(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘economics

“The only corporate social responsibility a company has is to maximize its profits”*…

Congressman Fred Hartley and Senator Robert Taft, namesake co-sponsors of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which figures in the tale referenced below)

… Happily that wasn’t always the accepted belief, and may some day recede. The redoubtable Bill Janeway explains– and laments– the passing of corporations that felt a duty to constituents other than their shareholders…

In his new book Slouching towards Utopia, the economist J. Bradford DeLong points out, correctly, that the “industrial research laboratory and the modern corporation” were the keys to unleashing a radical increase in the rate of scientific and technological innovation, and thus economic growth, from 1870 onward. DeLong also identifies the Treaty of Detroit, a landmark 1950 settlement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers, as a linchpin of American-style post-World War II social democracy. But what ever happened to the behemoth corporations that unlocked decades of growth while sponsoring health insurance and pensions for their employees?…

The rise of the neoliberal order in the 1970s and 1980s coincided with the demise of companies that served their societies and employees as well as their shareholders. Since then, the US federal government and other institutions have managed to offset the loss of only part of the broader contributions that big business once made. The fascinating, sad story at “The Rise and Fall of the Socially Beneficial Corporation,” from @billjaneway in @ProSyn.

* Milton Friedman, intellectual leader– and avatar– of the neoliberal order

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As we learn from the past, we might send inclusively-calculated birthday greetings to a Cambridge University faculty colleague of Bill’s, Sir Partha Sarathi Dasgupta; he was born on this date in 1946. An Anglo-Indian economist, Dasgupta’s contributions have been broad, covering welfare and development economics; the economics of technological change; population, environmental, and resource economics; social capital; the theory of games; ecological economics; and the economics of malnutrition. His deepest interest has been in ecological economics, more particularly in the nexus of population, consumption, and the natural environment and in the economics of biodiversity. With the late Karl-Goran Maler, he developed the concept of “inclusive wealth” as a measure of human well-being.

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“Location, location, location”*…

Adam Tooze on the biggest vulnerability in the global economy…

In this precarious moment – in the fourth quarter of 2022, two years into the recovery from COVID – of all the forces driving towards an abrupt and disruptive global slowdown, by far the largest is the threat of a global housing shock…

In the global economy there are three really large asset classes: the equities issued by corporations ($109 trillion); the debt securities issued by corporations and governments ($123 trillion); and real estate, which is dominated by residential real estate, valued worldwide at $258 trillion. Commercial real estate ($32.6 trillion) and agricultural land add another $68 trillion. If economic news were reported more sensibly, indices of global real estate would figure every day alongside the S&P500 and the Nasdaq. The surge in global house prices in 2019-2021 added tens of trillions to measured global wealth. If that unwinds it will deliver a huge recessionary shock.

In regional terms, as a first approximation, think of global real estate assets as split four ways, with the US, China and the EU each accounting for c. 20-22 percent and 35 percent or so belonging to the rest of the world.

The housing complex is at the heart of the capitalist economy. Construction is a major industry worldwide. It is one of the classic drivers of the business-cycle. But beyond the constructive industry itself, the influence of housing as an asset class is pervasive. Compared to equities or debt securities, residential real estate is owned in a relatively decentralized way. Homeownership defines the middle class. And for the majority of households in that class, those with any measurable net worth, the home is the main marketable asset.

Middle-class households are for the most part undiversified and unhedged speculators in one asset, their home. Furthermore, since homes are the only asset that most households can use as collateral, they pile on leverage. For households, as for firms, leverage promises outsized gains, but also brings with it serious risks in the event of a downturn. Mortgage and rental payments are generally the largest single item in household budgets. And household spending, which accounts for 60 percent of GDP in a typical OECD member, is also responsive to perceived household wealth and thus to home equity – the balance between home prices and the mortgages secured on it. For all of these reasons, a surge in mortgage rates and/or a slump in house prices is a very big deal for the world economy and for society more generally…

More background and an assessment of the outlook: “The global housing downturn,” from @adam_tooze.

For Tooze’s follow-up piece on the risk inherent in the $23 trillion US Treasury market, see here.

Harold Samuel

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As we mortgage our futures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1914 that the Federal Reserve Bank of the U.S. was opened. In actuality a network of 12 regional banks, joined in the Federal Reserve System, they oversee federally-chartered banks in their regions and are jointly responsible for implementing the monetary policy set forth by the Federal Open Market Committee.

