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2011 07

The Real Cost of the CPRS Mk II

Ricardian Ambivalence highlights the real cost of the CPRS Mark II in the presence of political capital constraints:

The fact is the government can’t open a new tax battle while the carbon tax is taking all the oxygen. This is the hidden cost of the carbon tax. Not only will it do nothing to change the climate it is also crowding out a discussion of controversial but important policy debates.

The government’s apparent determination to die in a ditch over the CPRS Mark II is puzzling from a public choice perspective. There is nothing wrong with dying in a ditch for something worthwhile, but this is not typical behavior for politicians and begs the question why they don’t do it for something more worthwhile if they really are putting principle ahead of political expediency. Implementing the entirety of the Henry review would surely come at lower political cost and could even gain bipartisan political support.

Rudd and Turnbull realised they had to form a policy cartel on the CPRS to avoid it consuming them both. Neither wanted to fight an election on the issue. It was a bipartisan political conspiracy that nearly paid-off.  A policy cartel is consistent with the median voter model. The CPRS Mk I would be operating today were it not for the coalition revolt against Turnbull’s leadership. Turnbull’s judgment that this would be electorally fatal to the Coalition was spectacularly wrong. Breaking the Rudd-Turnbull CPRS policy cartel destroyed Rudd and nearly won the Coalition the 2010 election.

posted on 31 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Politics

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Monetising the US Gold Stock

Monetising the US gold stock is a tried and true method of keeping the bond bailiffs at bay:

the nation owns about a quarter billion ounces of gold, valued at the quaint old figure of $42 2/9 per ounce. This stock serves as collateral for about $11 billion of gold certificates on the books of the Federal Reserve. The Treasury and the Fed could swap the old certificates for new ones based on a value closer to the current market price of $1,650 per ounce. To balance its books, the Fed would credit the Treasury’s account an additional $400 billion or so. This should be enough for even our improvident government to run for a few more months. Such an accounting transaction has the attraction of being done before in identical circumstances, as pointed out by my colleague Alex Pollock. In 1953, the Fed similarly “monetized” the gold after the Congress failed to pass an increase in the debt ceiling. This by the way, highlights the bipartisan nature of debt-ceiling dramatics. At the time, Republicans held the presidency and majorities in both chambers of the Congress.

Plenty of irony there for gold bugs.

posted on 30 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Financial Markets, Gold

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Are Australian Economists a Bevy of Camp-Following Whores?

I have an article at The Conversation on the results of a survey of the policy views of members of the Economic Society of Australia. Along with poorly worded questions, the survey suffers from a selection bias problem. The survey is arguably more representative of those ESA members interested in public policy than of economists more generally.

Judy Sloan beat me to the punch in commenting on the response to the minimum wage question. As Sloan quotes Jim Buchanan:

no self-respecting economist would claim that increases in the minimum wage increase employment. Such a claim, if seriously advanced, becomes equivalent to a denial that there is even minimum scientific content in economics, and that, in consequence, economists can do nothing but write as advocates for ideological interests. Fortunately, only a handful of economists are willing to throw over the teaching of two centuries; we have not yet become a bevy of camp-following whores.

Except for the majority of ESA members, it seems.

UPDATE: John Tierney considers selection bias in the US academy.

posted on 26 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Politics

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Be Careful What Jim Grant Wishes For

A gold standard won’t do what Jim Grant says it will:

Supporters of the gold standard like to point out that since creation of the Fed in 1913 the dollar has lost 95% of its value.  Well in 1913, the dollar was convertible into an ounce of gold at $20.86 an ounce.  So while the dollar has lost 95 percent of its value, gold has appreciated even more rapidly than the dollar has depreciated.  If gold had kept its value in 1913, its value today would be somewhere between $400 and $500 an ounce.  Accept for argument’s sake the claim of supporters of the gold standard that the recent run up in the value of gold was caused by a loss of confidence in the dollar.  Would it not be reasonable to conclude from that assumption that if the dollar were made convertible into gold, people would then start selling off their gold, the threat of dollar depreciation having been eliminated?

But wait.  If people started selling off their gold, the value of gold would decline.  If the real value of the gold fell from its current value back to its value in 1913 when the dollar was convertible into gold at $20.86, the value of would lose two-thirds to three-quarters of its value.  We are talking about two or three hundred percent inflation.  Does that make feel more confident about the value of your savings?

posted on 18 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Financial Markets, Gold

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Friedman Was a Hedgehog

John Cochrane: ‘economic events should be unforecastable, and their unforecastability is a sign that the markets and our theories about them are working well.’

posted on 16 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Financial Markets

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How the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Suppressed Dissent

Peter Wallison responds to the Report of the Democratic Staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

The report of the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—although it attempts to call my conduct into question as a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission—actually indicts the Commission. The facts are these. From the outset of its “investigation” the Commission’s chair, Phil Angelides, was intent on reporting that the financial crisis was caused by greed, misconduct and lack of regulation of the private sector, exculpating government housing policy from any significant responsibility. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that in December 2009—before any investigation had been done—Angelides handed the commission members a list of hearings that the Commission would hold over the succeeding 8 months. Those hearings focused on the private sector’s role in the financial crisis, and paid scant attention to the government’s role. This was fully in accord with the interests of the House and Senate Democrats, who were intent on establishing this narrative as a basis for enacting the Dodd-Frank Act, which sought to impose substantial new regulation on the U.S. financial system.

posted on 15 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Financial Markets

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Federal Election Betting Market Odds and Carbon Sunday

Simon Jackman updates federal election betting market implied probs. See if you can spot carbon Sunday!

