Showing posts with label monetary policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label monetary policy. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Don't Confuse Poverty For Inflation

Just when they said it was dead and gone, inflation is back loud and clear. The latest reading of the CPI for January 2022 is 7.52%! We haven't seen these levels since the early 80s, or is it since the mid 70s thinking that this is the upswing with more to come? That is a scary thought as inflation didn't peak until 1980 at 14.6%. 

While I believe the Fed has the resolve and know how to tame inflation, that indeed does remain to be seen. However, that isn't the point of this post. 

What is on my mind is a mistake I hear being made often as an apology/excuse for Biden. Since Biden is currently the President, it is the left who is offering this excuse. Had Trump won, I would fully expect the right to be making the same mistake. 

The mistake is thinking Biden (like Trump before him only more so with Biden) does not bear some blame for the inflation numbers we see. The short version is: "It's not Biden's fault; it's the pandemic's." 

Had the apologist said instead, "It's not Biden's fault; it's the Fed's," I would have cut them some more slack. The Fed is ultimately the reason we do or do not have true inflation (a sustained increase in the overall price level relative to the medium of account, USD). 

The pandemic and the policy responses to it have generated enormous supply and demand disruptions. The magnitudes here quite certainly matter. But the price affect from all of that is not inflation. It is a change in relative prices--dramatic as they are, they cannot result in an inflationary outcome without the Fed as an accomplice. Relative prices are the market adjusting to reality finding new price and quantity equilibria. This very necessary process is why price controls don't work causing painful problems themselves.

Here is the thinking that leads the apologist astray: 
  • The pandemic messed everything up where we couldn't work as much, killing production, etc. (negative supply shock).
  • It is no surprise the shelves are bear. (scarcity at current price levels)
  • With fewer things to buy and all the money still out there including all the government support, prices had to go up--same/more dollars chasing fewer goods and services . . . I thought you understood economics, Winkler? 
One problem with that story is that it neglects half of the equation--income. When we produce less, we have less income. We are poorer than before (the economy's output and perhaps its potential output is now materially lower). Understanding that is a glimpse into how a bad event like a pandemic cannot by itself cause inflation--another problem with that story. Inflation comes if the monetary authority, the Fed in our case, fails to properly adjust monetary policy adjusting it downward. 

Negative supply shocks like pandemics increase poverty--or reduce wealth depending on your framing. They make us poorer. Poorer might look like inflation, but it isn't. Consider this:


In this chart the farther to the right and/or the lower on the chart a country is, the wealthier it is in terms of how much it works (average annual working hours on the y-axis) for the income it generates (GDP per person on the x-axis log scale). Notice this data is for 2017. For example, Brazil has a per capita GDP of about $14,500 with the average worker working about 1,710 hours per year. The United States enjoys a per capita GDP of about $60,100 with very similar average worker hours, about 1,760. People in America are a lot more productive than people in Brazil.*

Along the vertical we can make another comparison between Hong Kong (GDP = $59,800 & Hours = 2,190) and the U.S. (GDP = $60,100 & Hours = 1,760). Again the U.S. has higher productivity generating about the same income as HK for considerably fewer hours worked. 

Ultimately time is the common currency all humans deal in as it is the one truly binding constraint. Looked at this way we can consider what a really bad supply shock might look like for the U.S. Imagine our total production went from $60,100 all the way down to Brazil's level but hours worked stayed the same. Suddenly the cost of our income (cost being hours worked) is much, much higher. Alternatively, if we now had to work as much as Hong Kongers do for the same income, the cost of our income is again much higher. We are working the same for less income in the first case and working a lot more for the same income in the second. In terms of hours worked is this inflation? No, it is an increase in poverty/massive reduction in wealth. 

Think about it this way: If you suddenly were relocated from the U.S. to Brazil doing the same job, you'd immediately notice that your pay was lower. If you were purely on the average, you'd notice that working your regular 1,700 hours per year only allowed you to buy about a quarter of the goods and services you enjoyed in the U.S. ($14,500/$60,100). You might say, "Wow! Things sure are expensive in Brazil." And you'd be right. But if you then concluded, "They must have had a crazy amount of inflation," you'd be quite wrong obviously. You personally experienced what looks like inflation to you but is really just a negative wealth effect due to the relocation.

People instinctively but mistakenly think bad events will cause inflation by assuming their incomes will remain the same while there will be fewer goods available. But for the entire economy incomes must go down if production goes down since they are the same number. 

