Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.UK General Election BBC Exit Polls Forecast Accuracy - Nadeem_Walayat
2.UK General Election 2017 Seats Final Forecast, Labour, Conservative Lib-Dem, SNP - Nadeem_Walayat
3.UK General Election 2017 Forecast: Conservative 358, Labour 212 Seats - Nadeem_Walayat
4.Theresa May to Resign, Fatal Error Was to Believe Worthless Opinion Polls! - Nadeem_Walayat
5.UK House Prices Forecast General Election 2017 Conservative Seats Result - Nadeem_Walayat
6.The Stock Market Crash of 2017 That Never Was But Could it Still Come to Pass? - Sol_Palha
7.[TRADE ALERT] Write This Gold Stock Ticker Down Now - WallStreetNation
8.UK General Election Results Map 2017 vs 2015 vs Opinion Polls - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Orphaned Poisoned Waters,Severe Chronic Water Shortage Imminent - Richard_Mills
10.How The Smart Money Is Playing The Lithium Boom - OilPrice_Com
Last 7 days
Nether Edge By Election Result: Labour Win Sheffield City Council Seat by 132 Votes - 23rd Jun 17
Grenfell Fire: 600 of 4000 Tower Blocks Ticking Time Bomb Death Traps! - 22nd Jun 17
Car Sales About To Go Over The Cliff - 22nd Jun 17
LOG 0.786 support in CRUDE OIL and COCOA - 22nd Jun 17
More Stock Market Fluctuations Along New Record Highs - 22nd Jun 17
Understanding true money, Pound Sterling must make another historic low, Euro and Gold outlook! - 22nd Jun 17
Green Party Could Control Sheffield City Council Balance of Power Local Election 2018 - 22nd Jun 17
Ratio Combo Charts : Hidden Clues to the Gold Market Puzzle - 22nd Jun 17
Steem Hard Forks & Now People Are Making Even More Money On Blockchain Steemit - 22nd Jun 17
4 Steps for Comparing Binary Options Providers - 22nd Jun 17
Nether Edge & Sharrow By-Election, Will Labour Lose Safe Council Seat, Sheffield? - 21st Jun 17
Stock Market SPX Making New Lows - 21st Jun 17
Your Future Wealth Depends on what You Decide to Keep and Invest in Now - 21st Jun 17
Either Bitcoin Will Fail OR Bitcoin Is A Government Invention Meant To Enslave... - 21st Jun 17
Strength in Gold and Silver Mining Stocks and Its Implications - 21st Jun 17
Inflation is No Longer in Stealth Mode - 21st Jun 17
CRUDE OIL UPDATE- “0.30 risk is cheap for changing implication!” - 20th Jun 17
Crude Oil Verifies Price Breakdown – Or Is It Something More? - 20th Jun 17
Trump Backs ISIS As He Pushes US Onto Brink of World War III With Russia - 20th Jun 17
Most Popular Auto Trading Tools for trading with Stock Markets - 20th Jun 17
GDXJ Gold Stocks Massacre: The Aftermath - 20th Jun 17
Why Walkers Crisps Pay Packet Promotion is RUBBISH! - 20th Jun 17
7 Signs You Should Add Gold To Your Portfolio Now - 19th Jun 17
US Bonds and Related Market Indicators - 19th Jun 17
Wireless Wars: The Billion Dollar Tech Boom No One Is Talking About - 19th Jun 17
Amey Playing Cat and Mouse Game with Sheffield Residents and Tree Campaigners - 19th Jun 17
Positive Stock Market Expectations, But Will Uptrend Continue? - 19th Jun 17
Gold Proprietary Cycle Indicator Remains Down - 19th Jun 17
Stock Market Higher Highs Still Likely - 18th Jun 17
The US Government Clamps Down on Ability of Americans To Purchase Bitcoin - 18th Jun 17
NDX/NAZ Continue downward pressure on the US Stock Market - 18th Jun 17
Return of the Gold Bear? - 18th Jun 17
Are Sheffield's High Rise Tower Blocks Safe? Grenfell Cladding Fire Disaster! - 18th Jun 17
Globalist Takeover Of The Internet Moves Into Overdrive - 17th Jun 17
Crazy Charging Stocks Bull Market Random Thoughts - 17th Jun 17
Reflation, Deflation and Gold - 17th Jun 17
Here’s The Case For An Upside Risk In The Global Economy - 17th Jun 17
Gold Bullish on Fed Interest Rate Hike - 16th Jun 17
Drones Upending Business Models and Reshaping Industry Landscapes - 16th Jun 17
Grenfell Tower Cladding Fire Disaster, 4,000 Ticking Time Bombs, Sheffield Council Flats Panic! - 16th Jun 17
Heating Oil Bottom Is In.(probably) - 16th Jun 17
Here’s the Investing Reason Active Funds Can’t Beat Passive Funds—and It Worries Me a Lot - 16th Jun 17
Is There Gold “Hype” and is Gold an Emotional Trade? - 16th Jun 17
The War On Cash Is Now Becoming The War On Cryptocurrency - 15th Jun 17
The US Dollar Bull Case - 15th Jun 17
The Pros and Cons of Bitcoin and Blockchain - 15th Jun 17
The Retail Sector Downfall We Saw Coming - 15th Jun 17
Charts That Explain Why The US Rule Oil Prices Not OPEC - 15th Jun 17
How to Find the Best Auto Loan - 15th Jun 17
Ultra-low Stock Market Volatility #ThisTimeIsDifferent - 14th Jun 17
DOLLAR has recently damaged GOLD and SILVER- viewed in MRI 3D charts - 14th Jun 17
US Dollar Acceleration Phase is Dead Ahead! - 14th Jun 17
Hit or Pass? An Overview of 2017’s Best Ranked Stocks - 14th Jun 17
Rise Gold to Recommence Work at Idaho Maryland Mine After 60 Years - 14th Jun 17
Stock Market Tech Shakeout! - 14th Jun 17
The #1 Gold Stock of 2017 - 14th Jun 17

