Some good ideas take a long time to gain acceptance. When Adam Smith argued forcefully against tariffs in his 1776 classic The Wealth of Nations, he was very much in the minority among thinkers and policy-makers. Today, the vast majority of economists agree with Smith and most countries officially support free trade. Index investing, sometimes called “passive investing,” has taken somewhat less time to gain acceptance.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail inviting me to sign a statement drafted by a group calling itself “Economists Concerned by Hillary Clinton’s Economic Agenda.” The statement, a vaguely worded five paragraph denunciation of Democratic policies (and proposed policies) is unremarkable — as are the authors, a collection of reliably conservative policy makers and commentators whose support for Donald Trump appear with some regularity in the media.
Inspired by the 11 Tony awards won by the smash Broadway hit Hamilton, last month I wrote about Alexander Hamilton as the father of the US national debt and discussed the huge benefit the United States derives from having paid its debts promptly for more than two hundred years. Despite that post, no complementary tickets to Hamilton have arrived in my mailbox. And so this month, I will discuss Hamilton’s role as the founding father of American central banking.
have not yet seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show Hamilton. I feel badly about this for three reasons. First, Miranda is a 2002 Wesleyan graduate, a loyal and generous alumnus who gave a great commencement speech in 2015 and remains solidly committed to the university. Second, the music and lyrics are, quite simply, amazing. Third, as an economic historian, it is heartening to see one of America’s economic heroes make it to Broadway.
One of the issues that distinguishes Donald Trump from mainstream Republicans — aside from his bigotry towards Mexicans, women, and Muslims—is his opposition to free trade, which has been a staple of Republican ideology since shortly after World War II.
It is hard to imagine two politicians that are further apart ideologically than Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Nonetheless, these two presidential candidates have a lot in common: their outsider status, their unrealistic fiscal plans, and a desire to punish foreigners for America’s economic problems.
On 23 June, British voters will go to the polls to decide whether the UK should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave it in a maneuver the press has termed “Brexit.” As of late April, public opinion polls showed the “remain” and “exit” sides running neck– and — neck, with a large share of the electorate still undecided. The economic arguments for remaining in the EU are overwhelming. The fact that the polls are so close suggests that a substantial portion of the British electorate is being guided not by economic arguments, but by blind commitment to ideology.
In the 1983 movie The Right Stuff, during a test of wills between the Mercury Seven astronauts and the German scientists who designed the spacecraft, the actor playing astronaut Gordon Cooper asks: “Do you boys know what makes this bird fly?” Before the hapless engineer can reply with a long-winded scientific explanation, Cooper answers: “Funding!” If an economist were asked, “Do you know what makes this economy fly?” the answer, in one word, would be “trust.”
Last month HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, decided not to move its headquarters from London to Hong Kong.The revelation that a company is staying put is usually not earth-shattering news. Nonetheless, HSBC’s decision made headlines in Asia, Europe, and the US for three reasons. First, HSBC is the world’s fifth largest commercial bank: it holds more than $2.5 trillion in assets and is exceeded in size only by four state-owned Chinese banks.
The Chinese New Year begins on 8 February, ushering out the year of the sheep (or goat, or ram) and bringing in the year of the monkey. People in China will enjoy a week-long vacation and will celebrate with dragon dances and fireworks. Given the financial fireworks emanating from China, this is a good time to briefly review some of the major economic news coming out of the Middle Kingdom.
Economists are better at history than forecasting. This explains why financial journalists sound remarkably intelligent explaining yesterday’s stock market activity and, well, less so when predicting tomorrow’s market movements. And why I concentrate on economic and financial history. Since 2015 is now in the history books, this is a good time to summarize a few main economic trends of the preceding year.
Seven years ago this month the federal funds rate—a key short-term interest rate set by the Federal Reserve—was lowered below 0.25%. It has remained there ever since.Lowering the fed funds rate to rock-bottom levels did not come as a surprise. The sub-prime mortgage crisis led to a severe economic contraction, the Great Recession, and Federal Reserve policy makers used low interest rates—among other tools—in an effort to revive the economy.
With elections just about a year away, Americans can expect to hear a lot about regulation during the next twelve months—most of it from Republicans and most of it scathing. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump typifies the GOP’s attitude toward regulation.
Unlike fine wine, bad ideas don’t improve with age. One such idea is the Invest in Transportation Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY), which would institute a temporary tax cut on profits brought back to the United States by American firms from their overseas operations and use the proceeds to fund investment in transportation infrastructure.
Once again, one of President Obama’s major legislative initiatives is being battered by a hostile Congress. Only this time, it is not Republicans standing in the way of the Administration’s plans, but the Democratic minority in the US Senate holding up the president’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. The TPP is an ambitious trade deal currently being negotiated between eleven countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, United States, Singapore and Vietnam.
On May 7, British voters will head to the polls to elect a new Parliament. If mid-April forecasts are correct, the formation of a government will be a bit more complicated than in elections past. The results of those elections will have important ramifications for the conduct of economic policy in both Britain and the European Union. For most of the last two centuries, British governments have been formed by one of the two major political parties of the time.