Blogging in the Age of Trump

I haven’t written anything for this blog in the past month. Or rather, I’ve written quite a bit, but nothing I’ve felt comfortable posting. No surprise why.

On the one hand, I have — like everyone — opinions about the election, and the coming Trump presidency and broader Republican ascendancy. But none of those opinions seem especially insightful or original or coherent, and most of them I don’t hold with great confidence. I’m also not sure that this space is the right one for discussions of political strategy: Readers of this blog don’t constitute the kind of community for which the question “what should we do?” makes sense.

But on the other hand, it doesn’t feel right — it doesn’t feel possible — to just go on posting about the same economic questions as before, as if nothing has changed. Even if, in important ways, nothing has. And it still seems too soon to know where the terrains of struggle will be under the new administration, or to guess how the economic debates will reorient themselves along the new political field lines.

I’ve felt stuck. I know I’m not the only one who feels like they have nothing useful to say.

But you still have to get up in the morning, you still have to go to your job, you have to teach your classes, you have to write blog posts. So, back to work.

Links for May 25, 2016

Deliberately. The IMF has released its new Debt Sustainability Analysis for Greece. Frances Coppola has the details, and they are something. Per the IMF,

Demographic projections suggest that working age population will decline by about 10 percentage points by 2060. At the same time, Greece will continue to struggle with high unemployment rates for decades to come. Its current unemployment rate is around 25 percent, the highest in the OECD, and after seven years of recession, its structural component is estimated at around 20 percent. Consequently, it will take significant time for unemployment to come down. Staff expects it to reach 18 percent by 2022, 12 percent by 2040, and 6 percent only by 2060.

Frances adds:

For Greece’s young people currently out of work, that is all of their working life. A whole generation will have been consigned to the scrapheap. …

The truth is that seven years of recession has wrecked the Greek economy. It is no longer capable of generating enough jobs to employ its population. The IMF estimates that even in good times, 20 percent of adults would remain unemployed. To generate the jobs that are needed there will have to be large numbers of new businesses, perhaps even whole new industries. Developing such extensive new productive capacity takes time and requires substantial investment – and Greece is not the most attractive of investment prospects. Absent something akin to a Marshall Plan, it will take many, many years to repair the damage deliberately inflicted on Greece by European authorities and the IMF in order to bail out the European banking system.

For some reason, that reminds me of this. Good times.

Also, here’s the Economist, back in 2006:

The core countries of Europe are not ready to make the economic reforms they so desperately need—and that will change, alas, only after a diabolic economic crisis. … The sad truth is that voters are not yet ready to swallow the nasty medicine of change. Reform is always painful. And there are too many cosseted insiders—those with secure jobs, those in the public sector—who see little to gain and much to lose. … One reason for believing that reform can happen … is that other European countries have shown the way. Britain faced economic and social meltdown in 1979; there followed a decade of Thatcherite reform. … The real problem, not just for Italy and France but also for Germany, is that, so far, life has continued to be too good for too many people.

I bet they’re pretty pleased right now.



Polanyism. At Dissent, Mike Konczal and Patrick Iber have a very nice introduction to Karl Polanyi. One thing I like about this piece is that they present Polanyi as a sort of theoretical back-formation for the Sanders campaign.

The vast majority of Sanders’s supporters … are, probably without knowing it, secret followers of Karl Polanyi. …

One of the divides within the Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton has been between a social-democratic and a “progressive” but market-friendly vision of addressing social problems. Take, for example, health care. Sanders proposes a single-payer system in which the government pays and health care directly, and he frames it explicitly in the language of rights: “healthcare is a human right and should be guaranteed to all Americans regardless of wealth or income.” … Sanders offers a straightforward defense of decommodification—the idea that some things do not belong in the marketplace—that is at odds with the kind of politics that the leadership of the Democratic Party has offered … Polanyi’s particular definition of socialism sounds like one Sanders would share.


Obamacare and the insurers. On the subject of health care and decommodification, I liked James Kwak’s piece on Obamacare.

The dirty not-so-secret of Obamacare … is that sometimes the things we don’t like about market outcomes aren’t market failures—they are exactly what markets are supposed to do. …  at the end of the day, Obamacare is based on the idea that competition is good, but tries to prevent insurers from competing on all significant dimensions except the one that the government is better at anyway. We shouldn’t be surprised when insurance policies get worse and health care costs continue to rise.

