Publications on Macroeconomic policy
Strategic Analysis, April 2017 | April 2017From a macroeconomic point of view, 2016 was an ordinary year in the post–Great Recession period. As in prior years, the conventional forecasts predicted that this would be the year the economy would finally escape from the “new normal” of secular stagnation. But just as in every previous year, the forecasts were confounded by the actual result: lower-than-expected growth—just 1.6 percent.
The radical policy changes promoted by the new Trump administration dominated economic conditions in the closing quarter of the year and the first quarter of 2017. Markets have responded with exuberance since the November elections, on the expectation that the proposed policy measures would increase profitability by boosting growth and cutting personal and corporate taxes. However, an evaluation of the US economy’s structural characteristics reveals three key impediments to a robust, sustainable recovery: income inequality, fiscal conservatism, and weak net export demand. The new administration’s often conflicting policy proposals are unlikely to solve any of these fundamental problems—if anything, the situation will worsen.
Our latest Strategic Analysis provides two medium-term scenarios for the US economy. The “business as usual” baseline scenario (built on CBO estimates) shows household debt and GDP growth roughly maintaining their moribund postcrisis trends. The second scenario assumes a sharp correction in the stock market beginning in 2017Q3, combined with another round of private sector deleveraging. The results: negative growth and a government deficit of 8.3 percent by 2020—essentially a repeat of the crisis of 2007–9.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Strategic Analysis, March 2016 | March 2016Our latest strategic analysis reveals that the US economy remains fragile because of three persistent structural issues: weak demand for US exports, fiscal conservatism, and a four-decade trend in rising income inequality. It also faces risks from stagnation in the economies of the United States’ trading partners, appreciation of the dollar, and a contraction in asset prices. The authors provide a baseline and three alternative medium-term scenarios using the Levy Institute’s stock-flow consistent macro model: a dollar appreciation and reduced growth in US trading partners scenario; a stock market correction scenario; and a third scenario combining scenarios 1 and 2. The baseline scenario shows that future growth will depend on an increase in private sector indebtedness, while the remaining scenarios underscore the linkages between a fragile US recovery and instability in the global economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 860 | February 2016
Brazil at the Mid-2010s
The Brazilian economy in 2015 was afflicted by a lethal combination of decelerating activity and accelerating inflation. Expectations for 2016 are equally or even more adverse, since the effects of rising unemployment emerge only after a lag. The domestic debate has pitted analysts who believe the crisis is due exclusively to past policy mistakes against those who believe that all was well until the government decided to implement austerity policies in 2015. A closer examination of the evidence shows that, in fact, both causes contributed to the crisis. But it also suggests that its depth has a more proximate cause in the political collapse of the federal government in 2015, which led Brazilian society to an impasse for which one cannot yet visualize the solution.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Strategic Analysis, May 2015 | May 2015In this latest Strategic Analysis, the Institute’s Macro Modeling Team examines the current, anemic recovery of the US economy. The authors identify three structural obstacles—the weak performance of net exports, a prevailing fiscal conservatism, and high income inequality—that, in combination with continued household sector deleveraging, explain the recovery’s slow pace. Their baseline macro scenario shows that the Congressional Budget Office’s latest GDP growth projections require a rise in private sector spending in excess of income—the same unsustainable path that preceded both the 2001 recession and the Great Recession of 2007–9. To better understand the risks to the US economy, the authors also examine three alternative scenarios for the period 2015–18: a 1 percent reduction in the real GDP growth rate of US trading partners, a 25 percent appreciation of the dollar over the next four years, and the combined impact of both changes. All three scenarios show that further dollar appreciation and/or a growth slowdown in the trading partner economies will lead to an increase in the foreign deficit and a decrease in the projected growth rate, while heightening the need for private (and government) borrowing and adding to the economy’s fragility.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Strategic Analysis, April 2014 | April 2014The US economy has been expanding moderately since the official end of the Great Recession in 2009. The budget deficit has been steadily decreasing, inflation has remained in check, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7 percent. The restrictive fiscal policy stance of the past three years has exerted a negative influence on aggregate demand and growth, which has been offset by rising domestic private demand; net exports have had only a negligible (positive) effect on growth. As Wynne Godley noted in 1999, in the Strategic Analysis Seven Unsustainable Processes, if an economy faces sluggish net export demand and fiscal policy is restrictive, economic growth becomes dependent on the private sector’s continuing to spend in excess of its income. However, this continuous excess is not sustainable in the medium and long run. Therefore, if spending were to stop rising relative to income, without either fiscal relaxation or a sharp recovery in net exports, the impetus driving the expansion would evaporate and output could not grow fast enough to stop unemployment from rising. Moreover, because growth is so dependent on “rising private