So what did Biden (and Trump and Congress) do? Biden trumped Trump by helping Congress to spend a LOT OF MONEY.


The reason spending during Biden's term has been so problematic is that we were largely exiting the pandemic at that time. You don't have to become an adherent to or expert on the fiscal theory of the price level to understand the issue. These greater and greater levels of government spending put more and more pressure on the Fed to constrain monetary policy so that the excess spending did not induce inflationary effects. So far the Fed has not been able to fully offset that spending.

Is the Fed to blame? Yes. Was its job made much harder by what the fiscal authorities (Congress and the President) did? Also, yes. Are there other knock-on effects from the spending and associated government programs the pandemic gave cover to? You bet, and they are likely worse than inflation [please, God, don't let the Fed now say "hold my beer".]

*There is a subtle pro immigration word choice I made here. Notice I didn't say "Americans" or "Brazilians". It is not the people so much as it is the economy they are working in. Relocate those same Brazilians to the United States, and their productivity would magnificently rise as if by magic even though it would for a time still be below current American rates. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Highly Linkable

Aziz Ansari says we're lookin' for love in all the wrong places and in the process channels his inner economist.

This is an awesome new project on Hayek by Don Boudreaux. Be sure not to miss the short videos.

Life is getting better, one thread at a time . . . Project Jacquard by Google.

Alberto Mingardi argues that locavorism is anti quality and anti quantity of life.

Charles Murray wants us to fight (federal) city hall. Arnold Kling dissents insisting exit rather than voice is the answer.

"Scott Alexander" breaks down the California water problem very well and offers some good ideas for solutions.

John Cochrane takes to task Richard Thaler and behavioral economics.

"Minimum wages are great . . . except for us," says LA County union leaders.

Scott Sumner explains how people get confused about monetary policy thinking of it as credit policy. No matter how much cash Apple acquires, it cannot conduct monetary policy.

Bryan Caplan has a simple request: unlock the school library.

I find counter-conventional wisdom delicious--in this case literally so. As illustrated in this Bloomberg article, barbecue impresario Meathead Goldwyn can tell you everything you are doing wrong on the grill (for me it was several things and counting). And he applies science and logic to the process. Bon Appetit!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Highly Linkable

Doin' the wave. (don't miss the video at the bottom)

Michael Pollan drops in to see what condition LSD's condition is in. [HT: Tyler Cowen]

Guess I'll have to dial back my snobbish detesting of the imbeciles who are doing tomatoes "wrong".

And while we're getting off our dietary high horses, Megan McArdle offers some balanced food for thought.

Accountability is an important concept. We should apply it to important institutions like the Fed; so argues Scott Sumner and George Selgin. Bash the Fed!

We end with three on immigration: First, Adam Davidson in the NYT Magazine debunks the myth of the job-stealing immigrant (HT: John Cochrane). Second, Bryan Caplan challenges the idea of immigrant idleness. Third, Arnold Kling reasonably dismisses the conservatarian argument against immigration.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Problem With Interest-Rate Policy

Or . . . the problem with interest rates as the primary policy tool.

Interest rates are very blunt instrument. What's more the Fed only has control over a small portion of the entire yield curve. So because it wants to affect the entire yield curve through its policy, it has to act even more dramatically with its otherwise naturally blunt policy instrument.

The Austrians are right when they criticize the use of interest-rate policy as a distorting act of price fixing. Interest is the price of credit. Distortions to the interest-rate curves by the fixing of some prices along it affects the economy. And since the Fed has to act more dramatically since it has limited abilities to control the prices in this market, it has to hit harder with its big, blunt, interest-policy hammer. Right away that should strike us as problematic. We should be very concerned with the way this fractured fairy tale is playing out if this is in fact an accurate depiction, which I believe it is.

At the end of the day interest-rate policy is just a stand-in for communication. Communication is the real key policy for the Fed. The intentions that the Fed has for the money supply is the essential guideline for how that part of the economy is going to change in the future. But once we are down a particular road with monetary policy, a road the Fed may not be completely aware of much less have fully intended, we can't just hop in the Way-Back Machine to go correct matters.