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

The MRI 3D Report

Debt, Economic Growth, and the Austerity Debate

Economics / Global Debt Crisis 2013 May 01, 2013 - 05:12 AM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

Economics

Two weeks ago I wrote about the current debate over the 2010 paper by Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart (hereinafter referred to as RR) on the correlation between debt and GDP growth. I said that the most important part of their work, which is the construction of an enormous database on debt and financial crises over the last few hundred years, was to be found in their book This Time Is Different and elsewhere. And their fundamental conclusion: debt is not a problem until it becomes one. And then it reaches a critical mass and you have what they called the Bang! moment.


They did make an unfortunate error in a few cells of a massive Excel spreadsheet, which subsequent analysis has shown to not be a huge deal, though some have made it out to be. And the more I read of the issue, the more I believe that the bulk of the negative response has political overtones. There are those who wish to find reasons to abandon any move toward balanced budgets and reasonable fiscal policies. They see austerity as a punishment, some type of masochistic conservative Calvinist plot foisted on poor unsuspecting citizens who should not be held responsible for the governments they elect.

As I wrote two weeks ago, austerity is a consequence, not a punishment. 

Last Thursday RR published an op-ed in the New York Times. Some were uncharitably dismissive of it, but if you take a careful look at the detailed online version, which is this week’s Outside the Box, I think you'll find their counterarguments thorough and reasonable.

