Friday, November 2, 2018

Fall 2018 Journal of Economic Perspectives Available On-line

I was hired back in 1986 to be the Managing Editor for a new academic economics journal, at the time unnamed, but which soon launched as the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The JEP is published by the American Economic Association, which back in 2011 decided--to my delight--that it would be freely available on-line, from the current issue back to the first issue. Here, I'll start with Table of Contents for the just-released Fall 2018 issue, which in the Taylor household is known as issue #126. Below that are abstracts and direct links for all of the papers. I may blog more specifically about some of the papers in the next week or two, as well.


Symposium on Climate Change

"An Economist's Guide to Climate Change Science," by Solomon Hsiang and Robert E. Kopp
This article provides a brief introduction to the physical science of climate change, aimed towards economists. We begin by describing the physics that controls global climate, how scientists measure and model the climate system, and the magnitude of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide. We then summarize many of the climatic changes of interest to economists that have been documented and that are projected in the future. We conclude by highlighting some key areas in which economists are in a unique position to help climate science advance. An important message from this final section, which we believe is deeply underappreciated among economists, is that all climate change forecasts rely heavily and directly on economic forecasts for the world. On timescales of a half-century or longer, the largest source of uncertainty in climate science is not physics, but economics.
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"Quantifying Economic Damages from Climate Change," by Maximilian Auffhammer
Climate scientists have spent billions of dollars and eons of supercomputer time studying how increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and changes in the reflectivity of the earth's surface affect dimensions of the climate system relevant to human society: surface temperature, precipitation, humidity, and sea levels. Recent incarnations of physical climate models have become sophisticated enough to be able to simulate intensities and frequencies of some extreme events, like tropical storms, under different warming scenarios. In a stark juxtaposition, the efforts involved in and the public resources targeted at understanding how these physical changes translate into economic impacts are disproportionately smaller, with most of the major models being developed and maintained with little to no public funding support. The goal of this paper is first to shed light on how (mostly) economists have gone about calculating the "social cost of carbon" for regulatory purposes and to provide an overview of the past and currently used estimates. In the second part, I will focus on where empirical economists may have the highest value added in this enterprise: specifically, the calibration and estimation of economic damage functions, which map weather patterns transformed by climate change into economic benefits and damages. A broad variety of econometric methods have recently been used to parameterize the dose (climate) response (economic outcome) functions. The paper seeks to provide an accessible and comprehensive overview of how economists think about parameterizing damage functions and quantifying the economic damages of climate change.
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"The Cost of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions," by Kenneth Gillingham and James H. Stock
Most countries, including the United States, have an array of greenhouse gas mitigation policies, which provide subsidies or restrictions typically aimed at specific technologies or sectors. Such climate policies range from automobile fuel economy standards, to gasoline taxes, to mandating that a certain amount of electricity in a state comes from renewables, to subsidizing solar and wind electrical generation, to mandates requiring the blending of biofuels into the surface transportation fuel supply, to supply-side restrictions on fossil fuel extraction. This paper reviews the costs of various technologies and actions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Our aim is twofold. First, we seek to provide an up-to-date summary of costs of actions that can be taken now using currently available technology. These costs focus on expenditures and emissions reductions over the life of a project compared to some business-as-usual benchmark—for example, replacing coal-fired electricity generation with wind, or weatherizing a home. We refer to these costs as static because they are costs over the life of a specific project undertaken now, and they ignore spillovers. Our second aim is to distinguish between dynamic and static costs and to argue that some actions taken today with seemingly high static costs can have low dynamic costs, and vice versa. We make this argument at a general level and through two case studies, of solar panels and of electric vehicles, technologies whose costs have fallen sharply. Under the right circumstances, dynamic effects will offer a justification for policies that have high costs according to a myopic calculation.
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Symposium on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

"Is This Tax Reform, or Just Confusion?" by Joel Slemrod
Based on the experience of recent decades, the United States apparently musters the political will to change its tax system comprehensively about every 30 years, so it seems especially important to get it right when the chance arises. Based on the strong public statements of economists opposing and supporting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a causal observer might wonder whether this law was tax reform or mere confusion. In this paper, I address that question and, more importantly, offer an assessment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The law is clearly not "tax reform" as economists usually use that term: that is, it does not seek to broaden the tax base and reduce marginal rates in a roughly revenue-neutral manner. However, the law is not just a muddle. It seeks to address some widely acknowledged issues with corporate taxation, and takes some steps toward broadening the tax base, in part by reducing the incentive to itemize deductions.
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"Measuring the Effects of Corporate Tax Cuts," by Alan J. Auerbach
On December 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the most sweeping revision of US tax law since the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The law introduced many significant changes. However, perhaps none was as important as the changes in the treatment of traditional "C" corporations—those corporations subject to a separate corporate income tax. Beginning in 2018, the federal corporate tax rate fell from 35 percent to 21 percent, some investment qualified for immediate deduction as an expense, and multinational corporations faced a substantially modified treatment of their activities. This paper seeks to evaluate the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to understand its effects on resource allocation and distribution. It compares US corporate tax rates to other countries before the 2017 tax law, and describes ways in which the US corporate sector has evolved that are especially relevant to tax policy. The discussion then turns the main changes of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 for the corporate income tax. A range of estimates suggests that the law is likely to contribute to increased US capital investment and, through that, an increase in US wages. The magnitude of these increases is extremely difficult to predict. Indeed, the public debate about the benefits of the new corporate tax provisions enacted (and the alternatives not adopted) has highlighted the limitations of standard approaches in distributional analysis to assigning corporate tax burdens.
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Symposium on Unconventional Monetary Policy

