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Laissez-Faire in Tokyo Land Use – Article by Alex Tabarrok

Laissez-Faire in Tokyo Land Use – Article by Alex Tabarrok

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok

Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, has a growing population of over 13 million people but house prices have hardly increased in twenty years. Why? Tokyo has a laissez-faire approach to land use that allows lots of building subject to only a few general regulations set nationally. Robin Harding at the FT has a very important piece on the Tokyo system:

Here is a startling fact: in 2014 there were 142,417 housing starts in the city of Tokyo (population 13.3m, no empty land), more than the 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of California (population 38.7m), or the 137,010 houses started in the entire country of England (population 54.3m).

Tokyo’s steady construction is linked to a still more startling fact. In contrast to the enormous house price booms that have distorted western cities — setting young against old, redistributing wealth to the already wealthy, and denying others the chance to move to where the good jobs are — the cost of property in Japan’s capital has hardly budged.

This is not the result of a falling population. Japan has experienced the same “return to the city” wave as other nations.House_Prices_2

How is this possible? First Japan has a history of strong property rights in land:

Subject to the zoning rules, the rights of landowners are strong. In fact, Japan’s constitution declares that “the right to own or to hold property is inviolable”. A private developer cannot make you sell land; a local government cannot stop you using it. If you want to build a mock-Gothic castle faced in pink seashells, that is your business.

But this alone cannot explain everything because there was a huge property price-boom in Japan circa 1986 to 1991. In fact, it was in dealing with the collapse of that boom that Japan cleaned up its system, reducing regulation and speeding the permit approval process.

…in the 1990s, the government relaxed development rules, culminating in the Urban Renaissance Law of 2002, which made it easier to rezone land. Office sites were repurposed for new housing. “To help the economy recover from the bubble, the country eased regulation on urban development,” says Ichikawa. “If it hadn’t been for the bubble, Tokyo would be in the same situation as London or San Francisco.”

Hallways and public areas were excluded from the calculated size of apartment buildings, letting them grow much higher within existing zoning, while a proposal now under debate would allow owners to rebuild bigger if they knock down blocks built to old earthquake standards.

Rising housing prices are not an inevitable consequence of growth and fixed land supply–high and rising housing prices are the result of policy choices to restrict land development.

The policy choices were made–they can be unmade.

tokyo-japanThis post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.

Fact-Checking Paul Krugman’s Claim To Be “Right About Everything” – Article by Andrew Syrios

Fact-Checking Paul Krugman’s Claim To Be “Right About Everything” – Article by Andrew Syrios

The New Renaissance Hat
Andrew Syrios
June 10, 2015

But can the debate really be as one-sided as I portray it? Well, look at the results: again and again, people on the opposite side prove to have used bad logic, bad data, the wrong historical analogies, or all of the above. I’m Krugtron the Invincible!

Thus wrote the great Paul Krugman. A man so modest as to proclaim that “I think I can say without false modesty, a huge win; I (and those of like mind) have been right about everything.”

Quite a claim. Indeed, predictions are extraordinarily difficult. Even to an expert in a subject who has dedicated his life to a field of study, predicting the future proves elusive. Daniel Kahneman referenced a study of 284 political and economic “experts” and their predictions and found that “The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of three potential outcomes.”

A whole book of such wildly inaccurate predictions by experts was compiled into the very humorous The Experts Speak with such prescient predictions as Dr. Alfred Velpeau’s “The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it” and Arthur Reynolds belief that “This crash [of 1929] is not going to have much effect on business.” Indeed, a foundational block of Austrian economics (that some Austrians unfortunately forgot regarding premature predictions of hyperinflation) is that the sheer number of variables in the world at large makes accurate forecasting extraordinarily difficult.

So it must be a rare man indeed that can be right about everything. And this man, Paul Krugman is not.

Predicting a Bubble He Recommended

Paul Krugman likes to reference the fact that he predicted the housing bubble. Of course, he also sort of recommended it. From a 2002 column of his,

To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.

