(Link til video)

VI SER DERE NÅ

Han sprengte en bombe
for å dra til en øy.
Der skjøt han ned unge
som om det var gøy.

Han sa det var grusomt,
men at han var nødt.
Selv om det var brysomt
så smilte han støtt.

Så mange uskyldige
blir drept i en krig,
for oss så utydelige
i en tall-statistikk.

Vakre og sterke,
vi ser dere nå.
Hver dag kan vi merke
at vi ikke kan forstå

en meningsløs død
for viljesterke liv,
som med ungdommens glød
så et livsperspektiv.

Vår eneste støtte
til mening og trøst,
er at alle vet dette
er helt meningsløst.

(Lars Lillo Stenberg)

Australia har sett seg lei på den økende strømmen av asylsøkere fra Indonesia, og har innført strenge minimumsstraffer for sjøfolk som hjelper migrantene over havet. Med visse kanskje ikke helt tilsiktede resultater.

Boat crew ‘getting rich on jail pay’
MANDATORY sentencing — a key element of Labor’s policy to deter asylum boats — is having the opposite effect, encouraging Indonesian crew attracted by Australia’s relatively high prison pay.

by: MARK DODD
From: The Australian
July 23, 2012 12:00AM

Lawyer and former diplomat Anthony Sheldon says jailed crew members can make $20 a day in Australian jails, in his submission to the Gillard government’s expert panel on asylum-seekers.

The submission coincides with the 89th asylum boat’s arrival at the weekend, a large vessel carrying 144 passengers arrested northeast of Christmas Island.

This brings to 6107 the total of asylum-seekers detained this year, including more than 164 crew, mostly Indonesian.

In a five-page submission, Mr Sheldon, a fluent Indonesian speaker and former diplomatic attache, testifies to having worked in Indonesia “on issues of people-smuggling and illegal fishing”.

The threat of imprisonment in Australia serves as no deterrent for Indonesian boat crew, he says.

“The preference of a number of older fishermen is to remain in detention in Australia,” Mr Sheldon says in the submission.

“Depending on their jobs in prison, they can earn up to $20 per day, making them wealthy beyond comparison upon their return to their villages after their sentence is served.

“They also receive free dental and medical services during their imprisonment.

“Combined with the relative safety of their work in prison compared to the dangerous work at sea, Australian imprisonment is very desirable.”

Endemic corruption in Indonesia and to a lesser extent in Malaysia helps the unhindered large-scale movements through the archipelago of asylum-seekers bound for Australia, most of whom are travelling on fake passports, Mr Sheldon says.

Interviews with Indonesians about attitudes to people-smuggling revealed useful cultural insights, including one analogy likening asylum-seekers to a “plague of rats” moving though a house.

“If you don’t stop the rats, they will move on and are not your problem,” one respondent told Mr Sheldon.

Under Australia’s mandatory sentencing laws for people-smuggling, first-time offenders receive a minimum five-year term.

“It is frustrating that the designed deterrent (mandatory sentencing) is actually serving to increase the number of SIEVs (suspected illegal entry vessels) coming to Australian shores.

“I have confirmed this situation by interviewing Indonesian prisoners in Australia, and many of the fishermen in Indonesia, who corroborate this belief.”

Corruption is a big problem in stamping out people-smuggling, Mr Sheldon says.

” This has been illustrated by numerous accounts of witnesses I have interviewed relating stories of people-smuggling organisers bribing their way out of custody.”

A public awareness campaign about a prisoner exchange treaty with Indonesia, highlighting the fact that boat crews could face the risk of serving the balance of their prison terms in Indonesian jails would have a desired deterrent effect, he said.

Together with Brisbane barrister Mark Plunkett, Mr Sheldon successfully presented the first legal cases challenging the issue of Indonesian minors being held in detention in Australia.

en “bobleprofet” takker for seg


Figuren over er en oppdatert versjon (som vil oppdateres over tid) av figuren som for alvor gjorde meg nysgjerrig på norske boligpriser, nemlig Shillers tall for realprisutviklingen for Amerikanske boliger satt opp mot prisutviklingen på norske som jeg så først så på denne bloggen i mai 2010. Et enkelt spørsmål satte seg fast i hodet mitt: Hvorfor er prisene blitt så høye – og hvorfor skal vi tro de vil holde seg høye på sikt? Jeg begynte å følge med på uttalelser i media, jeg diskuterte med økonomer jeg jobbet sammen med og kjente. Når noen foreslo en forklaring på prisnivået prøvde jeg å bruke enkel, standard markedsteori til å tenke gjennom hva slags andre implikasjoner forklaringen ville ha for observerbare data, og brukte SSBs statistikkbank og andre tall for å sjekke om implikasjonene stemte.

Etterhvert som prosjektet “vokste” ble det et lengre notat, som Morten Josefsen og jeg prøvde å oppsummere i en kronikk i Aftenposten. Prognosesenteret protesterte i et motinnlegg og mente vi tok feil. Vi forsøkte å svare på kritikken. I en epost vi fikk legge ut forklarte Kjell Senneset fra Prognosesenteret at han fremdeles ikke var overbevist. De var også i denne runden at Josefsen og jeg fikk merkelappen “bobleprofeter.”
I denne perioden skrev både Josefsen og jeg også gjentatte ganger om temaet på denne bloggen – de fleste saker finnes her på bloggen under stikkordene boligpriser og boligboble (med mye overlapp mellom de to listene).

Senere kom Shiller til Norge og så sine egne tall sammenstilt med de norske (noe han visstnok også hadde sett noen år tidligere, da Harald Magnus Andreassen viste han dem på en konferanse). Han uttalte at dette lignet en boble. Prognosesenteret (og andre) protesterte og mente han tok feil, så jeg skrev en kronikk i Dagens Næringsliv der jeg pekte på noen trekk som var konsistente med at prisene var midlertidig høye og at etterspørselssiden kunne ha et element av “boble-etterspørsel”. Prognosesenteret protesterte i et motinnlegg og mente jeg tok feil. Jeg forsøkte å svare på kritikken (DN legger ikke ut debattinnlegg på nett – dette er innsendt versjon som ble kuttet noe før den ble trykket). I et tilsvar forklarte Kjell Senneset fra Prognosesenteret at han fremdeles ikke var overbevist (fins ikke på nett).

