The visible hand in economics

Archive for the ‘Government Policy’ Category

I see there is some talk of compulsory redundancy payments after this sad story.

Now even though it would be nice if those people hadn’t been left high and dry after all their years of commitment, it is important that we try to get an objective idea about the costs associated with the scheme.
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I have no doubt that my views here will be contentious – but they need to be put forward nonetheless.

I think that Treasury (or some mix of part of Treasury and IRD) should function at arms length in the same way as the Reserve Bank, and that they should set tax rates in the same way that the RBNZ sets interest rates.

Now, let me discuss why.

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In net terms I am AGAINST the probation policy being put through today. That puts me in a pretty significant minority among my economics peers, oww well it gives us something to talk about. However, I would also add that I am NOT THAT against it – I am only against it in net terms because of value judgments.

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Please, explain to me how the current probation policy is different from the one National is going to introduce!

I know about economics, but these subjective terms like “natural justice” do not have a clear meaning to me :( .

I was all ready to rail against the scheme this morning because I thought they were making probation period compulsory – however, now that I can see that isn’t the case I need to find out more about it before I say what I think.

Tane at the Standard states that:

All National’s proposed legislation would do is remove the right to fair process and natural justice

So how exactly does this impact on policy. What are the definitions of “fair process” and “natural justice”. Once I have an idea I’ll talk about the policy, and I’ll compare it and the current scheme to the extremes of “compulsory” and “no probation” – using economics to frame the issue.

Update: I have been informed that the main differences are:

The 90-day provision will apply to any workers employed by businesses with fewer than 20 staff. Workers who are sacked by their employer in their first 90 days on the job will be unable to challenge their dismissal or take a personal grievance case.

Is there anything else?

Kiwiblog has a good run down here.

Copyright tvhe.wordpress.com ©

It looks like National has decided not to continue with the previous government’s plans to introduce a standard for lightbulb efficiency. They say

We want to encourage people to [switch], we think there may be benefits for them to do it, but it should be a choice they make as consumers.

It’s a good point: efficient CFL bulbs are tough to dim, take time to reach full brightness and don’t bring out the sparkle in chandeliers, apparently. So why would we want to force everyone to use them when they’re clearly not suited to some applications? Of course, if people did use them in their homes and offices, where they are suitable, it would be great for reducing our national power consumption. Read the rest of this entry »

The Standard has been stating that tax cuts should be “fairer”. Now in principle I have no problem with things being “fairer” – however, defining what is fair very is subjective, and what the Standard sees as fair and what I see as fair might be different.

Still, both the Standard and No Right Turn go on to quantify what they feel is an injustice – the fact that a greater proportion of the tax cut will go to the wealthy. However, for what they are saying to be true, the wage everyone is paid following a tax cut must not change (or must change by the same lump sum) regardless of their current income – yet this is not the case.

Many moons ago we discussed tax incidence – I think it is time to run with this again, taking for granted some of the assumptions about the labour market that the Standard has provided us with over time.

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According to a recent book by Christian Broda and David E. Weinstein (Prices, Poverty, and Inequality: Why Americans are Better Off Than You Think) (ht Marginal Revolution) growth in income inequality was less pronounced in the US because of changes to the quality and cost of goods that “poor” people purchased.

This indicates to me that a tiered consumer price index could be a useful thing.  Currently the household economic survey (HES) provides an annual tiered income measure (where we see the average income of different income deciles).  However, this nominal measure is not particularly useful if the change in prices experienced by different groups are very diverse.

As a result, a similarly tiered CPI measure (so a CPI for each income decile) would actually give us a much better way to figure out change in “real income” and thereby a fairer measure of the distribution of real income – which is something we care about.

Surely the HES has a measure of purchases by different income groups.  As the CPI is broken down into different products it should be possible to take these weights and come up with a loose set of indicies that represent the price inflation faced by different income declines shouldn’t it?

Over at Robert Reich’s blog, there is a discussion stating that now is the time for rising government spending in the US based on the “fact” that the government is the “spender of last resort” and that the economy has plenty of spare “capacity” (ht Mark Thoma at Economists View).

We have discussed fiscal policy before, and will discuss it again tomorrow. Now, I agree with chunks of this logic, but I feel that there is one gapping hole – the behaviour of prices!

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The DomPost contained an article on the potential for metering Wellington’s water supply. The question is asked: should Wellingtonians pay for their water? This issue is a hot topic, having been discussed at Kiwiblog, Infometrics and TVHE earlier this year.