It’s too bad so many intra-Democratic policy debates are conducted in terms of the radical-incremental binary, it’s not really meaningful. You can do more or less of anything. Would be better to focus on this non-market vs market question.

In this context, I wish there’d been some discussion in the campaign of New York’s new universal pre-kindergarten, which is a great example incremental decommodification in practice. Admittedly I’m a bit biased — I live in New York, and my son will be starting pre-K next year. Still: Here’s an example of a social need being addressed not through vouchers, or tax credits, or with means tests, but through a universal public services, provided — not entirely, but mainly and increasingly — by public employees. Why isn’t this a model?


The prehistory of the economics profession. I really liked this long piece by Marshall Steinbaum and Bernard Weisberger on the early history of the American Economics Association. The takeaway is that the AEA’s early history was surprisingly radical, both intellectually and in its self-conception as part of larger political project. (Another good discussion of this is in Michael Perelman’s Railroading Economics.) This is history more people should know, and Steinbaum and Weisberger tell it well. I also agree with their conclusion:

That [the economics profession] abandoned “advocacy” under the banner of “objectivity” only raises the question of what that distinction really means in practice. Perhaps actual objectivity does not require that the scholar noisily disclaim advocacy. It may, in fact, require the opposite.

The more I struggle with this stuff, the more I think this is right. A field or discipline needs its internal standards to distinguish valid or well-supported claims from invalid or poorly supported ones. But evaluation of relevance, importance, correspondence to the relevant features of reality can never be made on the basis of internal criteria. They require the standpoint of some outside commitment, some engagement with the concrete reality you are studying distinct from your formal representations of it. Of course that engagement doesn’t have to be political. Hyman Minsky’s work for the Mark Twain Bank in Missouri, for example, played an equivalent role; and as Perry Mehrling observes in his wonderful essay on Minsky, “It is significant that the fullest statement of his business cycle theory was published by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.” But it has to be something. In economics, I think, even more than in other fields, the best scholarship is not going to come from people who are only scholars.


Negative rates, so what. Here’s a sensible look at the modest real-world impact of negative rates from Brian Romanchuk. It’s always interesting to see how these things look from the point of view of market participants. The importance of a negative policy rate has nothing to do with the terms on which present consumption trades off against future consumption, it’s about one component of the return on some assets relative to others.


I’m number 55. Someone made a list of the top 100 economics blogs, and put me on it. That was nice.

On Other Blogs, Other Wonders

Some links for Nov. 1:

A few links

This Friday, November 6, Mike Konczal and I will be releasing the next piece of the Roosevelt Institute Financialization Project, two reports on “short-termism” in American corporations and financial markets. One report, written by me, is a followup to the Disgorge the Cash report from this spring, addressing a bunch of the most common objections to the argument that pressure for high payouts is undermining investment. (Some of this material has appeared here on the blog, but a lot of it is new.) The other report is a ten-point policy proposal for addressing short-termism, written by Mike, me, and my former student Amanda Page-Hongrajook. There will be an event for the release in DC, featuring Senator Tammy Baldwin. Hopefully it will get some attention from policymakers and the press.


I was pleased to see this new paper from the central bank of Norway, which draws on my work with Arjun Jayadev  on debt dynamics. The key point in the Norges Bank paper is that we have to think of debt as evolving historically, not chosen de novo in response to the current “fundamentals.” More concretely: given significant debt inherited from the past, an increase in interest rates will lead to higher, not lower, debt. The shorthand that change in debt is the same as new borrowing, is not a reliable guide to the historical evolution of leverage.