"Outside the Box: Unconventional Monetary Policy in the Great Recession and Beyond," by Kenneth N. Kuttner
In November 2008, the Federal Reserve faced a deteriorating economy and a financial crisis. The federal funds rate had already been reduced to virtually zero. Thus, the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policies. Through "quantitative easing," the Fed announced plans to buy mortgage-backed securities and debt issued by government-sponsored enterprises. Subsequent purchases would eventually lead to a five-fold expansion in the Fed's balance sheet, from $900 billion to $4.5 trillion, and leave the Fed holding over 20 percent of all mortgage-backed securities and marketable Treasury debt. In addition, Fed policy statements in December 2008 began to include explicit references to the likely path of the federal funds interest rate, a policy that came to be known as "forward guidance." The Fed ceased its direct asset purchases in late 2014. Starting in October 2017, it has allowed the balance sheet to shrink gradually as existing assets mature. From December 2015 through June 2018, the Fed has raised the federal funds interest rate seven times. Thus, the time is ripe to step back and ask whether the Fed's unconventional policies had the intended expansionary effects—and by extension, whether the Fed should use them in the future.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"Unconventional Monetary Policies in the Euro Area, Japan, and the United Kingdom," Giovanni Dell'Ariccia, Pau Rabanal and Damiano Sandri
The global financial crisis hit hard in the euro area, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Real GDP from peak to trough contracted by about 6 percent in the euro area and the United Kingdom and by 9 percent in Japan. In all three cases, central banks cut interest rates aggressively and then, as policy rates approached zero, deployed a variety of untested and unconventional monetary policies. In doing so, they hoped to restore the functioning of financial markets, and also to provide further monetary policy accommodation once the policy rate reached the zero lower bound. In all three jurisdictions, the strategy entailed generous liquidity support for banks and other financial intermediaries and large-scale purchases of public (and in some cases private) assets. As a result, central banks' balance sheets expanded to unprecedented levels. This paper examines the experience with unconventional monetary policies in the euro zone, the United Kingdom, and Japan. The paper starts with a discussion of how quantitative easing, forward guidance, and negative interest rate policies work in theory, and some of their potential side effects. It then reviews the implementation of unconventional monetary policy by the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, and the Bank of Japan, including a narrative of how central banks responded to the crisis and the evidence on the effects of unconventional monetary policy actions.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

Symposium on Development and State Capacity

"Ending Global Poverty: Why Money Isn't Enough," Lucy Page and Rohini Pande
Between 1981 and 2013, the share of the global population living in extreme poverty fell by 34 percentage points. This paper argues that such rapid reductions will become increasingly hard to achieve for two reasons. First, the majority of the poor now live in middle-income countries where the benefits of growth have often been distributed selectively and unequally. Second, a reservoir of extreme poverty remains in low-income countries where growth is erratic and aid often fails to reach the poor. If the international community is to most effectively leverage available resources to end extreme poverty, it must ensure that its investments in institutions and physical infrastructure actually provide the poor the capabilities they need to craft an effective pathway out of poverty. We term the human and social systems that are required to form this pathway "invisible infrastructure" and argue that an effective domestic state is central to building this. By corollary, ending extreme poverty will require both expanding state capacity and giving the poor power to demand reforms they need by solving agency problems between citizens, politicians, and bureaucrats.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"Universal Basic Incomes versus Targeted Transfers: Anti-Poverty Programs in Developing Countries," by Rema Hanna and Benjamin A. Olken
Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals articulated by the United Nations, number one is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. While future economic growth should continue to reduce poverty, it will not solve the problem by itself; thus, there is a potentially important role for national-level transfer programs that assist poor families in developing countries. Such programs are often run by developing country governments. Many countries have implemented transfer programs that seek to target beneficiaries: that is, to identify who is poor and then to restrict transfers to those individuals. Some people have begun to advocate for "universal basic income" programs, which dispense with trying to identify the poor and instead provide transfers to everyone. We begin by considering the universal basic income as part of the solution to an optimal income-taxation problem, focusing on the case of developing countries, where there is limited income data and inclusion in the formal tax system is low. We examine how the targeting of transfer programs is conducted in these settings, and provide empirical evidence on the tradeoffs involved between universal basic income and targeted transfer schemes using data from Indonesia and Peru—two countries that run nationwide transfer programs that are targeted to the poor. We conclude by linking our findings back to the broader policy debate on what tools should be preferred for redistribution, as well as the practical challenges of administering them in developing countries.
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"Retrospectives: On the Genius Behind David Ricardo's 1817 Formulation of Comparative Advantage," by Daniel M. Bernhofen and John C. Brown
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Ricardo's famous "four numbers" paragraph on comparative advantage, which is one of the oldest analytical results in economics. Following the lead of James Mill (1821), these four numbers have been interpreted as unit labor coefficients. This interpretation has provided the basis for the development of the 'Ricardian model' from John Stuart Mill (1852) to Eaton and Kortum (2002). However, if we accept the labor unit interpretation of these numbers, Ricardo's exposition in his 1817 Principles of Political Economy and Taxation makes little logical sense. Building on Sraffa's (1930) interpretation of Ricardo's numbers as labor embodied in trade, our discussion reveals the amazing simplicity and generality of Ricardo's comparative advantage formulation and gains-from-trade logic.
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"Recommendations for Further Reading," by Timothy Taylor
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