009 until the most recent data I see a gap.

A price-level target rule is optimal in normal times (Ball, Mankiw, and Reis) but is also an optimal policy in response to the dangers of the zero lower bound (Woodford). We have to catch up for the shortfall in the price level right now. And if you look at inflation expectations from surveys or markets, there seems to be no catch up expected, indicating that policy is still too tight.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Case for Civility

Noah Smith puts it well:

most of our arguments are over things like Obamacare, or antipoverty programs, or financial regulation-- issues on which reasonable people can and do disagree. If you’re uncivil in this sort of situation -- if you call your opponent an idiot, or a liar, or a nastier name simply because you think his or her argument is bad -- you’re basically being overconfident. You’re assuming that there’s essentially no chance that you’re in the wrong, so it’s in the public interest for you to rail against your opponent and score points with the crowd. If you do this, there’s no chance that you yourself will learn anything from the encounter.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Just for Fun

A friend sends the following puzzle.  Find the X that fits in this sequence:

16  06  68  88  X  98

For those who don't get it, I will post a hint in a few days.

Hint: Try looking at the problem upside down.