Archive for the 'Economics' Category

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Quote Of The Day

This sort of giveaway may be good politics, but it’s terrible policy. Extending the programme just one year would cost $6 billion. The measure is promoted as a way of making college more affordable, but it will mainly benefit those well out of school, many of whom are relatively well-to-do, mid-career professionals, such as your indebted correspondent. There is a movement afoot to get the government to forgive student-loan debt entirely, and when compared to this, the cost of the scheme to keep student-loan interest rates low looks quite small. Stilll, it’s bad policy for many of the same reasons it would be bad policy to forgive student loans. If we’re going to hand out this $6 billion next year, it would be better all ’round to hand it to the people who need it most. If we think it more important to spend this dough on education, then we should hand out the $6 billion in the form of scholarships to deserving prospective collegians of modest means, to help them earn their degrees without having to take out any loans at all.” — Will Wilkinson 

Quote Of The Day

“Second, the argument that elites are generally opposed to government involvement in the economy reveals the very US-centric focus of Krugman and Wells. Even a perfunctory look at recent or distant history (or at our book!) should have been enough to convince one that in most societies, even in the supposedly laissez-faire 19th century Britain, elites work very hard to make the government intervene in the economy — of course, in a very specific way, to support them. It should thus be no surprise that extractive institutions are rarely built on the foundations of laissez-faire economics — think of slavery, labor draft systems such as the mita, government monopolies, institutions such as the “colour bar” in South Africa designed to keep blacks disadvantaged and forced to supply cheap labor, and government corruption.” — Economists DARON ACEMOGLU AND JAMES ROBINSON, blogging at Why Nations Fail

Free Trade And NAFTA

Non-economists often debate the merits of free trade and/or NAFTA. But if you ask economists, they are nearly unanimously in agreement in favor of both:

None of the economists surveyed disagreed that the gains to freer trade are much larger than any costs. And only two economists even said that the answer is uncertain. In a space for additional comments, MIT’s Richard Schmalensee declared “If that’s not right, almost all of economics is wrong”.

Economists have emphasized the benefits of free trade for a long time, reflecting the field’s belief in the importance of specialization, comparative advantage, and gains from trade. Indeed, these results are similar to other surveys that show economists strongly supporting free trade.

So why do pundits and voters lag economists in supporting free trade? In his excellent book The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan provides evidence that people suffer from a handful of systematic biases that influence their beliefs, and three of these can help explain why voters are skeptical of trade: anti-market bias, anti-foreign bias, and pessimism bias.

Full post here. Survey here.

Health Care Costs Eat Away Wages

A study posted on Tim Taylors blog finds:

“To paint an accurate picture of how health care cost growth is affecting the finances of a typical American family, RAND Health researchers combined data from multiple sources to depict the effects of rising health care costs on a median income married couple with two children covered by employer-sponsored insurance. The analysis compared the family’s health care cost burden in 1999 with that incurred in 2009. The take-away message: Although family income grew throughout the decade, the financial benefits that the family might have realized were largely consumed by health care cost growth, leaving them with only $95 more per month than in 1999. Had health care costs tracked the rise in the Consumer Price Index, rather than outpacing it, an average American family would have had an additional $450 per month—more than $5,000 per year—to spend on other priorities.”

Full post can be found here.

Mobility Correlations

Commenting on the mobility/inequality link, Jim Manzi writes:

But what about all the other potential reasons, beyond what their Gini Coefficient was in 1985, for varying levels of social mobility between countries as diverse as Japan, France, and New Zealand?

The most obvious example is just the size of the countries. It’s at least plausible that much bigger countries contain more variety. In fact, if you do something as simple as recreate the Great Gatsby Curve, but use the population of each country as the X-axis, you get a very strong a statistical relationship (log-linear R2 = .64). Big countries have higher IGE. Call it the Moby Dick Curve.

Alternatively, we might see that some countries tend to specialize more than others.  As a practical example, part of the reason that a country like Finland can have so much equality and social mobility versus America might be that many more of the relatively poorer farmers who trade food for Finnish mobile phones live and reproduce in other countries.  If so, then we might see that if we replace the X-axis with exports as a % of GDP, there could be another statistically significant relationship with IGE. Check (R2 = .48).

Full article here.

Mobility In Context

Brookings Institute Scott Winshop on mobility:

However, evidence on earnings mobility in the sense of where parents and children rank suggests that our uniqueness lies in how ineffective we are at lifting up men who were poor as children. In other words, we have no more downward mobility from the middle than other nations, no less upward mobility from the middle, and no less downward mobility from the top. Nor do we have less upward mobility from the bottom among women. Only in terms of low upward mobility from the bottom among men does the U.S. stand out.

