Rigidity and Flexibility: Unions in the On-Demand Economy?

by Liya Palagashvili

A couple months ago, a judge ruled in favor of Seattle’s ordinance that will allow ridesharing drivers to engage in collective bargaining agreements. The ordinance has granted the labor union, Teamsters, the right to represent drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft. Under current U.S. labor laws, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRA) gives employees the right to unionize, but ridesharing drivers are legally classified as independent contractors, and thus outside of the purview of this legislation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has initiated litigation to challenge the validity of this ordinance on several grounds (e.g., preemption by NLRA, antitrust violations), though while in the appeals process, the city has begun to move forward to implement this first-in-the-nation law.

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Friedrich von Wieser, or: Against “Sidelining” Austrian Economists

by Stefan Kolev

Historians of economics must resist the temptation to put their narratives into the service of ideology. The intriguing case of Friedrich von Wieser exemplifies the grave dangers involved for history of economics as a discipline and for Austrian economics as a respectable research program – but it also provides hints on how to immunize historical accounts from the dangers of hagiography and litmus-test purity checks.

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Hayek’s Work Helps Explain the Link between Ultra-loose Monetary Policy and Political Instability

by Gunther Schnabl

The European Central Bank will increase the overall volume of its bond purchase program to 2,550,000,000,000 euros by September 2018. The main refinancing rate will remain at zero. Mario Draghi has stressed that this policy shall continue until inflation picks up sustainably (which is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future). The works of Friedrich August von Hayek (1931, 1944, 1976) help to explain why the tremendous monetary expansion is increasingly causing growing economic and political instability in Europe.

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Workshop on the Future of the EMU

I would like to bring the following to your attention:

– Call for Papers –

Workshop on the Future of the EMU

Leipzig, Germany

May 30, 2018

The Institute for Economic Policy at Leipzig University invites submissions for the international workshop on the Future of the European Monetary Union. The workshop will take place at Leipzig University on May 30, 2018. The papers should be policy-oriented, building a solid basis for a profound discussion of the future of the European Monetary Union. The best papers can be published after a peer-review process in a special issue of Economists’ Voice. Participation in the workshop is free, travel and accommodation costs of selected presenters will be reimbursed.

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Two Cheers for Placebo-Regulation

by Andreas Hoffmann and Sebastian Müller

The financial crisis of 2007 eroded the public confidence in financial markets. Many people have come to believe that only the government can guarantee the stability of financial markets. Responding to increased public demand, politicians from across the political spectrum support additional “macroprudential regulation”. However, little is known about the consequences of the newly proposed regulatory efforts. When politicians fear unforeseen consequences of regulation, they might turn to Placebo-regulation, which is some regulation that merely provides a warm glow for the general public. Given the widespread belief in the need for government regulation, we suggest that such Placebo-regulation may be a good option. Market distortions are avoided. But confidence in financial markets might be restored.

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Most Popular Posts of 2017

ThinkMarkets got a facelift in 2017 and there were lots of new posts. Some posts have received more attention than others. Below you find the most popular new posts of 2017:

  1. Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize
  2. David Rockefeller as an Economist
  3. 200 Years of the Theory of Comparative Advantage
  4. A Crisis in Economics?
  5. An Axiomatic Case for the Flat Tax

 

The Japanese Shinkin Banks Turn Away from the Regional Economy

by Taiki Murai and Gunther Schnabl

Similar to the credit unions in the US, the goal of the Japanese Shinkin banks is the promotion of the sound development of the regional economy. The members of these non-profit cooperatives are small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as natural persons from the respective regions of Japan. The Shinkin banks manage deposits, perform banking operations and make loans. Until the Japanese bubble economy burst in the early 1990s, they were the backbone of the regional economy in Japan. Since then, however, the business model has been gradually changing, driven by the Bank of Japan. The upshot is that the Shinkin banks’ business activities have been gradually turning away from the regions and, therefore, their original aim.

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The European Central Bank Drives the Political Polarization in Europe

by Sebastian Müller and Gunther Schnabl

Massive losses for Germany’s former catch-all parties (CDU/CSU and SPD) and record gains for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) have caused turmoil in Germany’s political landscape. The tumbling leaders Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz keep affirming that good policies were simply not explained sufficiently. They blame globalization and refugees to be at the roots of growing political discontent. Meanwhile, a rightward shift in Austria and the Czech Republic has occurred, albeit the number of refugees in the Czech Republic is low and growth is high. Everywhere in Europe far-right parties flourish independently from the level of income and the number of welcomed refugees. What is the common driving factor?