Det opprinnelige web-notatet hadde preg av høyttenkning og utforsket også enkelte “mulige alternative forklaringer” for å se om de kunne føre frem. De viktigste argumentene ble derfor flyttet over i en mer tilgjengelig form og sammenfattet i en mer faglig artikkel, som ble publisert i Samfunnsøkonomens mars-nummer i år. Prognosesenteret protesterte i et motinnlegg i mai-nummeret (ikke tilgjengelig på nett) og mente jeg tok feil. Jeg forsøkte å svare på kritikken.

Slik kunne det selvsagt holdes gående, men av ulike grunner tror jeg det kommer til å dabbe av for mitt eget vedkommende. Med denne bloggposten har jeg derfor forsøkt å samle aktiviteten jeg har hatt på dette feltet på ett brett. Stiger boligprisene videre i fem, ti år til vil det være interessant å se om forklaringene jeg har forsøkt meg på fortsatt finner støtte i data, men inntil videre føler jeg at jeg har fått sagt mitt. Små, uformelle kommentarer og løse tanker dukker fortsatt opp på en Google+ side der jeg og noen bekjente lenker til boligsaker vi kommer over på nett i (stort sett) norske medier. Delta gjerne der hvis dere er interessert i temaet :)

Oppdatering: Solgt!

Vi har en lite brukt rammemadrass, av typen Sultan Skaland størrelse 120×200 fra IKEA til salgs. Den har vært plassert på vårt gjesterom og har stått mest til pynt. Den kommer med overmadrass, Sultan Tårsta, samt Sultan ben. Madrassene fremstår nærmest som nye og selges for halv pris. Vi bor i Oslo.

Ta kontakt på epost morten@josefsen.org eller mobil 94319496.


Litt dansing for å få oss alle i feriestemning.

God sommer!

Det ser ut som om Angela Merkel og den europeiske sentralbanken er lei av hele europrosjektet og gjør alt de kan for å bli kvitt pengeunionen. Forsiden fra denne ukes the Economist er ganske beskrivende.

Det fikk meg til å tenke på vår ‘eminente’ sosiolog Stein Ringens innlegg i Financial Times for noen måneder siden (innlegget var også publisert på norsk i Dagens Næringsliv, men jeg finner det ikke på nett). Han kritiserte økonomer som Paul Krugman for at de skrek etter mer ekspansiv politikk for å redde de europeiske økonomiene. Jeg lar Ringen selv ta det herfra:

Against this storm stood a remarkable woman, Angela Merkel, insisting no quick fix was available. She has been proved right. Steady work and steely brinkmanship have carved out for Greece the biggest ever writedown of government debt, in a sophisticated and complex deal.

Economists warned politicians not to dither. In the New York Times Paul Krugman poured scorn over Europe’s politicians, collectively, in terms that, had he used them about say, black people, he would have been all but up for incitement to racial hatred. What was needed, it was argued, was more “firepower”, higher “firewalls” and bigger “bazookas”, with no delay.

The implication of these calls for bold action was simple: Greece was in effect bankrupt; governments, notably Germany, would one way or another have to pay up if they wanted to save the euro. Ms Merkel’s line was different. Yes, Greece was bankrupt, but the solution was that Greece would carry as much as possible of its own debt, that private bondholders would be made to write down as much as possible, with speculators punished, and that other governments and the European Central Bank would contribute as little as possible.

David Glasner hadde en god post om Ringens noe spesielle innlegg. Mens Ringen konkluderer med “One lesson is clear: beware the experts who come bearing advice and in particular economic experts“, Glasner oppsummerer “No, the lesson that is clear is to beware of politicians and sociologists unable to grasp the laws of arithmetic and compound interest“. Indeed.

Så hvordan kunne Ringen ta så feil. Vel, han er kanskje inne på noe i sine egne råd til økonomer:

They fell victim to an exaggerated confidence in themselves. Most of us in the social sciences are aware of our limitations. Economists, for their sins, have worked themselves into a frenzy about being “scientific”. Overconfidence leads to hubris. The economists let their guard down.

George Soros holdt en tale ved økonomifestivalen i den italienske byen Trento for et par dager siden. Noe som har fått en god del oppmerksomhet. Han starter med en diagnose av økonomifaget, og begynner hoveddelen av talen om euroen med:

The euro crisis is particularly instructive in this regard. It demonstrates the role of misconceptions and a lack of understanding in shaping the course of history. The authorities didn’t understand the nature of the euro crisis; they thought it is a fiscal problem while it is more of a banking problem and a problem of competitiveness. And they applied the wrong remedy: you cannot reduce the debt burden by shrinking the economy, only by growing your way out of it. The crisis is still growing because of a failure to understand the dynamics of social change; policy measures that could have worked at one point in time were no longer sufficient by the time they were applied.

Noe som er lett å være enig i. Hele talen kan du, og bør du, lese nedenfor (takket være Business Insider)

George Soros - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2011
(Bilde av Worldeconomicforum med CC-by-sa-lisens)

George Soros Remarks

Festival of Economics

June 2, 2012

Trento, Italy

Ever since the Crash of 2008 there has been a widespread recognition, both among economists and the general public, that economic theory has failed. But there is no consensus on the causes and the extent of that failure.

I believe that the failure is more profound than generally recognized. It goes back to the foundations of economic theory. Economics tried to model itself on Newtonian physics. It sought to establish universally and timelessly valid laws governing reality. But economics is a social science and there is a fundamental difference between the natural and social sciences. Social phenomena have thinking participants who base their decisions on imperfect knowledge. That is what economic theory has tried to ignore.

