Jared Bernstein is an economist and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He was formerly chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden and a member of President Barack Obama’s economics team.
The consensus was that they'd do it, and they did it. The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates again, the 11th consecutive rate increase, from a measly 1 percent in June of 2004 to 3.75 percent on September 20.
“The economists don't know what they're talking about.”
Granted, this may seem like an odd opening for a piece by two economists, but the guy who said this -- a member of a focus group probing Americans' experiences in the current economy -- has a point.
Policy-makers are waxing ever more enthusiastic about how great things are. In response to the most recent report on the gross domestic product, the research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis quipped, "It's kind of boring around here because the economy looks so good.”
This may seem like a weird time for progressives to feel optimistic, but a confluence of recent events suggests the faintest breeze of hope in the air.
Granted, the winds of corruption and shortsightedness still dominate. More so than at any time in recent memory, high-level officials are indistinguishable from right-wing lobbyists, gutting government's ability to regulate corporate power. The Justice Department is throwing the fight against the tobacco companies; the White House is busy editing the science out of regulations that might restrain polluters.
An economist's view of the world generally boils down to “every silver lining has a cloud.” Our reputation as dismal scientists, fair or not, makes us especially grateful when we find something to be optimistic about. In that vein, there's one development over the past decade that makes even us feel brighter about the future: the acceleration in productivity growth. Productivity measures economic output per hour of work, and thus offers a basic measure of how fast living standards can rise.
It's tax day, and the mind drifts to interdependent utility functions.
Back in grad school at Columbia, we slogged through microeconomics, learning how individuals sought to “maximize utility,” which roughly translates into becoming as fulfilled as possible, given various constraints. The optimal economy, we learned, was one in which economic agents, or “people,” sought to promote their own well-being. We didn't just take this at face value, though; we constructed pristine mathematical models that proved it.