Must-read: Jared Bernstein: “Five Simple Formulas”

Must-Read: Jared Bernstein: Five Simple Formulas: “Here are five useful, simple… inequalities…

…Each one tells you something important about the big economic problems we face today or, for the last two formulas, what we should do about them. And when I say ‘simple,’ I mean it…. r>g… that if the return on wealth, or r, is greater than the economy’s growth rate, g, then wealth will continue to become ever more concentrated….

S>I… Bernanke’s imbalance…. Larry Summers’ ‘secular stagnation’ concerns offer a similar, though somewhat more narrow, version. For the record, I think this one is really serious (I mean, they’re all really serious, but relative to r>g, S>I is underappreciated)…. In theory, there are key mechanisms in the economy that should automatically kick in and repair the disequilibrium…. Central bankers, like Bernanke and Yellen, tend to discuss S>I and the jammed mechanisms just noted, as ‘temporary headwinds’ that will eventually dissipate (Summers disagrees). But while it has jumped around the globe—S>I is more a German thing right now than a China thing (Germany’s trade surplus is 8 percent of GDP!)—the S>I problem has lasted too long to warrant a ‘temporary’ label….

u>u… Baker/Bernstein’s slack attack…. For most of the past few decades—about 70 percent of the time, to be precise—u has been > than mainstream estimates of u, meaning the job market has been slack…. From the 1940s to the late 1970s, u*>u only 30 percent of the time, meaning the job market was mostly at full employment….

g>t… [Richard] Kogan’s cushion…. For most of the years that our country has existed (he’s got data back to 1792!), the economy’s growth rate (g again) has been greater than the rate the government has to pay to service its debt, which I call t. Kogan calls it r since it’s a rate of return, but it’s not the same r as in Piketty (which is why I’m calling it t)….

0.05>h… the DeLong/Summers low-cost lunch…. When the private economy is weak, government spending can be a very low-cost way to lift not just current jobs and incomes, but future growth as well…. The ‘h’ stands for hysteresis, which describes the long-term damage to the economy’s growth potential when policy neglect allows depressed economies to persist over time…. As an increase in current output by a dollar raises future output by at least a nickel, the extra spending will be easily affordable. But how do we know if 0.05>h? In a follow-up paper for CBPP’s full-employment project, D&S, along with economist Larry Ball, back out a recent number for h that amounts to 0.24, multiples of the 0.05 threshold, and evidence that, at least recently, h>0.05…

March 21, 2016


Brad DeLong
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