Friday, February 12, 2016

The Libertarian Case for Bernie Sanders

The Libertarian Case for Bernie Sanders, from Will Wilkinson at the Niskanen Center. Yes, Denmark scores much above the US on ease of doing business indices. An interesting case. A welfare state is not necessarily a politicized regulatory state, with strong two-way political-industry capture. The latter may be more dangerous economically.  Those who wish to eat golden eggs have an incentive to let the Goose grow fat.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Policy Rules Legislation

Allan Meltzer and John Taylor organized a Statement on Policy Rules Legislation signed by quite a few famous economists. John's blog explains in some detail.

Stating a rule or "strategy" about what things the Fed will react to also will help the Fed to pre-commit to things it will not react to. If the Fed says they react to inflation and unemployment, that means you should not expect it to react to stock prices, oil prices, exchange rates, and so forth.

Ms. Yellen's testimony and monetary policy report happen Feb 10 and 11. It will be interesting to hear the discussion of these issues. I hope that discussion includes not just legislation, but whether the Fed should follow something like this strategy communication on its own, in order to limit pressures for the Fed to do unwise things.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Gordon on growth 2

PBS covers Bob Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth.



[Embedded video. These aren't picked up when other sources pick up the blog, so come back to the original if you don't see the video.]

PBS and Paul Solman did a great job, especially relative to the usual standards of economics coverage in the media.  OK, not perfect -- they livened it up by tying it to partisan politics a bit more than they should have, though far less than usual.

I don't (yet, maybe) agree with Bob. I still hope that the mastery of information and biology can produce results like the mastery of electromagnetism and fossil fuels did earlier. I still suspect that slow growth is resulting from government-induced sclerosis rather than an absence of good ideas in a smoothly functioning economy.  But Bob has us talking about The Crucial Issue: long term growth, and its source in productivity. The 1870-1970 miracle was not about whether the federal funds rate was 0.25% higher or lower. And the issue is not about opinions, like the ones I just offered, but facts and research, which Bob offers.

The issue of future long-term growth is tied with the issue of measurement, something else that Bob has championed over the years. GDP is well designed to measure steel per worker. Information, health and lifespan increases are much more poorly measured. This is already a problem in long-term comparisons. In the video, Bob points to light as the greatest invention. The price of light has fallen by a factor of thousands since the age of candles, to the point where light consumption is a trivial part of GDP. It's a worse problem as all the great stuff becomes free. I suspect that we'll have to try to measure consumer surplus not just the market value of goods and services.

And congratulations to Bob. The economics profession tends to focus on the young rising stars, but he offers inspiration that economists can produce magnum opuses of deep impact at any point in a career.

Disclosure: I haven't read the book yet, but it is on top of the pile. More when I finish. Ed Glaeser has an excellent review.

Update: Tyler Cowen's review, in Foreign Affairs

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tax Oped -- full version

Source: Wall Street Journal
An Oped at the Wall Street Journal, "Here's what genuine tax reform looks like." I posted the teaser a month ago, now I can post the whole thing.

Left and right agree that the U.S. tax code is a mess. The men and women running for president in 2016 are offering reform plans, and proposals to fix the code regularly surface in Congress. But these plans are, and should be, political documents, designed to attract votes. To prevent today’s ugly bargains from becoming tomorrow’s conventional wisdom, we should more frequently discuss the ideal tax structure.

The first goal of taxation is to raise needed government revenue with minimum economic damage. That means lower marginal rates—the additional tax people pay for each extra dollar earned—and a broader base of income subject to tax. It also means a massively simpler tax code.

Friday, January 15, 2016

MacDonell on QE

Gerard MacDonell has a lovely noahpinion guest post "So Much for the QE Stimulus" (HT Marginal Revolution). Some good bits here, with my bold on noteworthy zingers.

The post is unusual, because practitioners tend to regard the Fed and QE as very powerful. But here he expresses nicely the skeptical view of many academics such as myself.
the Fed leadership has now abandoned its original story about how QE affects the economy and has conceded that the tool is weak
It has long been obvious that QE operated mainly through signaling and confidence channels, which wore off on their own without any adjustment in the size or composition of the Fed’s balance sheet....
Obvious to us skeptics, not to the Fed or to the many academic papers written trying to explain the supposed powers of QE
The story initially told by the Fed leadership starts with the claim that large scale asset purchases (LSAPs) [lower interest rates]... by removing default-free interest rate duration from the capital markets. ...
Translation: buying bonds to drive up bond prices
That story does not hold much water.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Secret Data Encore

My post "Secret data" on replication provoked a lot of comment and emails,  more reflection, and some additional links.

