Yet More Links on Friedman-Sanders Kerfuffle

Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer, Senator Sanders’s Proposed Policies and Economic Growth.  Finally, one of the “Gang of 4” (as Bill Black has dubbed them) has responded to Friedman’s paper with an actual substantial critique.  From the conclusion:

“The bottom line of our evaluation of Professor Friedman’s analysis is that it is highly deficient.  The estimated demand-induced effects of Senator Sanders’s policies are not just implausibly large but literally incredible. Moreover, even if they were not deeply flawed, Freidman’s enormous estimates of demand-fueled growth could not and would not come to pass. Even very generous estimates of the amount of slack still present in the American economy would not be enough to accommodate demand-driven growth of anything near what Friedman is estimating. As a result, inflation would soar and monetary policy would swing strongly to counteract them. Finally, a realistic evaluation of the impact of Senator Sanders’s policies on productive capacity (something that is neglected in Friedman’s analysis) suggests that those impacts are likely small and possibly negative.

“Though we have been frankly critical of Professor Friedman’s analysis, he has provided a service to public debate by posting his analysis so that other economists can evaluate its validity. We are posting our evaluation in the same spirit.”

James K. Galbraith, Economic Forecasting Models and Sanders Program Controversy. Galbraith comes to Friedman’s defense vigorously, again, by pointing out that they differ from him because of their theoretical assumptions and approach, not because he is in error.  And their theoretical approach has a sorry history.  The gist:

“All forecasting models embody theoretical views. All involve making assumptions about the shape of the world, and about those features, which can, and cannot, safely be neglected. This is true of the models the Romers favor, as well as of Professor Friedman’s, as it would be true of mine. So each model deserves to be scrutinized.

“In the case of the models favored by the Romers, we have the experience of forecasting from the outset of the Great Financial Crisis, which was marked by a famous exercise in early 2009 known as the Romer-Bernstein forecast. According to this forecast (a) the economy would have recovered on its own, in full and with no assistance from government, by 2014, (b) the only effect of the entire stimulus package would be to accelerate the date of full recovery by about six months, and (c) by 2016, the economy would actually be performing worse than if there had been no stimulus at all, since the greater ‘burden’ of the government debt would push up interest rates and depress business investment relative to the full employment level.

“It’s fair to say that this forecast was not borne out: the economy did not fully recover even with the ARRA, and there is no sign of ‘crowding out,’ even now. The idea that the economy is now worse off than it would have been without any Obama program is, to most people, I imagine, quite strange. These facts should prompt a careful look at the modeling strategy that the Romers espouse.”

Justin Wolfers, NYT Upshot blog, Uncovering the Bad Math (or Logic) Behind Bernie Sanders’s Economic Plan. After a phone conversation with Friedman, Wolfers tries to pick apart his analysis based on the Romers’ criticisms of it. “Here’s the problem: Mr. Friedman’s calculations assume that removing a stimulus has no effect. The result is that temporary stimulus has a permanent effect.” But by the end of the article Wolfers claims to have cornered Friedman into admitting that his model doesn’t depend on standard macroeconomic assumptions, but instead depends on “the understanding of an earlier generation of economists–a sub-tribe of Keynesians he called ‘Joan Robinson Keynesians.'” So if Wolfers is concluding that this is based on a theoretical difference, why would he suggest (and why would the Times editors allow him to suggest) that the difference is the result of math errors (or possibly errors in logic)? That would only be true if Friedman were applying the neoclassical models that the Romers and Wolfers rely on. As far as I can tell, the only error Wolfers has revealed is Friedman’s possible assumption at he was relying on standard models. That is only a real error if you assume that the standard models must be correct (and even then, it wouldn’t be a “logical” error!). There are two other problems with the Wolfers piece. One is that he is biased, having worked with David Romer, also also arguably because his partner Betsey Stevenson worked in the Obama administration until recently (and Obama and his economic advisors are supporting Clinton), which he doesn’t disclose. The other is that the title mentions “Bernie Sanders’s Economic Plan,” which mis-describes Friedman’s paper (which hasn’t been endorsed by Bernie Sanders–only mentioned favorably by someone from Sanders’s campaign).