This is the key advantage of using NGDP level targeting, NGPD futures price targeting, or wage growth targeting as the key policy tool. As long as the Fed can make a credible commitment by policy or by law to keeping NGDP towards a clearly communicated growth trajectory, then the economy will be on course to fulfill its potential. We need to lose the illusion that the council of elders with its fearless leader has some grand omniscience granting it the ability to figure out what monetary policy needs to be to keep NGDP on target. In truth the best the Fed can do is set the right long-term target for growth. It is the market that will best to decide what policy is necessary and what changes to policy are necessary to keep the economy on that path.

The economy is a massive ship at sea headed towards a port that lies perpetually over the horizon. The Fed is at the steering wheel, but it is not a navigator. The market is the great navigator. The market has the ability to help the Fed steer in the right direction making the needed corrections along the way and with much more rapid feedback than the long and variable lags our heroes are currently subject to.

In this universe all the Fed has to do is set the target for what level of growth it wants in the economy and then commit by law to pursuing whatever actions it takes to keep the economy at that growth rate. A highly credible Fed would not need to move interest rates and would not need to make significant asset purchases or sales to convince the market that it was truly going to pursue the proper policy to reach its target. A less credible Fed would have to make relatively larger asset purchases or sales as needed and move interest rates as needed to convince the market that it truly was going to follow policies as dictated by the market to reach the policy goal. But credibility has its own momentum, and as it grows it compounds. This is good in that it takes less to keep credibility. This is bad in that a loss of high credibility can portend dramatic repercussions. That is why central bank policy tends to be formalized in law and central bankers tend to be called to account.

Changing the policy tool and the method by which it is derived to a growth-oriented, market-driven focus isn't a magic bullet, but it is a massive step towards a much more sensible world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Highly Linkable

Is that a Lite-Brite? No, it's NYC.

Have you heard the country song? It seems there is only one.

Five exam hacks to help you ace the final.

I tend to be an optimist about the future including and because of technology. I welcome the coming singularity. But I have to admit this concerned me and kinda shook me a little. More here.

How do you find something when a Google search isn't enough? Lifehacker suggests some options.

Looks like I need to change my views on flossing--and revise some other oral hygiene practices while I'm at it. (HT: Tyler Cowen)

The "coach who never punts", Kevin Kelley was interviewed recently on the AFA podcast. I predict in 10 years much of his heterodoxy will be orthodoxy.

Kevin Erdmann has a very good grip on housing policy. He Zoro's Shiller in a single paragraph and then proceeds to tear down all of the housing lobby's sand castles.

While we're calling out iconic economists, John Lee of Open Borders challenges Krugman greatly and Cowen to a lesser extent.

John Cochrane continues the craze taking on Keynesianism.

You might read this first before getting right to Pete Boettke answering Noah Smith's question on if economics swings left.

The zero-interest-rate environment succinctly explained with myths debunked by Scott Sumner.

Don Boudreaux offers some new year's advice on bad habits he wishes the government would break.

(UPDATE: housing policy link restored.)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Highly Linkable

Visit these 18 fabulous libraries.
Go there (someday) in a "windowless" airplane.
Ask if you can fly a drone around inside to potentially produce videos as cool as these.
If they'll let you, film it for a week so it can get on prime-time Norwegian TV. Those guys plus the drones are getting close to my ideas.

Barry Ritholtz shares his basic simple truths of investing. These are highly recommended. Make sure you read the whole (short) list as the last two are as important as any.

Once you've got your investing house in order, better get to work on correcting these misconceptions about exercise--many of these are no surprise to loyal readers of MM.

Before leaving the body, don't fall for any detox nonsense in your New Year's Resolutionating.

John Cochrane goes all Principal Max Anderson in reviewing Ken Rogoff's proposal to eliminate physical currency. I fully am with Cochrane but I did want to quibble with his confusion about how this would actually affect monetary policy. You or I can immunize our own exposure to the negative interest rate, but we cannot all jointly eliminate it--the burden can only be transferred. I believe Scott Sumner has this criticism nailed.

We are repeatedly reminded that the overwhelming majority of NCAA athletes will go pro in something other than sports. For those the depressing fact is their degree wasn't worth that much. That doesn't surprise David Berri who also notes how the NBA age-limit rule (friendly for the NCAA) harms players while helping colleges and coaches.

Lot of count-ups and downs in this link fest. Here are 20 reasons the wind industry's case is (motionless) hot air.

Tim Harford reminds us in this post that most ventures are failures and we can learn from the losers.