In that latter role, they are central to the housing market in that they set interest rates and purchase mortgage securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Government-Sponsored Enterprises in the mortgage market). At this point the Fed owns about a quarter of the mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The Federal Reserve Banks in 1936 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 16, 2022 at 1:00 am

“There was so much more going on than any one person could know, reality was so much bigger than the self, that it was alarming to contemplate”*…

Henry Oliver on The Panic of 1825 and the ways in which it modeled crises to come and shaped the modern world…

… the Panic of 1825… wasn’t like panics of the past. There was no external cause of this bubble — no war, no weather, no pandemic. It was not a speculative mania. It took place in many fragmented investments — loans, insurance policies — made by individuals, often in good faith, in the new economic system. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had introduced a new gold standard. To avoid a sudden stop in loans and note issues (after running the war on cheap money) the Bank designed a transition. First, they hoarded gold like Smaug, to keep prices high and prevent a run. Second, they brought out new low-yield stocks. Third, the government issued new bonds and started a big infrastructure programme. With all the extra money in the system, backed by gold, people started investing, post-war prosperity flourished, and George IV could yap complacently about the success of the economy. Now that gold payments resumed, the market for precious metals boomed. Hence all those investments in South American gold mines. That all sent capital overseas, and so the currency was becoming, in reality, a paper system. Letters and warnings were published in The Times, but all in vain. And so when the bank drew in its horns, the crash was inevitable.

This wasn’t, then, a rampant speculative bubble. It was a diversification crisis. So many people invested in so many different things and none of them knew enough about the rest. Many investments were sound. Many participants were not speculators. “The fundamental problem in the market,” as one scholar has written, “was not that investors were over-extending themselves but rather that they did not have enough information to appreciate how over-extended everyone else already was.” After the crash, the finance system started to be centralised, to avoid such situations in the future.

1825 is known as the first modern financial crisis. No single group could be blamed for what happened. It was a systemic event. It demonstrated, quite firmly, that there is no place or person at the centre of things, no-one who runs the market. 1825 was, in some senses, the year the modern economy started. But it wasn’t just in economics that 1825 changed the world. Politics and literature were reinvigorated too…

More (including the role of Disraeli) at “1825: the first modern financial crisis,” from @HenryEOliver.

[Image above: source]

* Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future

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As we ponder precedent, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867 that the first stock ticker was introduced.

The advent of the ticker ultimately revolutionized the stock market by making up-to-the-minute prices available to investors around the country. Prior to this development, information from the New York Stock Exchange, which has been around since 1792, traveled by mail or messenger.

The ticker was the brainchild of Edward Calahan, who configured a telegraph machine to print stock quotes on streams of paper tape (the same paper tape later used in ticker-tape parades). The ticker, which caught on quickly with investors, got its name from the sound its type wheel made.

History

Calahan’s ticker (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The function of small corner shops in maintaining cities as viable social institutions does not appear in the Washington consensus. The possibility that corner shops may do better at safeguarding social cohesion than mass imprisonment is considered outlandish – if it is considered at all.”*…

For decades, globalist neoliberalism (and here) has driven the policies and practices and political, commercial, and financial leaders and institutions across the developed– and given development policy, the developing– world. Rana Foroohar argues that its time may be up; geography is retaking the upper hand…

For most of the last 40 years, U.S. policymakers acted as if the world were flat. Steeped in the dominant strain of neoliberal economic thinking, they assumed that capital, goods, and people would go wherever they would be the most productive for everyone. If companies created jobs overseas, where it was cheapest to do so, domestic employment losses would be outweighed by consumer benefits. And if governments lowered trade barriers and deregulated capital markets, money would flow where it was needed most. Policymakers didn’t have to take geography into account, since the invisible hand was at work everywhere. Place, in other words, didn’t matter.

U.S. administrations from both parties have until quite recently pursued policies based on these broad assumptions—deregulating global finance, striking trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, welcoming China into the World Trade Organization (WTO), and not only allowing but encouraging American manufacturers to move much of their production overseas. Free-market globalism was of course pushed in large part by the powerful multinational companies best positioned to exploit it (companies that, of course, donated equally to politicians from both major U.S. parties to ensure that they would see the virtues of neoliberalism). It became a kind of crusade to spread this new American creed around the globe, delivering the thrill of fast fashion and ever-cheaper electronic gadgets to consumers everywhere. American goods, in effect, would represent American goodness. They would advertise American philosophical values, the liberalism tucked inside neoliberalism. The idea was that other countries, delighted by the fruits of American-style capitalism, would be moved to become “free” like the United States.

By some measures, the results of these policies were tremendously beneficial: American consumers in particular enjoyed the fruits of cheap foreign manufacturing while billions of people were lifted out of poverty, especially in developing countries. As emerging markets joined the free-market system, global inequality declined, and a new global middle class was born. How free it was politically, of course, depended on the country.

But neoliberal policies also created immense inequalities within countries and led to sometimes destabilizing capital flows between them. Money can move much faster than goods or people, which invites risky financial speculation. (The number of financial crises has grown substantially since the 1980s.) What is more, neoliberal policies caused the global economy to become dangerously untethered from national politics. Through much of the 1990s, these tectonic shifts were partly obscured in the United States by falling prices, increased consumer debt, and low interest rates. By the year 2000, however, the regional inequalities wrought by neoliberalism had become impossible to ignore. While coastal U.S. cities prospered, many parts of the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South were experiencing catastrophic job losses. Average incomes among U.S. states began to diverge, having converged throughout the 1990s…

Since the beginning of the neoliberal era, a handful of economists had pushed back against the received wisdom of the field. Karl Polanyi, an Austro-Hungarian economic historian, critiqued classical economic views as early as 1944, arguing that totally free markets were a utopian myth. Scholars of the postwar period, including Joseph Stiglitz, Dani Rodrik, Raghuram Rajan, Simon Johnson, and Daron Acemoglu, also understood that place mattered. As Stiglitz, who grew up in the Rust Belt, once told me, “It was obvious if you were raised in a place like Gary, Indiana, that markets aren’t always efficient.” 