Gerald Friedman, Response to the Romers. This is an exclusive to D&S;  he’ll have more to say soon, I’m sure.  Here’s his response in its entirety: “The Romers, and I suppose other neoclassical macro economists, believe that the economy tends towards full employment equilibrium and will move there on its own without need for government intervention or stimulus. They would acknowledge that following a negative shock, government stimulus spending may accelerate the recovery somewhat, as Bernstein and Romer in 2009 anticipated the Obama stimulus would speed recovery by about 6 months. They deny, however, that stimulus spending could change the permanent level of output because the economy will on its own return to full employment at a capacity output set without regard to the level of employment by factor endowments, by preferences, and by the level of exogenous technology. From this perspective, because a period of prolonged measured slow growth cannot be caused by involuntary unemployment, it must, by a priori assumption, be due to a decline in the exogenously determined growth rate in capacity. Like mosquitos on an otherwise delightful summer afternoon, slow growth is unfortunate but there is little that can safely be done about it.

“Or maybe we can find safe pesticides. Here I agree with John Maynard Keynes that the economy can have a low-employment equilibrium because of a lack of effective demand, and I agree with Nicholas Kaldor and Petrus Verdoorn that productivity and the growth rate of capacity can be increased by policies that push the economy to a higher level of employment. And to the contrary, periods of prolonged unemployment and underutilization of capacity can lower capacity by discouraging workers and reducing the incentive to invest, to innovate, and to raise productivity. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening in the US for the last few years; and, fortunately, there is reason to believe following Keynes/Kaldor/Verdoorn that policy can reverse this decline by pushing the economy to a higher level of output and thus a higher level of productivity. Rather than dismiss the rising output gap as orthodox macro economists have done by assuming that the United States suffered a great loss of efficiency since 2007, I see an economy at low-employment equilibrium where discouraged workers have abandoned the labor market and firms have had little incentive to innovate or to raise productivity. In this situation, additional stimulus can not only temporarily raise output but by priming the pump and encouraging additional private spending and investment, it can push the economy upwards towards capacity. And, beyond because at higher levels of employment, more people will look for work, more businesses will invest, and employment will grow faster and productivity will rise pushing up the growth rate in capacity. That is why I see lasting effects from a government stimulus when, as now, the economy is in a low-employment equilibrium.

“This theoretical point turns on empirical questions: are we 11% below capacity, as I would estimate, or are we 2-4% below, as the Romers suggest? And is capacity set or is it endogenous with respect to output levels; does it rise when the economy approaches capacity? If the Romers were right that the economy is at full employment at capacity utilization, and capacity utilization grows independently of the level of output, then there cannot be a lasting stimulus effect at a fully employed economy. In the Romer case, a stimulus can raise output only temporarily because output depends on capacity and the economy is always at or moving towards capacity. But, if the economy can be stuck at an unemployment equilibrium, if it does not move to a full employment equilibrium, or if a higher employment and output level can trigger a higher growth rate, then a Keynesian-style government stimulus can have lasting effects. Even a one year stimulus can push employment and output to a permanently higher level, and at that higher level it can generate faster growth by pulling more into the labor force and stimulating higher productivity growth. We might call this, the Keynesian-Kaldor case with equilibrium unemployment and growth dependent on the level of the output gap. In the Keynesian-Kaldor case, a one year stimulus can lead to permanently higher output both by reducing unemployment and by raising the growth rate of capacity.

“Gerald Friedman, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
February 27, 2016”

Also, here is Friedman’s new website! http://geraldfriedmanecon.org/

Dean Baker, at his CEPR blog “Beat the Press,” The Romers Do the Numbers on Friedman-Sanders.  Disappointingly (to me, at any rate), Baker sides with the Romers:  “I could quibble with aspects of their critique, but I would say it is basically right. There clearly is still a large amount of slack in the economy which would allow for 2–4 years of exceptionally strong growth (e.g. 4–5 percent). However, it is very hard to envision a story where this sort of growth rate is maintained for a full eight years of a Sanders’ administration.” But I find this puzzling, as did at least one commenter on Baker’s blog: “This seems to be the exact opposite of what the Romers are saying. To Quote: ‘First, standard indicators of slack suggest that the output gap is currently no more than moderate. […] Second, experts think that slack is small. […] This suggests that, at least by this measure, professional forecasters see little if any slack in the current economy.'” 

John Cassidy, The New Yorker, Bernie Sanders and the Case for a New Economic-Stimulus Package.  Seems to side with Friedman against the “Post-Hope Democrats” (as Doug Henwood calls them).

