- On Capitol Hill
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- Policy Reform Work
Our projects are designed to empower policy makers to create positive change. With a focus on collaboration and outreach, we provide original, standards-based research on key policy issues.
SCEPA joined with the Economic Policy Institute on Capitol Hill to brief congressional staff and policy experts on tax expenditures, or incentives given through the tax code without scrutiny by Congress.
SCEPA economists are working on the prospects for a more progressive economic order to emerge from the shock of the recession. They have published papers and documents that place current events in a longer-term context as well as policy proposals to deal with short-term concerns. They are also documenting the emerging discussion of how the discipline of economics is reacting to the Great Recession and the questioning of conventional economic analysis.
Lance Taylor, a SCEPA Faculty Fellow, presents an overview of his new book, Maynard’s Revenge, in a Google Tech Talk.
The book, published this November by Harvard University Press, is a timely analysis of mainstream macroeconomics, posing the need for a more useful and realistic economic analysis that can provide a better understanding of the ongoing global financial and economic crisis.
The government spends $143 billion through tax breaks in an effort to expand pension coverage and security. Yet, over half of the American workforce does not have a pension. Retirement insecurity hurts business plans, workers’ lives and retiree well-being. Reform is needed.
SCEPA’s Guaranteeing Retirement Income Project, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and in collaboration with Demos and the Economic Policy Institute, has a plan to guarantee safe and secure retirement income for all Americans.
by Arkady Gevorkyan and Willi Semmler
A cheap alternative to imported fossil fuels, shale energy was considered revolutionary when it hit the market in the late 20th century. As a result, the shale industry thrived in the early 2000s, playing a major role in the energy sector. But early in mid2014, the industry began to falter due to market forces and high debt levels, leaving it to face an uncertain future. However, the bust of the shale industry opens the door to the next revolutionary player in the energy sector: renewables.
The shale industry’s poor market position is due to both external market forces and questionable business practices, as documented in a recent SCEPA paper and published in Economic Modeling. First, an EIA report documents how shale companies engaged in excessive borrowing, incurring an unprecedented level of debt from 2010 to 2014. Second, 2014 ushered in an unexpected drop in crude oil prices that undercut shale’s competitive price in the market. Third, many of the larger energy companies that had been investing in small and midsize shale oil companies substantially increased their borrowing after the 2014 price plunge.
Unfortunately, experts predict that crude oil prices will remain low, extending shale’s “bust” cycle and offering the industry little chance at redemption. Instead, smaller shale companies that overleveraged during the “boom” years will likely have to downsize production and liquidate capital to repay debt. Rather than inspiring confidence in potential and necessary investors, this could reinforce shale companies’ reputation within the energy industry for making misguided investments and lead to a sector shakeout that forces some companies to restructure and some to fold.
Should shale collapse, what comes next? While some argue that low crude oil prices will simply revert the market back to a high demand for fossil fuels, others believe this “bust” among traditional market players is an opportunity for the emerging renewable sector. In fact, renewable energy companies could find U.S. consumers more open to green energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels, just as they once learned to embrace shale energy.
Exponential probability distributions describe many natural phenomena because of the principle of conservation of energy. They also describe the distributions of economic variables, such as income, stock returns, and exchange rate changes, but exactly why is unclear.
In the December 1st seminar hosted by SCEPA and The New School’s Economics Department, New School Economics Professor Paulo dos Santos offered an explanation for why these distributions appear so often in economics, and a possible application of his reasoning. In a presentation on “The Distribution and Regulation of Tobin’s q,” dos Santos described the Scaling Principle: that the behavior of economic variables is best understood as comparisons of realized values to expected values. For example, income may appear to be exponentially distributed because the relevant economic value is not the exact amount of money individuals earn, but the ratio of their income to average income
Professor dos Santos also presented his research on the historical distribution of Tobin’s q, the ratio between the market value of a corporation’s liabilities and the replacement value of its assets. He calculated Tobin’s q for over 20 thousand firms over a period of more than 50 years, yielding 200,000 observations. Its distribution is centered around one, but with significant deviation. Exactly why this is so is unclear, but dos Santos has provided the first comprehensive estimate of the distribution of Tobin’s q, which can be used to develop and evaluate past and future theories about its behavior.
New School Economics Professor Sanjay Reddy is known for his multidisciplinary approach to economics, looking at the mathematical and philosophical underpinnings of economic theories and policies. It’s no surprise, then, that his new INET blog post, “Externalities and Public Goods: Theory OR Society?,” investigates these two concepts from all angles.
The essay is part of Reddy’s “Reading Mas-Colell” blog series, for which he and New School PhD student Raphaele Chappe provide critical commentary on the widely used microeconomics textbook “Microeconomic Theory” by Andreu Mas-Colell, Michael Whinston, and Jerry Green. In this installment, he explores the historical development and competing definitions of the concepts of externalities and public goods.
Many economists view externalities and public goods as technical concepts with precise definitions, but Professor Reddy reminds us that social issues are generally subjective. “The extent to which public goods are provided depends on who we see as part of ‘ourselves’ and what we see as ‘ours.’” Policy responses to simple externalities, such as congested roads or localized pollution, are relatively straightforward. But solutions to epochal challenges like climate change require social, political, and institutional perspectives. In these cases, the “right” answer is more elusive.