This view, that location plays a role in determining economic outcomes, is only just beginning to land in policy circles, but a growing body of research supports it. From the work of Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman to that of Raj Chetty and Thomas Philippon, there is now a consensus among scholars that geographically specific factors such as the quality of public health, education, and drinking water have important economic implications. That might seem intuitive or even obvious to most people, but it has only recently gained broad acceptance among mainstream economists. As Peter Orszag, who served as President Barack Obama’s budget director, told me, “If you ask a normal human being, ‘Does it matter where you are?’ they would start from the presumption that ‘Yes, where you live and where you work and who you’re surrounded by matters a ton.’ It’s like Econ 101 has just gone off the path for the last 40 to 50 years, and we’re all little islands atomized into perfectly rational calculating machines. And policy has just drifted along with this thinking.” He added, “The Economics 101 approach, which is place-agnostic, has clearly failed.”

The importance of place has become even more evident since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic decoupling of the United States and China, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Globalization has crested and begun to recede. In its place, a more regionalized and even localized world is taking shape. Faced with rising political discontent at home and geopolitical tensions abroad, governments and businesses alike are increasingly focused on resilience in addition to efficiency. In the coming post-neoliberal world, production and consumption will be more closely connected within countries and regions, labor will gain power relative to capital, and politics will have a greater impact on economic outcomes than it has for half a century. If all politics is local, the same could soon be true for economics…

All economics is local: “After Neoliberalism,” from @RanaForoohar in @ForeignAffairs. Eminently worth reading in full (and contemplating the consequences of this all-too-plausible shift for addressing global issues like change change and the migration it is sure to drive).

John Gray

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As we re-scope, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that prescient objectors, the Sex Pistols, made their live debut at St Martin’s School Of Art in central London, supporting a band called Bazooka Joe, which included Stuart Goddard (the future Adam Ant).  The Pistols’ performance lasted 10 minutes.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 6, 2022 at 1:00 am

“These are the times that try men’s souls”*…

Last January, (R) D looked, via Adam Tooze, at the concept of the Polycrisis: “I know it is relentless. That is also a feature of the polycrisis we are in. It comes from all sides and it just doesn’t stop.” He’s developed his thinking, summarizing in a recent Financial Times piece…

Pandemic, drought, floods, mega storms and wildfires, threats of a third world war — how rapidly we have become inured to the list of shocks. So much so that, from time to time, it is worth standing back to consider the sheer strangeness of our situation…

Of course, familiar economic mechanisms still have huge power. A bond market panic felled an incompetent British government. It was, you might say, a textbook case of market discipline. But why were the gilt markets so jumpy to begin with? The backdrop was the mammoth energy subsidy bill and the Bank of England’s determination to unwind the huge portfolio of bonds that it had piled up fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

With economic and non-economic shocks entangled all the way down, it is little wonder that an unfamiliar term is gaining currency — the polycrisis.

A problem becomes a crisis when it challenges our ability to cope and thus threatens our identity. In the polycrisis the shocks are disparate, but they interact so that the whole is even more overwhelming than the sum of the parts. At times one feels as if one is losing one’s sense of reality. Is the mighty Mississippi really running dry and threatening to cut off the farms of the Midwest from the world economy? Did the January 6 riots really threaten the US Capitol? Are we really on the point of uncoupling the economies of the west from China? Things that would once have seemed fanciful are now facts.

This comes as a shock. But how new is it really?…

Welcome to the world of the polycrisis” (gift link)

Then, in his newsletter, he goes more deeply into the concept and its roots…

Polycrisis is a term I first encountered when I was finishing Crashed in 2017. It was invoked by Jean-Claude Juncker to describe Europe’s perilous situation in the period after 2014. In the spirit of “Eurotrash”, I rather relished the idea of picking up a “found concept” from that particular source. On Juncker check out Nick Mulder’s wonderful portrait of “Homo Europus”. It turned out that Juncker got the idea from French theorist of complexity and resistance veteran Edgar Morin, who is a whole ‘nother story…

Polycrisis – thinking on the tightrope

Both pieces are fascinating and useful; both, eminently worth reading in full…

* Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

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As we ponder profusion, we might recall that it was on this date in 1898 that an American institution was born.

The University of Minnesota football team (for our non-American readers out there, I’m of course referring to the kind of football where you’ll get a penalty for using your feet) was playing their final game against Northwestern University. The U of M’s team had been having a lackluster year, and there was a general feeling on campus that this was due to lack of enthusiasm during the games. So several students, lead by Johnny Campbell on a megaphone, decided to lead the crowd of spectators in a chant: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!” The crowd went bananas, as they say, and an energized Minnesota team won the game 17-6.

That day Johnny Campbell and his (presumably drunk) friends became the first cheerleader squad.

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Johnny Campbell

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