Scientific method needs an independent criterion, by which the truth or validity of its theories can be judged. Natural phenomena constitute such a criterion; social phenomena do not. That is because natural phenomena consist of facts that unfold independently of any statements that relate to them. The facts then serve as objective evidence by which the validity of scientific theories can be judged. That has enabled natural science to produce amazing results.

Social events, by contrast, have thinking participants who have a will of their own. They are not detached observers but engaged decision makers whose decisions greatly influence the course of events. Therefore the events do not constitute an independent criterion by which participants can decide whether their views are valid. In the absence of an independent criterion people have to base their decisions not on knowledge but on an inherently biased and to greater or lesser extent distorted interpretation of reality. Their lack of perfect knowledge or fallibility introduces an element of indeterminacy into the course of events that is absent when the events relate to the behavior of inanimate objects. The resulting uncertainty hinders the social sciences in producing laws similar to Newton’s physics.

Economics, which became the most influential of the social sciences, sought to remove this handicap by taking an axiomatic approach similar to Euclid’s geometry. But Euclid’s axioms closely resembled reality while the theory of rational expectations and the efficient market hypothesis became far removed from it. Up to a point the axiomatic approach worked. For instance, the theory of perfect competition postulated perfect knowledge. But the postulate worked only as long as it was applied to the exchange of physical goods. When it came to production, as distinct from exchange, or to the use of money and credit, the postulate became untenable because the participants’ decisions involved the future and the future cannot be known until it has actually occurred.

I am not well qualified to criticize the theory of rational expectations and the efficient market hypothesis because as a market participant I considered them so unrealistic that I never bothered to study them. That is an indictment in itself but I shall leave a detailed critique of these theories to others.

Instead, I should like to put before you a radically different approach to financial markets. It was inspired by Karl Popper who taught me that people’s interpretation of reality never quite corresponds to reality itself. This led me to study the relationship between the two. I found a two-way connection between the participants’ thinking and the situations in which they participate. On the one hand people seek to understand the situation; that is the cognitive function. On the other, they seek to make an impact on the situation; I call that the causative or manipulative function. The two functions connect the thinking agents and the situations in which they participate in opposite directions. In the cognitive function the situation is supposed to determine the participants’ views; in the causative function the participants’ views are supposed to determine the outcome. When both functions are at work at the same time they interfere with each other. The two functions form a circular relationship or feedback loop. I call that feedback loop reflexivity. In a reflexive situation the participants’ views cannot correspond to reality because reality is not something independently given; it is contingent on the participants’ views and decisions. The decisions, in turn, cannot be based on knowledge alone; they must contain some bias or guess work about the future because the future is contingent on the participants’ decisions.

Fallibility and reflexivity are tied together like Siamese twins. Without fallibility there would be no reflexivity – although the opposite is not the case: people’s understanding would be imperfect even in the absence of reflexivity. Of the two twins, fallibility is the first born. Together, they ensure both a divergence between the participants’ view of reality and the actual state of affairs and a divergence between the participants’ expectations and the actual outcome.

Obviously, I did not discover reflexivity. Others had recognized it before me, often under a different name. Robert Merton wrote about self-fulfilling prophecies and the bandwagon effect, Keynes compared financial markets to a beauty contest where the participants had to guess who would be the most popular choice. But starting from fallibility and reflexivity I focused on a problem area, namely the role of misconceptions and misunderstandings in shaping the course of events that mainstream economics tried to ignore. This has made my interpretation of reality more realistic than the prevailing paradigm.

Among other things, I developed a model of a boom-bust process or bubble which is endogenous to financial markets, not the result of external shocks. According to my theory, financial bubbles are not a purely psychological phenomenon. They have two components: a trend that prevails in reality and a misinterpretation of that trend. A bubble can develop when the feedback is initially positive in the sense that both the trend and its biased interpretation are mutually reinforced. Eventually the gap between the trend and its biased interpretation grows so wide that it becomes unsustainable. After a twilight period both the bias and the trend are reversed and reinforce each other in the opposite direction. Bubbles are usually asymmetric in shape: booms develop slowly but the bust tends to be sudden and devastating. That is due to the use of leverage: price declines precipitate the forced liquidation of leveraged positions.

Well-formed financial bubbles always follow this pattern but the magnitude and duration of each phase is unpredictable. Moreover the process can be aborted at any stage so that well-formed financial bubbles occur rather infrequently.

At any moment of time there are myriads of feedback loops at work, some of which are positive, others negative. They interact with each other, producing the irregular price patterns that prevail most of the time; but on the rare occasions that bubbles develop to their full potential they tend to overshadow all other influences.

According to my theory financial markets may just as soon produce bubbles as tend toward equilibrium. Since bubbles disrupt financial markets, history has been punctuated by financial crises. Each crisis provoked a regulatory response. That is how central banking and financial regulations have evolved, in step with the markets themselves. Bubbles occur only intermittently but the interplay between markets and regulators is ongoing. Since both market participants and regulators act on the basis of imperfect knowledge the interplay between them is reflexive. Moreover reflexivity and fallibility are not confined to the financial markets; they also characterize other spheres of social life, particularly politics. Indeed, in light of the ongoing interaction between markets and regulators it is quite misleading to study financial markets in isolation. Behind the invisible hand of the market lies the visible hand of politics. Instead of pursuing timeless laws and models we ought to study events in their time bound context.

My interpretation of financial markets differs from the prevailing paradigm in many ways. I emphasize the role of misunderstandings and misconceptions in shaping the course of history. And I treat bubbles as largely unpredictable. The direction and its eventual reversal are predictable; the magnitude and duration of the various phases is not. I contend that taking fallibility as the starting point makes my conceptual framework more realistic. But at a price: the idea that laws or models of universal validity can predict the future must be abandoned.

