American Economic Policy, as told by Prof Martin Feldstein at Harvard University: Lecture 4, Obama’s response to the great recession, real GDP measurement issues and America’s middle class is doing better than you think

I missed class on February 4th (my bad) when Martin Feldstein of Harvard University gave the 4th lecture of his course “American Economic Policy,” but fortunately my classmate Matthew Tyler took notes and kindly accepted an invitation to post them as a guest on this blog. He also offers some personal reflections on what it feels like to be a left of center observer in a class taught by a self-avowed “conservative economist.” You can reach Matthew on twitter @Matt_B_Tyler .

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Feldstein takes to the podium on a relatively mild Cambridge morning for this term’s fourth American Economic Policy lecture. The crowd has thinned slightly since day one, although the rapid tapping of laptop keys throughout suggests those who remain hang on every word. Like sponges, the economists of the future are absorbing the insights of a distinguished five decade career. Today, these eager young minds cover much ground: reflections on the Obama administration’s response to the great recession; the accuracy of real GDP measures; and skepticism regarding the size of the inequality problem in the United States.

It’s December 2008. The National Bureau of Economic Research has just declared the American economy has been in recession for almost 12 months. Both fiscal and monetary policy responses are falling short. $78 billion of tax rebates introduced by President Bush generated only $20 billion of additional consumer spending which was far less than the multiplier predicted by Feldstein, Summers and others. Similarly, traditional monetary policy is not working as the crisis was not caused by rising interest rates.

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“After Piketty”, 12 policy proposes to reduce inequality of outcomes

“The media storm surrounding the publication of Thomas Piketty’s remarkable Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) has ensured that inequality is now in the forefront of public debate. But what next?”

Sir Tony Atkinson

Thus begins an essay in The British Journal of Sociology by the dean of inequality studies, A. B. Atkinson of Oxford University. This is a must read for anyone interested in public policy addressed to the growing inequality in the rich countries.

Professor Atkinson’s focus is on the United Kingdom, but his far-reaching set of policy prescriptions address many aspects of public policy (not just tax and transfer policy), and have relevance well beyond the European context.

Tony Atkinson is an economist of the highest order who has been studying and contributing to the economics of inequality since the 1960s. In this paper he offers 12 proposals that, he says, “could bring about a genuine shift in the distribution of income towards less inequality.”

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Your summer reading list on inequality and opportunity

Before you finish packing for your vacation to the cottage, the beach, the backyard or the balcony, I thought you would appreciate some suggestions for your summer reading. (If you live in Australia, New Zealand, India, or anywhere else south of the equator, I hope you will read for the sheer pleasure, at work if you must!)

The first book on your holiday reading list is, without doubt, …

 

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