From the paper:

Macroeconomic models typically assume that households refinance their debt each period … with the implication that the entire stock of debt responds swiftly to shocks and policy changes. This simplifying assumption might be useful and innocuous for many purposes, but cannot be relied upon in the current policy debate, where a central question regards if and how monetary policy should respond to movements in household debt. The likely performance of such policies can only be evaluated within frameworks that realistically account for debt dynamics. …

The evidence that perhaps most convincingly points toward the need for distinguishing between new borrowing and existing debt, is the empirical decomposition of US household debt dynamics by Mason and Jayadev (2014). They account for how the “Fisher” factors inflation, income growth and interest rates have contributed to the evolution of US debt-to-income, in addition to the changes in borrowing and lending, since 1929. Their findings clearly show how the dynamics of debt-to-income cannot be attributed to variation in borrowing alone, but has been strongly influenced by the Fisher factors, and often has gone in the opposite direction of households’ primary deficits. …

Discussions of household debt tend to implicitly assume that variation in debt-to- income ratios reflect active shifts in borrowing and lending, which is misguided….  With plausible debt dynamics, interest rate changes have far weaker influence on household debt than a conventional one-quarter debt model implies. Moreover, with long-term debt the qualitative effect of a policy tightening on household debt-to-GDP is likely to be positive..

The bulk of the paper is an attempt to incorporate these ideas into a DSGE model, which I have misgivings about. But that hardly matters since they’ve so clearly grasped the important point.


In the other-than-economics department, here’s a New York Observer article by Will Boisvert from a little while back on universal pre-K. Will is not a big fan of New York’s universal pre-K program, or of the education-based arguments used to promote it. Now, as a New York City parent of a small child, I’m very grateful that UPK exists. And I’m very impressed that the DeBlasio team were able to roll it out as fast as they did — it’s hard to think of another universal entitlement that was implemented so quickly. But Will’s central critique seems on the mark to me. UPK is primarily a benefit for parents — we should mainly think of it as publicly funded daycare. But for various reasons, it’s been sold by its contribution to the human capital formation of 4-year olds, not by the ways it makes parenthood less of a burden for working- and middle-class families. Will’s argument — and here I’m not sure I’m with him — is that this has had real costs in the way the program is structured.

(Incidentally, one of my first published pieces was a rather unfriendly article about current Observer editor Ken Kurson.)


Over at the Angry Bear blog, the very smart Robert Waldmann has got himself worked up over the fact that real private investment has for the first times since 1947 surpassed real government consumption and investment (I > G in the language of the national income identity.) Unfortunately, there is no such fact.

“Real” I and G are index numbers; you cannot compare their magnitudes. All you can compare is dollars. And in terms of dollars, government consumption and investment, at $3.2 trillion, remains slightly higher than private domestic investment, at $3 trillion. In fact, Waldmann’s claim is almsot the opposite of the truth: the current expansion is the first one since the early 1970s in which private investment has not passed government final spending, at least not yet.

“Real” values are supposed to refer to quantities of stuff, not quantities of money. So Waldmann’s claim that real I is greater than real G is equivalent to the claim that the country is producing more kindergarten classes than steel. Talking about the change in the “real” quantity of steel, or in the “real” number of kindergarten classes, is in principle straightforward: just add up tons or bodies in classrooms, as the case may be. But how do you compare the two? Only via their prices. The problem is, the relative price of kindergarten classes and steel varies over time. So which is greater than which, and by how much, will depend on which year’s prices you use. In the case of I and G, if we use current prices, we find that G is slightly greater than I. If we use 2009 prices, as Waldmann does, we find that I is slightly greater than G. If we use, say, 1950 prices, we find that I is almost three times G. Which of these is “true”? None of them — when you’re comparing index numbers, absolute magnitudes are completely arbitrary. And again, when we compare dollar amounts, which are objective, we see that G remains comfortably above I. [1]

I’m not calling attention to this just to pick a fight. (UPDATE: Waldmann now agrees, so no fight to pick.) It’s because I think it’s revealing about the way inflation adjustment confuses people, and especially economists. Even someone as smart and critical-minded as Waldmann can get sucked into treating “real” values as objective measures of physical stuff.


I haven’t been following the Argentine elections closely, but it seems clear that the resolution of the Argentine default is an important frontline in the war between money and humanity. So we have to be interested in whether the elections are won by the candidate promising surrender to the creditors. On the larger set of issues at stake there, I recommend this piece by Marc Weisbrot, whose stuff on Argentina is in general very good.