Until recently, my interpretation of financial markets was either ignored or dismissed by academic economists. All this has changed since the crash of 2008. Reflexivity became recognized but, with the exception of Imperfect Knowledge Economics, the foundations of economic theory have not been subjected to the profound rethinking that I consider necessary. Reflexivity has been accommodated by speaking of multiple equilibria instead of a single one. But that is not enough. The fallibility of market participants, regulators, and economists must also be recognized. A truly dynamic situation cannot be understood by studying multiple equilibria. We need to study the process of change.

The euro crisis is particularly instructive in this regard. It demonstrates the role of misconceptions and a lack of understanding in shaping the course of history. The authorities didn’t understand the nature of the euro crisis; they thought it is a fiscal problem while it is more of a banking problem and a problem of competitiveness. And they applied the wrong remedy: you cannot reduce the debt burden by shrinking the economy, only by growing your way out of it. The crisis is still growing because of a failure to understand the dynamics of social change; policy measures that could have worked at one point in time were no longer sufficient by the time they were applied.

Since the euro crisis is currently exerting an overwhelming influence on the global economy I shall devote the rest of my talk to it. I must start with a warning: the discussion will take us beyond the confines of economic theory into politics and the dynamics of social change. But my conceptual framework based on the twin pillars of fallibility and reflexivity still applies. Reflexivity doesn’t always manifest itself in the form of bubbles. The reflexive interplay between imperfect markets and imperfect authorities goes on all the time while bubbles occur only infrequently. This is a rare occasion when the interaction exerts such a large influence that it casts its shadow on the global economy. How could this happen? My answer is that there is a bubble involved, after all, but it is not a financial but a political one. It relates to the political evolution of the European Union and it has led me to the conclusion that the euro crisis threatens to destroy the European Union. Let me explain.

I contend that the European Union itself is like a bubble. In the boom phase the EU was what the psychoanalyst David Tuckett calls a “fantastic object” – unreal but immensely attractive. The EU was the embodiment of an open society –an association of nations founded on the principles of democracy, human rights, and rule of law in which no nation or nationality would have a dominant position.

The process of integration was spearheaded by a small group of far sighted statesmen who practiced what Karl Popper called piecemeal social engineering. They recognized that perfection is unattainable; so they set limited objectives and firm timelines and then mobilized the political will for a small step forward, knowing full well that when they achieved it, its inadequacy would become apparent and require a further step. The process fed on its own success, very much like a financial bubble. That is how the Coal and Steel Community was gradually transformed into the European Union, step by step.

Germany used to be in the forefront of the effort. When the Soviet empire started to disintegrate, Germany’s leaders realized that reunification was possible only in the context of a more united Europe and they were willing to make considerable sacrifices to achieve it. When it came to bargaining they were willing to contribute a little more and take a little less than the others, thereby facilitating agreement. At that time, German statesmen used to assert that Germany has no independent foreign policy, only a European one.

The process culminated with the Maastricht Treaty and the introduction of the euro. It was followed by a period of stagnation which, after the crash of 2008, turned into a process of disintegration. The first step was taken by Germany when, after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, Angela Merkel declared that the virtual guarantee extended to other financial institutions should come from each country acting separately, not by Europe acting jointly. It took financial markets more than a year to realize the implication of that declaration, showing that they are not perfect.

The Maastricht Treaty was fundamentally flawed, demonstrating the fallibility of the authorities. Its main weakness was well known to its architects: it established a monetary union without a political union. The architects believed however, that when the need arose the political will could be generated to take the necessary steps towards a political union.

But the euro also had some other defects of which the architects were unaware and which are not fully understood even today. In retrospect it is now clear that the main source of trouble is that the member states of the euro have surrendered to the European Central Bank their rights to create fiat money. They did not realize what that entails – and neither did the European authorities. When the euro was introduced the regulators allowed banks to buy unlimited amounts of government bonds without setting aside any equity capital; and the central bank accepted all government bonds at its discount window on equal terms. Commercial banks found it advantageous to accumulate the bonds of the weaker euro members in order to earn a few extra basis points. That is what caused interest rates to converge which in turn caused competitiveness to diverge. Germany, struggling with the burdens of reunification, undertook structural reforms and became more competitive. Other countries enjoyed housing and consumption booms on the back of cheap credit, making them less competitive. Then came the crash of 2008 which created conditions that were far removed from those prescribed by the Maastricht Treaty. Many governments had to shift bank liabilities on to their own balance sheets and engage in massive deficit spending. These countries found themselves in the position of a third world country that had become heavily indebted in a currency that it did not control. Due to the divergence in economic performance Europe became divided between creditor and debtor countries. This is having far reaching political implications to which I will revert.

It took some time for the financial markets to discover that government bonds which had been considered riskless are subject to speculative attack and may actually default; but when they did, risk premiums rose dramatically. This rendered commercial banks whose balance sheets were loaded with those bonds potentially insolvent. And that constituted the two main components of the problem confronting us today: a sovereign debt crisis and a banking crisis which are closely interlinked.

The eurozone is now repeating what had often happened in the global financial system. There is a close parallel between the euro crisis and the international banking crisis that erupted in 1982. Then the international financial authorities did whatever was necessary to protect the banking system: they inflicted hardship on the periphery in order to protect the center. Now Germany and the other creditor countries are unknowingly playing the same role. The details differ but the idea is the same: the creditors are in effect shifting the burden of adjustment on to the debtor countries and avoiding their own responsibility for the imbalances. Interestingly, the terms “center” and “periphery” have crept into usage almost unnoticed. Just as in the 1980’s all the blame and burden is falling on the “periphery” and the responsibility of the “center” has never been properly acknowledged. Yet in the euro crisis the responsibility of the center is even greater than it was in 1982. The “center” is responsible for designing a flawed system, enacting flawed treaties, pursuing flawed policies and always doing too little too late. In the 1980’s Latin America suffered a lost decade; a similar fate now awaits Europe. That is the responsibility that Germany and the other creditor countries need to acknowledge. But there is now sign of this happening.