Full article here.

Another Reason Why Income Inequality Has Increased

The New York Times writes:

 Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

Full article here.

Data On ObamaCare Shows Rationale Exaggerated

McArdle explains:

Part of Obamacare was a transitional “High Risk Pool” program to cover people who were unable to get insurance until the rest of the law’s provisions kicked in in 2014. The program allocated $5 billion. Medicare’s chief actuary assumed that it would attract 400,000 people; the CBO projected 200,000–but only because they assumed that HHS would use its authority to limit enrollment in order to keep the program below its budgetary cap.

The experience was not quite what had been expected. By January 2011, 8,000 people had enrolled, a number that rose to 12,000 by April. As of October 2011, by dramatically relaxing the requirements, lowering premiums, and paying brokers to enroll people, HHS had managed to get that number up to 41,000. Where were all the people with pre-existing conditions who couldn’t get insurance–the ones whose plight had been the impetus behind ObamaCare?

Full post can be found here.

Are Federal Workers Overpaid? The CBO Weighs In

Remember a while back, during the Wisconsin governor Walker fiasco, the debate that raged regarding government workers and their wages with respect to private sector workers? You had right wing economists arguing that federal workers were indeed overpaid and left wing economists arguing the opposite. An honest observer might have found it difficult to know who was right.

Well now, the CBO has weighed in on the topic and has come down on the side of right wing economists:

Differences in total compensation—the sum of wages and benefits—between federal and private-sector employees also varied according to workers’ education level.

Federal civilian employees with no more than a high school education averaged 36 percent higher total compensation than similar private-sector employees.
Federal workers whose education culminated in a bachelor’s degree averaged 15 percent higher total compensation than their private-sector counterparts.
Federal employees with a professional degree or doctorate received 18 percent lower total compensation than their private-sector counterparts, on average.
Overall, the federal government paid 16 percent more in total compensation than it would have if average compensation had been comparable with that in the private sector, after accounting for certain observable characteristics of workers.

Of course I, a huge fan of Andrew Biggs at AEI, knew this long ago. For more on Andrew Biggs research on this see here, here and especially here.

Why CEO Pay Is Rising

Atleast part of the reason is a dwindling supply:

In tech circles, the C-suite at a publicly traded company is no longer the be-all and end-all. Just look at the troubles Yahoo! (YHOO) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) have recently had finding new leaders. HP canned former SAP (SAP) Chief Executive Officer Léo Apotheker after just 11 months—then faced a barrage of criticism for replacing him with HP director and former EBay (EBAY) CEO Meg Whitman without bothering to look beyond its own boardroom.

Industry consolidation has created a small number of very large technology companies such as HP, Cisco (CSCO), and Microsoft (MSFT). They’ve stumbled in recent years as disruptive developments like the mobile revolution and the dash to the cloud shake the entire sector. As the job of leading these companies gets tougher, there are fewer talented leaders with the skills—and inclination—to do it. Rather than wait for high-profile CEOs such as Cisco’s John Chambers, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, and Research In Motion’s (RIMM) Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie to step down, many potential replacements have decamped for more exciting, and potentially more lucrative, gigs at startups or as investors. “This is the first time in tech history that you have this many companies with CEOs approaching 60 that don’t have any obvious successors,” says John Thompson, vice-chairman of recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles (HSII).

Full story here.

Obama’s Nostalgianomics

Megan McArdle on President Obama’s speech:

I think the speech made it even clearer that other speeches have that the president’s vision of the world is a lightly updated 1950s technocracy without the social conservatism, and with solar panels instead of rocket ships. Government and labor and business working in tightly controlled concert, with nice people like Obama at the reins–all the inventions coming out of massive government or corporate labs, and all the resulting products built by a heavily unionized workforce that knows no worry about the future.There are obviously a lot of problems with this vision. The first is that this is not what the fifties and sixties were actually like–the government and corporate labs sat on a lot of inventions until upstart companies developed them, and the union goodies that we now think of as typical were actually won pretty late in the game (the contracts that eventually killed GM were written in the early 1970s).

And to the extent that the fifties and sixties were actually like this, we should remember, as Max Boot points out, that this was not actually the day of the little guy. Big institutions actually had a great deal more power than they do now; it was just distributed somewhat differently–you had to worry less about big developers slapping a high-rise next to your single-family neighborhood, and a whole lot more about Robert Moses deciding he wanted to run a freeway through the spot where your house happened to be.

