Eduardo Porter interviewed me in addition to his column, here is one excerpt:

What about other consequences of inequality? There is evidence that it hurts mobility, sapping young men’s incentives to succeed. Some have suggested it corrupts our political system and could fuel social unrest.

We know very little about what income inequality tends to cause in politics. We do see that income inequality is up considerably and crime is down considerably. We do know that older societies, as we are becoming, tend to be more peaceful and stable. We also see that a rising middle class often leads to political instability, such as in Thailand or Turkey or Brazil or for that matter the United States in the 1960s. Many young American men may be experiencing a crisis of confidence these days, but the problem lies in the absolute quality of their opportunities, not the gap between them and Bill Gates.

And this:

If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot — how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.

Here is the whole thing.


As the conflict rages, displacing hundreds of thousands, U.N. and Palestinian officials say some families have made a macabre calculation: to split up, with each group seeking refuge in different parts of Gaza. If one part of the family gets killed, others will live on to help the survivors and keep their dynasty alive.

But most families, officials say, still move together as a source of strength and comfort. Some are now living with other relatives, further increasing their familial size, while others have taken shelter in U.N.-run schools and other refuges.

From Sudarsan Raghavan, there is more here.  Note that if there is a “single (cost-adjusted) safest perceived place,” splitting up the family into two or more locations is increasing the net expected danger to some family members, without making any members safer.

The rest of the WaPo story, by Lydia DePillis, is here.  Here is one excerpt:

The market for consumer-facing economists is certainly getting crowded. Big Internet companies have had chief economists for years now; Google’s Hal Varian is an oft-quoted exponent of his employer’s capabilities and worldview. Microsoft recently hired Yahoo’s former chief economist to push a more “data-driven culture” at the tech dinosaur.

But they’re not just looking for super-wonks. More importantly for Richardson, rival real estate sites Zillow, Trulia, and CoreLogic have offered their chief economists as media-friendly talking heads, always available to explain national trends: Stan Humphries, Jed Kolko, and Mark Fleming have essentially become their companies’ most visible employees, speaking at conferences and testifying on Capitol Hill. That’s why’s recent listing for a chief economist includes the following in its job description: “Act as the face of the company with key journalists for both print and tv interviews with leading publications,” “work closely with our PR and branding teams,” and have “excellent stage presence.”

File under “Those New Service Sector Jobs.”

Assorted links

by on July 30, 2014 at 12:59 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Free behavioral economics resource guide, 130 pp.

2. Visualizing Africa’s progress.

3. New marriage bureau for ISIS fighters.

4. Amazon explains its stance on Hachette.

5. Did Singapore pop its housing bubble?  “Local protectionism” is a huge legal problem in China.

6. Is Abenomics slowing down?

Ukraine fact of the day

by on July 30, 2014 at 10:59 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

The Ukrainian economy shrank 4.7 per cent annually in the second quarter, far deeper than expected and casting a cloud over the assumptions that underpin the International Monetary Fund’s $17bn bailout.

That follows a 1.1 per cent year-on-year contraction in the first quarter. Given the ongoing unrest in eastern Ukraine, where much of the industrial base can be found, economic growth is unlikely to pick up later this year.

There is more here.

He has a very good column on this topic today, here is one excerpt:

“The returns to growth are going to people in other countries, most notably China, and generally to people with high I.Q., no matter where they live,” said Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a contributor to the Economic View column in The New York Times. “I don’t really know how you could undermine this dynamic, short of wrecking the world. Trying to deny that logic is going to fail or worse, backfire.”

Mr. Cowen, who describes himself as a libertarian with a lowercase “l,” is the author of “Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation,” (Dutton, 2013), which posits that technology and globalization have essentially split the labor market in two: high and low earners. Far fewer stable jobs are left over in the middle to support what through much of the 20th century we called the middle class.

In his view, the defining challenge of our era is that workers in the bottom half of the distribution can no longer trust that their living standard will double every generation. “The right moral question is ‘are poor people rising to a higher standard of living?’ Inequality itself is the wrong thing to look at,” he told me. The real problem is slow growth.

“The best way to address rising inequality is to focus on increasing educational attainment,” Professor Mankiw said. Mr. Cowen adds other potentially useful policies, like expanding the earned-income tax credit or using urban policy to, say, make it easier for people who are not rich to live in San Francisco.

The full story is here, interesting throughout.

David Brooks writes:

But when the Muslim Brotherhood government fell, the military leaders cracked down. They sentenced hundreds of the Brotherhood’s leadership class to death. They also closed roughly 95 percent of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, where the Brotherhood’s offshoot, Hamas, had gained power.

As intended, the Egyptian move was economically devastating to Hamas. Hamas derived 40 percent of its tax revenue from tariffs on goods that flowed through those tunnels. One economist estimated the economic losses at $460 million a year, nearly a fifth of the Gazan G.D.P.

Hamas needed to end that blockade, but it couldn’t strike Egypt, so it struck Israel. If Hamas could emerge as the heroic fighter in a death match against the Jewish state, if Arab TV screens were filled with dead Palestinian civilians, then public outrage would force Egypt to lift the blockade. Civilian casualties were part of the point. When Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, dismissed a plea for a cease-fire, he asked a rhetorical question, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?”