There’s an interesting conversation going on about the “natural rate of interest.” Here’s one way to think about it. If the government buys enough peanuts, it can presumably raise aggregate demand to the economy to full employment, and/or to a level consistent with some inflation target. Should we call whatever peanut price results from this policy “the natural price of peanuts”? And is there any reason to think that this price, whatever it might be, will be the same as in a Walrasian economy that somehow corresponds to our own “in the absence of distortions or rigidities”? Now substitute bonds for peanuts — to talk about the natural rate of interest means answering both questions Yes.

Anyway, I think Tyler Cowen is mostly on target here.


I was talking about econ blogs at the bar the other night, and there was a general consensus that none of us read as many of them as we used to. Maybe the econblogging moment is over? Still, there are lots of them that are worth your time, if you’re reading this. Here are a few economics blogs I’ve recently started reading regularly: Perry Mehrling; Brian Romanchuk; Marshall Steinbaum. Perry has of course been writing great stuff for decades but he’s only recently taken up blogging. So I think there’s still some life in the format.


[1] Altho it is striking how the trajectory of G has flattened out under Obama. 2010-2015 is the first five-year period since World War II in which there was zero growth in nominal government consumption and investment. The only reason G is still above I, is because private investment fell so steeply between 2006 and 2010. So maybe Waldmann is onto something after all?

Planned Service Changes

[Edit, 4-30-14: I put this post up a week ago and then took it down after a few hours because, seriously, there is no way I am going on hiatus. But apparently it’s bad form to put a post up and then delete it, so in the interests of historical integrity I’m putting it back.]

This blog has never had a high volume of posts, but it’s going to drop to zero for the next few months.

As some of you know, I’m in the final stages of my PhD at UMass-Amherst (the Gondor of the austerity wars). I’ve been working on this thing for quite a few years, and could happily work on it quite a few more — except, damn it, I went and got a job. Starting next fall, I’ll be an assistant professor in the economics department at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

It’s a good job. I like the department a lot: it’s unapologetically heterodox and serves mostly working-class students; I like my new colleagues and I don’t mind moving back to Chicago, where I lived for most of the ’90s. Of course my mother thinks I should be at Harvard, and I do harbor fantasies of teaching at the PhD level. But that’s not going to happen, and short of that, Roosevelt is about ideal for me. So I’m happy.

But! I do have to get the dissertation done and defended before then. So, rewarding as this blog is — and it really is rewarding; I think I have the best readers in the econosphere — I need to shut it down. Next post you see from me, will be after the thesis is submitted. slow the pace of posting, from its already low levels.

Honestly, you probably won’t even notice the difference.

In Comments: The Lessons of Fukushima

I’d like to promise a more regular posting schedule here. On the other hand, seeing as I’m on the academic job market this fall (anybody want to hire a radical economist?) I really shouldn’t be blogging at all. So on balance we’ll probably just keep staggering along as usual.

But! In lieu of new posts, I really strongly recommend checking out the epic comment thread on Will Boisvert’s recent post on the lessons of Fukushima. It’s well over 100 comments, which while no big deal for real blogs, is off the charts here. But more importantly, they’re almost all serious & thoughtful, and number evidently come from people with real expertise in nuclear and/or alternative energy. Which just goes to show: If you bring data and logic to the conversation, people will respond in kind.

Posts in Three Lines

I don’t know what other peoples’ experience is, blogging, but me, I find myself thinking about far more posts than I ever manage to put on electronic paper. Seems like if one can’t write them, at least one should write down the idea of them. So here is some of what I wish I’d wrote.

