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My aim in the second post of this series on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is to talk about the economist’s research accomplishment in reconstructing capital-output ratios for developed countries from the Industrial Revolution to the present and using them to explain why wealth inequality will rise in developed countries. I will then provide a critical discussion of his interpretation of the history of capital in the developed world. Finally, I’ll end by discussing Piketty’s main policy proposal: the global tax on capital.
Thomas Piketty’s 2014 book Capital in the Twenty-First Century may have been a greater sensation upon publication than Karl Marx’s nineteenth-century Das Kapital. It made the New York Times bestseller list, generated myriad reviews and responses from economists at top institutions, and was the subject of a standing-room-only session at the recent American Economic Association annual meeting. In Capital, Piketty argues that wealth inequality is set to rise from its relatively low levels in the 1950s through the 1970s to the very high levels it once occupied at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution—the time of the heroes of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac. He supports this argument with voluminous evidence on the history of the capital stock and of inequality in developed countries, which he argues have been moving in ways consistent with his theory. Piketty proposes that governments worldwide intervene to prevent this rise in inequality, most importantly by levying a global tax on capital.
The Research Function at the New York Fed would like to announce the publication of U.S. Economy in a Snapshot. This new monthly packet combines charts and summary points and is fashioned to be a tight, yet comprehensive, overview of current economic and financial developments. The packet features section headers that present discussions on a broad range of topics, including labor and financial markets, the behavior of consumers and firms, as well as survey responses and the global economy.
The current policy debate is influenced by the possibility that the first-quarter GDP data were affected by “residual seasonality.” That is, the statistical procedures used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) did not fully smooth out seasonal variation in economic activity. If this is indeed the case, then the weak readings of the economy in the first quarter give an inaccurate picture of the state of the economy. In this post, we argue that unusually adverse winter weather, rather than imperfect seasonal adjustment by the BEA, was an important factor behind the weak first-quarter GDP data.
Oil prices have declined substantially since the summer of 2014. If these price declines reflect demand shocks, then this would suggest a slowdown in global economic activity. Alternatively, if the declines are driven by supply shocks, then the drop in prices might indicate a forthcoming boost in spending as firms and households benefit from lower energy costs. In this post, we use correlations of oil price changes with a broad array of financial variables to confirm that this recent fall in oil prices has been mostly the result of increased global oil supply. We then use a model to assess how this supply shock will affect U.S. economic conditions in 2015.
Marco Del Negro, Marc Giannoni, Matthew Cocci, Sara Shahanaghi, and Micah Smith
Second post in the series
In a recent series of blog posts, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, Ben Bernanke, has asked the question: “Why are interest rates so low?” (See part 1, part 2, and part 3.) He refers, of course, to the fact that the U.S. government is able to borrow at an annualized rate of around 2 percent for ten years, or around 3 percent for thirty years. If you expect that inflation is going to be on average 2 percent over the next ten or thirty years, this implies that the U.S. government can borrow at real rates of interest between 0 and 1 percent at the ten- and thirty-year maturities. This phenomenon is by no means limited to the United States. Governments in Japan and Germany are able to borrow for ten years at nominal rates below 1 percent, and the ten-year yield on Swiss government debt is slightly negative. Why is that?
Marco Del Negro, Marc Giannoni, Matthew Cocci, Sara Shahanaghi, and Micah Smith
First in a two-part series
There are various types of economic forecasts, such as judgmental forecasts or model-based forecasts. In this post, we provide an update of the economic forecasts implied by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s (FRBNY) dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) model, which we introduced in a series of five blog posts in September 2014 here. It continues to predict a gradual recovery in economic activity with a progressive but slow return of inflation toward the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) long-run target of 2 percent. This forecast remains surrounded by significant uncertainty. Please note that the DSGE model forecasts are not the official New York Fed staff forecasts, but only an input to the overall forecasting process at the Bank.
Today, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) is hosting the spring meeting of its Economic Advisory Panel (EAP). As has become custom at this meeting, FRBNY staff are presenting their forecast for U.S. growth, inflation, and unemployment through the end of 2016. Following the presentation, members of the EAP, which consists of leading economists in academia and the private sector, are asked to discuss the staff forecast. Such feedback helps the staff evaluate the assumptions and reasoning underlying the forecast and the key risks to it. Subjecting the staff forecast to periodic evaluation is also important because it informs the staff’s discussions with New York Fed President William Dudley about economic conditions. In that same spirit, we are sharing a short summary of the staff forecast in this post. For more detail, please see the material from the EAP meeting on our website.
The contribution of labor input to the potential GDP growth rate for the United States has changed over time. We decompose this contribution into two components: the size of the adult population and the average demographically adjusted employment rate. We find that these two components in the late 1960s and early 1970s contributed at least 2.5 percentage points to potential growth. Since the mid-1990s, the aging of the population has reduced the contribution of labor to growth. We estimate that the current contribution to potential economic growth from labor input has declined to around 0.6 percentage points. One implication going forward is that more labor productivity growth will be required to sustain U.S. growth.
Alejandro Justiniano, Giorgio Primiceri, and Andrea Tambalotti
There is no consensus among economists as to what drove the rise of U.S. house prices and household debt in the period leading up to the recent financial crisis. In this post, we argue that the fundamental factor behind that boom was an increase in the supply of mortgage credit, which was brought about by securitization and shadow banking, along with a surge in capital inflows from abroad. This argument is based on the interpretation of four macroeconomic developments between 2000 and 2006 provided by a general equilibrium model of housing and credit.
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