An essay on Bloomberg notes:

The biggest howler is the least consequential. By highlighting the wrong cells in an Excel spreadsheet, Reinhart and Rogoff actually took an average over 15 countries, rather than the full sample of 20. Embarrassing? Yes. Important? No. Of the five missing countries, only one – Belgium – had ever experienced very high debt. Adding it barely changed the findings because Belgium’s economic growth during its high-debt episode was roughly similar to that in other highly indebted nations. [emphasis mine]

While the media loves to focus on the simple (and regrettable) coding error (which RR acknowledge), the main body of their analysis still points strongly in the same direction, and that direction has been noted by other, independent researchers:

Researchers at the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund have weighed in with their own independent work. The World Economic Outlook published last October by the International Monetary Fund devoted an entire chapter to debt and growth. The most recent update to that outlook, released in April, states: "Much of the empirical work on debt overhangs seeks to identify the 'overhang threshold' beyond which the correlation between debt and growth becomes negative. The results are broadly similar: above a threshold of about 95 percent of G.D.P., a 10 percent increase in the ratio of debt to G.D.P. is identified with a decline in annual growth of about 0.15 to 0.20 percent per year.” (NYT)

In fact, when you examine the paper and underlying research of the University of Massachusetts trio who discovered and wrote about the error, you find that there is not all that much difference in outcomes if you use their assumptions. The best analysis I have read is in this piece by F. F. Wiley (even if he misspells my name in his links <g>). For those wanting even more detail on this issue, I suggest you read the Wiley piece after you read RR’s response below.

Economics, at least in its predictive and prescriptive forms, is not a physical science, notwithstanding the physics envy of many economists. To try and suggest that major policy differences should be formed on the basis of numbers to the right of the decimal point is folly. It is enough at times to get the direction right. North rather than south. With regard to the present debate, it is clear that a point can be reached at which too much debt is a problem. Is there a bright, unchanging line? This far and no farther? There is not.

Water transmutes from solid to liquid to gas. In physics and mathematics, limits, and indeed singularities, occur; and we can measure and even predict them. With debt-to-GDP ratios, all we know for now is that the Bang!  moment exists, but the precise point for any one given country is not something we can calculate. But wherever that line happens to fall, once it is crossed, Bang!Everything changes. And dear gods, that is a fate to be avoided.

This is far more than an academic tempest in a teapot. Understanding the relationship between debt and systemic financial problems is critical to how you construct your long-term portfolio positions. If there is not a relationship between debt and growth, then quantitative easing will have an entirely different effect on markets than if there is. It is really that simple. Can we point to exact figures and immutable relationships? Of course not. Nothing in life is that simple, and RR don’t even attempt to do so, although some of their critics (and to be fair, some of their supporters) try to see bright red lines around the 90% debt-to-GDP number.

I write this note from La Jolla, looking over the Pacific Ocean. I will have dinner with Jon Sundt and the partners at Altegris at George’s later this evening and then move on to Carlsbad, where I will meet tomorrow with my partners and team at Mauldin Economics. The bulk of the team will be in this week for a two-day planning fest before we celebrate our 10th annual Strategic Investment Conference, starting Wednesday evening. I also have writing and reading and a brand-new speech to attend to. And I want to be there for all the speaking sessions. There will also be lots of late-night conversations with great friends on a very wide range of topics, from QE to biotech to geopolitics and all sorts of politically incorrect notions. Can it get any better?

It is about time to get to that next meeting. I hope your week is going well.

Your about as excited as I can get when I think about this week analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor Outside the Box JohnMauldin@2000wave.com

Debt, Growth, and the Austerity Debate

By CARMEN M. REINHART and KENNETH S. ROGOFF The New York Times, April 25, 2013

In May 2010, we published an academic paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt.” Its main finding, drawing on data from 44 countries over 200 years, was that in both rich and developing countries, high levels of government debt – specifically, gross public debt equaling 90 percent or more of the nation’s annual economic output – was associated with notably lower rates of growth.

Given debates occurring across the industrialized world, from Washington to London to Brussels to Tokyo, about the best way to recover from the Great Recession, that paper, along with other research we have published, has frequently been cited – and, often, exaggerated or misrepresented – by politicians, commentators and activists across the political spectrum.

Last week, three economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, released a paper criticizing our findings. They correctly identified a spreadsheet coding error that led us to miscalculate the growth rates of highly indebted countries since World War II. But they also accused us of “serious errors” stemming from “selective exclusion” of relevant data and “unconventional weighting” of statistics – charges that we vehemently dispute. (In an online-only appendix accompanying this essay, we explain the methodological and technical issues that are in dispute.)

