Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Romer And Romer Stumble

A debate has recently arisen about Gerald Friedman's analysis of Bernie Sanders' proposed economic program. In a welcome turn of events, two defenders of the establishment, Christina and David Romer, finally offer some substance, instance of just relying on their authority as Very Serious People.

In this post, I ignore most of the substance of the argument. I want to focus on three errors I find in this passage:

"Potentially more worrisome are the extensive interventions in the labor market. The experiences of many European countries from the 1970s to today show that an overly regulated labor market can have severe consequences for normal unemployment. There are strong arguments for raising the minimum wage; and over the range observed historically in the United States, the short-run employment effects of moderate increases appear negligible. But doubling the minimum wage nationwide, adding new requirements for employer-funded paid vacations and sick leave, and increasing payroll taxes substantially would take us into uncharted waters. Obviously, these changes would not bring the United States all the way to levels of labor market regulation of many European countries in the 1970s. But they are large enough that one can reasonably fear that they could have a noticeable impact on capacity growth." -- Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer, Senator Sander's Proposed Policies and Economic Growth (5 February 2016) p. 10-11.

First, the reference to "interventions in the labor market" and an "overly regulated labor market" imposes a false dichotomy. An unregulated labor market cannot exist. Certainly this is so in an advanced capitalist economy. Possible choices are among sets of regulations and norms, not among intervention or not. Calling one set of regulations an example of government non-intervention is to disguise taking a side under obfuscatory verbiage.

Second, Romer and Romer presuppose a consensus about the empirical effects of different regulations on the labor market in Europe and the United States that I do not think exists. If I wanted to find empirically based arguments countering Romer and Romer's claim, I would look through back issues of the Cambridge Journal of Economics. Perhaps at least one of these articles might be helpful.

Third, Romer and Romer suggest that, given the set of regulations they like to think of as government non-intervention, markets for labor and goods would have a tendency to clear. Otherwise, economic growth would be jeopardized. No theoretical foundation exists for thinking so.

Even the best mainstream economists seem incapable of writing ten pages without spouting ideological claptrap and propagating silly errors exposed more than half a century ago. Something seems terribly wrong with economics profession.

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