Many experts are rethinking longstanding core ideas, including the importance of inflation expectations.
It has long been a central tenet of mainstream economic theory that public fears of inflation tend to be self-fulfilling.
Now though, a cheeky and even gleeful takedown of this idea has emerged from an unlikely source, a senior adviser at the Federal Reserve named Jeremy B. Rudd. His 27-page paper, published as part of the Fed’s Finance and Economics Discussion Series, has become what passes for a viral sensation among economists.
The paper disputes the idea that people’s expectations for future inflation matter much for the level of inflation experienced today. That is especially important right now, in trying to figure out whether the current inflation surge is temporary or not.
But the Rudd paper is part of something bigger still. It reflects a broader rethinking of core ideas about how the economy works and how policymakers, especially at central banks, try to manage things. This shift has also included debates about the relationship between unemployment and inflation, how deficit spending affects the economy, and much more.
In effect, many of the key ideas underlying economic policy during the Great Moderation — the period of relatively steady growth and low inflation from the mid-1980s to 2007 that also seems to be a high-water mark for economists’ overconfidence — increasingly look to be at best incomplete, and at worst wrong.
It is vivid evidence that macroeconomics, despite the thousands of highly intelligent people over centuries who have tried to figure it out, remains, to an uncomfortable degree, a black box. The ways that millions of people bounce off one another — buying and selling, lending and borrowing, intersecting with governments and central banks and businesses and everything else around us — amount to a system so complex that no human fully comprehends it.
“Macroeconomics behaves like we’re doing physics after the quantum revolution, that we really understand at a fundamental level the forces around us,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an interview. “We’re really at the level of Galileo and Copernicus,” just figuring out the basics of how the universe works.
“It requires more humility and acceptance that not everything fits into one model yet,” he said.
Or put less politely, as Mr. Rudd writes in the first sentence of his paper, “Mainstream economics is replete with ideas that ‘everyone knows’ to be true, but that are actually arrant nonsense.”
One reason for this, he posits: “The economy is a complicated system that is inherently difficult to understand, so propositions like these” — the arrant nonsense in question — “are all that saves us from intellectual nihilism.”
And from that starting point, a staff economist at the world’s most powerful central bank went on to say, in effect, that his own employer has been focused on the wrong things for the last few decades.
Mainstream policymakers, very much including Mr. Rudd’s bosses at the Fed, believe that inflation is, in large part, self-fulfilling — that what people expect future inflation to look like has an ability to shape how much prices rise in the near term.
In the common telling, the Great Inflation of the 1970s got going because people came to believe inflation would keep spiraling. The surge in gasoline prices wasn’t simply a frustrating development, but a harbinger of things to come, so people needed to demand higher raises, and businesses could feel confident charging higher prices for most everything.
In this story, the great achievement of the Fed in the early 1980s was to break this cycle by re-establishing credibility that it would not allow sustained high inflation (though at the cost of a severe recession).
That is why today’s discussions over the inflation outlook often spend a lot of time focusing on things like what bond prices suggest inflation will be five or 10 years from now, or how people answer survey questions about what they expect.
Mr. Rudd argues that there is no solid evidence that the conventional story of the 1970s describes the real mechanism through which inflation takes place. He says there’s a simpler explanation consistent with the data: that businesses and workers arrive at prices and wages based on the conditions they’ve experienced in the recent past, not some abstract future forecast.
For example, when inflation has been low in the recent past, workers might not demand raises as they would in a world where inflation was high; after all, their existing paychecks go pretty much as far as they used to. You don’t need some theory involving inflation expectations to get there.
Some economists who are sympathetic to the idea that central bankers have overly fetishized precise measurements of inflation expectations aren’t ready to fully dismiss the idea.
For example, Mr. Posen, a former Bank of England policymaker, says there remains a simple and hard-to-dispute idea about inflation expectations supported by lots of history: that if people distrust a country’s monetary system, inflation shocks can spiral upward. Economic policy credibility matters. But that isn’t the same as assuming that some survey or bond market measure of what will happen to inflation in the distant future is particularly meaningful for forecasting the near future.