The military model of society–employed by both Obama, and a whole lot of 1950s good government types–was actually a kind of creepy way to live. As Boot says, “America today is far more individualistic and far more meritocratic with far less tolerance for rank prejudice and far less willingness to blindly follow the orders of rigid bureaucracies.” If you want the 1950s except without the rigid conformity and the McCarthyism, then you fundamentally misunderstand what made the 1950s tick.

Finally, there’s the fact that the 1950s ended in the 1970s. In the 1950s, American products were envied all over the world; by 1980, they were a joke. This is not some radical disconnect; it is the beginning and end of the same process. The technocratic American institutions became sclerotic agents of inertia. Bosses whose pay was capped poured their energy into building personal empires instead of personal fortunes. Unions like the UAW began making demands on their companies so heavy that even the UAW president who had negotiated these amazing pay increases began to fear that his members had lost their minds.

Full post here.

The Argument For Zero Capital Gains Taxes

If you care about maximizing government revenue that is:

Most of the discussion by economists of the appropriate capital gains tax rate is about a very narrow criterion: the effect of capital gains tax rates on capital gains tax revenues. But in a 2009 study done for the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation (IRET), Ohio State University economist Paul D. Evans considers a broader criterion: the effect of capital gains tax rates on overall federal tax revenues.

What’s the difference? Because capital gains taxes discourage capital formation, they also cause other tax revenues to be lower. If there’s less capital formation, workers have less capital to work with and, therefore, are less productive. If they’re less productive, the government collects less tax revenue from them.

Professor Evans looks at data from the overall economy from 1976 to 2004, a period in which there was a lot of variation in the marginal tax rate on capital gains. He concludes that in 2004, the tax rate on capital gains that would have maximized overall federal government revenues was 9.69 percent. But if the government taxes to maximize revenues, the deadweight loss from the last epsilon of tax increase is infinity. Therefore, if the revenue-maximizing capital gains tax rate was 9.69 percent, the optimal tax rate was even lower. So a greedy, grasping government that wants to maximize tax revenues should cut the marginal tax rate on capital gains and if that government cares at all about taxpayers, it should cut the rate even further.

The Rationale Behind Low Capital Gains Taxes

University Of Chicago economist John Cochrane writes:

Intuitively, this is related to the theorem that you shouldn’t tax intermediate goods, or have tariffs for moving goods around the country.  Romney’s income was taxed once, when he made it. It’s not efficient to tax it again, because he chose to save it rather than spend it immediately on an orgy of houses, private jets, and a big vacation for his extended family.

If you made money in dollars, paid taxes, then went to Canada and got $1.20 Canadian, it would make no sense to say “you made 20 cents of income, we’ll tax it.” It makes no more sense to pay taxes again on money that is moved over time. We decry that Americans don’t save enough, the Chinese, the trade deficit and so on. Well, if you want people to save more, stop taxing it.

For this reason, the U.S. Tax code has been slowly reducing the taxation of rates of return. Capital gains and dividends are now taxed less than ordinary income. IRAs, 401(k), 526, and a welter of other devices allow people to save and invest without paying taxes on the rates of return. (It would be much simpler to just eliminate taxes on rates of return, but then the lawyers and accountants would have nothing to do.) Dividends are finally taxed at the same rate as capital gains. Estate taxes have been slowly and chaotically lowered. 

Full post can be found here.

Hans Rosling On John Stossel


A worthwhile clip.

Quote Of The Day

“Conservatives will also find that Europe is much less open to immigration than the United States, that Europe generally has much lighter taxation of investment income, that few European countries uphold American-style strong separation of church and state, that European countries generally afford accused criminals fewer procedural rights, and that Europe has much less in the way of product liability and class action lawsuits. What’s more, though there are a few exceptions (Sweden comes to mind), Europe as a whole is more conservative in its gender norms in many ways. Women’s workforce participation rates are lower, fewer children are born to single parents, and there are many more legal restrictions on abortion. ” — Matthew Yglesias, on the important difference between Europe that conservatives would find surprising

Quote Of The Day

What about life expectancy statistics — a favorite of the critics, since Americans don’t score very high? It turns out that when you remove outcomes doctors have almost no impact on — death from fatal injuries (car accidents, violent crime, etc.) — U.S. life expectancy jumps from 19th in the world to number one!John Goodman, answering the question, Do We Really Spend More and Get Less with regard to Healthcare?