Saturday, February 8, 2014

He who has the last laugh at Noah Smith

Casey Mulligan has a new book out, called The Redistribution Recession, advancing his unorthodox ideas about the cause of the Great Recession. ....
Should I read this book? Well, it does seem interesting, and it comes highly recommended. I'm sure I'd have lots to say about it. On the other hand, I do have limited time; I can't read every pop econ book that comes across my computer screen.
With Smith deciding he'd skip it. That decision doesn't look too wise now that the Congressional Budget Office has decided that Mulligan was onto something (as this WSJ piece makes clear);
The CBO's intellectual conversion is all the more notable for accepting Mr. Mulligan's premise, which is that what economists call "implicit marginal tax rates" in ObamaCare make work less financially valuable for lower-income Americans. ....
The CBO works in mysterious ways, but its commentary and a footnote suggest that two National Bureau of Economic Research papers Mr. Mulligan published last August were "roughly" the most important drivers of this revision to its model. In short, the CBO has pulled this economist's arguments and analysis from the fringes to center of the health-care debate.
The 'fringes'?
For his part, Mr. Mulligan declines to take too much credit. "I'm not an expert in that town, Washington," he says, "but I showed them my work and I know they listened, carefully."
At a February 2013 hearing he pointed out several discrepancies between the CBO's marginal-tax-rate work and its health-care work, and, he says, "That couldn't persist forever. There would have to be a time where they would reconcile those two approaches somehow." More to the point, "I knew eventually it would be acknowledged that when you pay people for being low income you are going to have more low-income people."
Seems like standard undergrad econ to us. [Our bold in the above]

So, now what do the Paul Krugmans of the world have left?
...liberals have turned to claiming that ObamaCare's missing workers will be a gift to society. Since employers aren't cutting jobs per se through layoffs or hourly take-backs, people are merely choosing rationally to supply less labor. Thanks to ObamaCare, we're told, Americans can finally quit the salt mines and blacking factories and retire early, or spend more time with the children, or become artists.
Let the belly guffaws begin;
Mr. Mulligan reserves particular scorn for the economists making this "eliminated from the drudgery of labor market" argument, which he views as a form of trahison des clercs. "I don't know what their intentions are," he says, choosing his words carefully, "but it looks like they're trying to leverage the lack of economic education in their audience by making these sorts of points."
A job, Mr. Mulligan explains, "is a transaction between buyers and sellers. When a transaction doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. We know that it doesn't matter on which side of the market you put the disincentives, the results are the same. . . . In this case you're putting an implicit tax on work for households, and employers aren't willing to compensate the households enough so they'll still work." Jobs can be destroyed by sellers (workers) as much as buyers (businesses).
He adds: "I can understand something like cigarettes and people believe that there's too much smoking, so we put a tax on cigarettes, so people smoke less, and we say that's a good thing. OK. But are we saying we were working too much before? Is that the new argument? I mean make up your mind. We've been complaining for six years now that there's not enough work being done. . . . Even before the recession there was too little work in the economy. Now all of a sudden we wake up and say we're glad that people are working less? We're pursuing our dreams?"
[Again, bold by HSIB.]

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