In 2009, when this came out, he denied its obvious implication and wrote, “It wasn’t a piece of policy advocacy, it was just economic analysis. What I said was that the only way the Fed could get traction would be if it could inflate a housing bubble. And that’s just what happened.” So that doesn’t count as a recommendation? It certainly sounded like he was agreeing with Paul McCulley on inflating a housing bubble. And he verified that that’s exactly what he meant in a 2006 interview where he said,

As Paul McCulley of PIMCO remarked when the tech boom crashed, Greenspan needed to create a housing bubble to replace the technology bubble. So within limits he may have done the right thing. But by late 2004 he should have seen the danger signs and warned against what was happening; such a warning could have taken the place of rising interest rates. He didn’t, and he left a terrible mess for Ben Bernanke.

The best Krugman can possibly say is that he thought Greenspan went too far with the housing bubble he recommended.

Deflation is Around the Corner

While running victory laps because the United States hasn’t seen massive price inflation, Krugman seems to have forgotten what his prediction actually was. In 2010 he wrote, “And what these measures show is an ongoing process of disinflation that could, in not too long, turn into outright deflation … Japan, here we come.”

Robert Murphy called him on this and noted Krugman’s response,

… Krugman himself … said of his 2010 analysis: “(In that post, I worried about deflation, which hasn’t happened; I’ve written a lot since about why).”

Note the parenthetical aside, and the timing: Krugman in April 2013 is mentioning in parentheses to his reader that oh yes, as of February 2010 he was “worried about deflation, which hasn’t happened.” In other words, Krugman entered this crisis with a model that predicted how prices would move in response to the economic situation, and chose his policies of government stimulus accordingly. He was wrong, and yet maintains the same policy recommendations.

But of course to Krugman, anyone who predicted price inflation can’t explain why that hasn’t happened. Such people are just those “… who take a position and refuse to alter that position no matter how strongly the evidence refutes it.” Krugman is different.

Europe Will Do Better Than the United States

In 2008, Krugman wrote:

… tales of a moribund Europe are greatly exaggerated. … The fact is that Europe’s economy looks a lot better now — both in absolute terms and compared with our economy.”

Later he noted that “Americans will face increasingly strong incentives to start living like Europeans” and that “he has seen the future and it works.” (I should probably note that that is a quote he borrowed from Lincoln Steffens about the Soviet Union.)

Then Greece went bankrupt and the international consensus is unquestionably that the crisis hit Europe harder.

The Euro Will Collapse

Niall Ferguson counted eleven different times between April of 2010 and July 2012 that Krugman wrote about the imminent breakup of the euro. For example, on May 17th, 2012, Krugman wrote,

Apocalypse Fairly Soon. … Suddenly, it has become easy to see how the euro — that grand, flawed experiment in monetary union without political union — could come apart at the seams. We’re not talking about a distant prospect, either. Things could fall apart with stunning speed, in a matter of months, not years. And the costs — both economic and, arguably even more important, political — could be huge.

Most of these predictions are laced with weasel words such as “might,” “probably,” and “could” (more on that shortly). Still, while I’m no fan of the euro, and it might still collapse, as of today, three years later, it has not. If the word “imminent” means anything at all, Krugman was wrong.

The Sequester Will Doom Us All

Paul Krugman at least admitted the sequester was “relatively small potatoes.” But for “relatively small potatoes” he makes a big deal about it, referring to it as “one of the worst policy ideas in our nation’s history.” And it “will probably cost ‘only’ around 700,000 jobs.” (Note the word “probably” again.)

Then later, he decided that these were actually quite large potatoes, stating,

And, somehow, both sides decided that the way to buy time was to create a fiscal doomsday machine that would inflict gratuitous damage on the nation through spending cuts unless a grand bargain was reached. Sure enough, there is no bargain, and the doomsday machine will go off at the end of next week.