This isn't about rules

Many of my correspondents missed my main point -- I am not advocating more and tighter rules by journals! This is not about what you are "allowed to do," how to "get published" and so forth.

In fact, this extra rumination points me even more strongly to the view that rules and censorship by themselves will not work. How to make research transparent, replicable, extendable, and so forth varies by the kind of work, the kind of data, and is subject like everything else to creativity and technical improvement.  Most of all, it will not work if nobody cares; if nobody takes the kind of actions in bullet points of my last post, and it's just an issue about rules at journals. Already, (more below) rules are not that well followed.

This isn't just about "replication." 

"Replication" is much too narrow a word. Yes, many papers have not documented transparently what they actually did, so that even armed with the data it's hard to produce the same numbers. Other papers are based on secret data, the problem with which I started.

But in the end, most important results are not simply due to outright errors in data or coding. (I hope!)

The important issue is whether small changes in instruments, controls, data sample, measurement error handling, and so forth produce different results, whether results hold out of sample, or whether collecting or recoding data produces the same conclusions. "Robustness" is a better overall descriptor for the problem that many of us suspect pervades empirical economic research.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Secret Data

On replication in economics. Just in time for bar-room discussions at the annual meetings.
"I have a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain." -Fermat
"I have a truly marvelous regression result, but I can't show you the data and won't even show you the computer program that produced the result" - Typical paper in economics and finance.
The problem 

Science demands transparency. Yet much research in economics and finance uses secret data. The journals publish results and conclusions, but the data and sometimes even the programs are not available for review or inspection.  Replication, even just checking what the author(s) did given their data, is getting harder.

Quite often, when one digs in, empirical results are nowhere near as strong as the papers make them out to be.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tax Oped

Source: Wall Street Journal
An Oped at the Wall Street Journal, "Here's what genuine tax reform looks like." With a new art style by WSJ. (Ungated via Hoover. I have to wait 30 days to post the whole thing.)

 I buried the lead, which I'll excerpt here:
"...Why is tax reform paralyzed? Because political debate mixes the goal of efficiently raising revenue with so many other objectives. Some want more progressivity or more revenue. Others defend subsidies and transfers for specific activities, groups or businesses. They hold reform hostage.

Wise politicians often bundle dissimilar goals to attract a majority. But when bundling leads to paralysis, progress comes by separating the issues. 
Thus, we should agree to first reform the structure of the tax code, leaving the rates blank. We will then separately debate rates, and the consequent overall revenue and progressivity.... we can agree on an efficient, simple and fair tax, and debate revenues and progressivity separately.

We should also agree to separate the tax code from the subsidy code. We agree to debate subsidies for mortgage-interest payments, electric cars and the like—transparent and on-budget—but separately from tax reform.

Negotiating such an agreement will be hard. But the ability to achieve grand bargains is the most important characteristic of great political leaders."
This is, I think, the most novel idea in the oped. All tax reform packages mix changes to the structure of the tax code with specific rates. Then, the wonkosphere goes on a witch hunt of who pays more and who pays less, and the attempt to fix pathological problems in the structure falls apart.

I think our politicians really could negotiate a tax code in which all the rates are left blank. Then, we have a separate debate about what those rates will be.  In fact, tax rates ought to change a lot more often than the tax code itself.

Similarly,  the key to removing the pernicious subsidies in the tax code is again to separate the issues. Taxes are for taxing, then we can debate subsidies.

We need to move from the equilibrium of, I have my subsidy/deduction/credit/special deal, so I won't complain about yours, to the equilibrium of, I gave up my subsidy/deduction/credit special deal, so I'll make darn sure you give up yours too.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Institutions and experience

These are remarks I prepared for a symposium at Hoover in honor of George Shultz on his 95th birthday. Willie Brown was the star of the symposium, I think, preceded by a provocative and thoughtful speech by Bill Bradley.

Institutions and Experience

Our theme is “learning from experience.” I want to reflect on how we as a society learn from experience, with special focus on economic affairs. Most of these thoughts reflect things I learned from George, directly or indirectly, but in the interest of time I won’t bore you with the stories.