Historically, water has been provided for by the various Wellington councils out of rates. Water is not currently metered, which implies that regardless of how much water each household takes, their rates do not vary. This arrangement has led many to believe water is in some way ‘free’, as they are not forced to pay for their specific usage and the cost is embodied in rates which cover many council services across many households. With water use of 400 litres per person per day in Wellington, relative to the national average of 160 litres, it appears water users here are not internalising the cost of their water usage.

Current arrangements do not allow for the pricing of scarcity. Read the rest of this entry »

I was slightly concerned when I saw the headline on stuff this morning “Nats eye bailout of big business”

If the government is saying ex ante that they will bail out big businesses I would be concerned as this has the potential to cause a moral hazard problem. This is where firms know they will get bailed out and thus make riskier decisions. The actual quotes from Bill English don’t appear the be as explicit as I originally thought they might be

“You’re in an environment when almost anything any government could contemplate doing is getting done somewhere in the world,” he said.

“There is a small chance that events that have transpired elsewhere could transpire here. You can’t ignore that and so we need to give some thought to the extreme event.”

Are quotes like this enough to give the big companies in NZ enough comfort that they will bailed out? Only time will tell….

This is an important question, given that we are in a situation where governments around the world are looking to loosen fiscal policy. Tyler Cowen succinctly lists the four (five) ways that fiscal policy influences the economic situation – note that this ignores issues of the quality or distribution of spending. These are:

  1. Generate some investments which are worthwhile on their own terms,
  2. If the broader monetary aggregates are falling, because of either a credit crunch or a liquidity trap, a fiscal boost can keep aggregate demand from deteriorating,
  3. fiscal boost can provide a beneficial “sunspot” in a multiple equilibrium model, thereby moving everyone to the higher output equilibrium,
  4. If spending needs to fall, a fiscal boost can postpone this fall,
  5. The economy needs a boost to aggregate demand and since monetary policy isn’t working any more, fiscal policy has to step in (which he notes requires 2 and 4 anyway).

So what do I have to add – only a little bit.

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The previous Labour government bestowed a legacy upon NZ that included the first ever review of broadcasting regulations.

Essentially the question being asked in this review is: does the current market situation warrant government intervention?

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Excellent article by Tyler Cowen in the New York Times. (ht Economists View, Marginal Revolution).

Paul Walker at Anti-Dismal has also covered this issue heavily (here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Fundamentally, for New Zealand, there appears to be no reason for any change to fiscal policy to help deal with the slowdown – something we have discussed here.

Show me the actual “market failure” – then we can figure out how the government can improve outcomes. If there is no market failure, then government action to “stabilise” the economy will simply make matters worse.

Note: This is different to government actions to try and help cushion the impact of a sharp change in fundamental economic conditions. Although a change in the economic situation may change the optimal allocation of resources, a labour market that allows people to upskill and gives them firm institutions to rely on in the bad times will help to reduce the welfare cost associated with the change. This is subtly, but importantly, different from a simple “fiscal expansion”.

It appears that the UK wants to spend their way out of a recession. The US has a plan too, as does New Zealand, Europe, and Australia. Governments all across the world want to spend their way out of a recession – however, there is only three ways they can get the money together.

  1. Increase taxes – knocking out any stimulus anyways,
  2. Borrow,
  3. Print money.

Assume that monetary policy will act to constrain any excessive “money printing” that will be going on this leaves us with borrowing.

If all the governments in the world want to increase their borrowing, this will increase demand for global credit, which will push up interest rates – won’t it? This will lead to an increase in private savings, and will just move around the allocation of resources rather than creating wealth.

There is no free lunch when it comes to “getting out of a recession” – give me the “market failure” we are facing, then we can talk about improving outcomes!

Sorry for linking to the Standard twice in one day, however they have written about a couple of things I wish to touch on recently. In a recent post Irish Bill states that:

One of the things I like about being left wing is how often the best moral decision is also the best economic decision.

Take economic stimulus for example.

Now, on the first point I would state that the best policy decision and the “morally right” decision always match when you are a utilitarian like me. Getting the two to separate in anyway involves making some pretty specific assumptions and what a “economic decision” is and what a “moral decision” is.

Still this isn’t the point I was interested in discussing – I was interested in Irish Bill’s belief that a stimulus package is good policy in the New Zealand environment. In a credit driven slowdown like the one we are facing a stimulus is not the way to fix things as we are not suffering from a “demand deficiency” – or at least not the type that cannot be solved with monetary policy.

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