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A Critical Appraisal of Network Unbundling

High-speed broadband networks are key to the growth of digital markets as well as most modern forms of communication, and have been subject to far-reaching regulation in many countries. In this piece, we’ll review the rationale behind a cornerstone of the prevailing regulatory paradigm: forced access to incumbent operators’ network infrastructure by alternative operators on regulated terms, so-called “unbundling”.

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Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize

by Mario Rizzo

Richard Thaler has won the Nobel Prize for initiating the behavioral moment in economics.

My view of the Nobel Prize in economics is much like Time magazine’s view of its “Person of the Year.” It is awarded to the economist who “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence” the course of economic thinking – at least in certain respects. It also, like Time magazine, operates under the constraint that an award must be given every year. Continue reading

Why Europeans Lost Trust in the ECB

by David Herok and Andreas Hoffmann*

Since the financial crisis, trust in the European Central Bank (ECB) has declined substantially among Europeans. We argue that the decline in trust is worrisome and can be both a cause and a consequence of the ECB’s policy failure.

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Fed Policy and Velocity’s Dance

by Jerry O’Driscoll*

The U.S. economy has been growing slowly but steadily since the trough of the Great Recession in June 2009. Deep recessions are typically followed sharp recoveries. Not so this time.

More recently, there is the mystery of low inflation. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the core PCE index, has consistently fallen short of its target rate of 2 percent. In July 2017, it came in at a 1.41-percent annual rate. For the Fed, improved growth in employment and the falling unemployment rate should foreshadow a higher inflation rate. The rationale for this is the old Phillips Curve. The reality is that the model is flawed.[1] Continue reading

Inflation Is Not Measured Correctly

by Gunther Schnabl*

The European Central Bank (ECB) continues buying securities. By the end of 2017, the balance sheet is expected to have further grown by about 800 billion euros. This corresponds to a growth rate of 20 percent per year, while real growth of the euro area is expected to be only 1.5 percent. Despite this tremendous monetary expansion, euro area inflation remains below the two percent target. This raises the question of whether the quantity equation, which Mark Blaug called “the oldest surviving theory in economics,” is still valid.

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Unintended Monetary Policy Effects – Tale II: ECB Crisis Policies

by Andreas Hoffmann and Nicolás Cachanosky

The Federal Reserve’s (Fed) and European Central Bank’s (ECB) policy responses to the recent financial disasters offer two tales of unintended consequences. Our previous post outlined undesired effects of the Fed’s policies. In this post, we suggest that the ECB’s stabilization policy did not only fail to achieve its goals. Monetary policy has also hampered the structural adjustment of the European economy and prolonged the crisis.

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The Bank of Japan Creates a State-Led Monopolistic Banking System

by Taiki Murai and Gunther Schnabl[*]

In the second half of the 1980s, 13 Japanese city banks climbed into the group of the world’s largest banks, boosted by a domestic speculation boom. With the bursting of the Japanese financial “bubble” in the early 1990s, a gradual decline followed. Since then, the Japanese city banks have been driven by Japanese monetary policy into a concentration process, which has produced new giants without increasing efficiency. Continue reading

COSMOS + TAXIS Issue on Jane Jacobs

by Sandy Ikeda

Jane Jacobs’ writings span several disciplines—including ethics and most especially economics—but she is best known for her contributions to and her critique of urban planning, design, and policy. Many of those whom she influenced in academia, policy, and activism took the occasion of her one-hundredth birthday in 2016 to celebrate those contributions through lectures, biographies, and various events and publications.

The current issue of COSMOS + TAXIS is offered in that same spirit. I am especially pleased that it includes the contributions of a diversity of scholars—with backgrounds in economics, urban policy, urban planning, geography, architectural history, and engineering—with a diversity of insights expressed from the perspectives of epistemology, intellectual history, spatial analysis, urban history, private cities, mercantilism, and of course spontaneous order; and ranging in approach from the theoretical to the historical to the applied. Indeed, we learn from Jacobs that from the diversity of the living city springs experiment, creativity, and surprise; and that pertains equally to the realm of living ideas. Read these pages and be surprised!

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Should Central Banks Lean Against the Wind?

by Andreas Hoffmann

The pre-crisis Jackson Hole Consensus view on how to take asset market developments into account in monetary policy can be summarized as follows: Because it is hard to spot bubbles in asset markets with certainty ex-ante, central bankers should not lean against the wind when there seems to be a boom in financial markets (as long as the inflation rate does not pick up). However, as a rapid fall in asset prices can pull the real economy into the maelstrom of crisis, monetary policy should react decisively when a bubble bursts and “clean up the mess” to  prevent spillovers to the real economy.