If you were looking for a succinct list of arguments against price controls (ceilings specifically) in the face of disasters, you can relax--Don Boudreaux has provided it.

David Henderson reflects on one of his more memorable times questioning the powerful. If only more of us were so courageous as to continually question the military leadership.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Highly Linkable

Andy Schwartz has penned the best analysis that I have ever read of the NCAA, its position as cartel, and the situation before it. Read it to understand the problem(s) and choose a side: Team Market (my group), Team Reform (the bootleggers and Baptists coalition of paternalist progressives and traditionalist conservatives), or Team Cartel (the NCAA today). I believe only Team Market is fully on the ethical and logical high ground. Team Reform's advocated position is not sustainable--the economic incentives will break it down as teams depart the model. Team Cartel might be sustainable in the medium term provided it can unconditionally win the multiple-front legal war it faces. I am being an optimist predicting that Team Market wins decisively and soon. I am simply being logical predicting that Team Market wins eventually.

Speaking of predictions, Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, discusses planning for the unpredictable as it relates to city planning and self-driving cars. And Mark Rogowsky makes some predictions about the business side of robo-cars, et al.

More predictions: Scott Sumner discusses some things that can't but will go on forever along with making some interesting predictions.

Here is a prediction that I will make in light of this excellent analysis (HT: Barry Ritholtz): Over the next 5 years hedge fund/alternative asset investment strategies will change A LOT while significantly falling out of favor among institutional money managers (anything outside of the retail brokerage level). I'll predict that in five year average fees are half what they are today and allocations are one-third lower. (UPDATE: To clarify, I am predicting that average fees collected are half as high in five years. If you think about how the average is affected, you'll realize this isn't as bold a prediction as it may seem.)

That's enough predicting for one post.

So Bryan Caplan has basically been following me around chronicling my strategy for success on my terms in life and in business.

Art Carden points out that while there are many negative aspects to poverty and most transcend time, fortunately a low income in absolute terms isn't one of them. Nothing gets you nothing . . .

I had the same reaction as David Henderson to this otherwise good personal finance article by Megan McArdle. People almost always misunderstand the tradeoff between 15 and 30-year mortgages as well as how to figure the cost-benefit of a refinancing decision. It's not about the time to payback on the closing costs and the likelihood of moving in the future. It is a comparison of two (or more) streams of cash flows discounted appropriately. Those other factors are just part of the input variables that must be included.

Like I said recently, the public doesn't understand inflation; Scott Sumner suggests the Fed may be coming around to understanding this and, hence, moving beyond inflation targeting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trying To Understand Inflation

Scott Sumner makes the case that economists generally can’t agree on what inflation is, and even when they do, their understanding is at odds with the general population. Let’s explore this a little:

Imagine an economy with one laborer, me, one capital owner, you, two consumers, you and me, and two kinds of goods, apples and oranges. It takes me one hour to produce one apple and one hour to produce one orange. I can only work a maximum of 500 hours in total per year. I get paid one dollar an hour, but you get half of my wages (this makes it easier to introduce a monetary system into this fictional economy rather than having the capital owner retain the product--just assume after production the fruit is co-owned by you and me hence we "buy" it from the coop). Let's start with the price of apples at $1 and the price of oranges at $1. Another way of looking at it is to say the price of an orange is one apple and the price of an apple is one orange.

Fast forward to one year later where apples and oranges begin the year at the same price of $1 each (sticky prices) but then rise to $1.17 for apples and $1.05 for oranges (details how are below), my wage rate is still $1 per hour (sticky wages), but my productivity has increased whereby it only takes me 45 minutes to produce either fruit. In this story how can we meaningfully talk about "inflation"? Prices have risen, but so has productivity. In fact, productivity has potentially increased 33%. And wages are flat for the time being. None of these variables alone really tells the story. John Cochrane might say we’re on to something.

And if a monetary authority (an entity that controls the supply of money such as a central bank) targets "inflation", we start to see big problems. David Beckworth tells it better and more thoroughly than I can.

Picking up on one of Beckworth’s claims, we can see from our hypothetical apples and oranges economy that it will look like the supply of money needs to be loosened when in fact it needs to be tightened to allow total spending in the economy (nominal GDP) to be maintained.

Let's assume in the first year I produce 300 apples and 200 oranges, and then you and I each separately purchase/consume 150 apples and 100 oranges. Total spending in year 1 is $500 (500 fruits at $1 each). 

