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Commentary: Real World Experiments

Economists usually do it with models, so it's rare in economics to be able to conduct a laboratory experiment. Currently, though, we're watching two experiments in different corners of the world that support the idea that stimulus works to repair a troubled economy and austerity doesn't. Japan and the eurozone are, through their actions, demonstrating how economies can move in opposite directions with Japan's stimulus plan succeeding and the eurozone's austerity program failing.

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Commentary: Seven Little Words

""Fiscal policy,"" simply put, is the means by which a government adjusts its levels of spending in order to monitor and influence a nation's economy. At the heart of the spending/growth disparity is a philosophical debate over the role of government: those who believe government should be run like a business and avoid debt and those who see the role of government as spending counter-cyclically, that is increasing spending when the nation's economy is challenged to avoid further struggles. direct a country's economic goals.

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Commentary: Driving With No Speedometer

Imagine if someone removed the speedometer from your car and then put limits on how fast or slow you could drive. That's what 11 House members are doing with legislation which would prohibit the Census Bureau from any data collection except for the decennial headcount of Americans. The impact of the bill HR 1638 would be to eviscerate and effectively eliminate the monthly employment situation report that produces, among other things, the unemployment rate as well as a host of other bits of data about the economy. The sponsors of the bill must believe that if we don't count unemployment it won't exist.

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Commentary: What’s Up (or Down) With Housing?

Housing is recovering…or is it? The recent numbers and headlines offered mixed signals: existing-home sales dropped month-to-month in March as the median price increased, while another report showed new home sales fell as the median price increased. Apologists--some might call them advocates--offer a variety of reasons to explain housing's inability to rebound smartly or smoothly after the sector plunged, plagued by ill-conceived loans and lending policies.

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Commentary: DeMarco Disappoints with New Streamlined Mod Program

Starting July 1, large numbers of non-paying borrowers will have the opportunity to modify existing mortgages through a more streamlined process. This sounds like a good way to reduce foreclosures and prop up home prices, but as we will shortly see the proposed program is oddly risky and likely to encourage additional defaults. The program is open to borrowers who have already modified their loans once, perhaps a few years ago when rates were higher. This, at least, is a good idea. So what's the big difference between the new program and the modifications offered previously?

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Commentary: No Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

What do you do when you find out Santa Claus doesn't exist? That's the situation former vice presidential candidate/House Budget Committee Chair/potential presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) faces now that the study which provided him with the academic support for budget cuts (aimed principally at so-called entitlements) has been undermined. Harvard economists Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff in 2010 published a research paper which held that for countries with debt loads equivalent to or greater than 90 percent of annual economic output, ""median growth rates fall by 1 percent, and average growth falls considerably more.""

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Commentary: Defining Compromise

A compromise, certainly in politics, is usually a result which both sides in a dispute find equally unsatisfactory. It usually comes after some protracted negotiations from extreme positions. In the budget unveiled this week, President Obama, as he has in so many policy initiatives, attempted to reshape the political lexicon and landscape by beginning a compromise, not from an extreme, but from the middle. There is a lot for both sides to dislike in the Obama budget plan and there will be more as the document is scoured by both sides. The devil is always in the details.

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Commentary: A Vision for the Future of Fannie and Freddie

The Bipartisan Policy Center's Housing Commission painted an interesting picture of the future role of the federal government in housing finance in a recent report. The report helped to define the gap between a healthy private housing finance system and what we have now. The good news is that many of the elements of a healthy system seem to be just around the corner. However, there is one part of the secondary market that is far from recovered--monoline insurance companies.

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Commentary: It Happens Every Month

The March employment situation report was another in a series of labor reports that had analysts scratching their heads--on the left or right side--depending on their politics. Just as there is no Democratic or Republican way to collect garbage (okay, there might be depending on how much government you want), there should be no Democratic or Republican economic data. The numbers are what they are, not what your political lens tells you they are. That said, when data such as the March report are released--weak job growth, yet a drop in the unemployment rate--conspiracy theorists emerge from the woodwork.

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Commentary: No News Is…

The explanation from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) for the drop in the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) for February has to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. According to the NAR, the PHSI dropped because of the low inventory of homes for sale. Of course, that wasn't offered as an explanation one month earlier, when the inventory of homes for sale dropped to its lowest level since December 1999 and the PHSI increased. But when the PHSI fell in February, and the inventory of homes for sale increased, the still-low inventory became a convenient excuse.

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