The economy has done quite well since then actually. Indeed, how $85.4 billion dollars in “cuts” (from the next year’s budget not the previous year’s spending) could affect anything in a $17 trillion dollar economy is simply beyond me. And of course, it didn’t.

Interest Rates Can’t Go Below Zero

In March of this year, Krugman wrote in regard to some European bonds with negative nominal yields,

We now know that interest rates can, in fact, go negative; those of us who dismissed the possibility by saying that people could simply hold currency were clearly too casual about it.”

But as Robert Murphy points out, “The foundation for the Keynesian case for fiscal stimulus rests on an assumption that interest rates can’t go negative.” Murphy also points out that Krugman should admit he was wrong again because back in 2009, Krugman wrote,

And the reason we’re all turning to fiscal policy is that the standard rule, which is that monetary policy plus automatic stabilizers should do the work of smoothing the business cycle, can’t be applied when we’re hard up against the zero lower bound. [i.e. zero percent interest]

“Inflation Will be Back”

In 1998, Paul Krugman predicted “Inflation will be back.”


“The Rate of Technological Change in Computing Slows”

Same article as the last one, “… the number of jobs for IT specialists will decelerate, then actually turn down.”

Aside from a short dip after the 2001 recession, the answer would be nope again.

Weasel Words and “Accurate Predictions”

Let’s take a look at Paul Krugman’s “accurate prediction” of the financial crisis. On March 2nd, 2007, he predicted the following explanation would be given a year from then for the financial crisis he was sort of predicting,

The great market meltdown of 2007 began exactly a year ago, with a 9 percent fall in the Shanghai market, followed by a 416-point slide in the Dow. But as in the previous global financial crisis, which began with the devaluation of Thailand’s currency in the summer of 1997, it took many months before people realized how far the damage would spread.

So the crisis would begin in China? Almost.

He concluded that column by saying, “I’m not saying that things will actually play out this way. But if we’re going to have a crisis, here’s how.”

That’s a good hedge, just like with the euro. He can say he got the financial crisis right (albeit happening in a different way than he expected), but then say he didn’t get the euro wrong because he added “probably” before any prediction about it.

Normally, there would be nothing wrong with these weasel words. Given the nature of predictions, any prediction that is made should have a qualifier in front of it. It’s simply an admission that you aren’t omniscient. But you can’t eat your cake and have it too. Either Krugman was right about the crisis (sort of) and wrong about the euro (and many other things) or neither should count at all.

Or course, this doesn’t refute Krugman’s theories. But then again, Krugman may want to slow down on his victory laps.

Andrew Syrios is a partner in the real estate investment firm Stewardship Properties. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Business Administration and a Minor in History.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Mainstream Economists Prove Krugman Wrong About Hayek and Mises – Article by John P. Cochran

Mainstream Economists Prove Krugman Wrong About Hayek and Mises – Article by John P. Cochran

The New Renaissance Hat
John P. Cochran
September 13, 2013

Paul Krugman has recently been critical of Friedman (and Phelps), the Phillips curve, and the Natural Unemployment Rate (NUR) theory in the process of arguing that due to the recent Great Recession, the accompanying financial crisis, and Bush-Obama-Fed Great Stagnation, Friedman has vanished from the policy front. Krugman makes this claim despite the fact there is an on-going vigorous debate on rules versus discretion with at least some attention to Friedman’s plucking model. While maligning Friedman’s contributions, Krugman manages a slap at Austrians and claims a renewed practical relevance for Keynes:

What I think is really interesting is the way Friedman has virtually vanished from policy discourse. Keynes is very much back, even if that fact drives some economists crazy; Hayek is back in some sense, even if one has the suspicion that many self-proclaimed Austrians bring little to the table but the notion that fiat money is the root of all evil — a deeply anti-Friedmanian position. But Friedman is pretty much absent.