An English baron in 1342 tramples his farmers’ lands while hunting. The farmers starve. Then, insecure in their land, they don’t keep it up, they move away, and soon both baron and farmers are poor.

How does our society remember thousands of years of lessons like these? When, say, the EPA decides the puddle in your backyard is a wetland, or — I choose a tiny example just to emphasize how pervasive the issues are — when the City of Palo Alto wants to grab a trailer park, how does our society remember the hunter baron’s experience?

The answer: Experience is encoded in our institutions. We live on a thousand years of slow development of the rule of law, rights of individuals, property rights, contracts, limited government, checks and balances. By operating within this great institutional machinery, these “structures” as senator Bradley called them last night, these “guardrails” as Kim Strassel called them in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, our society remembers Baron hunter’s experience in 1342, though each individual has forgotten it.

Tilting at Bubbles


Source: Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal reports on the "Fed's Unsolved Puzzle: How to Deflate Bubbles" (That's the print version headline, much pithier than online.)

I thought I was reading The Onion. There it is, a graph marked "Asset Bubbles," measured, apparently, with interferometer precision.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Luke Skywalker and ISIS

Via Marginal Revolution, I found "The Radicalization of Luke Skywalker" interesting.

Despised people -- terrorists; slaveholders; Republicans, to the New York Times -- think of themselves as good and worthy, though they do things we find unfathomably evil. Understanding how they see themselves is the first step to any sort of progress in world affairs. Understanding need not mean agreeing or condoning. The language we use -- "terrorist," "radicalize" -- puts them beyond comprehension; useful for ordering drone strikes but not for understanding why people sign up and how they might be turned. The analogy is admittedly strained, but seeing that we might have felt the same feelings that attract terrorists is an unsettling and useful experience.  Even if it's only a movie.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Smith meet Jones

A while ago I wrote up a smorgasbord of policies that I thought could increase US economic growth, at least for a few decades, in "Economic Growth" (pdf, html here.) Noah Smith took me to task in a Bloomberg View column, complaining that I confused growth with levels,
...I want to focus on one bad argument that Cochrane uses. Most of the so-called growth policies Cochrane and other conservatives propose don't really target growth at all, just short-term efficiency. By pretending that one-shot efficiency boosts will increase long-term sustainable growth, Cochrane effectively executes a bait-and-switch.
As it turns out, the difference between "growth" and "level" effects in growth theory and facts is not so strong. Many economists remember vaguely something from grad school about permanent "growth" effects being different and much larger than "level" effects.  It turns out that the distinction is no longer so clear cut; "growth" is smaller and less permanent than you may have thought, and levels are bigger and longer lasting than you may have thought.

Along the way, I offer one quantitative exercise to help think just how much additional growth the US could get from the sort of free-market policies I outlined in the essay.

Part I Growth and Levels 

A quick reply: China.

Zoning and inequality

I am always pleased when economists normally thought of on different ends of the political spectrum come to the same conclusions. So it is with zoning laws; traditionally a target of free-market and libertarian thinkers. Now joined by Jason Furman, Obama administration CEA chair. From a recent speech,
..excessive or unnecessary land use or zoning regulations... impede mobility and thus contribute to rising inequality and declining productivity growth.
How?
...zoning regulations and other local barriers to housing development allow a small number of individuals to capture the economic benefits of living in a community, thus limiting diversity and mobility. ...
Zoning and other land use regulations, by restricting the supply of housing and so increasing its cost, may make it difficult for individuals to move to areas with better-paying jobs and higher-quality schools. Barriers to geographic mobility reduce the productive use of our resources and entrench economic inequality.
and later
High-productivity cities—like Boston and San Francisco—have higher-income jobs relative to low-productivity cities. Normally, these higher wages would encourage workers to move to these high-productivity cities—a dynamic that brings more resources to productive areas of the country, allows workers in low-productivity areas to earn more, improves job matches and competes away any above-market wages (another type of economic rents) in the high-productivity cities. But when zoning restricts the supply of housing and renders housing more expensive—even relative to the higher wages in the high productivity cities—then workers are less able to move, particularly those who are low income to begin with and who would benefit most from moving. As a result, existing income inequality across cities remains entrenched and may even be exacerbated, while productivity does not grow as fast it normally would.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Fixed-income comments

A month ago,  I attended the SF Fed/Bank of Canada conference on fixed income. I had the chance to comment on Michael Bauer and Jim Hamilton's "Robust Bond Risk Premia.My comments here.

