Tag Archives: Politics

“Unabhängigkeit der Nationalbank (Independence of the SNB),” FuW, 2020

Finanz und Wirtschaft, July 25, 2020. PDF.

The Swiss National Bank—yes, the Swiss one—feels it must remind politicians of its independence. Parliamentarians from left to right (!) voice demands. To shrink the SNB’s balance sheet? No, for more central bank profits to be distributed sooner rather than later.

I discuss misconceptions, possible motivations, and a constructive response. «The best way to defend the independence of a central bank is never to exercise it.»

Pretend Economists

In Foreign Affairs, Paul Romer criticizes “pretend economists” who pretend that economics—and they themselves—can answer normative questions on scientific grounds. He argues that “pretend economists” open the field to corruption.

The alternative is to make honesty and humility prerequisites for membership in the community of economists. The easy part is to challenge the pretenders. The hard part is to say no when government officials look to economists for an answer to a normative question. Scientific authority never conveys moral authority. No economist has a privileged insight into questions of right and wrong, and none deserves a special say in fundamental decisions about how society should operate. Economists who argue otherwise and exert undue influence in public debates about right and wrong should be exposed for what they are: frauds.

Wealth Inequality and Wealth Taxes

In a series of blog posts, John Cochrane criticizes the Saez-Zucman proposal for higher wealth taxes. In posts #1 to #4 he argues that economic arguments for wealth taxes are inconsistent or not convincing. In post #5 he concludes that Saez-Zucman truly are motivated by political objectives which are grounded in the view that wealth of the rich is ill-gotten or that the rich have a disproportionate, negative influence on politics.

Saez and Zucman want to confiscate billionaires’ wealth, because they think billionaires have too much political power, billionaires all got their money unjustly, and somehow though big government cronyism is the problem, bigger government is the answer.

Cochrane rejects this view.

Entertainment TV, Politics, and Cognitive Skills

In the July issue of the American Economic Review, Ruben Durante, Paolo Pinotti, and Andrea Tesei argue that entertainment TV has shaped Italian politics and affected the cognitive skills of viewers. From the abstract:

We study the political impact of commercial television in Italy exploiting the staggered introduction of Berlusconi’s private TV network, Mediaset, in the early 1980s. We find that individuals with early access to Mediaset all-entertainment content were more likely to vote for Berlusconi’s party in 1994, when he first ran for office. The effect persists for five elections and is driven by heavy TV viewers, namely the very young and the elderly. Regarding possible mechanisms, we find that individuals exposed to entertainment TV as children were less cognitively sophisticated and civic-minded as adults, and ultimately more vulnerable to Berlusconi’s populist rhetoric.

Doing Business, and Politics

The World Bank’s Doing Business project claims to provide

objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 190 economies and selected cities at the subnational and regional level.

In the Wall Street Journal, Josh Zumbrun and Ian Talley report that the ranking must be revised.

Over time, World Bank staff put a heavy thumb on the scales of its report by repeatedly changing the methodology that was used to calculate the country rankings, Mr. Romer said.

The focus of the World Bank’s corrections will be changes that had the effect of sharply penalizing the ranking of Chile under the most recent term of Chile’s outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet.

Paul Romer, the World Bank’s chief economist, apologized.

Update (Jan 16): On his blog, Paul Romer tries to clarify.

Good and Bad International Commitments

On his blog, Dani Rodrik argues that

the fact that an international rule is negotiated and accepted by a democratically elected government does not inherently make that rule democratically legitimate.

Rodrik distinguishes two types of international commitments. On the one hand, there are commitments that help to overcome time-inconsistency problems.

[For example, the government] would like to commit to free trade or to fiscal balance, but realizes that over time it will give in to pressure and deviate from what is its optimal policy ex ante. So it chooses to tie its hands through external discipline. This way, when protectionists and big spenders show up at its door, the government says: “sorry, the WTO or the IMF will not let me do it.” Everyone is better off, save for the lobbyists and special interests. This is the good kind of delegation and external discipline.

On the other hand, there are commitments that mainly serve to tie the hands of current or future political opponents.

From an ex-ante welfare standpoint, this strategy has much less to recommend itself. The future government may have better or worse ideas about government policy, and it is not clear that restricting its policy space is a win-win outcome. This kind of external discipline has much less democratic legitimacy because, once again, it privileges one set of interests against others.

In an earlier contribution, I have argued that a key role of the European Union should be to play the former role.

“Causes of the Transformation of the US Fiscal System in the 1930s,” VoxEU, 2016

VoxEU, October 11, 2016, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. HTML.

  • The US fiscal system underwent a radical transformation around the time of the Great Depression.
  • Perceived cost differences of revenue collection across levels of government, due to general equilibrium effects, can partly explain the rise of tax centralization and intergovernmental grants.
  • We develop a micro-founded general equilibrium model that blends politics and macroeconomics. (See the working paper.)

Science and the Senate

The Economist’s Graphic Detail reports about research documenting that

While the Senate’s interest in science is generally quite low, Senate Democrats are three times more likely than Republicans to follow science-related Twitter accounts like NASA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Interest in science, the authors conclude, “may now primarily be a ‘Democrat’ value”.

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