The Friedman-Phelps hypothesis was the heart of the policy effectiveness debate of the 1970s and early 80s. The empirical evidence developed during the debate over the policy implications of the NUR model, at least temporally, discredited active Keynesian discretionary policy as an effective tool to reduce unemployment in the long run. One result of the debate: monetary policy appeared to improve, especially compared to the Fed’s dismal record in the late 1920s and 1930s and the mid 1960s to the late 1970s. Central banks, à la Friedman, focused on rules-based policy and inflation targeting resulting in what many, following John B. Taylor, call the Great Moderation of the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

Krugman does recognize the “stagflation (of the 1970s) led to a major rethinking of macroeconomics, all across the board; even staunch Keynesians conceded that Friedman/Phelps had been right (indeed, they may have conceded too much [emphasis added]), and the vertical long-run Phillips curve became part of every textbook.”

My early work on Hayek and Keynes (see here and here) argued that this development was important, but misleading. The then current business cycle research and its newer variants could benefit from re-examining the issues at the heart of the Hayek-Keynes debate.

Money, banking, finance, and capital structure were, and still are, for the most part ignored in much of the new (post-Friedman-Phelps) macroeconomics including the new–Keynesian approaches. In this regard, Hayek (and Mises) had then, and has now, more to offer than Keynes.

Recent papers by respected mainstream economists are beginning to recognize that attention to Hayek and Mises can be useful. Guillermo Calvo of Columbia University, in a recent paper [PDF], has even gone so far as to argue, “the Austrian school of the trade cycle was on the right track” and that the Austrian School offered valuable insights and noting that:

There is a growing empirical literature purporting to show that financial crises are preceded by credit booms including Mendoza and Terrones (2008), Schularik and Taylor (2012), Agosin and Huaita (2012), and Borio (2012).

Calvo adds “[t]his was a central theme in the Austrian School of Economics.”

Claudio Borio highlights what Austrians have long argued is a key flaw in inflation-targeting or stable-money policy regimes such as many central banks either adopted or emulated during the 1980-2008 period. This flaw contributed to back-to-back boom-busts of the late 1990s and 2000s:

A monetary policy regime narrowly focused on controlling near-term inflation removes the need to tighten policy when financial booms take hold against the backdrop of low and stable inflation. And major positive supply-side developments, such as those associated with the globalisation of the real side of the economy, provide plenty of fuel for financial booms.

Borio thus recognizes that a time to mitigate a bust is (contra-Keynes) during the boom:

In the case of monetary policy, it is necessary to adopt strategies that allow central banks to tighten so as to lean against the build-up of financial imbalances even if near-term inflation remains subdued.

William R. White, another economist who has worked at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) and has been influenced by Hayek, has come to similar conclusions as does Calvo, who argues “Hayek’s theory is very subtle and shows that even a central bank that follows a stable monetary policy may not be able to prevent business cycles and, occasionally, major boom-bust episodes.”

In the current environment, many, including Krugman, have argued for a higher inflation target or a higher nominal GDP target to jump start the current sluggish recovery.

Austrian business cycle theory on the other hand, as recognized by Borio and Calvo, provides analysis on why such a policy may be ineffective and if temporarily effective in the short run, harmful if not destructive, in the long run. (See here and here for more.)

An easy money and credit policy impedes necessary re-structuring of the economy and new credit creation begins a new round of misdirection of production leading to an “unfinished recession.” Calvo expounds:

Whatever one thinks of the power of the Hayek/Mises mix as a positive theory of the business cycle, an insight from the theory is that once credit over-expansion hits the real sector, rolling back credit is unlikely to be able to put “Humpty-Dumpty together again.”

It is too bad it took back-to-back harmful boom-bust cycles for the profession at large to begin to again examine Austrian insights, but it does illustrate how foolish Krugman is when he argues Austrians have nothing to bring to the table.

John P. Cochran is emeritus dean of the Business School and emeritus professor of economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver and coauthor with Fred R. Glahe of The Hayek-Keynes Debate: Lessons for Current Business Cycle Research. He is also a senior scholar for the Mises Institute and serves on the editorial board of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Send him mail. See John P. Cochran’s article archives.

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This article was originally published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.