[here comes the yada, yada, yada...]
In the second year I produce 360 apples and 240 oranges taking just 450 hours to do so thanks to my enhanced productivity which leaves time every day to pretend I'm Rip Van Winkle while on the clock (you'll see below why I would stop working at some point short of maximum output--360 and 240 are somewhat arbitrary numbers). My total wages are $500 still since I'm still getting $1 per hour for 450 hours of labor and 50 hours of napping. You still get half of my wages, but additionally the central bank gives you $100 and me $75 (out of thin air) so as to maintain the monetary authority's desired ~2% inflation target in the face of a 33% rise in productivity* ($175 is about a 35% increase over the $500 monetary base). I have $325 and you have $350. As we attempt to make our purchases of apples and oranges presumably to get at a similar consumption arrangement as before (half of each type of fruit for each of us), we bid up the price of each good somewhat so that the market can clear and in the process we change the consumption arrangement some. Your greater purchasing power allows you to bid up your slightly preferred fruit, apples, a little relative to oranges. The prices settle at $1.17 for apples and $1.05 for oranges (these prices are arbitrary in the example—just one of many ways the math will work out). You walk away with 190 apples and 121 oranges while I get 170 apples and 119 oranges (just one of many possible outcomes). This makes total spending in period 2 $675 [$1.17 x (190+170) + $1.05 x (121+119)].

We can summarize the economic situation: Total spending, "nominal GDP", is up dramatically (35%) while the "real GDP" is only up 20%. The monetary authority wanted only about 2% price inflation but got a 15% level. The economy could potentially be producing 11% more fruit than it is actually producing. The Cantillon Effects of you getting $100 and me only $75 from the central bank may be unrealistic and are not central to the story. I believe there is something to it and it can have distributional effects as it does here (both in the price change and ultimately the quantities of apples and oranges we each get to enjoy). Don’t get lost in this, though; it is not the central theme—rather understand that inflation is a murky subject and policy based on it can have severely adverse consequences.

It was my expectation of the central bank's inflation targeting which led me to shirt instead of producing more--I happened to stop at 360 apples and 240 oranges. The high rate of money supply growth was a negative shock to my purchasing power. I should have seen my $1 per hour going further as the price of apples and oranges came down in nominal-dollar terms, labor-hour terms, and substitute-good terms (apples for oranges and vice versa). If instead of targeting inflation the central-bank targets nominal GDP to rise about 5% such that nominal GDP should be about $525 in year 2, prices will be allowed to fall and my purchasing power because my wages are sticky will be rising; hence I will be incentivized to produce closer to the the economy's full potential. In which case I will be doing a lot less shirking. Year 2 would look more like this: I produce close to 667 total fruit, the money supply increases about 5% rather than 35%, the prices of apples and oranges each fall about 25% (a 33% productivity increase implies a 25% price decrease) but is offset some with the 5% increase in money supply, and the economic distortions are minimized. Happily ever after . . .

*The key here is that the central bank doesn’t completely understand the increase in productivity, and it realistically wouldn’t. In a more realistic, fluid economy what they would see would be falling prices or at least downward price pressure for apples and oranges. Productivity gains would equally be disguised as underemployment (after all, I am napping). The feedback loop keeps telling them to fight deflation—i.e., increase the money supply.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Highly Linkable

Into the caves

Out on the shore

If you're looking for poetry, look elsemore.

Sumner illuminates the thing versus the thing that is done.

In Europe silver spoons aren't just a good idea, they're the law! Is a world of Ricky Stratton's really the progressive dream?

Insider trading as a parallel to prohibition.

It's Derby time; hence, it is julep time.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Ben Bernank ordering breakfast doesn't make him hungry, or . . .

Getting cause and effect backwards.

Often I hear investment pundits describe an effect as a cause giving them reason to be bullish or bearish on particular sectors, etc. The typical mistake runs like this: "We expect equity flows (investments into stocks) to increase driving stock prices higher." Think for half a second how one might determine the value of a stock . . . Stock is ownership in a company. That company derives value for owners by creating profits. Those profits eventually must become a series of cash flows back to the owners. If we could make a good estimate of the timing of those cash flows and apply a reasonable discount rate, we could approximate the present value of the cash flows (what they are worth in one, lump-sum price today) and hence the present value of the company.