The paranoid hypothesis on European austerity. Maybe the ruling class in Europe isn’t so confused, maybe the crisis, like the Euro project in general, is an effort to do an end run around European national-democratic institutions, where social democracy is still stubbornly implanted. This is the thesis, mostly implicit, of Perry Anderson’s The New Old World, and more explicitly of the NLR discussion of the same. Jerry Epstein offers some supporting evidence at Triple Crisis.
What’s So Effective About Effective Demand? There’s a conventional understanding that “effective demand” means demand backed by money; no, that’s just demand. Keynes introduced the term specifically to call attention to the way actual expenditure depends on expected income, and the possibility of multiple self-consistent expectation equilibria. Think effect as in “in effect,” not “having effect.”
Margaret. It’s a good movie, you should see it. It’s dialectical. Best thing I’ve been to in a while.
Honest Signals: Thoughts Around Mary Gaitskill. Her stories are the best fiction I’ve read in the past couple years; she’s attuned, like almost no one else, to the way we are both free reasoning selves and embodied social animals. Her collection Don’t Cry is particularly attuned to the “honest signals” we use to communicate unconsciously, a kind of natural telepathy, and ways in which our moral and physical selves don’t quite coincide. I’ve been writing this post in my head for the past year and change.
Larry Summers and the Anti-QE. He wants the government to take advantage of transitory low rates to adopt a more favorable financing position. Fine, except this is precisely the opposite of what quantitative easing is supposed to be doing. In general, sound finance for government is the opposite of Keynesianism; the Keynesian view is that government financing decisions should be taken with an eye to their effect on private, not public, balance sheets.
The Future Is Stasis. Everyone knows the Fermi paradox, almost everyone knows its updated version as the Great Filter. My opinion, this is almost certain proof that the future is socialism, or rather socialism or extinction. Humans will never live anywhere but Earth.
Low interest rates, really? My next project with Arjun Jayadev is a short paper arguing that, contrary to conventional wisdom, interest rates in the past decade were not historically low. The central bank does not set “the” interest rate. For business borrowers, in particular, changes in the Fed Funds rate have very little effect on credit conditions. 
The logic of business cycles. I’m still struggling with the monetarist/New Keynesian thesis that a less than full employment state of aggregate demand is just equivalent to an excess demand for money, or for some set of financial assets. Leijonhufvud argues that this is the case in the downturn, but that there is then an unemployment quasi-equilibrium in which all markets clear except for a notional excess supply of labor. Seems right.
Tobin’s article, “Commercial Banks as Creators of Money.” 1963. An old one, but a bad one. Sometimes it’s worth reviving old arguments.

Crotty on Keynes on politics. One of the best things about studying economics at the University of Massachusetts was learning Keynes from Jim Crotty. What’s tragic is that his book on Keynes’ political vision has never been published, so no one who hasn’t sat in his classroom knows Crotty’s Keynes. I should disseminate some of it here.
Relitigating the ACA. Well, we are. Which means we need to revisit the individual mandate, a right-wing approach to health care that inexplicably migrated almost overnight to the liberal side. The economic arguments for it, IMO, remain bullshit; the ethical and political arguments are worse.
Adventures in Central Bank Independence. It’s increasingly at least somewhat recognized that Bernanke’s policies as a central banker in the face of an incipient depression fall more than a bit short of what he advocated as an academic. Best piece on this evolution I’ve seen is by Laurence Ball. Krugman’s cited it, but he left out some sordid details.

Graeber’s Debt. Don’t care what anyone says, it’s the best book I read last year. The final section — on the last half century — is weaker than the rest of it, but it’s still got a higher rate of brilliancies per page than any other piece of social science I’ve read since I don’t know when. Plus, the dude practically started OWS.

“Mortal Beings Cannot Hold Land to Maturity.” The special place of very long-lived assets in our economy doesn’t get the attention it deserves. (Hello Henry George!) It’s arguable that most investment is technologically longer-lived than it optimally should be, and the rents from the “excess” assets (and of course land) constitute some of the most politically important classes under modern capitalism.

Classics: A Pattern Language. I’d like to write a bunch of posts on books you ought to read. This would be the first one. Utopian architecture theory from the 1970s: how the world should be, from the scale of cities down to the chairs in your kitchen.

One could write lots more hypothetical posts, I certainly won’t write all of them. Maybe, with some luck, two or three. So I admit this exercise is a little pointless: Map is not territory. But if you’re short on territory, it can be fun to draw maps.

UPDATE: It looks like this is now a thing.

Welcome Wonkupy

When I first started reading blogs a decade ago (I’m pretty sure the first blogpost I ever read was one of these Eschaton posts on Trent Lott) there was a distinctly truncated Left in the blog world, especially on economics. Just mainstream liberals, conservatives, and libertarians as far as the eye could see. Which, what else is new, right? Except that it really wasn’t true of mailing lists, the predecessor medium, where you had super active lists like PEN-L and LBO Talk. I used to wonder if there was something specific about the formats that made mailing lists more hospitable to radical politics. Like, flatteringly, maybe we prefer collective discussions rather than one-man shows? Anyway, the question is moot now, because there’s certainly no shortage of left/radical blogs now, economics-oriented and otherwise.

