Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mopping Up Excess Reserves

As you probably know, the Fed has expanded base money by roughly 140% over the last couple years. Under normal circumstances, we would expect a rapid increase in the money supply to follow (recall that M = B m, where M is the money supply, B is base money, and m is the money multiplier). However, banks are holding higher reserves (that's in the denominator of m, hence the multiplier is decreasing). So the unprecedented increase in B is being largely offset by the decrease in m. As a result, M1 and M2 have grown slowly.

Bob McTeer asks whether the Fed should "mop up" the excess reserves held by banks:
The idea that the excess reserves held on banks’ balance sheets should be “mopped up” to prevent them being used in inflationary ways later is a very dangerous idea. They are there voluntarily because bankers feel they are needed. To remove them would cause further bank retrenchment, as it did in the 1930s when the Fed decided to “mop up” the excess reserves of that time.

As the economy and confidence improves, banks will begin using their excess reserves more aggressively. At that point, the Fed will have to be very careful not to stifle that desirable activity on the one hand or let it get out of hand and become inflationary on the other hand. Since they have lots of good, two-handed economists, I think they can pull it off.
Should the rapid increase in B over the past few years be mopped up? Absolutely. But when? Ahhh. That is the tricky part. Ideally, we would want B to fall as m returns to normal levels--that is, when banks start lending out their reserves. If the Fed reduces B too quickly or too soon, the money supply will shrink (deflation). If it reduces B too slowly or too late, the money supply will grow (inflation). This, unfortunately, is the knife's edge that central bankers must traverse if they are to maintain monetary equilibrium.

HT: Harry David

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Incentives and Cairo housing

On a recent trip to Cairo, I was struck by two things.

First, there were a lot of run-down apartment buildings. Emphasis on "run down" and "a lot," and interspersed throughout the city. Yes, Egypt isn't the richest country in the world, but it's still a large (read: more than 20 million) city and prevalence of poor buildings was surprising in all areas of the city.

Second, there seemed to be a preponderance of unfinished buildings. This isn't entirely uncommon in Muslim areas but, again, Cairo is a large city and, once more, there was surprising amount of (seemingly non-progressing) construction.

Things like this don't happen without reason; where there's bizarre outcomes, government nonsense isn't usually too far behind. See if you can guess for yourself the government policies that exaggerate these outcomes-- I'll put the answers below the fold.


Monday, July 26, 2010

One Line to Sum Up Somalia

From the NYT:
Somalia’s sheer ungovernability is both its curse and its blessing.
HT: Pete B.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Austrian Capital Theory

From Steve Horwitz @ FEE:
Capital is not like a bucket of water from which we scoop identical cups. Instead, capital goods, including human capital, have a limited number of specific uses to which they can be put. As Peter Boettke puts it, capital is not like Play-Doh, which can be formed into any shape, but like Legos, the versatility of which is limited by the sizes, shapes, and interconnections of the pieces.

Austrians speak of the need for capital to be “complementary” to other capital in order for it to help create an integrated production plan. A producer must have the “right” capital, that is, capital that “fits together.” An important implication here is that “more” capital isn’t always better. What firms need are pieces that fit, not just duplicates of what they already have.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shared Beliefs, Focal Points, and Phone Finding

I lost my phone last Thursday.

Fortunately, I knew exactly where I'd left it. I constantly check the clock on my phone during class to adjust my lecture speed so that I don't spend too much or too little time on any subtopic. Given that I had driven straight home from class, and that I realized I'd left my phone almost immediately upon getting home, I knew it had to be sitting on the podium. But when I returned, it wasn't there.

I figured there were two possibilities:
1. Someone found the phone and decided to keep or sell it.
2. Someone found the phone and attempted to get it back to me.

Obviously, P(1) > 0. There are criminals in the world. However, I reasonably assumed the conditional probability that the person finding my phone was a criminal was quite low. Most likely the person finding my phone would be a college professor, as it was on the podium. There was also a relatively high probability that a student taking summer classes found my phone. Regardless, I'd guess few individuals in these groups are criminals or have access to criminal networks such that reselling the phone would be worth the risk of being caught. There was also a possibility that someone on the cleaning staff located my phone. Now, I'd imagine the probability that cleaners--typically from low-income households--have access to criminal networks would be significantly higher than college professors and students taking summer classes. But the odds that a cleaner found my phone would be low. I teach a morning class and cleaners typically work at night. So scores of people would have to overlook my phone for it to be on the podium when the cleaners arrived in the evening. Hence, I believed P(1) < P(2).

But how would they attempt to get it to me? They did not try to call me. Nor, to my knowledge, did they try to call anyone in my recent calls. Instead, they would likely do what people in our society normally do when the find something that has been lost: drop it off at a lost and found. This is where focal points become important.