Nowhere in that analysis is room for the thinking that if more people like the cash flows, they are worth more. True if more people like the series of cash flows, the discount rate goes down and the present value goes up. But here again we are getting it backwards. Why do people like the series of cash flows at a given price more all of a sudden? Because the discount rate used to calculate the present value now seems wrong. Therefore, the price seems low making it more attractive driving the desirability up until the price seems right again.

The girl is more attractive after the Extreme Makeover not because people are now more attracted to her. People are more attracted to her because of the makeover.

So how does this relate to The Ben Bernank and The Fed? I think many people including some economists often get it wrong in describing the cause and effect related to the economy and Fed activity. Consider this Arnold Kling post which points back to this Scott Sumner post which points back to this David Glasner post all of which got me thinking about this issue once again. And here is a money quote from another Arnold Kling post that illustrates my thinking:
Probability that monetary policy “merely reacts to what would have occurred anyway” = .75
I think I would put that probability at least that high. To explain why, I'd like to introduce a metaphor that I believe aptly illustrates the right way to think about the Fed's role in the economy as it "sets" monetary policy ("sets" is too powerful a word here; "escorts" might be better):

Think of The Federal Reserve as the regulator of a man-made lake where The Fed controls the dam and where it controls a floating dock that many boats use as a prime spot for anchoring. The lake is the money supply and the dock is both the Federal Funds Rate (the interest rate at which reserves held at The Fed are traded between banks) and the Discount Rate (the rate at which The Fed will lend money to banks to cover short-term needs). The Fed can control the outflow from the lake to help determine the water level (money supply), but this is a clumsy process. If The Fed doesn't have a good handle on what nature (the market) will bring in terms of rainfall and drought (i.e., if indicators are poor), then too much or too little water may be in the lake. Likewise, if The Fed sets the federal funds rate or the discount rate inappropriately low (high), the dock will be under water (way out of the water). In either event, boats can't use the otherwise popular dock which makes lake activity difficult.

Some want The Fed to look out on the lake with omniscient vision seeing well-planned development. In truth The Fed is simply trying to accommodate the level of water nature otherwise wants for the lake while trying to satisfy those who desire to use the lake as a resource--adding or reducing water to smooth the ups and downs. If only The Fed could ask nature what was in store for lake water levels (an NGPD futures market), it could do so much better getting the water level "correct".

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cliff Hanger

I mentioned in a post awhile back about writing a post concerning the spending side of the so-called Fiscal Cliff we are approaching. This is that post. Promise kept.

Don’t expect that same kind of responsiveness from Washington regardless of who wins the election. My expectation is that Rombama will deliver as much and as little as it takes to lie with a straight face that, "In the face of an epic challenge, the American people came together to forged a grand compromise. While this solution does not match the ideal of any one party or interest group, it does satisfy many of those goals and all of our greatest needs…." Disaster avoided, I am your savior. Or something to that political effect.

The spending side of the equation, forced spending cuts disproportionately affecting the Defense Department (because that is where the discretionary money is), is arguably the less concerning part of the equation. This is especially so in the long run. The short run effects of sequestration can be mostly if not entirely offset through proper monetary policy. The monetary authority must change expectations to demonstrate a willingness to accommodate any fiscal reduction. The political will for this is weaker than it should be, but it probably is strong enough and will strengthen in the put up or shut up point of fiscal cliff diving. The added bonus would be that monetary policy arguably has much less distortionary effects than does fiscal policy—the former says demand increases somewhere and the market guides the where, the latter says demand increases through government. Unfortunately, I don't think this will happen as I don't think we will fall off the spending fiscal cliff.

The tax side of the fiscal cliff remains the more imposing part and has the more important long-run considerations. The uncertainty alone is a source of reduced economic growth. I'm cautiously optimistic about the chances for tax simplification and otherwise meaningful reform. I'm more optimistic about tax rates and incidence not being as severe as a full plunge over the cliff would be. Here I think there will be a decent compromise, but most of the benefits will be in terms of certainty rather than good policy--we'll at least know how badly taxation will be moving forward.

Back to the spending, I am very pessimistic about the chances of substantial spending reform or reduction. That means the fiscal cliff is avoided from the spending side—we don't get the big cuts, hence we don't fall off the cliff with the associated risks to short-term growth. But the manner in which we avoid the cliff is in no way a sustainable path to fiscal prudence. For evidence supporting my view on spending and the compromise to come, look at how Obama defines a "grand bargain".