“Having read Friedman’s paper pretty carefully on my return to the United States, I remain deeply skeptical of his projections for G.D.P. growth and productivity. But his analysis, which isn’t an official campaign document, was well worth spending some time with. For one thing, it is the first effort I have seen to quantify how some of Sanders’s proposals, such as raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars and sharply raising taxes on high earners, would reduce income inequality. Friedman outlines a compelling scenario under which the ratio of the average incomes of the richest five per cent of households to the poorest twenty percent would fall from 27.5 to 10.1. And this estimate doesn’t hinge on his own macroeconomic assumptions—it mainly reflects explicit efforts to boost the wages of low-paid workers, and to redistribute post-tax incomes.

“In addition, Friedman makes a valuable contribution to the debate about how we can escape from the New Normal, or secular stagnation, or whatever other label you want to attach to our era of seemingly permanent low growth. To repeat: I think Friedman overstates the likely impact of Sanders’s policies. But he offers a timely reminder that economic growth rates aren’t set in stone, and that changes in policy—particularly those that seek to boost overall demand—can have a substantial impact, even when the official unemployment rate isn’t particularly elevated.”

Paul Starr, Politico, Why Democrats Should Beware Sanders’ Socialism
He’s a socialist, not a liberal—and there’s a big difference.  Ridiculous red-baiting here.  See also On Point with Tom Ashbrook (NPR), Debating Bernie Sanders’ Vision. With Paul Starr doing more red-baiting, and Jonathan Tasini doing a great job of calling him on his red-baiting (and explaining Sanders’s proposals).

Doug Henwood, at his blog LBO News, Liberal Redbaiting.  An excellent take-down of the liberal conniptions about Sanders; especially good on Paul Starr’s red-baiting (e.g., his ridiculous claims that single-payer will involve worrisome centralization of power).

Matthew Yglesias, Slate, Have top Democrats given up too soon on boosting economic growth?  A surprisingly good piece, though he takes a potshot at Friedman in calling his report “somewhat silly” (apparently on the basis of Brad DeLong’s criticism that it’s too late to fill the output gap left by the Great Recession–but if other high-profile economists disagree, is it fair to call Friedman’s view “silly”?).

Michael Corcoran, Truthout, The Dominant Media, “Left-Leaning” Economists and the Illusion of Consensus.  An excellent review of the kerfuffle, with an emphasis on the Times’s propaganda role.

Dave Johnson, Campaign for America’s Future, The Sanders “Economic Plan” Controversy. A very good review of the kerfuffle.

Dolphin99, Daily Kos, Sanders and the Economists.  An earlier review of the kerfuffle.

Chris Matthews, Fortune, Meet the Man Who Says Bernie Sanders Can Deliver 5.3% Economic Growth.  Another earlier piece I’d missed. (Not that Chris Matthews.)

Jordan Weissman, Slate’s Moneybox blog, Here’s Something Important That Bernie Sanders Gets Absolutely Right About the Economy. It’s on his infrastructure spending plan. Weissman seems to have been dismissive of Friedman in another post.

Max Ehrenfreund, WashPo Wonkblog, Study: Bernie Sanders’s health plan is actually kind of a train wreck for the poor.  A lazy piece–based on Thorpe’s criticisms of Sanders’s single-payer plan, with no mention of Friedman’s critique of it or Woolhandler/Himmelstein defense of Sanders’s single-payer plan.

David Sirota, International Business Times, Election 2016: Do Sanders’ Economic Plans Add Up? The Cost Of His ‘Revolution’. A great review of the kerfuffle, nicely balanced, which does (on the single-payer issue) what the Wonkblog piece failed to do–talks about both the Thorpe analysis and critiques of it.

Tim Mullaney, MarketWatch, Could it be that Bernie Sanders is the real-deal capitalist?  An offbeat take that takes Friedman’s study more seriously than some.  On the one hand, I don’t think Sanders is actually anti-capitalist.  On the other, I am guessing this author feels he has to emphasize that Sanders is the “real-deal capitalist” because he (the author) likes Sanders programs and their projected effects.

Narayana Kocherlakota, at his policy blog, Faster Growth IS Possible – And It May Well Be Desirable.  I had neglected to link to this post by the former president of the Minneapolis Fed (he has a couple more recent related posts) that lend support to Friedman’s analysis. (Hat-tip to Eileen Applebaum on Twitter for this.)