Where is the lost and found? As it turns out, there are several options. Here are the most likely:
1. Secretary
2. Campus police
3. Johnson Center Information Desk
4. Student Union Information Desk

A lazy person might just walk over to the secretary in the building where the phone was lost and let her deal with it. But this assumes two things. First, it assumes that the phone finder knows where the secretary is. I am an instructor in that building and (until I actively began looking) I didn't know where her desk was located. Second, it assumes that either (1) I will know to go to the secretary to retrieve my phone or (2) the secretary will know where I'm likely to go and be willing to take the phone there. Note the importance of shared beliefs. The only way this works out is if the phone finder and I or the secretary and I have shared beliefs about what should happen to lost and found phones.

If the secretary option is not particularly salient, perhaps the next option would be the campus police. However, the GMU police station has recently moved from a building relatively close to the class where I lost my phone to the other side of campus. This decreases the likelihood of my phone ending up there for two reasons. First, it requires more effort to get it there than any of the other potentially salient options. Second, given that the change took place recently, it increases the likelihood that either I or the phone finder is not aware of the change and hence decreases the likelihood of a match. Knowing this, even a phone finder aware of the station change might be reluctant to take the phone to the police. Again, note the importance of shared beliefs and knowledge about shared beliefs.

The third option, JC Info desk, has an advantage in that it is right in the center of campus. All the food vendors are located in the JC. Going to any other class or office on campus would likely cause you to walk past the JC. However, the JC is in the opposite direction of the nearest parking lot. So instructors or students showing up for one summer class might have to go out of their way to go to the JC.

The fourth option, the Student Union Info desk, is anything but centrally located and is also off path from the nearest parking lot. While this option might be particularly salient to students, it is not likely to be as salient to instructors. And recall that the phone finder is likely to believe the phone was lost by an instructor since it was on the poduim. Hence, even if it were salient for a student phone finder, the student would have to consider whether it would be salient for me.

So where did the phone finder conclude that I would most likely look for my phone? Well, since I was fortunate enough to retrieve it today, I can tell you. And we can all learn a little something about shared beliefs. Take a guess. The answer is below the fold.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ecuminical (and Financial) Incentives

From Slate:
Working with David Yermack of New York University, the two preachers' sons set out to test the Corinthian hypothesis by investigating the economic incentives affecting the United Methodist clergy of Oklahoma, where Hartzell's stepfather had spent his career. In "Is Higher Calling Enough?" a study forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics, the researchers show that Oklahoma's ministers are driven not just by spiritual motivations but also by high-powered financial incentives. Working with more than 40 years of church records covering more than 2,000 clergy, the authors find that ministers received about a 3 percent share of revenues generated from boosting membership, comparable to the pay-for-profit sensitivity of Fortune 500 CEOs. They also uncover some unfortunate side-effects of financial incentives for ministers who, motivated by material concerns, may have been encouraged to poach congregants from one another's flocks rather than to bring new believers into the fold.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nerd Alert: Econ T-Shirts

I've designed and ordered a couple shirts at Cafe Press. Understanding that the marginal cost [of the design] falls to zero, I have made these designs available in a "shop" so that--if you are as nerdy as I am--you can order them. Here are a few of the Ts.

The first two shirts are related to Pete Boettke's claim that Austrian economists can decide to emphasize the Austrian or the Economics.

The third shirt allows you to channel your inner Scott Sumner and advocate a nominal income target.

Shirt number four is a little less cryptic, allowing your nerdy econ friends to see you support a constant PQ.

And finally, though I imagine few of our readers are interested, there's a shirt w/ the JEL code for "Monetary Systems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System; Payment Systems."

Interested in having your own? It's a little more complicated to order than I would have thought. But details are below the fold. I'm sure there will be more to come, as I really like custom shirts.+/-

For the Teaching Vault: Deadweight Loss

The deadweight loss of Ohio's income tax is LeBron James.*

The deadweight loss of the British Income Tax code is Usain Bolt.

*Incidentally, my first publication was on the state income tax incidence on All Star MLB free agents. Players paid non of the tax.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

New Member of the "Juicing the Mitchell" Club

It is Jason Kuznicki at the League of Ordinary Gentleman (Hat Tip: Zach Wendling). Jason summarizes support for Alvin Irvine's (the improbable SC gubernatorial candidate) proposal to have action figures made of himself to give to children at Christmas:
Compared to endless war, stripping us of our civil liberties, running up giant budget deficits, and all the rest… I have to say I’m all in favor Greene’s proposal. Politicians have limited time. Let’s use it wisely. Or at least use it up.
Indeed, welcome to the club Jason!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

InTrade on LeBron James

As a longtime Cleveland Cavs fan, I have been keeping an eye on the LeBron James resigning saga. Right now, the InTrade odds seem to favor the Bulls, but note that the low volume reveals an internal inconsistency (the probabilities don't add up correctly). For Cavs fans, the disappointing bottom line is that the most liquid market puts only a 29% chance at him returning.