The European authorities had little understanding of what was happening. They were prepared to deal with fiscal problems but only Greece qualified as a fiscal crisis; the rest of Europe suffered from a banking crisis and a divergence in competitiveness which gave rise to a balance of payments crisis. The authorities did not even understand the nature of the problem, let alone see a solution. So they tried to buy time.

Usually that works. Financial panics subside and the authorities realize a profit on their intervention. But not this time because the financial problems were reinforced by a process of political disintegration. While the European Union was being created, the leadership was in the forefront of further integration; but after the outbreak of the financial crisis the authorities became wedded to preserving the status quo. This has forced all those who consider the status quo unsustainable or intolerable into an anti-European posture. That is the political dynamic that makes the disintegration of the European Union just as self-reinforcing as its creation has been. That is the political bubble I was talking about.

At the onset of the crisis a breakup of the euro was inconceivable: the assets and liabilities denominated in a common currency were so intermingled that a breakup would have led to an uncontrollable meltdown. But as the crisis progressed the financial system has been progressively reordered along national lines. This trend has gathered momentum in recent months. The Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO) undertaken by the European Central Bank enabled Spanish and Italian banks to engage in a very profitable and low risk arbitrage by buying the bonds of their own countries. And other investors have been actively divesting themselves of the sovereign debt of the periphery countries.

If this continued for a few more years a break-up of the euro would become possible without a meltdown – the omelet could be unscrambled – but it would leave the central banks of the creditor countries with large claims against the central banks of the debtor countries which would be difficult to collect. This is due to an arcane problem in the euro clearing system called Target2. In contrast to the clearing system of the Federal Reserve, which is settled annually, Target2 accumulates the imbalances. This did not create a problem as long as the interbank system was functioning because the banks settled the imbalances themselves through the interbank market. But the interbank market has not functioned properly since 2007 and the banks relied increasingly on the Target system. And since the summer of 2011 there has been increasing capital flight from the weaker countries. So the imbalances grew exponentially. By the end of March this year the Bundesbank had claims of some 660 billion euros against the central banks of the periphery countries.

The Bundesbank has become aware of the potential danger. It is now engaged in a campaign against the indefinite expansion of the money supply and it has started taking measures to limit the losses it would sustain in case of a breakup. This is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the Bundesbank starts guarding against a breakup everybody will have to do the same.

This is already happening. Financial institutions are increasingly reordering their European exposure along national lines just in case the region splits apart. Banks give preference to shedding assets outside their national borders and risk managers try to match assets and liabilities within national borders rather than within the eurozone as a whole. The indirect effect of this asset-liability matching is to reinforce the deleveraging process and to reduce the availability of credit, particularly to the small and medium enterprises which are the main source of employment.

So the crisis is getting ever deeper. Tensions in financial markets have risen to new highs as shown by the historic low yield on Bunds. Even more telling is the fact that the yield on British 10 year bonds has never been lower in its 300 year history while the risk premium on Spanish bonds is at a new high.

The real economy of the eurozone is declining while Germany is still booming. This means that the divergence is getting wider. The political and social dynamics are also working toward disintegration. Public opinion as expressed in recent election results is increasingly opposed to austerity and this trend is likely to grow until the policy is reversed. So something has to give.

In my judgment the authorities have a three months’ window during which they could still correct their mistakes and reverse the current trends. By the authorities I mean mainly the German government and the Bundesbank because in a crisis the creditors are in the driver’s seat and nothing can be done without German support.

I expect that the Greek public will be sufficiently frightened by the prospect of expulsion from the European Union that it will give a narrow majority of seats to a coalition that is ready to abide by the current agreement. But no government can meet the conditions so that the Greek crisis is liable to come to a climax in the fall. By that time the German economy will also be weakening so that Chancellor Merkel will find it even more difficult than today to persuade the German public to accept any additional European responsibilities. That is what creates a three months’ window.

Correcting the mistakes and reversing the trend would require some extraordinary policy measures to bring conditions back closer to normal, and bring relief to the financial markets and the banking system. These measures must, however, conform to the existing treaties. The treaties could then be revised in a calmer atmosphere so that the current imbalances will not recur. It is difficult but not impossible to design some extraordinary measures that would meet these tough requirements. They would have to tackle simultaneously the banking problem and the problem of excessive government debt, because these problems are interlinked. Addressing one without the other, as in the past, will not work.

Banks need a European deposit insurance scheme in order to stem the capital flight. They also need direct financing by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) which has to go hand-in-hand with eurozone-wide supervision and regulation. The heavily indebted countries need relief on their financing costs. There are various ways to provide it but they all need the active support of the Bundesbank and the German government.

That is where the blockage is. The authorities are working feverishly to come up with a set of proposals in time for the European summit at the end of this month. Based on the current newspaper reports the measures they will propose will cover all the bases I mentioned but they will offer only the minimum on which the various parties can agree while what is needed is a convincing commitment to reverse the trend. That means the measures will again offer some temporary relief but the trends will continue. But we are at an inflection point. After the expiration of the three months’ window the markets will continue to demand more but the authorities will not be able to meet their demands.

It is impossible to predict the eventual outcome. As mentioned before, the gradual reordering of the financial system along national lines could make an orderly breakup of the euro possible in a few years’ time and, if it were not for the social and political dynamics, one could imagine a common market without a common currency. But the trends are clearly non-linear and an earlier breakup is bound to be disorderly. It would almost certainly lead to a collapse of the Schengen Treaty, the common market, and the European Union itself. (It should be remembered that there is an exit mechanism for the European Union but not for the euro.) Unenforceable claims and unsettled grievances would leave Europe worse off than it was at the outset when the project of a united Europe was conceived.

But the likelihood is that the euro will survive because a breakup would be devastating not only for the periphery but also for Germany. It would leave Germany with large unenforceable claims against the periphery countries. The Bundesbank alone will have over a trillion euros of claims arising out of Target2 by the end of this year, in addition to all the intergovernmental obligations. And a return to the Deutschemark would likely price Germany out of its export markets – not to mention the political consequences. So Germany is likely to do what is necessary to preserve the euro – but nothing more. That would result in a eurozone dominated by Germany in which the divergence between the creditor and debtor countries would continue to widen and the periphery would turn into permanently depressed areas in need of constant transfer of payments. That would turn the European Union into something very different from what it was when it was a “fantastic object” that fired peoples imagination. It would be a German empire with the periphery as the hinterland.