borrowing,” the real economy “is at the mercy of the stock market to an unusual extent.” As proved by the crisis of 2001 and the Great Recession of 2007–09, Godley’s analysis turned out to be correct. Fifteen years later, the US economy appears to be going down the same road again. Postrecession, foreign demand is still weak and the government is maintaining its tight fiscal stance. Once again, the recovery predicted in the latest Congressional Budget Office report relies on excessive private sector borrowing, and once again, the recovery is at the mercy of the stock market. Given that the income distribution has worsened since the crisis—continuing a 35-year trend—the burden of indebtedness will again fall disproportionally on the middle class and the poor. In order for the CBO projections to materialize, households in the bottom 90 percent of the distribution would have to start accumulating debt again in line with the prerecession trend while the stock of debt of the top 10 percent remained at its present level. Clearly, this process is unsustainable. The United States now faces a choice between two undesirable outcomes: a prolonged period of low growth—secular stagnation—or a bubble-fueled expansion that will end with a serious financial and economic crisis. The only way out of this dilemma is a reversal of the trend toward greater income inequality.Download:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 785 | January 2014
Empirical Description of Gender-specific Outcomes and Budgeting
Incorporating time in public policymaking is an elusive area of research. Despite the fact that gender budgeting is emerging as a significant tool to analyze the socioeconomic impacts of fiscal policies and thus identify their impacts on gender equity, the integration of time-use statistics in this process remains incomplete, or is even entirely absent, in most countries. If gender budgeting is predominantly based on the index-based empirical description of gender-specific outcomes, a reexamination of the construction of the gender (inequality) index is needed. This is necessary if we are to avoid an incomplete description of the gender-specific outcomes in budget policymaking. Further, “hard-to-price” services are hardly analyzed in public policymaking. This issue is all the more revealing, as the available gender-inequality index—based on health, empowerment, and labor market participation – so far has not integrated time-use statistics in its calculations. From a public finance perspective, the gender budgeting process often rests on the assumption that mainstream expenditures, such as public infrastructure, are nonrival in nature, and that applying a gender lens to these expenditures is not feasible. This argument is refuted by time budget statistics. The time budget data reveal that this argument is often flawed, as there is an intrinsic gender dimension to nonrival expenditures.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Strategic Analysis, October 2013 | October 2013If the Congressional Budget Office’s recent projections of government revenues and outlays come to pass, the United States will not grow fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate between now and 2016. The public sector deficit will decline from present levels, endangering the sustainability of the recovery. But as this new Strategic Analysis shows, a public sector stimulus of a little over 1 percent of GDP per year focused on export-oriented R & D investment would increase US competitiveness through export-price effects, resulting in a rise of net exports, and slowly lower unemployment to less than 5 percent by 2016. The improvement in net export demand would allow the US economy to enter a period of aggregate-demand rehabilitation—with very encouraging consequences at home.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 127, 2012 | November 2012The United States must make a fundamental choice in its economic policy in the next few months, a choice that will shape the US economy for years to come. Pundits and policymakers are divided over how to address what is widely referred to as the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that will further weaken the domestic economy. Will the United States continue its current, misguided, policy of implementing European-style austerity measures, and the economic contraction that is the inevitable consequence of such policies? Or will it turn aside from the fiscal cliff, using a combination of its sovereign currency system and Keynesian fiscal policy to strengthen aggregate demand?
Our analysis presents a model of what we call the “fiscal trap”—a self-imposed spiral of economic contraction resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and function of fiscal policy in times of economic weakness. Within this framework, we begin our analysis with the disastrous results of austerity policies in the European Union (EU) and the UK. Our account of these policies and their results is meant as a cautionary tale for the United States, not as a model.
Strategic Analysis, April 2012 | April 2012
Though the economy appears to be gradually gaining momentum, broad measures indicate that 14.5 percent of the US labor force is unemployed or underemployed, not much below the 16.2 percent rate reached a full year ago. In this new report in our Strategic Analysis series, we first discuss several slow-moving factors that make it difficult to achieve a full and sustainable economic recovery: the gradual redistribution of income toward the wealthiest 1 percent of households; a failure to fully stabilize and reregulate finance; serious fiscal troubles for state and local governments; and detritus from the financial crisis that remains on household and corporate balance sheets. These factors contribute to a situation in which employment has not risen fast enough since the (supposed) end of the recession to significantly increase the employment-population ratio. Meanwhile, public investment at all levels of government fell from roughly 3.7 percent of GDP in 2008 to 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, helping to explain the weak economic picture.
