A nice interview of Robert Lucas.
The School is famous for two main ideas – EMH and Rational expectations:
Let’s face it, the “Chicago School” of economics—the one with all the Nobel Prizes, the one associated with Milton Friedman, the one known for its trust of markets and skepticism about government—has taken a drubbing in certain quarters since the subprime crisis.
Sure, the critique depends on misinterpreting what the word “efficient” means, as in the “efficient markets hypothesis.” Never mind. The Chicago school ought to be roaring back today on another of its great contributions, “rational expectations,” which does so much to illuminate why government policy is failing to stimulate the economy back to life.
Lucas did more than anyone else to lead the RE revolution. When he got the Nobel Prize in 1995, it was well expected. Now, we question why?
Robert E. Lucas Jr., 74, didn’t invent the idea or coin the term, but he did more than anyone to explore its ramifications for our model of the economy. Rational expectations is the idea that people look ahead and use their smarts to try to anticipate conditions in the future.
Duh, you say? When Mr. Lucas finally won the Nobel Prize in 1995, it was the economics profession that said duh. By then, nobody figured more prominently on the short list for the profession’s ultimate honor. As Harvard economist Greg Mankiw later put it in the New York Times, “In academic circles, the most influential macroeconomist of the last quarter of the 20th century was Robert Lucas, of the University of Chicago.”
Two things worry him these days:
Two things are on his mind and they’re connected. One is the failure of the European and Japanese economies, after their brisk growth in the early postwar years, to catch up with the U.S. in per capita gross domestic product. The GDP gap, which once seemed destined to close, mysteriously stopped narrowing after about 1970. The other issue on his mind is our own stumbling recovery from the 2008 recession.
For the best explanation of what happened in Europe and Japan, he points to research by fellow Nobelist Ed Prescott. In Europe, governments typically commandeer 50% of GDP. The burden to pay for all this largess falls on workers in the form of high marginal tax rates, and in particular on married women who might otherwise think of going to work as second earners in their households. “The welfare state is so expensive, it just breaks the link between work effort and what you get out of it, your living standard,” says Mr. Lucas. “And it’s really hurting them.”
Fatas points this relation is not fully right. Europe does have high taxes but so is the effort to employ more people:
Below is a chart of marginal tax rates (as estimated by the OECD) and the female employment to population ratio for the age range (25-54) for 2010. I have chosen that particular employment to population ratio because it matches the statement in the quote above (the chart looks similar if we look at a different age range or male participation rates).
Do we see more or less effort in countries with high tax rates? Not obvious. In fact, in the sample I have selected there seems to be a positive correlation, not a negative one. Countries with strong welfare state, high taxes (both average and marginal) show higher level of efforts as measured by employment to population ratios. The US appears as a country with low taxes but also low levels of effort.
Then, on this recession. He believes financial engineering was a culprit along with the housing bubble bust:
Turning to the U.S., he says, “A healthy economy that falls into recession has higher than average growth for a while and gets back to the old trend line. We haven’t done that. I have plenty of suspicions but little evidence. I think people are concerned about high tax rates, about trying to stick business corporations with the failure of ObamaCare, which is going to emerge, the fact that it’s not going to add up. But none of this has happened yet. You can’t look at evidence. The taxes haven’t really been raised yet.”
Refreshing, even bracing, is Mr. Lucas’s skepticism about the “deleveraging” story as the sum of all our economic woes. “If people start building a lot of high-rises in Chicago or any place and nobody is buying the units, obviously you’re going to shut down the construction industry for a while. If you’ve overbuilt something, that’s not the problem, that’s the solution in a way. It’s too bad but it’s not a make-or-break issue, the housing bubble.”
Instead, the shock came because complex mortgage-related securities minted by Wall Street and “certified as safe” by rating agencies had become “part of the effective liquidity supply of the system,” he says. “All of a sudden, a whole bunch of this stuff turns out to be crap. It is the financial aspect that was instrumental in the meltdown of ’08. I don’t think housing alone, if it weren’t for these tranches and the role they played in the liquidity system,” would have been a debilitating blow to the economy.