“It has been a noble lie that has become a critical part of the catechism of global monetary policy, that long-term inflation expectations are not just interesting but are a decisive determinant of real-time inflation,” said Paul McCulley, a former Pimco chief economist, commenting on Mr. Rudd’s paper.
This isn’t the only way in which basic precepts underlying economic policy are shifting beneath economists’ feet.
Particularly prominently, for years central bankers believed there was a tight relationship between the unemployment rate and inflation, known as the Phillips Curve. Over the course of the 2000s, though, that relationship appeared to weaken and become a less reliable guideline for how to set policy.
Similarly, interest rates and inflation fell worldwide, for reasons that scholars are still trying to understand fully. That implied a lower “neutral interest rate,” or the rate that neither stimulates nor slows the economy, than was widely believed to be the case as recently as the mid-2010s.
In many ways, the Fed’s policies just before the pandemic were aimed at incorporating those lessons and embracing sustained lower interest rates — and the possibility of lower unemployment — than many in the mainstream thought reasonable a few years earlier.
In the realm of fiscal policy, some conventional wisdom has also been upended in the last few years. It was thought that large government debt issuance would risk causing a spike in interest rates and crowd out private sector investment. But in that period, huge budget deficits have been paired with low interest rates and abundant credit for businesses.
All of this makes it a challenging time for central bankers and other shapers of policy. “If you’re a policymaker and you don’t have robust confidence in the parameters of the game you are managing, it makes your job a whole lot more difficult,” Mr. McCulley said.
But if you are in charge of making economic policy that affects the lives of millions, you can’t simply shrug your shoulders and say, “We don’t know how the world works, so what are we supposed to do?” You look at the evidence available, and make the best judgment you can.
And then, if you think it turns out you were wrong about something, publish a sassy paper to try to get it right.
Shekel surplus weighs down Palestinian economy – FRANCE 24
Issued on: 17/10/2021 – 05:06Modified: 17/10/2021 – 05:04
Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)
Palestinian businesses flush with too much Israeli cash: it may not be the most talked about aspect of the occupation, but experts warn it is a growing concern for the Palestinian economy.
Palestinians in the West Bank use the Israeli shekel but, beyond that commonality, the two financial systems are dramatically different.
In Israel, as in many advanced economies, digital payments are rapidly growing, taking the place of transactions once done with bills and coins.
But in the West Bank, a territory under Israeli military occupation since 1967, cash is still king.
Tasir Freij, who owns a hardware store in Ramallah, told AFP he now has to pay a two percent commission to deposit paper money because his bank is reluctant to receive it.
“This is a crisis… and we are feeling its effects,” Freij told AFP.
Much of the paper money is brought in by the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and who get their wages in cash.
Experts and business people say the buildup of hard currency risks stifling the Palestinian financial system.
Freij fretted that buying goods from abroad typically requires converting shekels into foreign currencies, especially dollars or euros, but the abundance of shekels in the market has forced him to accept painfully unfavourable rates.
– ‘Dumping ground’ –
The Palestinian Monetary Authority, which functions as the central bank in the West Bank, has warned that paper shekels are building up because it has no way to return the hard currency to Israel.
PMA governor Firas Melhem told AFP that the cash buildup was “a very worrying problem,” causing headaches for banks and businesses.
“If the problem is not resolved quickly, the Palestinian market will turn into a dumping ground for the shekel,” he added.
The shekel was established as the official currency in the Palestinian territories as a result of economic protocols known as the Paris agreements that followed the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Much has changed since those 1994 agreements.
As they lean more on digital transactions, Israel’s banks no longer want to reabsorb paper cash that accumulates in the West Bank but does not circulate rapidly through the Israeli economy.
The Bank of Israel cited security as another reason.
“We stress that uncontrolled cash transfers could be misused, especially for money laundering and terror funding, and would not be in compliance with international standards on the prohibition of money laundering and terror funding,” the bank told AFP in a statement.
– Solutions? –
Palestinian banks have tried to encourage customers to moderate their cash deposits, but that risks limiting the capital available to banks, which would lower their ability to offer loans.