I believe most of us would find that objectionable but I have a great deal of sympathy with Germany in its present predicament. The German public cannot understand why a policy of structural reforms and fiscal austerity that worked for Germany a decade ago will not work Europe today. Germany then could enjoy an export led recovery but the eurozone today is caught in a deflationary debt trap. The German public does not see any deflation at home; on the contrary, wages are rising and there are vacancies for skilled jobs which are eagerly snapped up by immigrants from other European countries. Reluctance to invest abroad and the influx of flight capital are fueling a real estate boom. Exports may be slowing but employment is still rising. In these circumstances it would require an extraordinary effort by the German government to convince the German public to embrace the extraordinary measures that would be necessary to reverse the current trend. And they have only a three months’ window in which to do it.

We need to do whatever we can to convince Germany to show leadership and preserve the European Union as the fantastic object that it used to be. The future of Europe depends on it.

Her er mitt svar, på trykk i Dagens Næringsliv 21. januar 2012, til Kjell Senneset som tok utfordringen i min kronikk. Jeg er ikke beroliget.

Sjefsøkonom Kjell Senneset fra Prognosesenteret forsøkte i et svar på min kronikk fra DN lørdag å berolige alle som er bekymret for boligprisene.

Senneset fortsetter å gi tomteprisøkninger skylden for mye av boligprisveksten. Hadde det vært flere byggeklare tomter, hevder han, ville mer blitt bygget og prisstigningen vært svakere.
Dette forutsetter at tomtemangel er det som i hovedgrad har begrenset veksten på byggesektoren. Dette virker for enkelt: Selv i Oslo, forteller Høyres Bård Folke Fredriksen, har kommunen regulert for 25% flere boliger de siste ti årene enn det byggesektoren har bygget. 20 000 boliger kan bygges selv i Oslo med dagens regulering.

Samtidig forteller byggesektoren om andre flaskehalser for vekst. Ketil Lyng, administrerende direktør i Byggenæringens Landsforening, fortalte DN i fjor at bransjen er “helt avhengig av utenlandsk arbeidskraft.” Han anslår at man trenger totalt 7500 nye fagarbeidere og 1500 ingeniører/sivilingeniører per år, og at nyutdannede fagarbeidere fra Norge bare fyller en tredjedel av dette behovet.

Dette er viktig. Hvis byggebransjen ikke kunne vokst raskere, ville ikke (enda) flere tomter ført til flere boliger. Da ville heller ikke boligprisveksten vært lavere.

Sennesets svar på mine fire spørsmål overbeviser heller ikke helt. For å ta det viktigste:
På spørsmål om hvilke kostnader som skal forhindre prisfall på sikt, peker Senneset på noe han og utbyggere “vet” men ikke kan vise med statistikk: Utbyggere har ikke høye marginer. Det stemmer sikkert, men skyldes at utbyggere byr opp priser på underleverandører og arbeidskraft og attraktive tomter som på kort sikt er begrenset. Spørsmålet mitt gjelder lang sikt: Hvilke typer arbeidskraft, utstyr eller tomtepris har blitt – og vil forbli – så dyrt at en ny bolig på sikt skal være mer enn tre ganger så dyr å bygge som i 1992?

Sektorer vokser når priser ligger over kostnader. Byggebransjen vokste kraftig i femten år, frem til finanskrisen inntraff. Hadde stigende kostnader vært bak boligprisveksten, slik Senneset hevder, skulle aktiviteten falt. Senneset svarer på dette med å snakke om byggekostnadene siden 2008. Det er i beste fall en avsporing.

Konklusjonene mine står fortsatt: Nybygging vil fortsette så lenge prisene er over langsiktige kostnader. Derfor skal prisene ned på sikt. Om vi har en boble er mer usikkert – det har å gjøre med om folk tar opp større lån og kjøper dyrere bolig fordi de tror boligprisveksten gjør at dette er trygt og lønner seg. Min vurdering her var at det trolig også er en “boblekomponent” i dagens etterspørsel. Senneset er uenig, men underbygget det mest med at han ikke tror det er tilfelle.

Kjell Senneset i Prognosesenteret er ikke helt enig i Oles diagnose av det norske boligmarkedet. En forkortet utgave av hans svar var på trykk i Dagens Næringsliv 19. januar. Hele kronikken gjengis, med Sennesets tillatelse, under.

Seniorforsker Ole Røgeberg ved Frischsenteret tar i et innlegg i DN lørdag 14/1 opp påstanden til professor Robert J. Shiller om at det er en prisboble i boligmarkeder i Norge. Han avslutter innlegget med fire spørsmål til de som er uenige. De spørsmålene skal han etter hvert få svar på, men først er det nødvendig å kommentere noen andre avsnitt i innlegget hans.

I et av avsnittene avlegger han undertegnete en visitt ved å hevde at jeg befinner meg i bakvendtland når jeg peker på at bl.a. økningen i tomteprisene de senere årene har vært med på å drive opp prisene i boligmarkedet. Røgeberg mener at det er boligprisveksten som skaper tomteprisveksten og ikke omvendt. Et relativt enkelt resonnement viser at han nok ikke nødvendigvis har rett: Hvis tilgangen på byggeklare boligtomter hadde vært bedre de siste 20 årene, for eksempel ved at kommuner med sterk befolkningsvekst hadde sørget for et større tomtelager, ville tilbudet av tomter ha matchet etterspørselen bedre, og prisveksten på tomtegrunn ha vært mindre eller kanskje 0 – slik som i 1970-årene da vi bygget 40-45.000 boliger i året uten nevneverdig stigning i tomteprisene. Eller som i dagens hyttemarked, hvor et overskudd av tomter faktisk har ført til et prisfall! Med bare svak eller ingen vekst i prisene på boligtomter ville samlet prisvekst på nye boliger blitt lavere enn det de faktisk har vært de siste 20 årene, boligproduksjonene hadde blitt høyere og samlet tilbud av boliger hadde matchet etterspørselen bedre. Dermed hadde prisveksten i boligmarkedet blitt lavere. Konklusjon: Tomtemangel driver opp prisene i boligmarkedet. Denne tomtemangelen har vært svært reell de siste 20 årene, ikke tilsynelatende og midlertidig som Røgeberg hevder.