As usual when faced with a really nice paper, I used most of my discussion time to survey the field and give my views on current facts and challenges, which is why my comments might be interesting to blog readers.

Some highlights: I reran regressions of bond returns in the style of Joslin, Priebsch, and Singleton, forecasting returns with the first  three principal components of yields, and growth and inflation. Here are the results:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A wise comment

Scott Sumner passes on a wise comment from his blog:
...the main problem in America is that the public, including its highly educated members, is social-scientifically ignorant. Most people I talk to about policy do not even realize that there is anything non-trivial about policy analysis. They want the government to make sure that four phases of rigorously designed RCTs be performed before drugs are made available to the public, for fear of unintended consequences of intervening on a complex system like the human body, yet they think they understand the consequences of highly complex interventions on human societies by introspection alone. Not only do they think they understand the consequences of alternative policy choices, but they're so confident that their understanding is right and that its truth is so obvious that the only explanation for disagreement is evil intentions.  
When I point out that on virtually every policy issue, at least somewhat compelling arguments for many conflicting points of view have been made by relevant experts, people usually react in disbelief or denial, or immediately retreat to questioning the motives of these experts ("of course they say that, they're on the payroll of Big Business" or whatever). These patterns of speech and behavior are uniformly distributed across the political spectrum, even if intelligence and knowledge of well-established facts is not. Even many experts in particular areas of social science evince no awareness of the lack of expert consensus on almost anything in their field, and give the impression of unanimity to an unknowing public.
(Emphasis in the original.) The rush to bulverism (evil intentions or corruption of people who disagree) is particularly noticeable in economic commentary.  Uncertainty about policy is especially strong in macroeconomics and finance.  That doesn't mean anything goes. Many arguments do violate basic budget constraints or suffer other obvious logical flaws.

How do you know economists have a sense of humor? We use decimal points.

Hounded out of business II

Nathaniel Popper at the New York Times Dealbook, writes "Dream of New Kind of Credit Union Is Extinguished by Bureaucracy" It's a worthy addition to the series of anecdotes on how regulation, especially discretionary actions of regulators, are killing investment and businesses.

Again, we collect anecdotes as a challenge to measurement. There is no data series on numbers of businesses driven away by regulation. Yet.

This is a good anecdote, as it illustrates a too little reported underbelly of financial regulation.
Mr. Kahle saw how hard it was for the employees at his firm to obtain loans, and more broadly, how the existing financial system had helped contribute to the financial crisis. He thought he could do things differently, and he aimed to prove it when he began applying to open a credit union in early 2011.

Since then, the credit union has faced a barrage of regulatory audits and limitations on its operations, ...Now, Mr. Kahle is giving up on his dream of creating a new kind of bank, ...

...the troubles faced by his Internet Archive Federal Credit Union point to how difficult it can be to try out anything new in the heavily regulated industry.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Spot insurance markets

Obamacare/ ACA was in the news last week. Some relevant summaries, and comment below.

United Health pulling out of the Obamacare exchange market
UnitedHealth reported one problem after another: An expensive risk pool that lacks the younger and healthier consumers who are supposed to buy overpriced plans to cross-subsidize everyone else....People join the exchanges before they incur large medical expenses—insurers are required under ObamaCare to cover anyone who applies—and then drop out after they receive care. The collapse of the ObamaCare co-ops is recoiling through the market.
... Commercial insurers are being displaced by Medicaid managed-care HMOs, with their ultra-narrow physician networks and closed drug formularies.
From the WSJ blog,
...Health plans say they have had more sick people, and fewer healthy people, sign up under the new rules than they need to keep prices stable. ...It’s also cited as a factor in some insurers’ decisions to withdraw products from the market or offer more limited choices of providers this year. Health Care Service Corp., which owns Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in five states, already has pulled out in selling through HealthCare.gov in New Mexico, and yanked its preferred-provider organization offerings in Texas.
From Rising rates pose challenge to health law
Federal officials are pushing people to evaluate their options and consider switching plans to try to keep costs in check, in a message regularly summarized as “shop and save.”

In about half of the states using HealthCare.gov, people in popular plans can pay lower premiums in 2016 than they did in 2015—as long as they are willing to switch to a plan with a different insurer, usually with a narrower network of doctors and a higher deductible. 
A story:
Kimono England...said... Their health plan’s decision to withdraw its “preferred provider organization” product this year tipped her over the edge.

