Monday, November 18, 2013

Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2013, Now On-line

The Fall 2013 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives is now available on-line. All articles from this issue back to the first issue in Summer 1987 are freely available on-line, courtesy of the American Economic Association. I'll post on some of the articles from this issue in the next week or two. But for now, I just want to let people know what's in the issue.  (Full disclosure: I've been the Managing Editor of JEP since the first issue in 1987, so I am predisposed to believe that everything in the issue is well worth reading.) This issue starts with a six-paper symposium on "The First 100 Years of the Federal Reserve," followed by a two-paper exchange on "Economics and Moral Virtues," and then by several individual articles.

Symposium: The First 100 Years of the Federal Reserve

"A Century of US Central Banking: Goals, Frameworks, Accountability," by Ben S. Bernanke

Several key episodes in the 100-year history of the Federal Reserve have been referred to in various contexts with the adjective "Great" attached to them: the Great Experiment of the Federal Reserve's founding, the Great Depression, the Great Inflation and subsequent disinflation, the Great Moderation, and the recent Great Recession. Here, I'll use this sequence of "Great" episodes to discuss the evolution over the past 100 years of three key aspects of Federal Reserve policymaking: the goals of policy, the policy framework, and accountability and communication. The changes over time in these three areas provide a useful perspective, I believe, on how the role and functioning of the Federal Reserve have changed since its founding in 1913, as well as some lessons for the present and for the future.
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"Central Bank Design," by Ricardo Reis

Starting with a blank slate, how could one design the institutions of a central bank for the United States? This paper explores the question of how to design a central bank, drawing on the relevant economic literature and historical experiences while staying free from concerns about how the Fed got to be what it is today or the short-term political constraints it has faced at various times. The goal is to provide an opinionated overview that puts forward the trade-offs associated with different choices and identifies areas where there are clear messages about optimal central bank design.
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"The Federal Reserve and Panic Prevention: The Roles of Financial Regulation and Lender of Last Resort," by Gary Gorton and Andrew Metrick

This paper surveys the role of the Federal Reserve within the financial regulatory system, with particular attention to the interaction of the Fed's role as both a supervisor and a lender-of-last-resort. The institutional design of the Federal Reserve System was aimed at preventing banking panics, primarily due to the permanent presence of the discount window. This new system was successful at preventing a panic in the early 1920s, after which the Fed began to discourage the use of the discount window and intentionally create "stigma" for window borrowing -- policies that contributed to the panics of the Great Depression. The legislation of the New Deal era centralized Fed power in the Board of Governors, and over the next 75 years the Fed expanded its role as a supervisor of the largest banks. Nevertheless, prior to the recent crisis the Fed had large gaps in its authority as a supervisor and as lender of last resort, with the latter role weakened further by stigma. The Fed was unable to prevent the recent crisis, during which its lender of last resort function expanded significantly. As the Fed begins its second century, there are still great challenges to fulfilling its original intention of panic prevention.
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"Shifts in US Federal Reserve Goals and Tactics for Monetary Policy: A Role for Penitence?" by Julio J. Rotemberg

This paper considers some of the large changes in the Federal Reserve's approach to monetary policy. It shows that, in some important cases, critics who were successful in arguing that past Fed approaches were responsible for mistakes that caused harm succeeded in making the Fed averse to these approaches. This can explain why the Fed stopped basing monetary policy on the quality of new bank loans, why it stopped being willing to cause recessions to deal with inflation, and why it was temporarily unwilling to maintain stable interest rates in the period 1979-1982. It can also contribute to explaining why monetary policy was tight during the Great Depression. The paper shows that the evolution of policy was much more gradual and flexible after the Volcker disinflation, when the Fed was not generally deemed to have made an error.
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"Does the Federal Reserve Care about the Rest of the World?" by Barry Eichengreen

Many economists are accustomed to thinking about Federal Reserve policy in terms of the institution's "dual mandate," which refers to price stability and high employment, and in which the exchange rate and other international variables matter only insofar as they influence inflation and the output gap -- which is to say, not very much. In fact, this conventional view is heavily shaped by the distinctive and peculiar circumstances of the last three decades, when the influence of international considerations on Fed policy has been limited. In fact, the Federal Reserve paid significant attention to international considerations in its first two decades, followed by relative inattention to such factors in the two-plus decades that followed, then back to renewed attention to international aspects of monetary policy in the 1960s, before the recent period of benign neglect of the international dimension. I argue that in the next few decades, international aspects are likely to play a larger role in Federal Reserve policy making than at present.
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"An Interview with Paul Volcker," by Martin Feldstein