Røgeberg skriver også at husholdningene betrakter bolig som en investering, og det må da bidra til å drive prisene ekstra mye i været? Røgeberg viser til en undersøkelse hvor to av tre oppga at bolig er den beste langsiktige investeringen. Etter min vurdering er andelen som betrakter boliger som er godt spareobjekt overraskende liten, tatt i betraktning mangel på gode konkurrenter. Banksparing? Neppe med dagens renter, som bare ligger litt over prisstigning etter skatt. Aksjefond? De er blitt grundig miskreditert i det siste. Gå inn i aksjemarkedet individuelt? Neppe særlig attraktivt med dagens kurssvingninger. Statsobligasjoner? Kanskje, men litt diffust for de fleste familier. Da står bolig igjen, men neppe med en slik interesse at det bidrar til særlig mye ekstra prisvekst i boligmarkedet.
Videre viser undersøkelsen at 40 % mener det er et godt tidspunkt økonomisk sett å gå inn i boligmarkedet nå. Det betyr at 60 % ikke regner med noe særlig boligprisvekst. Folks forventninger bidrar i hvert fall ikke til noen særlig ekstra vekst i boligprisene.
Røgeberg viser også til en undersøkelse utført av Eiliv Jansen og Andre Anundsen, som kan tyde på at boligpriser og gjeldsopptak inngår i en selvforsterkende spiral. Økte boligpriser legger grunnlaget for å ta opp mer lån, som igjen øker boligprisene osv. Et overraskende resultat – de færreste boligprismodellene synes å ta med seg reprisingen av boligformuen som forklaring på ytterligere boligprisvekst. Høy og økende gjeldsbelastning betraktes ofte som en faktor som demper framtidig boligprisvekst. Her strides tydeligvis de lærde, og man venter spent på fortsettelsen. Personlig holder jeg nok en liten knapp på at økt gjeldsbelastning bidrar til å dempe boligprisveksten.

Så til de fire spørsmålene man må stille seg hvis man er uenig i at det en boligprisboble. De går på veksten i byggekostnadene og på husholdningenes oppfatning av adferd i boligmarkedet. Litt av svarene finnes i avsnittene over, her kommer resten. Først spørsmålene, så svarene i kronologisk rekkefølge:

1. Hvor er kostnadene som skal forhindre boligprisene fra å falle på sikt?
Svar: Kostnadene ved å bygge boliger er høyere enn bruktboligprisene de aller fleste steder i Norge, ikke lavere som Røgeberg synes å tro. Hadde det vært omvendt hadde jeg også forstått Røgebergs bekymring. Da hadde det vært et incitament til overproduksjon av boliger. Vi skal ikke lenger en til Danmark for å finne konsekvensene av en slik overproduksjon på boligprisene. De faller. Mye. Riktignok er det vanskelig å finne statistikk for at produksjonskostnadene er høyere enn bruktboligprisene i Norge, men hvis man jobber med boligmarkedet med begge hender hver eneste dag, er dette godt kjent. F.eks. vet utbyggerne at det er omtrent umulig å produsere boliger i Oslo til under 45.000 kr/kvm, som er godt over bruktboligprisene.

2. Hvis kostnadsvekst står bak prisene, hvorfor er bygg- og anleggssektoren i kraftig vekst?
Svar: Under og etter finanskrisen i 2008 og 2009 sank byggekostnadene, hovedsakelig fordi materialprisene gikk ned og produktiviteten hos byggebedriftene gikk opp. I 2010 begynte kostnadene å øke igjen, og er nå minst på høyde med nivået fra før finanskrisen. Nå har det også begynt å butte i mot i boligproduksjonen, etter en kraftig vekst fra det håpløst lave nivået i 2008 og 2009. Statistisk sentralbyrås ordrestatistikk viser nedgang i tilgangen på nye boligprosjekter både i 2. og 3. kvartal 2011 (4. kvartal er ikke offentliggjort ennå). Dette til tross for at det bygges 10.000 færre boliger enn det som er nødvendig for å demme opp for etterspørselen fra en raskt voksende befolkning. Bygging av nye næringsbygg ser også ut til å flate ut.

3. Hvorfor har ikke 20 år med boliglånsgevinst og prisfest skapt en tro på at folk bør ta opp større lån og kjøpe større og dyrere bolig?
Svar: Noen ser sikkert på boligmarkedet som et fint sted å plassere pengene sine og kjøper bolig deretter, men det er et lite mindretall av boligkjøperne. De aller fleste som kjøper nye boliger ser på boligen som et sted å bo, ikke som et investeringsobjekt. Folk kjøper for øvrig ikke stadig større boliger. De nye boligene var f.eks. langt større på 1980-tallet enn nå. At de likevel er blitt dyrere skyldes dels strengere krav til kvalitet og energieffektivitet, dels at entreprisekostnadene og tomtekostnadene har skutt i været. Mye av økningen i entreprisekostnadene skyldes for øvrig stadig lavere produktivitet.

4. Og hvis boligprisveksten ikke påvirker folks etterspørsel, hvorfor er da folk så opptatt av prisutviklingen og sier at det er en god investering?
Svar: Det er nok mest media som er opptatt av investeringssiden. For den alminnelige husholdning kommer verdistigningen som en bonus. Det de først og fremst ser etter er et godt sted å bo. Da er prisutviklingen viktig, for den forteller dem hva de har råd til, enten de har en bolig fra før eller ikke.

