A topological mapping of explanations and policy solutions to our weak economy

September 21, 2011

This was originally posted at Rortybomb

For the next few posts I need to allude to an ongoing battle of ideas about what is troubling our economy and what solutions are available. I figured it might be a good idea to try and create some sort of topological map of the various clustering of ideas and policies that constitute these arguments as well as the overlap among them. This is a preliminary version of this map: I’d really appreciate your input about what is missing and how to make this better.

From those who think that the problem is related to demand and Keynesian ideas, there tends to be three areas of focus: fiscal policy, monetary policy and the debt hangover in the broken housing market. One can think all three are important – I certainly do – but most think one has priority over the others. Many will think one of the three isn’t in play or particularly useful as a focus of policy and energy. Here’s a rough map. Quotations are ideas, non-quotes are policies and parentheses are people associated with each:

This war of ideas is being fought in white papers and articles, and at academic institutions, policy shops and the blogosphere. As a general resources, here are the best one-stop resources online for most of the bulletpoints above:

Fiscal Policy as Expectation Channel: Woodford on Monetary and Fiscal Policy, Paul Krugman.

Quantatitive Easing: The World Needs Further Monetary Ease, Not an Early Exit, Joe Gagnon.

NGDP Targeting: The Case for NGDP Targeting: Lessons from the Great Recession, Scott Sumner.

Mass Refinancing: Economic Stimulus Through Refinancing — Frequently Asked Questions, R. Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer.

Inflation to help Deleveraging: U.S. Needs More Inflation to Speed Recovery, Say Mankiw, Rogoff, Bloomberg. Overcoming America’s Debt Overhang: The Case for Inflation, Chris Hayes.

Higher Inflation Target: A 2% Inflation Target Is too Low, Brad Delong.

Bankruptcy Reform/Cramdown: January 22nd, 2008 Testimony, Adam Levitin.

Foreclosure Spillovers: Foreclosures, house prices, and the real economy, Atif Mian, Amir Sufi and Francesco Trebbi.

Balance Sheet Recession: U.S. Economy in Balance Sheet Recession: What the U.S. Can Learn from Japan’s Experience in 1990–2005, Richard Koo.

Housing Backlog: There is a Boom Out There Somewhere, Karl Smith. Yes, Virginia, Our Housing Stock Is Now Way, Way Below Trend, Brad Delong.

Debt-for-Equity Swaps: Why Paulson is Wrong, Luigi Zingales.

Debt, Deleveraging, and the Liquidity Trap: Debt, deleveraging, and the liquidity trap, Paul Krugman. Sam, Janet and Fiscal Policy, Paul Krugman.

The flip-side to a demand crisis is a supply crisis, and there’s been a large effort to explain our high unemployment and below-trend growth as the result of supply-side factors. Having surveyed the arguments, I’ve split them into two categories. There are those who think that the government has created an increase in uncertainty. This is from a combination of deficits that scare bond vigilantes/job creators, new regulations that have killed all the potential new jobs as well as the government creating disincentives to work. The second area of focuses is on the productivity of the labor force, with special emphasis on skills mismatch, the characteristics of the long-term unemployed and the idea that something has changed fundamentally in our economy that will keep so many unemployed for the foreseeable future.

I’m making the productivity circle conceptually expansive enough to include “recalculation” stories, though I suppose I could add a third circle in the next version. I tend not to find these arguments convincing, but here are the arguments made in full as best as I could find them online:

European Policies: The U.S. Recession of 2007-201?, Robert Lucas. The classical view of the global recession, Gavyn Davies.

Expansionary Austerity: A Guide for Deficit Reduction in the United States Based on Historical Consolidations That Worked, AEI. Large changes in fiscal policy: taxes versus spending, Alesina and Ardagna.

Liquidate the Homeowners: Are Delays to the Foreclosure Process a Good Thing? Charles Calomiris and Eric Higgins.

Stimulus is Sugar: Geithner Finds His Footing: Zachary Goldfarb.

Two-Deficit Problem, Bond Vigilanties: Spend and Save, Noam Scheiber.

Great Vacation: Compassionate, But Inefficient, Casey Mulligan. The Dirty Secret of Unemployment, Reihan Salam.

Long-Term Unemployed: Potential Causes and Implications of the Rise in Long-Term Unemployment, Andreas Hornstein, Thomas A. Lubik, and Jessie Romero. 10 Percent Unemployment Forever?, Tyler Cowen, Jayme Lemke.

Great Stagnation: The Great Stagnation, Tyler Cowen.

Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade (PSST): PSST vs. the Aggregate Production Function, Arnold Kling.

Labor Mobility: Housing Lock is not a Major Part of this Crisis, Plus Scatterplots of Deleveraging!, Mike Konczal.

So what did I miss? What should go in the next version of this chart?

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