Links on the Kerfuffle about Friedman’s Sanders Analysis

There’s been quite a fuss about our columnist Jerry Friedman’s analysis of the macroeconomic effects that implementation of all of Bernie Sanders’ proposals would have. (The analysis was the basis of two of Jerry’s recent columns for us, here and here.) Here’s a minimally annotated round-up of articles and blog posts related to the kerfuffle:

Jackie Calmes, New York TimesLeft-Leaning Economists Question Cost of Sanders’s Plans I linked to this in my last blog post; this article mentions Jerry Friedman and his analysis, but doesn’t quote him (they apparently didn’t contact him before running the piece–I am sure he would have spoken to them if they had!). The piece also makes it sound as if Jared Bernstein, about the only truly left-leaning economist they quote, is harsher on Friedman than he is, and even more misleadingly, that he is skeptical of Sanders’ plans (more on this below).

Dean Baker, Beat the Press, NYT Invents Left-Leaning Economists to Attack Bernie Sanders.  Lots of good points here critiquing the Calmes NYT piece, especially how the people they quote aren’t leftists, and in one case (Ezra Klein) not an economist.

Doug Henwood, FAIR blog, NYT Rounds Up ‘Left-Leaning Economists’ for a Unicorn HuntAlso a very good critique of the Calmes NYT piece, plus a great new metaphor for hippie-punching–the “unicorn hunt.” Since the kerfuffle really blew up, though, Henwood has been harsh about Friedman on Twitter, calling his analysis “embarrassing.” (Henwood finds Jerry’s the growth-rate projections “risible.” Ouch, comrade.)

Alan Krueger, Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, An Open Letter from Past CEA Chairs to Senator Sanders and Professor Gerald FriedmanHere is the real driver of the kerfuffle. It is amazing that they take Friedman to task for growth projections that they say are not credible (and take Sanders to task for relying on them–though the Sanders campaign did not commission this analysis), but they don’t give any specific empirical criticism of his analysis. Instead, they fault Sanders/Friedman for making projections that are outlandish in the way that GOP projections standardly are. (But see below–many observers have defended Friedman on this score.)

Jim Tankersley, at WashPo’s Wonkblog, The economist who vouched for Bernie Sanders’ big liberal plans is voting for Hillary Clinton.  Ok, this is just weird. Not an entirely unsympathetic article, but I wish Jerry were more careful not to feed into Clinton’s “one-issue candidate” talking point. (“I agree with Bernie on economic issues, but there are other issues.”)

James K. Galbraith, open letter (dated February 18) to Kreuger, Goolsbee, Romer, and Tyson (posted here). A lengthy response, starting by taking them to task for not providing any substantive critique or analysis of Friedman’s research: “You write that you have applied rigor to your analyses of economic proposals by Democrats and Republicans. On reading this sentence I looked to the bottom of the page, to find a reference or link to your rigorous review of Professor Friedman’s study. I found nothing there.” Then there are a couple of pages of analysis defending Friedman’s analysis and methods. (“There is no ‘magic asterisk,’ no strange theory involved here.” The conclusion: “What the Friedman paper shows, is that under conventional assumptions, the projected impact of Senator Sanders’ proposals stems from their scale and ambition. When you dare to do big things, big results should be expected. The Sanders program is big, and when you run it through a standard model, you get a big result.”

Matthew Klein, FT Alphaville, “Extreme” doesn’t mean what it used to, Sanders vs the CEA.  This piece (which you have to be registered to see) explains why Friedman’s growth projections may not be as outlandish as Kreuger et al. suggest, using this chart, showing that Friedman’s optimistic growth rate under Sanders programs only brings the growth rate back to the 1984-2007 pre-recession trend line:

Sanders-growth-590x275

Matthew Yglesias, Vox, Top Democratic economists don’t think much of Bernienomics. He doesn’t care.  Surprisingly, a piece from Vox that is pretty sympathetic to Sanders and Friedman (though he identifies the parts of Friedman’s analysis that he thinks are implausible). Under the heading “Imperious dismissals only make Sanders stronger,” Yglesias writes: “It’s noteworthy that the former CEA chairs criticizing Friedman didn’t bother to run through a detailed explanation of their problems with the paper. To them, the 5.3 percent figure was simply absurd on its face, and it was good enough for them to say so, relying on their authority to generate media coverage.”

Nick Timiraos and Laura Meckler, Wall Street Journal, Democratic Economists Say Bernie Sanders’s Math Doesn’t Add Up. Reporting on the past CEA chairs’ open letter; does better than the NYT piece on reporting Jared Bernstein’s actual views. Requires subscription.

