Asset price bubbles

As the various asset price bubbles of the past decades or so inflated, and in some cases burst, there was vigorous debate about what, if anything should be done about them. The two main camps were those who advocated doing nothing, on the grounds that monetary policy should be focused solely on inflation, and those who thought that the settings of monetary policy should take asset prices into account. The first group won the debate at the time, at least as far as actual policy was concerned, with consequences we can all see. Most proponents of the do-nothing viewpoint have conceded defeat

In a paper in the (institutionalist) Journal of Economic Issues, which came out in 2006, Stephen Bell and I took a different view of the debate. We argued that there was little scope to respond to asset bubbles by changing the settings of existing monetary policy instruments, and that “any serious attempt to stabilize financial market outcomes must involve at least a partial reversal of deregulation.” Among other things, we pointed out the fact that given a presumption in favour of financial innovation, asset prices bubbles were inevitable, and that ‘In the absence of a severe failure in the financial system of the United States, it seems unlikely that ideas of a ‘new global financial architecture’ will ever be much more than ideas.’

You can read the full paper
Bell, S. and Quiggin, J. (2006), ‘Asset price instability and policy responses: The legacy of liberalization’, Journal of Economic Issues, XL(3), 629-49.


Quick take on fiscal stimulus package

I’ve been responding to quite a few media questions about the government’s fiscal stimulus package and I haven’t had time to formulate more than a dot-point response. So here goes
* The size of the package is about right and it makes sense to announce it now
* The help for pensioners and low-income households is well-targeted to meet both policy objectives and the need to bolster demand
* I’m less impressed by the increase in the First Homeowners grant. In the long run, this scheme has been part of the problem of high housing costs, not part of the solution. Maybe the government has information suggesting the possibility of a rapid collapse in the housing sector, in which case some sort of emergency stimulus might be necessary. But the medium term direction of house prices has to be down

I don’t think that differs much from the par response from economists, but I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts

Update 19/10More on this from Tristan Ewins

Krugman wins Economics Nobel

Paul Krugman has been awarded the 2008 Nobel prize for economics[1]. The rules of the prize, honoured more in the breach than in the observance in economics, say that it is supposed to be given for a specific discovery, and Krugman is cited for his groundbreaking work in the economics of location done from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.

The reality, though, is that economics prizes are awarded for careers. Krugman’s early work put him on the list of likely Nobelists, but his career took an unusual turn around the time of the 2000 election campaign. While he has still been active in academic research, Krugman’s career for the last eight years or more has been dominated by his struggle (initially a very lonely one) against the lies of the Bush Administration, its supporters and enablers. Undoubtedly, the award of the prize in this of all years, reflects an appreciation of this work on behalf of truth in economics and politics more generally.[2]

The crew at Crooked Timber, of which I’m part, have a more parochial reason for cheering this outcome. Paul has generously agreed to take a part in a CT seminar on the work of Charles Stross, which should be published in the next month or so. Without giving too much away, there are some Nobel-related insights in his contribution.

fn1. Strictly speaking, the Bank of Sweden prize in Economic Sciences in honour of Alfred Nobel, or something like that.
fn2. Doubtless, Republicans will complain about being implicitly identified, yet again, as enemies of science and of truth. But they’ve made their bed and must lie in it (in both senses of the word).

The fiscal policy response to the crisis

With the effective nationalisation of the banking system now accepted as necessary (Australia’s comprehensive guarantees amount to public assumption of the risks of ownership, and hopefully the fees to be paid by the banks will reflect this) attention has turned to the role of fiscal policy.

Getting fiscal policy right involves a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, there is the short-term need for stimulus. On the other hand, the combination of a large stimulus and a bailout/nationalisation package imply big deficits, which will have to be recouped in the future.

In the Australian context, the Opposition is calling for an immediate pension increase and the bringing forward of the next stage of tax cuts. That’s a plausible line, although other opportunities for stimulus through public expenditure need to be explored. But the obvious, though unstated, quid pro quo is that the ‘aspirational’ tax cuts proposed for the next Parliament should be taken off the table. It will take a long time to restore the budget balance after the kind of stimulus that is needed here.

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