Trade in the real world — Jared Bernstein and Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

From The Washington Post

Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement under negotiation between the United States and 11 other countries, make this case: Trade between countries is always good, and more trade with more countries is even better. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw goes further in a recent New York Times piece, arguing that anyone opposed to trade deals does not understand elementary economics.

The arguments made by these advocates do not match the reality of the modern world and are not helpful for thinking about what is at stake in the TPP. It’s not a question of understanding economics. It’s a question of knowing precisely what we’re agreeing to when we sign the TPP.

In the simple models of introductory textbooks, countries improve their respective economic outcomes by specializing in their “comparative advantage” — the goods they produce more efficiently than their trade partners — thereby increasing the supply of goods and lowering prices. No government subsidy is involved, nobody cheats, everyone is well-informed about the nature of the deal, and pretty much all parties come out ahead. If anyone loses their job, in those models either they get another good job or they can be fairly compensated by the people who gain extra income.

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Clearing houses could be the next source of chaos — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

From The Financial Times

Financial shadows are dangerous. Even more dangerous are interactions between poorly understood shadows and essential financial intermediation activities. And most dangerous is when officials and private sector executives encourage a class of transactions that supposedly provide modest risk mitigation, while really building a disguised form of systemic risk on a grand scale.

It was not mounting losses at Countrywide, the failure of Lehman Brothers or the imminent collapse of AIG that spelt disaster in September 2008. It was the connections between those lightly regulated businesses and Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Société Générale, Barclays, UBS and Deutsche Bank.

Where is the next generation of systemic risk hiding in plain sight? Look carefully at central clearing counterparties, or clearing houses, which are expanding due to the post-crisis requirement that standardised swaps – derivative transactions, including credit default swaps, that have standard terms along important dimensions – be cleared centrally.

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The US has a jobs crisis. Here’s how to fix it — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

From The Guardian

To reduce the persistently high unemployment rate in the United States, Congress should move to relax some of our current constraints on immigration.

This is a controversial idea because many people are under the impression that allowing in more immigrants would push up unemployment. But that would only be the case if the number of jobs in the US were an unchanging constant. Read More »

Putting the TPP on the right track — Simon Johnson and Rep. Sander Levin

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

From Politico Magazine

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a major potential trade agreement between the United States and 11 countries at very different levels of economic development, including Japan, Mexico and Vietnam. Will the agreement boost U.S. growth, address wage stagnation, help our strategic partners and create legitimate rules for international trade in the 21st century? The answer hangs in the balance.

With negotiations reported to be entering the final stages, it is critical that Congress focus at this point not on how to “fast track” approval of an agreement — through passing Trade Promotion Authority — but on making sure the TPP itself is on the right track.

There is a real choice to be made between two different approaches to international trade.

The first approach is based on the unbridled free-market view that more trade is necessarily better. The focus here is on eliminating regulatory barriers to exports and foreign investment. It is claimed that market forces will not just increase economic efficiency, but also improve governance in developing countries. Similarly, trade imbalances between nations will work themselves out.

The importance of being boring — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

From Business Day

The International Monetary Fund is an immensely useful organization, able to deliver substantial amounts of financial and technical assistance at short notice to almost any place in the world. It also has the great advantage of almost always being perceived as incredibly boring.

Unfortunately for the IMF, it now needs a slightly higher public profile to convince the US Congress to agree to some important reforms. The Ukrainian crisis may prove helpful, though that appears less likely now – which may be a good thing to the extent that one unintended consequence could be a loan to Ukraine that is larger than it really needs.

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