Because there is empirical evidence that countries with greater credit and asset market booms in the 2000s experienced more severe financial crises in 2007-9, the pre-crisis consensus view has lost popularity. Policymakers and academics have started to think of ways to curb financial booms and lower the probability of crisis using macroprudential regulation or leaning-against-the-wind monetary policy. Continue reading

A Crisis in Economics?

by Mario Rizzo

Periodically, people warn about the “crisis in economics.” I have heard about several of these over my professional career. Somehow the mainstream or orthodox economists never seem to notice these crises or take them seriously. They continue doing what they were doing.

Today the crisis, if there is one, is due to behavioral economics. The traditional rationality assumptions of economics are under assault. Why should we care? After all, they were unrealistic in the first place. And yet they did lead us to some definite conclusions about a wide variety of matters regarding economic theory, applied economics, and policy economics. A consensus seemed to be forming that markets, if not efficient in the strong sense, were at least subject to strong corrective pressures. Now the collection of biases we have accumulated makes it seem like a miracle that markets work at all. We must now not only worry about market failure but we must think about “decisionmaking failure.” People cannot be relied upon to pursue their own interests effectively in matters from deciding how many potato chips to eat to whether to join an employer-sponsored retirement savings program. They might also choose the wrong bank account because of fees for add-on services (like overdraft protection) that are not made salient enough. People cannot be simply given information about the dangers of smoking; they must be subject to worse-case scenarios (biased in themselves) to offset other biases that plague decisionmaking. But many biases move in opposite directions. Others cannot be quantified very accurately. More importantly, biases are being sought. Many researchers stop when they have found one or more.

All this is fueled by several factors. Young economists want to make a name for themselves. The most direct way is to overturn some conventional wisdom. Much of that is based on models that assume agent rationality. So now we get results in public economics that if you don’t make sales taxes salient, that is, don’t add the tax on to the price label before checkout, the taxes will not have much of an effect on demand. When you do, demand for the product will fall. (I wonder what happens if tomorrow all price labels for all products include the tax – will the demand to hold money increase and a recession start?) Another factor is the demand for policy measures by politicians who need to keep providing services. If new (behavioral) problems can be found then new solutions can be proposed. This demand and incentive to respond to it must be great because even articles that are primarily theoretical have some discussion of the possible policy relevance of the model. A third factor is the decades-old mindset of fine-tuning. For example, in a world of scores of biases, all sorts of things can go wrong in financial markets. So why not have regulators with a broad mandate to curb systemically problematic behavior? There can be no end to the possible perverse biased behavior that these regulators need to monitor and control. The approach that Milton Friedman and others preferred was to establish clear general rules. Because behavioral biases are so contextual (that is, they come and go depending on the concrete details of the particular case) it is not feasible to rely simply on general rules.

Out of all this comes two problems. First, are they any general lessons we can teach Principles of Economics students or members of the general public? I still think we can teach basic concepts like opportunity cost – unless of course people fall victim to the “sunk costs fallacy” which behavioral economists say they do. Oh well. There must be something… Second, the normative standard of economists has not changed. The ideal is still neoclassically rational behavior. But now that behavior has become so seemingly preposterous that deviations from ideal behavior almost find themselves. Perspective is lost. We wonder how things can ever go right, even though “Paris gets fed.”

I am afraid that the days of the straightforward Economics in One Lesson of Henry Hazlitt or the direct implications of University Economics of Armen Alchian and William Allen are over. You can have almost any set of beliefs about how the economic world operates and have an economic theory to support it.

I do not suggest a solution. None is possible yet because not enough people have faced the problem squarely.

IREF Research Support

I’d like to draw your attention to the following opportunity:

Call for Research Proposals

IREF is a free-market oriented think tank based in France. It promotes ideas, debates, events, and rigorous academic research.

With regard to research, IREF supports original research projects that lead to the production of papers of academic quality of at least 7,000 words. This support is not a prize to published work, nor is it an encouragement to “work in progress”.
The paper must have clear policy implications. It will be circulated as an IREF working paper and the author is expected to publish it in a reputed academic journal.

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Two Tales of Unintended Consequences of Monetary Policy – Tale 1

by Nicolás Cachanosky and Andreas Hoffmann

Even when a policy is successful in achieving its desired ends, we have to consider its unintended and unforeseen consequences, resulting from cumulative market adjustments to policy changes that make it hard to judge the overall outcome of a policy in our complex economy. The Federal Reserve and European Central Bank’s monetary policy responses to the 2008 financial crisis offer two tales of major unintended consequences. This post discusses unintended outcomes of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s crisis policies. In our next post, we address ECB policies.

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