Martin Feldstein interviewed Paul Volcker in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on July 10, 2013, as part of a conference at the National Bureau of Economic Research on "The First 100 Years of the Federal Reserve: The Policy Record, Lessons Learned, and Prospects for the Future." Volcker was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 1979 through 1987. Before that, he served stints as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1975 to 1979, as Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs in the US Department of the Treasury from 1969 to 1974, as Deputy Undersecretary for Monetary Affairs in the Treasury from 1963 to 1965, and as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1952 to 1957. He has led and served on a wide array of commissions, including chairing the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board from its inception in 2009 through 2011.
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Symposium: Economics and Moral Virtues

"Market Reasoning as Moral Reasoning: Why Economists Should Re-engage with Political Philosophy," by Michael J. Sandel

In my book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012), I try to show that market values and market reasoning increasingly reach into spheres of life previously governed by nonmarket norms. I argue that this tendency is troubling; putting a price on every human activity erodes certain moral and civic goods worth caring about. We therefore need a public debate about where markets serve the public good and where they don't belong. In this article, I would like to develop a related theme: When it comes to deciding whether this or that good should be allocated by the market or by nonmarket principles, economics is a poor guide. Deciding which social practices should be governed by market mechanisms requires a form of economic reasoning that is bound up with moral reasoning. But mainstream economic thinking currently asserts its independence from the contested terrain of moral and political philosophy. If economics is to help us decide where markets serve the public good and where they don't belong, it should relinquish the claim to be a value-neutral science and reconnect with its origins in moral and political philosophy.
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"Reclaiming Virtue Ethics for Economics," by Luigino Bruni and Robert Sugden

Virtue ethics is an important strand of moral philosophy, and a significant body of philosophical work in virtue ethics is associated with a radical critique of the market economy and of economics. Expressed crudely, the charge sheet is this: The market depends on instrumental rationality and extrinsic motivation; market interactions therefore fail to respect the internal value of human practices and the intrinsic motivations of human actors; by using market exchange as its central model, economics normalizes extrinsic motivation, not only in markets but also in social life more generally; therefore economics is complicit in an assault on virtue and on human flourishing. We will argue that this critique is flawed, both as a description of how markets actually work and as a representation of how classical and neoclassical economists have understood the market. We show how the market and economics can be defended against the critique from virtue ethics, and crucially, this defense is constructed using the language and logic of virtue ethics. Using the methods of virtue ethics and with reference to the writings of some major economists, we propose an understanding of the purpose (telos) of markets as cooperation for mutual benefit, and identify traits that thereby count as virtues for market participants. We conclude that the market need not be seen as a virtue-free zone.
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"Gifts of Mars: Warfare and Europe's Early Rise to Riches," Nico Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim Voth

Western Europe surged ahead of the rest of the world long before technological growth became rapid. Europe in 1500 already had incomes twice as high on a per capita basis as Africa, and one-third greater than most of Asia. In this essay, we explain how Europe's tumultuous politics and deadly penchant for warfare translated into a sustained advantage in per capita incomes. We argue that Europe's rise to riches was driven by the nature of its politics after 1350 -- it was a highly fragmented continent characterized by constant warfare and major religious strife. No other continent in recorded history fought so frequently, for such long periods, killing such a high proportion of its population. When it comes to destroying human life, the atomic bomb and machine guns may be highly efficient, but nothing rivaled the impact of early modern Europe's armies spreading hunger and disease. War therefore helped Europe's precocious rise to riches because the survivors had more land per head available for cultivation. Our interpretation involves a feedback loop from higher incomes to more war and higher land-labor ratios, a loop set in motion by the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century.
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"The Economics of Slums in the Developing World," by Benjamin Marx, Thomas Stoker and Tavneet Suri

The global expansion of urban slums poses questions for economic research as well as problems for policymakers. We provide evidence that the type of poverty observed in contemporary slums of the developing world is characteristic of that described in the literature on poverty traps. We document how human capital threshold effects, investment inertia, and a "policy trap" may prevent slum dwellers from seizing economic opportunities offered by geographic proximity to the city. We test the assumptions of another theory -- that slums are a just transitory phenomenon characteristic of fastgrowing economies -- by examining the relationship between economic growth, urban growth, and slum growth in the developing world, and whether standards of living of slum dwellers are improving over time, both within slums and across generations. Finally, we discuss why standard policy approaches have often failed to mitigate the expansion of slums in the developing world. Our aim is to inform public debate on the essential issues posed by slums in the developing world.
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"Recommendations for Further Reading," by Timothy Taylor
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