Monday, September 28, 2009

Economists should stop ignoring bubbles

Yale economist Robert Shiller has constructive criticism for his own profession:
The widespread failure of economists to forecast the financial crisis that erupted last year has much to do with faulty models. This lack of sound models meant that economic policymakers and central bankers received no warning of what was to come.

As George Akerlof and I argue in our recent book Animal Spirits, the current financial crisis was driven by speculative bubbles in the housing market, the stock market, energy and other commodities markets. Bubbles are caused by feedback loops: rising speculative prices encourage optimism, which encourages more buying and hence further speculative price increases — until the crash comes.

You won’t find the word “bubble,” however, in most economics treatises or textbooks. Likewise, a search of working papers produced by central banks and economics departments in recent years yields few instances of “bubbles” even being mentioned. Indeed, the idea that bubbles exist has become so disreputable in much of the economics and finance profession that bringing them up in an economics seminar is like bringing up astrology to a group of astronomers.

The fundamental problem is that a generation of mainstream macroeconomic theorists has come to accept a theory that has an error at its very core — the axiom that people are fully rational.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The problem with health care costs is the insurance

The Democrats' health insurance reform proposals will magnify the problems that make health care so expensive:
The administration's plan will impose mandates that employers provide coverage, mandates that individuals obtain coverage, and mandates about the form this coverage will have to take. These will remove the freedom to choose one's health-insurance plan, because government, in its effort to correct perceived inequities, will dictate which health-care services must be covered and which health-care providers must be used. ...

The mandates will lead to large increases in the cost of health insurance for everyone. Research studies have shown that as people become insured, especially under a health plan that offers broad coverage and low copayments, they consume more health-care services. The best estimates indicate that each newly insured person will approximately double his or her health spending.

With 30 million to 40 million newly insured persons under the administration's plan, aggregate health-care demand will increase significantly. But when demand expands prices increase. ...

The mandates will also have adverse additional longer-run consequences. According to provisions in both House and Senate bills, mandated plans must have low copayments and provide coverage of health-care services that is at least equal in scope to a typical, current employer-sponsored plan. But these are the very flaws that are responsible for high and rising health-care costs...

Comprehensive, low-deductible, low-copayment insurance has brought us to where we are today. The administration's plan to expand and lock-in this flawed paradigm will ultimately defeat the goal of making health services more affordable for everyone.
Again, insurance is what causes health care to be so expensive, because it encourages the population as a whole to purchase more health care services than it otherwise would. Increased demand then pushes up prices. As I quoted economist Martin Feldstein in an earlier blog post:
Since a typical 20% copayment rate means that an extra dollar of health services costs the patient only 20 cents at the time of care, patients and their doctors opt for excessive tests and other inappropriately expensive forms of care.
By the way, here's a list of reform ideas that the Democrats are ignoring. Here's a functioning national health care system that results in far lower costs than the European-style health care systems that the Democrats want to emulate.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Real health care reform: break down the state barriers

The Democrats don't want real health insurance competition. They just want a government takeover of the health insurance industry (i.e. a single payer system). If they did want real competition, they wouldn't need a "public option". All they'd have to do is break down the state insurance barriers that prevent health insurance from being sold across state lines.

Notice the question that the White House repeatedly ducks in this interview:

For more of my blog posts on the subject of health care, click here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Recession may not be over

Last month, as the unemployment rate took a reprieve from its upward spike, I speculated that the recession might be over. Friday's release of the August unemployment rate showed a resumption of the upward spike, suggesting that the end of the recession may be yet to come.

Here's a graph of the official unemployment rate over the past ten years. Gray bars indicate recessions:

Here's a graph of the official monthly job loss numbers during this recession:

For conspiracy theorists who don't trust the government, here are the job loss numbers from the private ADP Employment Report. Notice that ADP measures job losses in August as being roughly 50% higher than the BLS numbers: