Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
But if thine enemy is the fossil fuel industry,
And one would name a rose as ‘tax’,
then television, and radio, and newspapers
and twitter and a multitude of social media
would declare such rose as smelling most foul,
like vomit, or excrement or the pustulent sores
of a pox-ridden hag in the lowliest of taverns
In truth, Juliet was wrong. Names do matter. They frame narratives, just as the names Montague and Capulet did.
We live in a neoliberal world where both ‘tax’ and ‘subsidy’ are framed as evil. So whatever you do don’t talk about introducing a carbon ‘tax’, talk about eliminating a carbon ‘subsidy’. And this is what the IMF has done in a widely publicised report issued yesterday (here):
A key factor in estimating the magnitude of current subsidies is which definition of “subsidies” is used. Pre-tax consumer subsidies arise when the price paid by consumers (that is, firms and households) is below the cost of supplying energy. Post-tax consumer subsidies arise when the price paid by consumers is below the supply cost of energy plus an appropriate “Pigouvian” (or “corrective”) tax that reflects the environmental damage associated with energy consumption and an additional consumption tax that should be applied to all consumption goods for raising revenues.
Generally, when we talk about externalities, we talk about costs rather than subsidies, but, like double-entry book keeping, these are two sides of the same concept. When consumer A transfers a cost to consumer B, we can think of consumer B subsidising consumer A. Continue reading
The potential for secular stagnation has been a consistent theme of this blog; in other words, we should entertain the idea of slow (or even zero growth) as a possible norm–and plan our lives so that we fully recognise this risk. Meanwhile, the discussion of permanently slower growth has migrated from ‘crankdom’ to mainstream in five short years, and now even the IMF is humming the same tune.
This week, the IMF pre-released a chapter from its flagship World Economic Outlook publication. The chapter is titled “Where Are We Headed? Perspectives on Potential Output“. It starts off by pointing out that in advanced economies growth was coming off even before the Great Recession hit in 2008 (on all charts, click for larger image):
As the above chart shows, potential output growth can be divided into three components: 1) employment growth (more people or longer hours), 2) capital growth (more machines and computers) or 3) total factor productivity (better educated people plus innovation). The big decline was in the last category, which flies in the face of all the breathless cornucopian stories we here: tales of technology abolishing every human ill or want.
Furthermore, the IMF now increasingly recognises two stark realities. First, ageing societies will act as an increasing drag on growth in not only advanced but also emerging market economies and, second, total factor productivity gains are slowing in emerging economies as these countries get closer and closer to the innovation frontier of the advanced economies (moving from catch-up to caught-up). Continue reading
In my last post, I outlined the IMF’s abysmal track record in charting Greece’s GDP growth path. The IMF’s initial Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) programme was expected to produce a single-digit dip in GDP followed by a rapid recovering. In reality, GDP has crashed by over 20% and we see no sign yet of any expansion.
In the Fund’s May 2013 “Greece: Ex Post Evaluation” publication, the IMF admitted some failings in its growth forecasting and its assessment of what would drive the recovery:
Competitiveness improved somewhat on the back of falling wages, but structural reforms stalled and productivity gains proved elusive.
Note that economic recoveries from recessions usually have two components: 1) the gradual removal of the gap between potential output and actual output as idle capital and labour is gradually put back to work, and 2) a pick up from long-term structural productivity gains as new technology becomes available. The former can be thought of as a short-term cyclical component of growth and the latter as a long-term structural component of growth.
The IMF’s biggest forecasting mistake was with respect to Greece’s true potential GDP. In short, as we headed into the Great Recession, Greece was probably in the situation of having actual GDP far in excess of potential GDP. Accordingly, the IMF expected the economy to rebound to an equilibrium that just did not exist. How could this be? Continue reading
The IMF certainly wasn’t responsible for Greece’s economic downturn; indeed, Greece only entered an IMF programme (jointly orchestrated with the European Commission and the European Central Bank—the so called Troika) through a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) agreed in May 2010, 18 months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 (the fulcrum point for the credit crisis).
Nonetheless, the IMF’s track record in both evaluating Greece’s economic risk before trouble hit and in helping craft a set of coherent economic policies that would supposedly build the foundations for renewed growth has been abysmal.
Unfortunately for the IMF, we have a ‘before and after’ comparison in the form of the last two Article IV Consultations (the IMF’s economic health checks) of Greece, the first conducted on July 2009 before the recession bit (here) and the latest conducted in June 2013 after all hell had broke loose (here).