Our research, and even our credentials and integrity, have been furiously attacked in newspapers and on television. Each of us has received hate-filled, even threatening, e-mail messages, some of them blaming us for layoffs of public employees, cutbacks in government services and tax increases. As career academic economists (our only senior public service has been in the research department at the International Monetary Fund) we find these attacks a sad commentary on the politicization of social science research. But our feelings are not what’s important here.

The authors of the paper released last week – Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin – say our “findings have served as an intellectual bulwark in support of austerity politics” and urge policy makers to “reassess the austerity agenda itself in both Europe and the United States.”

A sober reassessment of austerity is the responsible course for policy makers, but not for the reasons these authors suggest. Their conclusions are less dramatic than they would have you believe. Our 2010 paper found that, over the long term, growth is about 1 percentage point lower when debt is 90 percent or more of gross domestic product. The University of Massachusetts researchers do not overturn this fundamental finding, which several researchers have elaborated upon.

The academic literature on debt and growth has for some time been focused on identifying causality. Does high debt merely reflect weaker tax revenues and slower growth? Or does high debt undermine growth?

Our view has always been that causality runs in both directions, and that there is no rule that applies across all times and places. In a paper published last year with Vincent R. Reinhart, we looked at virtually all episodes of sustained high debt in the advanced economies since 1800. Nowhere did we assert that 90 percent was a magic threshold that transforms outcomes, as conservative politicians have suggested.

We did find that episodes of high debt (90 percent or more) were rare, long and costly. There were just 26 cases where the ratio of debt to G.D.P. exceeded 90 percent for five years or more; the average high-debt spell was 23 years. In 23 of the 26 cases, average growth was slower during the high-debt period than in periods of lower debt levels. Indeed, economies grew at an average annual rate of roughly 3.5 percent, when the ratio was under 90 percent, but at only a 2.3 percent rate, on average, at higher relative debt levels.

(In 2012, the ratio of debt to gross domestic product was 106 percent in the United States, 82 percent in Germany and 90 percent in Britain – in Japan, the figure is 238 percent, but Japan is somewhat exceptional because its debt is held almost entirely by domestic residents and it is a creditor to the rest of the world.)

The fact that high-debt episodes last so long suggests that they are not, as some liberal economists contend, simply a matter of downturns in the business cycle.

In “This Time Is Different,” our 2009 history of financial crises over eight centuries, we found that when sovereign debt reached unsustainable levels, so did the cost of borrowing, if it was even possible at all. The current situation confronting Italy and Greece, whose debts date from the early 1990s, long before the 2007-8 global financial crisis, support this view.

The politically charged discussion, especially sharp in the past week or so, has falsely equated our finding of a negative association between debt and growth with an unambiguous call for austerity.

We agree that growth is an elusive goal at times of high debt. We know that cutting spending and raising taxes is tough in a slow-growth economy with persistent unemployment. Austerity seldom works without structural reforms – for example, changes in taxes, regulations and labor market policies – and if poorly designed, can disproportionately hit the poor and middle class. Our consistent advice has been to avoid withdrawing fiscal stimulus too quickly, a position identical to that of most mainstream economists.

In some cases, we have favored more radical proposals, including debt restructuring (a polite term for partial default) of public and private debts. Such restructurings helped deal with the debt buildup during World War I and the Depression. We have long favored write-downs of sovereign debt and senior bank debt in the European periphery (Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain) to unlock growth.

In the United States, we support reducing mortgage principal on homes that are underwater (where the mortgage is higher than the value of the home). We have also written about plausible solutions that involve moderately higher inflation and “financial repression” – pushing down inflation-adjusted interest rates, which effectively amounts to a tax on bondholders. This strategy contributed to the significant debt reductions that followed World War II.