Sadly, Malcolm Turnbull still doesn’t get it.

posted on 14 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Financial Markets, Politics

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GSE Debt: ‘Treasuries with Higher Yield’

Why worry about US Treasuries when they’re buried in agency debt:

The expansion of agency debt not only imposes risk and realized losses on taxpayers—we recall the $160 billion that the U.S. Treasury has been forced to put into Fannie and Freddie to prevent their financial collapse—it also increases the cost of Treasury’s direct financing by creating a huge pool of alternate government-backed securities to compete with Treasury securities, and thus increases the interest cost to taxpayers.

So although agencies are not “officially government debt,” they undoubtedly increase the required interest rates on Treasury securities, in my judgment, and thus increase the federal deficit. The greater the amount of agency securities available as potential substitutes for Treasuries, the greater this effect must be. As a manager of a major institutional investor told me recently, “We view Fannie and Freddie MBS as Treasuries with a higher yield—so now we own very few Treasuries.”

posted on 13 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Financial Markets

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Taxploitation II: Tax Reform for Incentive, Growth and Smaller Government

CIS has released a collection of readings Taxploitation II: Tax Reform for Incentive, Growth and Smaller Government. I have a chapter on capital gains tax, which updates an earlier policy monograph on the subject to reflect the outcome of the Henry tax review.

As I note in my chapter, the Henry review should have been an embarrassment to most Australian journalists writing on the subject of capital gains tax and tax expenditures. George Megalogenis characterised the Henry review as ‘cheeky’, which is as close as he comes to acknowledging that the review’s conclusions and recommendations invalidate most of what George has written on these subjects. Australian journalists have misread (or simply failed to read) the fiscal implications of the Treasury’s tax expenditure statements. They are certainly not alone in doing this, but that is no excuse.

posted on 13 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Fiscal Policy

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MNI-Deutsche Börse Economic Forecasting Competition – Final Round

Congratulations to Jos Theelen of the University of Amsterdam, who took out first prize in the MNI-Deutsche Börse Economic Forecasting Competition. Along with Daiwa Capital’s Mike Moran and myself, Jos was the only other person to place in two of the three forecasting rounds.

This was my first foray back into forecasting since the financial crisis and it was interesting to see that many of the pre-crisis forecasting relationships still hold. The final June round was particularly brutal, however, given the bearish turn in the US data.

Hopefully, MNI-DB will turn this into a regular event. There are too few independent, public tests of economic forecasting ability.

posted on 12 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Financial Markets

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Unhypothecating the Flood Levy

If your first pay packet of the new financial year is a bit lighter, it is probably due to the flood levy, the first discretionary federal tax increase in over a decade. Robert Carling wrote a paper for CIS in 2007 on the misuse of tax earmarking, of which the flood levy is a good example.

Tax increases should not come as a surprise following the unfunded fiscal stimulus of 2008-09. Announcing an unfunded fiscal stimulus is equivalent to announcing a future tax increase. It is just a matter of when the increased tax burden will have to be paid. The increase in household saving that accompanied the stimulus suggests that households understand this.

Announcing the details of the re-jigged Rudd-Turnbull CPRS at the end of the same week that many taxpayers will experience their first discretionary federal income tax increase in over a decade is a curious political choice to say the least. It can only add to the unpopularity of the new CPRS.

posted on 08 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Fiscal Policy

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Some Agreement and Disagreement on FDI in Australia

Paul Barratt agrees with me that foreign investment in Australian agricultural land does not raise questions of sovereignty or food security. However, he argues that foreign investment may give rise to other ‘national interest’ concerns. Barrett gives as an example the proposal by Chinalco to increase its stake in Rio Tinto. Yet the concerns raised by Barrett in this context were investigated and dismissed by the ACCC. Similarly, the Australian Taxation Office has a very broad mandate and strong powers to address the transfer pricing issues raised by Barrett.

The point of my article in the Australian Financial Review was not to say that commercial transactions should be outside the scope of regulation. As I noted in my op-ed:

Australia has a robust regulatory framework around land use and business investment more generally. Politicians should put their trust in these frameworks, rather than seeking new mechanisms for political interference and meddling in commercial transactions.

The Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act (FATA) and the FIRB do not add anything useful to the regulation of business investment in Australia that is not already addressed by other agencies, upon which the FIRB relies heavily for advice. FATA and the FIRB exist only to provide a mechanism for political interference in the market ownership and control of Australian equity capital. Parliament should legislate to regulate business investment in the national interest, regardless of ownership. But this can be done effectively without the FATA or the FIRB.

posted on 07 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Foreign Investment

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‘I Don’t Like It’: Australia’s Hansonite Political Class

I have an op-ed in today’s AFR arguing that Australia’s politicians are united as much by a desire to meddle as by xenophobia in their opposition to foreign investment in agricultural land. Text below the fold (may differ slightly from edited AFR text).

Alan Oxley makes related arguments in today’s Australian.

continue reading

posted on 02 July 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Foreign Investment

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