Let’s start with how we always keep score in economics: GDP growth. In the 2009 consultation, the IMF forecast that GDP would contract by 1.7% in 2009, followed by 0.4% in 2010, before seeing a return to 0.6% growth in 2011 and 1.2% in 2012. In their words:
Staff projects negative growth in 2009 and 2010. Greece is feeling the downturn with some delay. Moreover, even with the staff’s weaker outlook relative to the authorities, Greece’s growth decline from peak to trough would still be milder than for the euro-area as a whole.
Milder? The reality was far, far worse: -3.1% for 2009 and -4.9% for 2010. And then far from rebounding, the downturn picked up speed with the economy shrinking an extraordinary 7.1% in 2011. For 2012, the advance estimates have the economy down another 6% plus. This is a stunning forecasting failure: the IMF was off by around 20%—a fifth of GDP! Continue reading
- The San Francisco Chronicle has a must-read article for anyone exposed to low-lying U.S. real estate (here).
- On my bookshelf is a wonderfully written book by science historian and physicist Spencer Weart called the Discovery of Global Warming. Via The Big Picture, I find that The American Institute of Physics is hosting a user-friendly hypertext accompaniment to the book that tells you everything you need to know about the discovery of global warming.
- Bjorn Lomborg is in the news again with an Op-Ed piece at the Wall Street Journal. Climate Science Watch does the debunking here. Lomborg, like Matt Ridley, appears to have open access to the Wall Street Journal’s pages. If you come to his writings with no background in the subject nor knowledge of primary sources, he appears persuasive. I must admit to having given a copy of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” to my mother as a Christmas present many years ago (before I saw the error of my ways). His arguments contain one part truthfulness, to one part falsehood to one part misrepresentation. At the end of the day, you have to rely on what mainstream climate scientists say about Lomborg’s views—which is that much of what Lomborg says is plain wrong.
- I recently came across the Weatherdem blog. My type of blog: solid, concrete analysis coupled with a call to action. I am currently trying to get my head around the IPCC’s new Representative Concentrations Pathways (RCPs)—the CO2 emission projections commensurate with a certain level of greenhouse gas warming; Weatherdem has a good post explaining the emission paths here.
- The two Bretton Woods institutions have been missing in action when it comes to climate change. Fortunately, one now “gets it”. The World Bank’s “Turn Down the Heat” report released in November 2012 is a watershed. Even more encouraging is that the president of the World Bank Jim Young Kim has thrown his authority behind the awareness raising. This article by him in the Washington Post could not be more clear. And it’s personal: ‘My wife and I have two sons, ages 12 and 3. When they grow old, this could be the world they inherit. That thought alone makes me want to be part of a global movement that acts now.” Bravo. Now if only the IMF could get on board (it’s current coverage of climate risk is desultory).
Taking a short interlude from my recent treatments of technology, I feel the need to do a quick post on Peak Oil’s continued transformation toward respectability. Some months ago, I highlighted the fact that the IMF had openly recognised the Peak Oil argument in even its most prestigious publication, the World Economic Outlook (see my post here). In particular, IMF staffers now appear to be thoroughly acquainted with the work of Steve Sorrell, who has provided us with some of the most in-depth reviews of the Peak Oil literature (see my post here).
Now, when I say ‘recognised’ that did not mean ‘accepted’. Rather, the IMF acknowledged in the World Economic Outlook that price alone had not brought forth sufficient supply or substitutability over a multi-year time frame, as had previously been predicted. Economists at the IMF, therefore, seem to have decided to widen their intellectual net to bring in some fresh ideas. Continue reading
Much of the western media appears to view Greece as a morality play: hubris coming before a fall. But many of the elements that have brought Greece down have parallels in the larger economies: an ageing population, increased integration into the global economy, hollowing out of traditional industries, reliance on debt to sustain growth, dependence on increasing social transfers to offset inequality brought about by technological change and a widening energy import bill.
Greece joined the EU in 1981 and the eurozone in 2001 (with the drachma abolished in 2002). This chart of Greece’s GDP growth rates from eurostat shows the sharp reverse in the country’s fortunes (note that the forecast rates for 2012 and 2013 currently look hopelessly optimistic). Moreover, latest data for 2011, suggest the final figure will come in at around minus 7%.