Sunday, September 29, 2013

Miron and Rigol go after a classic

Jeff Miron and Natalia Rigol have a provocative working paper, "Bank Failures and Output During the Great Depression." They take on one of Ben Bernanke's most famous papers.

Is QE contractionary?

I ran across a fascinating blog post by Peter Stella at Vox-Eu on exit strategies and QE. 

Peter points out that only banks can hold reserves, while anyone can hold short term Treasuries. And you can easily use Treasuries for collateral.  That means that short term Treasuries are in some sense more liquid than reserves, and that by buying huge amounts of Treasuries and issuing reserves, the Fed may be actually contracting. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Asset Pricing MOOC Open

My Coursera Asset Pricing MOOC is now open. The direct link is here -- but you may need to register to see it. 

I recommend browsing the week 1 videos, especially the theory preview videos, if you want a sense of what it's all about. Week 0 is background material on continuous time math.

Week 0 (background) and week 1 are up now, 2 and 3 should be up later this week.

Warning, this is a PhD level asset pricing class, designed to get you in to the theory used for research-level asset pricing. It pretty much follows my textbook "Asset Pricing" (and supplementary material) You don't have to buy the text to take the Coursera class. People who just want to watch the videos are also welcome.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The New-Keynesian Liquidity Trap

I just finished a draft of an academic article, "The New-Keynesian Liquidity Trap"  that might be of interest to blog readers, especially those of you who follow the stimulus wars. 

New-Keynesian models produce some stunning predictions of what happens in a "liquidity trap" when interest rates are stuck at zero.  They predict a deep recession. They predict that promises work: "forward guidance," and commitments to keep interest rates low for long periods, with no current action, stimulate the current level of consumption.  Fully-expected future inflation is a good thing. Growth is bad. Deliberate destruction of output, capital, and productivity raise GDP. Throw away the bulldozers, let them use shovels. Or, better, spoons. Hurricanes are good. Government spending, even if financed by current taxation, and even if completely wasted, of the digging ditches and filling them up type, can have huge output multipliers.

Even more puzzling, new-Keynesian models predict that all of this gets worse as prices become more flexible.  Thus, although price stickiness is the central friction keeping the economy from achieving its optimal output, policies that reduce price stickiness would make matters worse.

In short, every law of economics seems to change sign at the zero bound. If gravity itself changed sign and we all started floating away, it would be no less surprising.

And of course, if you read the New York Times, people like me who have any doubts about all this are morons, evil, corrupt, and paid off by some vast right-wing conspiracy to transfer wealth from the poor to the secret conspiracy of hedge fund billionaires.

So I spent some time looking at all this.

McDonalds and the minimum wage

Recently, on a long car trip returning from a glider contest, I did something unusual among our liberal elite: I actually went to a McDonalds and ate there.

The lady who took my order must have been about 19, as were all the other employees I could see, and pretty clearly new on the job.  Getting the order right took some effort.  I made the mistake of paying cash. The bill was something like $7.62. I first offered a $10, and she rang it up. Then I found 12 cents in my pocket, and offered it. This was a big mistake, as the cash register had already computed my change, and adjusting to my offer of 12 cents was beyond her abilities.

Most people might have been annoyed, but as an economist and an educator, I'm happy to see human capital building. OK, I was a little annoyed.

Which brings me, of course, to the proposals for a sharply increased minimum wage.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Summers withdraws

You have undoubtedly seen the news by now. Chicago Tribune, and Wall Street Journal

I'm sad, actually. A Summers confirmation would have been a great focus for a national debate on the role of the Federal Reserve, the role and character of its Chair, proper relations between the Fed and Wall Street, where we are going with financial regulation, whether bailouts and stimulus are a good idea, and how macroeconomic and monetary policy should be conducted.

I mean that as a totally honest statement -- don't read any coded pro- or anti- Summers implications in it.

I don't see that happening with any of the remaining candidates. We are at a good moment to attract some lightning, and I'm sorry to see the lightning rod bow out.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Banking news

There are two interesting tidbits of banking news in today's (9/10/2013) papers.

The Wall Street Journal has a long page 1 article, "Life on Wall Street Gets Less Risky" describing what it's like at Morgan Stanley under the new regulatory regime. Two bits caught my eye

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Chicago economist runs a central bank

Raghu Rajan celebrated his first day on the job running India's central bank. Coverage from Financial Times and Wall Street Journal.

Did he.. Find the coffee machine? Test the sofas in his office? Dust off his desk? Tour the printing press? Or...

Sargent online

Tom Sargent and John Stachurski go online with a fascinating web based course in quantitative economic modeling.

Two thoughts.  The education world is going online, but we're all in version 1.0 at best. Tom and John's website is an interestingly different paradigm than the online courses such as the Coursera platform that I'm using for an online asset pricing course.  I'll be curious to see which elements of which paradigm survive. Or perhaps the Toms' webiste will become the "textbook" for Coursera type courses, which can then add videos, forums, a structured environment for plowing through the material, and  the carrot of certification at the end.

The website is just gorgeous. Producing economic (and scientific) articles for viewing online has so far been a headache. Our journals produce beautiful pdf representations of.. printed pages. They might as well show 3-d images of a papyrus scroll. Math and tables in html as presented on most journal websites is just pathetically ugly. As I looked through this website, I'm enthused that 1) I need to learn python and 2) I need to learn to write my papers and textbooks in this gorgeous format.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fed Chair

My pick for Fed chair below. I don't have much to say on the choice between Janet Yellen and Larry Summers. Both are worthy economists, with well-discussed pluses and minuses on which I have no particular insight.

So, this post is about who else one might want to look at, and much more importantly the broader question about what makes a good Fed chair.

The press mostly  wants a soothsayer, who will foresee events the market does not see and calm the waters -- in practice,  basically operating the worlds largest contrarian hedge fund, or the commissariat of macroeconomic central planning. Such people don't exist, so that's a self-defeating job description. Let's talk about reality.

The Fed chair will not just have to pick the right course, but will also have to wade through the cacophony of advice and pressure he or she will receive, from politicians, powerful banks and businesses, outside critics – people like me – and the crosswinds of contradictory advice from Fed board members, staff and regions. And then guide a headstrong committee and a ponderous bureaucracy to those ends.

To do that, a chair needs a clear intellectual framework and a core set of principles.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ronald Coase

Ronald Coase has died, inspiration and hope for those of us who don't write 10 papers a year. But they have to be good ones.

Two insightful retrospectives:

David Henderson, in the Wall Street Journal, also here at Hoover (no paywall)

Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post "Wonkblog" "Here are five of his papers you need to read"

When I got to Chicago, it seemed that people, especially graduate students, would shout "Coase theorem" at totally random moments. The pattern has since started to make some sense.