All of which is a long-winded introduction to introducing a new progressive economics blog, Wonkupy. It’s by “Rotwang,” a very sharp comrade who needs to remain pseudonymous for professional reasons. It bills itself as “Occupy for wonks,” but my sense is it’s going to be more the other way round; well worth reading either way.

That said, I have some disagreements with his current post, arguing that criticism of private equity is a distraction. I put them in comments there, but since it touches on some regular themes at the Slack Wire, I thought I’d post an abridged version here.

Rotwang’s argument is that it’s wrong to suggest that buyouts and takeovers of firms by private equity funds and the like have any systematic effect on the way those firms are managed: profit maximization at the expense of workers and the pubic is the order of the day whether the bosses are vulture capitalists or just the regular kind. (It’s sort of a political-economic version of the Modigliani-Miller theorem.) Rotwang:

In [private equity] discussions, it is easy to focus on outright theft, abuse of borrowing, and inefficient government subsidies. We suggest this is not unique to PE, but is generic to Capitalism. One could imagine regulatory responses to such problems, but we insist the problems are part of the system, not tumorous growths on something otherwise fundamentally healthy. A narrow focus on PE glosses over the features it shares in common with Capitalism in general, now and throughout history. The narrow view plays to limited and ineffective remedies that fail to engage the long-standing, systematic problems of capital markets.

I disagree — tentatively on the substance, but emphatically on this way of framing it.

Suppose for the moment it’s true that the problems with private equity are no different from the problems with capitalism in general. I still don’t think that’s a valid reason to not talk about private equity in particular. After all, “X in general” is just all the specific instances of X. To the extent that the way productive enterprises are treated by PE firms like Bain is a representative example of why an economy oriented around the private pursuit of profit is incompatible with a humane and decent society, I don’t see what’s wrong with starting with it as a particularly vivid and timely example. Of course you have to then move on to a more general critique — there’s nothing that stops management at companies that aren’t subject to buyouts from acting like Bain, and many do — but a ban on discussion of particular cases doesn’t smooth the way to that general critique.

The other question is, is it really true that there is no difference between what a firm like Bain does and what a “normal” capitalist firm does? Rotwang writes, “From the worker’s standpoint, it makes little difference if her life is ruined by PE or by old management,” which is inarguable. But are we sure ruination is equally likely in either case?

It seems to me that while capitalist firms always pursue profit, and this pursuit is always ultimately inimical to the interests of workers, it’s not always equally single-minded. Managers want their firms (and themselves personally) to make money, but they also want them to survive, to grow, to gain market share, to be perceived as prestigious, cutting-edge, etc., and, in a non-trivial number of cases, to make genuinely good products by whatever objective standard of the business that they’re in. To the extent that finance exercises more active control of the firm, those other motives get subordinated to pure pursuit of profits. And I think that does tend to make life worse for their workers, and communities and customers, and everyone else who depends on the business as an ongoing enterprise.

No question, there is (or was; is Occupy still a thing?) a strong anti-finance vibe around OWS. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing that — especially in its weirder Ron Paulish forms — but it seems to me this is a case where “Yes, and” is distinctly preferable to “no, but”. For some people, a criticism of private equity may be an alternative to a broader critique of capitalism, but for many more, I suspect, it’s a starting point towards it.

On Other Blogs, Other Wonders

1. Are Banks Necessary?

Ashwin at Macroeconomic Resilience had a very interesting post last month arguing that the fundamental function of banks — maturity transformation — is no longer required. Historically, the reason banks existed was to bridge the gap between ultimate lenders’ desire for liquid, money-like assets and borrowers’ need to fund long-lived capital goods with similarly long-term liabilities. Banks intermediate by borrowing short and lending long; in some sense, that’s what defines them. But as Ashwin argues, today, on the one hand, we have pools of longer-term savings for which liquidity is not so important, at least in principle, in the form of insurance and pension funds, which are large enough to meet all of businesses’ and households’ financing needs; while on the other hand the continued desire for liquid assets can be met by lending directly to the government which — as long as it controls its own currency — can’t be illiquid and so doesn’t have to worry about maturity mismatch. It’s a very smart argument; my only quibble is that Ashwin interprets it as an argument for allowing banks to fail, while it looks to me like an argument for not having them in the first place.