Jared Bernstein, at his blog, I Endorse…(No One!)  Does the best at explaining Jared Bernstein’s actual views. He thinks Friedman’s projections are overly optimistic, but he repudiates the CEA chairs’ comparison with Republican “fairy dust”: “I do give Friedman credit for running all of Sanders’ plans through a macro model, versus Republican candidates’ hand-waving claims that the power of their personalities leavened with massive sprinklings of supply-side fairy dust will generate GDP growth of 4, 6, 8 percent! But such models are a function of your assumptions, and his, including his multipliers, the sharp increase in labor supply and productivity, diminished health care inflation, and a passive Fed amidst all this stellar growth, all seemed way too sunny to me (I called them ‘wishful thinking’ in the NYT).”

Paul Krugman, his NYT blog, Worried Wonks.  (Plus he has two other blog posts on the kerfuffle.) What’s interesting about them is not what Krugman says (which is what you’d expected now that he is in Hillary shill mode) but how many of the commenters (more than three quarters, I would say) are unsympathetic to his siding with Kreuger, et al.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, The Sanders Campaign Has Crossed into Neverland. Another piece highly unsympathetic to Friedman, but with no actual counter-analysis–just name-calling (see below). Surprising, for MoJo and Drum.

Ryan Cooper, The Week, Why are big-shot liberal economists hippie-punching Bernie Sanders?  A vigorous defense of Friedman and Sanders. “Ironically, in the frenzy to destroy Friedman’s reputation, nobody actually explained in detail what the problems were with his paper. The CEA pronouncement had no data or economic argument at all — it was 100 percent political handwringing. Krugman gave a very brief gloss suggesting that Sanders couldn’t possibly get labor force participation back up to 1990s levels due to aging, and trying to do so would cause inflation. Kevin Drum gave a similar incredulous stare argument about worker productivity and GDP growth, pronouncing it ‘insane,’ worse than Republican ‘magic asterisks.'” Cooper does what the big-name wonks should have, and has a mixed assessment Friedman’s analysis. But his point is: “Friedman is just a professor who thought it might be interesting to game out the Sanders platform. He doesn’t work for the campaign, or have platoons of graduate students, think-tankers, or public relations experts at his beck and call. His major error, it seems to me, is that he didn’t realize he’d be walking into a buzzsaw of Clinton supporters if he didn’t fiddle with his numbers to make them look ‘sensible.'”

Mike Konczal Roosevelt Institute Rortybomb blog, In Praise of the Wonk: Dissecting the CEA Letter and Sanders’s Other Proposals. This is a nice discussion, which agrees with Kreuger, et al. that Democrats and the left need to have good policy analyses (hence “In Priase of the Wonk”), but takes them to task for not explaining why they reject Friedman’s idea that an expansionary policy could get us back to the historical trend of growth (he uses Klein’s graph from the FT Alphaville post). “To reject Friedman’s analysis, as the former CEA chairs do, seems to involve rejecting that component of the analysis. If so, they have an obligation to explain what happened to that potential output trend from 2007.” He discusses various possibilities, plausible and not.

J.W. Mason, at his blog, Can Sanders Do It?  A nicely argued defense of Friedman, by a former student of Friedman’s who now teaches at John Jay College. He says the discussion should focus on this question “Is it reasonable to think that better macroeconomic policy could deliver substantially higher output and employment?”, where many of Friedman’s critics have focused on whether Sanders programs will get us there, or on whether Friedman has just the right numbers. Mason: “Is it plausible that there could be 5 percent-plus real GDP growth and 300,000 new jobs per month over the eight years of a Sanders presidency? I think it is — or at least, I don’t think there is a good economic argument that it’s not.” He gets there via five points (with arguments for each point–read the post for the arguments):

  1. It’s not controversial to say that a historically deep recession ought to be followed by a period of historically strong growth.
  2. Friedman’s growth estimates are just what you need to get output and employment back to trend.
  3. In other contexts, it’s taken for granted that more expansionary policy could deliver substantially higher growth.
  4. Friedman’s projections are unreasonable only if you think the US is already at full employment.
  5. The argument against Friedman’s piece comes down to the claim that the economy is already close to potential.

Ron Baiman, Chicago Political Economy Group, posting at the D&S blog, The Poverty of Neoclassical Economic Analysis. I’ll give Ron the last word: “No one assumes that Bernie’s economic program will be passed as currently conceived. The fate of these proposals depends on the power of the ‘political revolution’ that the Sander’s campaign is leading. Like the Clinton campaign, the NC-economics trained, former CEA Chairs exhibit abundant ‘pessimism of the intellect” but no ‘optimism of the will’. This is not an economic debate. It’s a political and ideological debate that reflects the deep division in fundamental theoretical outlook between NC progressive and radical democratic socialist economists.”

This is all I have for now. I am sure there will be more.