On Secular Stagnation in the Industrialized World. Lawrence Summers, August 2019, Paper, “We argue that the economy of the industrialized world taken as a whole is currently – and for the foreseeable future will remain – highly prone to secular stagnation. But for extraordinary fiscal policies, real interest rates would have fallen much more and be far below their current slightly negative level, current and prospective inflation would be further short of the two percent target levels and past and future economic recoveries would be even more sluggish. We start by arguing that, contrary to current practice, neutral real interest rates are best estimated for the bloc of all industrial economies given capital mobility between them and relatively limited fluctuations in their aggregated current account. We show, using standard econometric procedures and looking at direct market indicators of prospective real rates, that neutral real interest rates have declined by at least 300 basis points over the last generation. We argue that these secular movements are in larger part a reflection of changes in saving and investment propensities rather than the safety and liquidity properties of Treasury instruments. We highlight the observation that levels of government debt, the extent of pay-as-you-go old age pensions and the insurance value of government healthcare programs have all ceteris paribus operated to raise neutral real rates. Using estimates drawn from the literature, as well as two general equilibrium models emphasizing respectively life-cycle heterogeneity and individual uncertainty, we suggest that the “private sector neutral real rate” may have declined by as much as 700 basis points since the 1970s.Link

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Measuring Household Wealth in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics: The Role of Retirement Assets. Karen Dynan, August 2019, Paper, “While the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) has much to offer researchers studying household behavior, one limitation is that its summary measure of wealth is not as broad as those of other commonly used surveys, such as the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), because it does not include the value of defined-contribution (DC) pensions. This paper describes the pension data available in the PSID and shows how they can be used to create a more comprehensive picture of household finances. We then compare various measures derived from these data with their counterparts from the SCF. Along a number of dimensions, the PSID data line up fairly well. Notably, an augmented summary measure of PSID wealth that includes the value of DC pensions is considerably closer to the SCF summary measure than to the standard measure for the median household. We conclude by presenting several examples of research areas where using a broader measure of wealth might be important.Link

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Innis Lecture – Rethinking Economic Development. Nathan Nunn, August 28, 2019, Paper, “I provide a summary, reflection, and assessment of the current state of economic development in both the policy and academic worlds. In terms of development policy, currently, the primary focus is on policy interventions, namely, foreign aid, aimed at fixing the ‘deficiencies’ of developing countries. Academic research also has a similar focus, except with an emphasis in rigorous evaluation of interventions to estimate causal effects. A standard set of versatile quantitative tools is used, e.g., experimental and quasi-experimental methods, which can be easily applied in a range of settings to estimate the causal effects of policies, which are typically presumed to be similar across contexts. In this article, I take a step back and ask whether the current practices are the best that we can do. Are foreign aid and policy interventions the best options we have for poverty alleviation? What else can be done? Is our current research strategy, characterized by rigorous but a lack of context-specific analysis, the best method of analysis? Is there a role for other research methods, for a deeper understanding of the local context and for more collaboration with local scholars?Link

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Nobel Prize-winning economist on Trump ordering US businesses to leave China. Oliver Hart, October 23, 2019, Video, “Harvard University economist and Nobel Prize winner Oliver Hart on whether U.S. companies should listen to President Trump and leave China.Link

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Can Capitalism Be Made Better By Corporate Social Responsibility? Nancy Koehn, August 23, 2019, Audio, “This week, nearly 200 CEOs pledged to discard a foundational tenet of business: that corporations exist only to serve their shareholders.  Chief executives from the Business Roundtable — including leaders of Apple, JP Morgan Chase, and Amazon, argued this week that the purpose of a corporation is to promote “an economy that serves all Americans.” Nancy Koehn, historian at Harvard Business School, said this declaration is a direct response to the public’s growing voice in holding corporations accountable.Link

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Has liberalism ruined everything? Cass Sunstein, August 23, 2019, Paper, “There has been considerable recent discussion of the social effects of “liberalism,” which are said to include a growth in out-of-wedlock childbirth, repudiation of traditions (religious and otherwise), a rise in populism, increased reliance on technocracy, inequality, environmental degradation, sexual promiscuity, deterioration of civic associations, a diminution of civic virtue, political correctness on university campuses, and a general sense of alienation. There is good reason for skepticism about these claims. Liberalism is not a person, and it is not an agent in history. Claims about the supposedly adverse social effects of liberalism are best taken not as causal claims at all, but as normative objections that should be defended on their merits. These propositions are elaborated with reference to three subordinate propositions: (1) liberalism, as such, does not lack the resources to defend traditions; (2) liberalism, as such, hardly rejects the idea of “constraint,” though the domains in which liberals accept constraints differ from those of antiliberals, and vary over time; (3) liberalism, as such, does not dishonor the idea of “honor.” There is a general point here about the difficulty of demonstrating, and the potential recklessness of claiming, that one or another “ism” is causally associated with concrete social developments.Link

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Controlling the Long-Term Problem of Short-Term Funding. Hal Scott, August 23, 2019, Paper, “While financial crises can be triggered by several causes, runs on short-term liabilities are at the heart of all financial crises, with the recent 2007–09 financial crisis being no exception. Given the unpredictability of crisis triggers and the overwhelming predictability of short-term funding’s role in financial crises, legislative and regulatory responses to the recent financial crisis should focus on the consequences of relying on short-term funding in the financial system. However, in addressing the problem of such funding, it is important to recognize the social benefits afforded by short-term liabilities and not simply the costs. To this end, this paper provides a brief overview of short-term funding in the U.S. financial system, while also highlighting the trade-off between the costs and benefits of short-term liabilities. The paper proceeds with an analysis of various proposals aimed at addressing the short-term funding issue.Link

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Whither Central Banking? Lawrence Summers, August 23, 2019, Opinion, “In an environment of secular stagnation in the developed economies, central bankers’ ingenuity in loosening monetary policy is exactly what is not needed. What is needed are admissions of impotence, in order to spur efforts by governments to promote demand through fiscal policies and other means.Link

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Larry Summers Says Central Bankers Confront a ‘Black Hole’ for Policy. Lawrence Summers, August 22, 2019, Video, “Harvard University economist Lawrence Summers warned central bankers that they are staring at “black hole monetary economics” where small changes in interest rates and even more aggressive strategies do little to solve demand shortfalls.Link

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Respect for Improvements and Comparative Statics in Matching Markets. Scott Duke Kominers, August 21, 2019, Paper, “One of the oldest results in the theory of two-sided matching is the entry comparative static, which shows that under the Gale–Shapley deferred acceptance algorithm, adding a new agent to one side of the market makes all the agents on the other side weakly better off. Here, we give a new proof of the entry comparative static, by way of a well-known property of deferred acceptance called respect for improvements. Our argument extends to yield comparative static results in more general settings, such as the matching with slot-specific preferences framework.Link

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