Another way of reaching the same conclusion, in line with recent posts here, is that you can avoid much of the need for maturity transformation, and the other costs of intermediation, including the rentiers’ vig, if business investment is financed by the business’s own saving.  In comments to the Macroeconomic Resilience post, Anders (I don’t think the same Anders who comments here) points to some provocative comments by Izabella Kaminska in a Financial Times roundtable:

An FT view from the top conference, with Martin Wolf moderating. He said an interesting thing re. all the cash on the balance sheets of American corporates. That for many US corporates, banks have become completely redundant, they just don’t need them. … The rise of the corporate treasury, investing wisely on its own behalf. Banks have failed at the one job they were supposed to do well, which was credit intermediation… No wonder banks have sought ever more exotic creative financing options .. their traditional business is dying. They’re not lending, can’t lend. So corporates are inadvertently acting by piling up cash reserves to solve that problem…. [You] see lots of examples of Corporates who don’t trust banks. … it’s amazing to think that we have come this far in the last two years… to a point where people like Larry Fink are suggesting banks are pointless.

This is part of the story of Japan’s Lost Decade that Krugman doesn’t talk about much, but that Richard Koo puts right at the heart of the story: By the mid 1980s, Japanese corporations could finance almost all of their investment needs internally, but the now-redundant banking system didn’t shrink, but found a reason for continued existence in financing real estate speculation. Banks may be pointless, but that doesn’t mean they’ll go away on their own.

2. Are Copyrights Necessary?

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more discussion in the blogosphere of this new working paper by Joel Waldfogel on copyright and new music production. (Summary here.) Has Yglesias even mentioned it? It’s totally his thing: an empirical study of whether file-sharing has reduced the amount of good music being produced, where “good” is measured by radio airplay, and various critics’ best-of lists. Which, whatever, but you’ve got to measure it somehow, right? And, oh yeah, the answer is No:

We find no evidence that changes since Napster have affected the quantity of new recorded music or artists coming to market. … While many producers of recorded music have been made worse off by changes in technology, there is no evidence that the volume of high-quality music, or consumers, have suffered.

Information wants to be free.

3. It’s an Honor Just to Be Nominated

Hey, look, someone at everyone’s favorite site for d-bags with PhDs,, has started a thread on the worst economics blogs. And the first blog suggested is … this one. “Krugnuts times 11,” he says. I think that’ll be the new tagline.

Guest Post from Will Boisvert

Just above this is a long post by Will Boisvert on the relative risks of nuclear power in the light of the Fukushima disaster. It’s very long, but (in my opinion) very worth reading. I haven’t seen any comparably thorough discussion elsewhere.

For whatever it’s worth, while I’m not competent to evaluate every specific factual claim here, on the big picture I’m convinced. Boisvert is right. The practical alternative to nuclear power is fossil fuels, and by every metric fossil fuels are much worse, even setting climate change aside. (Include climate change and fossil fuels are much, much, much worse.) There are quite a few people I respect who don’t agree; I hope they’ll read these piece and take its arguments seriously. The takeaway: “Even if you accept [the worst-case estimates of the death tolls from past nuclear disasters], there is less than a one-in-25 chance that, next year, a Chernobyl-scale nuclear disaster will kill a quarter of a million people; there is a dead certainty that coal power will kill that many.”

I hope Will will post more here in the future, but as always, who knows.

Help, I’m Stuck in a Fortune Cookie Factory

Remember that old joke?

The Slack Wire was hit by a bunch of spam comments just now, which I promptly deleted. Whatever, it’s a blog, happens every day, right? The usual, a bunch of links to sites selling dresses, shoes, thermometers. (Thermometers?)

Except: the text accompanying the links was not the usual spamglish (“Thank You for a Most interesting discution”) or – what the cleverer spambots do – quotes from earlier comments. It was: “This is my job. I am so sorry.”

I’m sorry too, “Amanda.” All the wonderful new forms of creative intellectual work that could be opened up by the Internet, and we’ve stuck you doing this.