In short: many countries around the world have extraordinarily high public debts by historical standards, especially when medical and old-age support programs are taken into account. Resolving these debt burdens usually involves a transfer, often painful, from savers to borrowers. This time is no different, and the latest academic kerfuffle should not divert our attention from that fact.

Carmen M. Reinhart is a professor of the international financial system, and Kenneth S. Rogoff is a professor of public policy and economics, both at Harvard.

In an appendix to this op-ed essay, the authors further defend their findings that high public debt is associated with lower economic growth.

John Mauldin

subscribers@MauldinEconomics.com

Outside the Box is a free weekly economic e-letter by best-selling author and renowned financial expert, John Mauldin. You can learn more and get your free subscription by visiting www.JohnMauldin.com.

Please write to johnmauldin@2000wave.com to inform us of any reproductions, including when and where copy will be reproduced. You must keep the letter intact, from introduction to disclaimers. If you would like to quote brief portions only, please reference www.JohnMauldin.com.

John Mauldin, Best-Selling author and recognized financial expert, is also editor of the free Thoughts From the Frontline that goes to over 1 million readers each week. For more information on John or his FREE weekly economic letter go to: http://www.frontlinethoughts.com/

To subscribe to John Mauldin's E-Letter please click here:http://www.frontlinethoughts.com/subscribe.asp

Copyright 2013 John Mauldin. All Rights Reserved
Note: John Mauldin is the President of Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC (MWA), which is an investment advisory firm registered with multiple states. John Mauldin is a registered representative of Millennium Wave Securities, LLC, (MWS), an FINRA registered broker-dealer. MWS is also a Commodity Pool Operator (CPO) and a Commodity Trading Advisor (CTA) registered with the CFTC, as well as an Introducing Broker (IB). Millennium Wave Investments is a dba of MWA LLC and MWS LLC. Millennium Wave Investments cooperates in the consulting on and marketing of private investment offerings with other independent firms such as Altegris Investments; Absolute Return Partners, LLP; Plexus Asset Management; Fynn Capital; and Nicola Wealth Management. Funds recommended by Mauldin may pay a portion of their fees to these independent firms, who will share 1/3 of those fees with MWS and thus with Mauldin. Any views expressed herein are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed in any way as an offer, an endorsement, or inducement to invest with any CTA, fund, or program mentioned here or elsewhere. Before seeking any advisor's services or making an investment in a fund, investors must read and examine thoroughly the respective disclosure document or offering memorandum. Since these firms and Mauldin receive fees from the funds they recommend/market, they only recommend/market products with which they have been able to negotiate fee arrangements.

Opinions expressed in these reports may change without prior notice. John Mauldin and/or the staffs at Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC and InvestorsInsight Publishing, Inc. ("InvestorsInsight") may or may not have investments in any funds cited above.

Disclaimer PAST RESULTS ARE NOT INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS. THERE IS RISK OF LOSS AS WELL AS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR GAIN WHEN INVESTING IN MANAGED FUNDS. WHEN CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS, INCLUDING HEDGE FUNDS, YOU SHOULD CONSIDER VARIOUS RISKS INCLUDING THE FACT THAT SOME PRODUCTS: OFTEN ENGAGE IN LEVERAGING AND OTHER SPECULATIVE INVESTMENT PRACTICES THAT MAY INCREASE THE RISK OF INVESTMENT LOSS, CAN BE ILLIQUID, ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PROVIDE PERIODIC PRICING OR VALUATION INFORMATION TO INVESTORS, MAY INVOLVE COMPLEX TAX STRUCTURES AND DELAYS IN DISTRIBUTING IMPORTANT TAX INFORMATION, ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE SAME REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS AS MUTUAL FUNDS, OFTEN CHARGE HIGH FEES, AND IN MANY CASES THE UNDERLYING INVESTMENTS ARE NOT TRANSPARENT AND ARE KNOWN ONLY TO THE INVESTMENT MANAGER.

John Mauldin Archive

© 2005-2017 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

Catching a Falling Financial Knife