The cash surplus predicament has fuelled renewed calls from some Palestinian experts in favour of ditching the shekel, either in favour of a unique Palestinian currency or that of another nation, including the Jordanian dinar, which also circulates in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Monetary Authority is also pushing the Bank of Israel to take back more hard currency.
But Melhem stressed that Palestinians also needed to “keep up with developments in financial technologies,” and move towards more cashless payments.
© 2021 AFP
Saudi Arabia’s PIF launches offshore platform tourism project
Saudi Arabia‘s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, announced on Saturday the launch of “THE RIG”, which it said would be the world’s first tourism destination on offshore platforms.
The fund, the engine of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman‘s economic transformation plans for Saudi Arabia, manages a portfolio worth $400 billion.
It added in a statement that the project was located in the gulf and spanned an area of more than 150,000 square metres.
It said the project would feature a number of attractions, including three hotels, restaurants, helipads, and a range of adventurous activities including extreme sports.
The funds did not disclose the value of the project.
(Reported by Saeed Azhar; Writing by Moataz Abdelrahiem; Editing by Alex Richardson)
The World Needs 16 Billion Covid Shots: New Economy Saturday – Bloomberg
Wanted: 16.5 billion vaccine doses.
That’s the number urgently needed to inoculate the world against Covid-19—on top of the roughly 6.5 billion doses already administered. This according to Chad P. Bown, a trade specialist at the Peterson Institute of International Economics, and Thomas J. Bollyky, the Director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Vaccinating the planet’s entire population is a moral imperative. The fact that only 3% of adults in low-income countries have been immunized is catastrophic. Putting more needles into arms is also a broader public health priority: the longer it takes to immunize everyone, the greater the risk deadlier variants will emerge.
As a result, full vaccination is clearly an economic necessity, too. But 19 months into a horrific pandemic that’s killed millions, impediments remain.
This Week in the New Economy
The International Chamber of Commerce estimates the global economy stands to lose as much as $9.2 trillion as a result of unequal vaccine access.
But vaccines are also a trade issue. Like cars, laptops and smartphones, their production relies on intricate networks of cross-border supply chains. This system of dispersed manufacturing has worked remarkably well for places where global vaccine production is concentrated: India, the U.S., the European Union, the U.K. and China.
But these countries have prioritized their own people over the global good.
So-called “vaccine nationalism” was perhaps understandable when the first shots arrived. Producer countries naturally scrambled to protect their own hospital workers and the elderly.
The practice became less defensible when these countries started vaccinating low-risk populations. And that inequity is arguably intolerable now that those same rich nations are offering boosters while millions of healthcare workers in poorer countries haven’t received their first shot.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, denounces this state of affairs as “vaccine apartheid.”
If producer countries won’t share their existing output, then they must ramp up production, argue Bollyky and Bown (a member of the Bloomberg New Economy Trade Council).
“The mathematics are simple but stunning,” they write. Apart from Johnson & Johnson, available vaccines require a two-dose regimen. That adds up to 14 billion doses for a global population of seven billion. Taking into consideration third doses, stockpiling and inevitable waste, and the world needs a total of 23 billion doses for full vaccination. Given that 6.5 billion have already been delivered, that means an extra 16.5 billion are required.
To achieve the additional output, Bown and Bollyky are calling for a “Covid-19 Vaccine Investment and Trade Agreement” among countries in the vaccine supply chain.
Members would set a framework to subsidize the full supply chain and work with COVAX, the nonprofit that distributes vaccines to mostly poor countries. Countries that restricted exports would be penalized through limits on their vaccine inputs. Transparency would keep the system honest.
“Trade ministers should do their part to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to Covid-19 vaccines,” Bown and Bollyky warned. “The threat that new and more devastating virus variants could emerge—against which existing Covid-19 vaccines would be ineffective—means that no one is safe until the pandemic is under control.”
The fourth annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum will convene the world’s most influential leaders in Singapore on Nov. 16-19 to mobilize behind the effort to build a sustainable and inclusive global economy. Learn more here.
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