A Macro Conference

Paul H. Rubin —  14 October 2011

I was invited to attend the Financial Times Global Conference “The View From the Top: The Future of America” and since I was in New York anyway I thought it would be fun.  I don’t hang around with macro types much, and even less with liberal macro types.  I will not summarize the entire conference, but a few observations:

  1. Reinhart-Rogoff was a hit, mentioned several times.  Aside from the merits of the book, I think people were trying to give Obama cover for no recovery.  R-R apparently says it takes an average of 7 years to get out of a financial crisis.
  2. The first speaker (Gene Sperling) was late and the Gillian Tett of the FT, the moderator, took some informal polls of the audience (mainly business journalists.)  Pretty pessimistic: Thought that there would be a double-dip, the EU would lose at least one member, and yields would not increase.
  3. Sperling (Director of the National Economic Council) spent a lot of time talking about how bad unemployment is and arguing for the President’s Jobs plan (which the Senate has already rejected.)  Not much new to propose.
  4. Peter Orszagh (former OMB Director, now with CITI) made a few interesting points.  He said that the Administration got the original forecast wrong, and did not realize that the recession was “L” and not “V” shaped.  He also predicted that middle class incomes will not return to their original level and that policy should not fool people into thinking they would.
  5. Several speakers (Laura Tyson of Berkeley and former CEA Chair; Steve Case , AOL founder) argued for better immigration laws (no quarrel there: the Republicans have got themselves into a terrible position on immigration).  Tyson in particular argued for more STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education.  I asked her if she thought the increasing gender imbalance in colleges (now about 2 women per man) was responsible for the STEM problem and she indicated that it might be part of the problem.  Really something worth further examination and some policy analysis.  Of course the immigration mess makes this problem worse since it is harder to import engineers from abroad.
  6. Someone (I think Steve Rattner, former Auto Czar) made the point that while the American economy is doing badly and unemployment is a real problem, American companies are doing very well, in part because of foreign earnings.  There were also several inconclusive discussions of a tax holiday for repatriation of foreign earnings.  Some said that this would be “unfair” but others understood that future effects, not past fairness, was what was relevant.  Not clear what the effects would be, however.
  7. A few mentions of Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, but mostly the role of regulation was ignored.  Health care was mentioned but not, I believe, Obamacare.  Everyone agreed that businesses were “afraid” to spend money but little discussion of the source of the fear.
  8. Most were not worried about conflict with China.  I asked about Chinese demographics (aging population, gender imbalance with too many males.)  Whenever I hear discussions of China I raise this issue since people seem to ignore it and it is a serious issue.  Michael Spence (Nobel Laureate, now at NYU) said that China was in a position to establish a viable retirement program (no details) but that the gender issue was not one that was being dealt with.  There seemed to be almost envy of the ability of the Chinese to do what they wanted independent of the desires of the people.
  9. Laurence Fink of BlackRock made the interesting point that the current situation seems a lot like the 1970s, including the widespread pessimism.  Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator of the FT, agreed.  But the lesson he drew was that we need more and wiser regulation.  I spoke with him briefly and indicated that I was in the Reagan Administration, and that last time we got in a pessimistic mess like this deregulation al la Reagan was the solution.  He rejected this approach.  But I am hopeful.

Paul H. Rubin

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PAUL H. RUBIN is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta and formerly editor in chief of Managerial and Decision Economics. He blogs at Truth on the Market. He was President of the Southern Economic Association in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Public Choice Society and is associated with the Technology Policy Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Independent Institute. Dr. Rubin has been a Senior Economist at President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, Chief Economist at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Director of Advertising Economics at the Federal Trade Commission, and vice-president of Glassman-Oliver Economic Consultants, Inc., a litigation consulting firm in Washington. He has taught economics at the University of Georgia, City University of New York, VPI, and George Washington University Law School. Dr. Rubin has written or edited eleven books, and published over two hundred and fifty articles and chapters on economics, law, regulation, and evolution in journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Legal Studies, and the Journal of Law and Economics, and he frequently contributes to the Wall Street Journal and other leading newspapers. His work has been cited in the professional literature over 8000 times. Books include Managing Business Transactions, Free Press, 1990, Tort Reform by Contract, AEI, 1993, Privacy and the Commercial Use of Personal Information, Kluwer, 2001, (with Thomas Lenard), Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom, Rutgers University Press, 2002, and Economics, Law and Individual Rights, Routledge, 2008 (edited, with Hugo Mialon). He has consulted widely on litigation related matters and has been an adviser to the Congressional Budget Office on tort reform. He has addressed numerous business, professional, policy, government and academic audiences. Dr. Rubin received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1970.

One response to A Macro Conference

  1. 

    last time we got in a pessimistic mess … deregulation al la Reagan was [not] the solution. the only thing deregulated was the S & L business, which promptly went bust

    why cannot people who worship RR tell the truth? Ronald Reagan succeeded because of his personality, for the same reasons that Lincoln, FDR, and Truman were successful.

    Given the challenges, Obama has in many ways been extraordinarily successful on a policy level, but he has not been a leader. For all his efforts, Obama fails the vision test. Read the WSJ piece on Saturday