She said she now has only a narrow provider-network option that doesn’t include her local doctors,...she decided to enroll in a Christian health-care sharing ministry, in which members agree to pay each other’s health bills... since the ministry won’t pay for an expensive specialty shot her husband needs four times a year they are thinking of buying a health plan just to cover him.

The move by the England family would mean that five people with relatively low medical costs exit the insurance risk pool, and one person with large expenses remains—bad news for the insurance industry.
Also,  Mary Kissel interview of Holman Jenkins (video)

Comments:

Let's beyond the standard headlines -- "Millions more covered!" "But they're all medicaid or high subsidy!" (For example here.) "Premiums going up!" "Not if you shop!" and so forth.

Health "insurance" seems to be moving to a spot market, in which large numbers of people change plans, sign up, or leave every year, and in which large numbers of companies change their plans and coverage every year.

The churn on the individual side and its spiraling costs was a predictable (and widely predicted) response to the ACA, which addressed preexisting conditions by mandating insurers to cover anyone at the same price. The joke around the passage of the ACA was that health insurance would consist of a cell phone, which you use to buy coverage on the way to the hospital.

Yes, open enrollment is only once a year, but it's not really a constraint. Most conditions involve years of care, and you can wait six months to ramp up big expenses. A binding non-insurance penalty close to the cost of insurance was never going to pass.

Moreover, the problem is not so much insurance vs. no insurance, it's the right to move around between plans. Buy a bronze high deductible policy one year. If you get sick, move to a gold low deductible big network policy the next year.

The tragedy here is what was lost. Yes, individual insurance had big problems. But before the ACA, there were millions of people who bought insurance when they were healthy; that paid guaranteed-renewable premiums in a large stable health insurance companies, so that when they got sick, they would still have good affordable health insurance. Sure, it didn't work for people who moved across state lines, who got jobs with employer-provided group plans, and many suffered various snafus. But for many self-employed people and small business owners outside the big company - big government nexus, it actually worked ok.

Those relationships are all gone now. If ever we do move back to long-lasting, individual insurance, that you buy when healthy so that it covers you when sick, the millions of people who did the right thing and bought in to the system are now gone.

It's more surprising, at least to me, that annual chaos is breaking out on both sides.  Plans are discontinued, companies leave the market, coops come and go bankrupt, networks change, and many of us have the pleasure of annually sorting through health insurance policies, trying to figure out which ones cover the doctors, hospitals, and medications we are using or might need next year, all likely to do it again in the next year.

Our "federal officials" are not only not bemoaning this chaos -- they're encouraging it! "Shop and save." Shop because your plan got canceled, they changed your network, they vastly raised your premiums, and so forth. Save because they won't pay your claims.

I guess Americans need something to do between Thanksgiving and New Years. Together with shopping for cell phone contracts, cable and internet bundles, and figuring out our frequent flyer programs, this should keep us all plenty busy. Winter in the Republic of Paperwork.

Will the supply churn continue? One view of this is simply that companies need time to adapt. They made optimistic assumptions about their pools, find they're losing money and have to adjust. In time, we will again see stable offerings by stable companies.

Maybe, but I doubt it. If people keep playing games, moving to high cost policies when they get sick, health insurance for those of us not getting subsidies will be astronomically expensive. It ceases being insurance.

A different view is that the supply churn is the industry's way of solving the problem. By changing networks and coverage each year, by canceling policies frequently, by companies forming, dissolving, entering and leaving markets,  they keep us on our toes. A stable wide network plan with reasonable cost will attract too many sick people. So, the answer is, keep it unstable.  The same kind of price discrimination by complexity that pervades airlines, cell phones, and credit card contracts, might pull in healthy people who don't have time to spend three weeks a year finding out what doctors are covered by what plan.

Related, I suspect the industry is finding a way to segment the market. There are really four separate health insurance systems: 1) Expanded Medicaid. 2) Highly subsidized premiums based on income. 3) Non-subsidized individual policies. 4) Employer provided insurance for high income people with full time jobs. The first three were supposed to be parts of the same market, but it's fragmenting, with medicaid and subsidized plans giving out low cost low quality care.