For this report, we use the Levy Institute macro model to simulate the economy under the following three scenarios: (1) a private borrowing scenario, in which we find the appropriate amount of private sector net borrowing/lending to achieve the path of employment growth projected under current policies by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in a report characterized by excessive optimism and a bias toward deficit reduction; (2) a more plausible scenario, in which we assume that the federal government extends certain key tax cuts and that household borrowing increases at a more reasonable rate than in the previous scenario; and (3) a fiscal stimulus scenario, in which we simulate the effects of a fully “paid for” 1 percent increase in government investment.
The results show the importance of debt accumulation as a consideration in macro policymaking. The first scenario reproduces the CBO’s relatively optimistic employment projections, but our results indicate that this private-sector-led growth scenario quickly brings household and business debt to new all-time highs as percentages of GDP. We note that the CBO makes its projections using an orthodox model with several common, but fundamental, flaws. This makes possible the agency’s result that current policies will reduce the unemployment rate without a run-up in the private sector’s debt—“business as usual,” in the words of our report’s title.
The policies weighed in the second scenario do not perform much better, despite a looser fiscal stance. Finally, our third scenario illustrates that a small, tax-financed increase in government investment could lower the unemployment rate significantly—by about one-half of 1 percent. A stimulus package of this size might be within the realm of political possibility at this juncture. However, our results lead us to surmise that it would take a much more substantial fiscal stimulus to reduce unemployment to a level that most policymakers would regard as acceptable.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Strategic Analysis, December 2011 | December 2011
Fiscal austerity is now a worldwide phenomenon, and the global growth slowdown is highly unfavorable for policymakers at the national level. According to our Macro Modeling Team's baseline forecast, fears of prolonged stagnation and a moribund employment market are well justified. Assuming no change in the value of the dollar or interest rates, and deficit levels consistent with the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent “no-change” scenario, growth will remain very weak through 2016 and unemployment will exceed 9 percent.
In an alternate scenario, the authors simulate the effect of new austerity measures that are commensurate with the implementation of large federal budget cuts. Here, growth falls to 0.06 percent in the second quarter of 2014 before leveling off at approximately 1 percent and unemployment rises to 10.7 percent by the end of 2016. In their fiscal stimulus scenario, real GDP growth increases very quickly, unemployment declines to 7.2 percent, and the US current account balance reaches 1.9 percent by the end of 2016—with a debt-to-GDP ratio that, at 97.4 percent, is only slightly higher than in the baseline scenario.
An export-led growth strategy may accomplish little more than drawing a small number of scarce customers away from other exporting nations, and the authors expect no net contribution to aggregate demand growth from the financial sector. A further fiscal stimulus is clearly in order, they say, but an ill-timed round of fiscal austerity could result in a perilous situation for Washington.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 14 | October 2011
Can the Blind Heal the Crippled?
Whoever said that economic science is free of ideological bias and political prejudice? Three hundred years of financial and economic crises have meant nothing to die-hard neoliberals, who believe in (among other things) self-regulating markets and trickle-down theory. With so many incorrect assumptions guiding market liberalism, it’s no wonder neoliberals have failed to draw the proper lessons from the Great Depression and turned a blind eye to the real causes of the global financial crisis of 2007–08 and the ensuing recession.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Strategic Analysis, March 2011 | March 2011
The US economy grew reasonably fast during the last quarter of 2010, and the general expectation is that satisfactory growth will continue in 2011–12. The expansion may, indeed, continue into 2013. But with large deficits in both the government and foreign sectors, satisfactory growth in the medium term cannot be achieved without a major, sustained increase in net export demand. This, of course, cannot happen without either a cut in the domestic absorption of US goods and services or a revaluation of the currencies of the major US trading partners.
Our policy message is fairly simple, and one that events over the years have tended to vindicate. Most observers have argued for reductions in government borrowing, but few have pointed out the potential instabilities that could arise from a growth strategy based largely on private borrowing—as the recent financial crisis has shown. With the economy operating at far less than full employment, we think Americans will ultimately have to grit their teeth for some hair-raising deficit figures, but they should take heart in recent data showing record-low “core” CPI inflation—and the potential for export-led growth to begin reducing unemployment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):