The eminent Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff summarized the strategy in The Times of Israel, “Make no mistake, Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel. But Hamas is firing rockets at Tel Aviv and sending terrorists through tunnels into southern Israel while aiming, in essence, at Cairo.”

The full column is here.

While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have earned at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just in the past year.

In various news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period.

These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funnel the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year.

In its early years Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors, but counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans.

The full story is here. by Rukmini Callimachi.  Oh, and don’t forget this:

Negotiators take a reported 10 percent of the ransom, creating an incentive on both sides of the Mediterranean to increase the overall payout, according to former hostages and senior counterterrorism officials.

It turns out that Al Qaeda hardly ever executes prisoners any more.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

Assorted links

by on July 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Anti-surveillance make-up.

2. Textiles and the emergence of gender equality in China.

3. Excerpt from the new Murakami bookKnausgaard Bingo.  A gentle introduction to “the Dark Enlightenment.”

4. Principals see poverty.

5. Turning billboards into tiny houses for the homeless.

6. The Achilles Heel of Dodd-Frank.  And the new trend of tattoo removal.

These were the results:

1. People responded to first messages 44% more often.

2. “conversations went deeper”

3. Contact details were exchanged more quickly.


When the photos were restored at 4PM, 2,200 people were in the middle of conversations that had started “blind”. Those conversations melted away.

That said, the people who actually used the “Blind Date App” if anything seemed slightly happier with their dates.  The full report from OKCupid is here.  Yet here is the combined chart drawn from when people score “looks” and “personality” separately.

By the way, I would never try to match you up with a book I fear you may not like, at least not without telling you or otherwise signaling that incompatibility in advance.

Israel’s major problem is that circumstances always change. Predicting the military capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds in 50 years is difficult. Most likely, they will not be weaker than they are today, and a strong argument can be made that at least several of their constituents will be stronger. If in 50 years some or all assume a hostile posture against Israel, Israel will be in trouble.

Time is not on Israel’s side. At some point, something will likely happen to weaken its position, while it is unlikely that anything will happen to strengthen its position. That normally would be an argument for entering negotiations, but the Palestinians will not negotiate a deal that would leave them weak and divided, and any deal that Israel could live with would do just that.

What we are seeing in Gaza is merely housekeeping, that is, each side trying to maintain its position. The Palestinians need to maintain solidarity for the long haul. The Israelis need to hold their strategic superiority as long as they can. But nothing lasts forever, and over time, the relative strength of Israel will decline. Meanwhile, the relative strength of the Palestinians may increase, though this isn’t certain.

Looking at the relative risks, making a high-risk deal with the Palestinians would seem prudent in the long run. But nations do not make decisions on such abstract calculations. Israel will bet on its ability to stay strong. From a political standpoint, it has no choice. The Palestinians will bet on the long game. They have no choice. And in the meantime, blood will periodically flow.

There is more here, of interest throughout, via Eric Reguly.

For the most part, no, although financial repression is an issue to look out for.  There is a new NBER Working Paper by Jens Hilscher, Alon Raviv, and Ricardo Reis which works through the numbers:

We propose and implement a method that provides quantitative estimates of the extent to which higher- than-expected inflation can lower the real value of outstanding government debt. Looking forward, we derive a formula for the debt burden that relies on detailed information about debt maturity and claimholders, and that uses option prices to construct risk-adjusted probability distributions for inflation at different horizons. The estimates suggest that it is unlikely that inflation will lower the US fiscal burden significantly, and that the effect of higher inflation is modest for plausible counterfactuals. If instead inflation is combined with financial repression that ex post extends the maturity of the debt, then the reduction in value can be significant.

“Financial repression will be a harbinger of inflation” is an underrated sentence.  Another is “short-term debt structure is the new gold standard,” as it limits the revenue gains from higher inflation.  There are ungated copies of the paper here.

Here is one way to boost the employment to population ratio, two birds with one stone you might say:

Feng’s 23 year-old son, “Xiao Feng” (小冯) started playing video games in high school. Through his years of playing various online games, he supposedly thought himself a master of Chinese online role playing games. According to his father, Xiao Feng had good grades in school, so they allowed him to play games; but when he couldn’t land a job they started looking into things. He, however, says he simply couldn’t find any work that he liked. Feng was annoyed that his son couldn’t even tough it out for three months at a software development company.

Unhappy with his son not finding a job, Feng decided to hire players in his son’s favorite online games to hunt down Xiao Feng. It is unknown where or how Feng found the in-game assassins—every one of the players he hired were stronger and higher leveled than Xiao Feng. Feng’s idea was that his son would get bored of playing games if he was killed every time he logged on, and that he would start putting more effort into getting a job.

The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Smiddy.

…trade typically favors the poor, who concentrate spending in more traded sectors.

That is from Pablo D. Fajgelbaum and Amit K. Khandelwal, the full paper is here.

Assorted links

by on July 28, 2014 at 1:11 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. “One was falsely accused of being a moslem, and the other was falsely accused of not being a moslem.”

2. A measure of systemic risk for China.

3. A new and better way of using consumption risk to explain the global cross-section of returns? (pdf)

4. In praise of Lloyd Metzler.  And John Cochrane defends reverse repo and criticizes Sheila Bair.

5. A theory (highly speculative) about what Israel has been trying to prevent.

6. Ronald Coase and the Fabians agreed on policy toward the BBC, with new substantive material by Coase, previously unavailable.