This is not a grand conspiracy theory. Like most outcomes in economics, it's not obvious any of the participants understand what's going on, and an evolutionary process settles on outcomes that "work" in the regulatory environment and don't lose catastrophic amounts of money.

Health insurance really does not work as a spot market, of course.

The answer? For those who haven't been reading this blog very long (collections here and here), it is straightforward: Lifelong, deregulated, guaranteed-renewable, individual insurance, bought when you're healthy, carried along from state to state and job to job, with employers contributing premiums rather than setting up group plans. Deregulation of supply, so that for most procedures you can just pay cash and not be rooked by made up prices.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Early Fisherism

John Taylor has an interesting blog post with a great title, "Staggering Neo-Fisherian Ideas and Staggered Contracts." John goes back to a paper he wrote in 1982 for the Jackson Hole conference, on the issue of that time, how to lower inflation. He presented simulations of a model with staggered wage setting, which I reproduce below.


So as far back as 1982, here is a model in which lower interest rates correspond with lower inflation, both in the short run and the long run.  John's model has money in it, so the mechanics are a pre-announced monetary contraction.

Sargent's famous "Ends of four big inflations"  tells an even more radical story.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hounded out of business

The Wall Street Journal had a nice oped, "Hounded out of business by regulators" by Dan Epstein who was, well, hounded out of business by regulators. Excerpts:
Last Friday, the FTC’s chief administrative-law judge dismissed the agency’s complaint. But it was too late. The reputational damage and expense of a six-year federal investigation forced LabMD to close last year.

...the commission opened an investigation into LabMD in January 2010. ...the FTC refused to detail LabMD’s data-security deficiencies.... Eventually, the FTC demanded that LabMD sign an onerous consent order admitting wrongdoing and agreeing to 20 years of compliance reporting.

Unlike many other companies in similar situations, however, LabMD refused to cave and in 2012 went public with the ordeal. In what appeared to be retaliation, the FTC sued LabMD in 2013, alleging that the company engaged in “unreasonable” data-security practices that amounted to an “unfair” trade practice.... FTC officials publicly attacked LabMD and imposed arduous demands on the doctors who used the company’s diagnostic services. In just one example, the FTC subpoenaed a Florida oncology lab to produce documents and appear for depositions before government lawyers—all at the doctors’ expense.

Inflation Drumbeat

Noah Smith has an interesting Bloomberg View piece on Japanese inflation. Three crucial paragraph struck me
... Japanese unemployment is very low, and the economy is expanding at or above its long-term potential growth rate of around 0.5 percent to 1 percent. So according to mainstream theory, inflation would be an unnecessary and pointless negative for Japan’s economy. Why, then, are there always voices calling for Japan to raise its inflation rate?
Actually, there are several reasons. The main one is that inflation reduces the burden of debt. Japan’s enormous government debt represents the government’s promise to transfer resources from young people (who work and pay taxes) to old people (who own government bonds). Since Japan is an aging society, there are more old people than young people. That makes the burden especially difficult to bear. Young people also tend to have mortgages, the repayment of which is another burden.
Sustained higher inflation would represent a net transfer of resources from the old to the young. That would increase optimism, and hopefully raise the fertility rate, helping with demographic stabilization. It would also decrease the risk that the Japanese government will eventually have to take extreme measures to stabilize the debt.
I like these paragraphs because they so neatly distill the language used by the standard policy establishment to advocate inflation. Noah clearly separates the usual "stimulus" arguments from the new "debt" argument, which helps greatly.

Debt is a "burden." Sort of like snow on your roof, debt appears from the sky somehow and then represents a "burden" requiring "lifting," which would be beneficial to all.

Debt "represents the government’s promise to transfer resources from young people ... to old people.." Apparently, the government woke up one morning, and said "we promise to grab about two and a half years worth of income from young people and give it to old people." Undoing such an ill-advised promise does indeed sound worthy.

But, lest these soothing words lull you into idiocy, let us remember where debt actually comes from. The Japanese government borrowed a lot of money from people who are now old, when they were young. Those people consumed less -- they lived in small houses, made do with fewer and smaller cars, ate simply, lived frugally -- to give the government this money. The promise they received was that their money would be returned, with interest, to fund their retirements, and to fund their estates which young people will inherit.

Noah is advocating nothing more or less than a massive government default on this promise, engineered by inflation. The words "default,"  "theft," "seizure of life savings," apply as well as the anodyne "transfer." I guess Stalin just "transferred resources."