Til slutt: Boligprisveksten siden 1993 kan forklares ved å se på bl.a. inntektsutvikling, befolkningsutvikling, renter, arbeidsmarked – og ikke minst, flaskehalsene i boligbyggingen. Det er helt unødvendig å trekke inn boble som en del av forklaringen på prisveksten. Det betyr imidlertid ikke at boligprisene vil fortsette å stige inn i evigheten. Før eller siden, og kanskje allerede i år, blir det en konjunkturnedgang sterk nok til å senke boligprisene også i Norge. Men fall i boligprisene pga en boblesprekk blir det ikke. Rett og slett fordi boblen ikke finnes. For å motbevise dette må det lages en kredibel, robust, økonometrisk modell for tilbud, etterspørsel og priser i boligmarkedet som viser en differanse mellom modell og faktisk prisutvikling. Dette er Røgebergs utfordring.

Denne kronikken sto på trykk i Dagens Næringsliv lørdag 14. januar som et svar til de som mente Robert Shiller ikke vet hva han snakker om. Denne gangen er det som kjent annerledes.

Den amerikanske økonomen Shiller steilet nylig over norsk boligprisutvikling og uttalte at dette så ut som en boble. Har han rett?

To spørsmål utgjør kjernen i boligprisdiskusjonen: Hva er kostnadene ved å skaffe flere boliger på sikt? Og i hvilken grad er dagens boligpriser blåst opp av “psykologi”?

Boligprisene på sikt må reflektere kostnader
Ligger prisene for en vare over produksjonskostnadene vil produksjonen øke. Dette fortsetter til prisen faller (på grunn av økt tilbud) eller kostnadene øker (fordi lønninger og råvarer bys opp) slik at pris igjen reflekterer kostnader.

Dette gjelder også i boligmarkedet, bare at det tar lang tid å bygge hus, utdanne flere arbeidere og bygge opp en større bygge og anleggssektor.Fra 1992 og frem til finanskrisen strupte byggebransjens kredittilgang ble bygge og anleggssektoren større år for år. I snitt økte antallet årlig ferdigstilte boliger med 3% i året. Bransjen er nå igjen i skarp vekst. Dette er et sikkert tegn på at prisene er over de langsiktige kostnader. Boligprisene vil derfor komme ned på sikt.

Enkelte, som Prognosesenterets sjefsøkonom Kjell Senneset, hevder at kostnader driver prisutviklingen og peker på tomtepriser. Dette er bokstavelig talt bakvendt. Litt forenklet kan vi si at utbyggere anslår hva ferdige leiligheter vil gå for om noen år. Deretter trekker de fra byggekostnader, og får på den måten “maksverdien” de kan by på en byggeklar tomt. Når ulike utbyggere byr mot hverandre går tomten til de med størst tro på prisvekst og lavest anslag på byggekostnader. Boligprisveksten flyttes over i tomteprisen, og boligprisvekst skaper tomteprisvekst – ikke omvendt.

Knappheten på tomt er videre tilsynelatende og midlertidig. Får du omregulert en attraktiv tomt så det kan bygges bolig på den, eventuelt flere boliger enn før, så får du en diger prisgevinst. Dette sier oss at det er byggetillatelsen som er verdt mye penger, ikke tomten.

Folk kjøper bolig også for å tjene penger på prisvekst
Vi har ikke nødvendigvis en boble fordi om boligprisene skal ned på sikt. En boble har vi dersom en betydelig andel av dagens boligetterspørsel er basert på en tro på videre prisvekst. Her er “boliglånsgevinsten” sentral: Så lenge boligprisveksten ligger over realrenten etter skattefradrag tjener du mer penger dess mer boliglån du tar opp og dess dyrere bolig du kjøper. Den er med andre ord et insentiv for boliggjeld. Dette insentivet har vært sterkt positivt de siste tjue årene. I samme periode har realgjelden for norske husholdninger blitt doblet, og det er blitt vanlig å si at man “alltid tjener penger på bolig” og at “det lønner seg å ha stort boliglån.”

Dette reflekteres også i avisforsider: “Slik blir du rik på egen bolig… mens børsene stuper” (Dagbladet, 2. november) og “Sjekk din bolig.. og så mye er den verdt i 2014” (Dagbladet, 24. september).

At bolig også er investering viste en meningsmåling Garanti Eiendomsmegling offentliggjorde sist uke: To av tre personer oppga at de anså bolig som den beste langsiktige investeringen for folk flest. 40 prosent mente at “nå er et godt tidspunkt økonomisk sett for folk flest å investere i bolig”.

Videre viser forskning at dette har betydning for boligprisene. Eilev Jansen og André Anundsen viste ifjor at norske boligpriser og gjeldsopptak inngår i en selvforsterkende spiral: Når gjelden øker pumper dette opp boligprisene, og når boligprisene stiger fører dette til ytterligere gjeldsopptak. Folk casher ut boligprisvekst og får økt egenkapital og dermed større lån som driver boligprisene videre oppover.

I den grad “psykologi” og tro på prisvekst ligger bak etterspørselsveksten blir tempoet på prisnedgangen større når boligprisene snur. Boliglånsgevinsten blir negativ. Egenkapitalen raser like raskt nedover som den tidligere steg. Apetitten for lånefinansiering av ny bolig faller, og med den etterspørselen og prisene.

Til de som er uenige er spørsmålene klare: Hvor er kostnadene som skal forhindre boligprisene fra å falle på sikt? Hvis kostnadsvekst står bak prisene, hvorfor er bygge- og anleggssektoren i kraftig vekst? Hvorfor har ikke 20 år med boliglångevinst og “prisfest” skapt en tro på at folk bør ta opp større lån og kjøpe større og dyrere bolig? Og hvis boligprisveksten ikke påvirker folks etterspørsel, hvorfor er da folk så opptatt av prisutviklingen og sier at det er en god investering?

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