Here is the GMU press release:

Marginal Revolution University’s “Everyday Economics” video series has been nominated for an International Academy of Web Television award in the Best Documentary or Educational Series category.

There is more information here.

Just to repeat myself….

by on March 4, 2015 at 9:21 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

1. The obviously correct legal answer is to toss at least part of ACA back into the hands of Congress for a rewrite.  (There is rarely a well-defined “intent of the legislature” in most matters of detail, yet the wording itself is clear.)  But since many people do not like what Congress would do (or not do) in this situation, this is an option which cannot be discussed very much.  The critics would have to let on that they do not consider the current Congress to be a legitimate governing body.

2. Along the lines of my recent blog post, it is remarkable how many “ugly” pictures of Hillary Clinton I have seen since the email scandal broke.  Aren’t there pretty pictures of Hillary with a Blackberry?

Labor union sentences to ponder

by on March 4, 2015 at 2:14 am in Economics | Permalink

to raise labor share, unions have to decrease markups or the cost of capital; don’t see evidence or mechanism there

That is from A Macroeconomist, on Twitter.  A union which simply grabs for more from the employer will raise marginal cost and induce an offsetting boost in the price, restoring capital’s share (to some degree, depending on assumptions), and of course passing some of the burden along to consumers, most of whom are workers.  The tweeter did also note that unions might decrease income inequality within the category of labor, however.  Nick Bunker comments on that.  Via Kevin Lewis, here is a new and interesting paper on how unions might reduce wage inequality.  David Henderson comments on unions and prices.

I am often struck by the conflict between one supposition and one fact.  First, employers are supposed to be reaping some big surplus from hiring unskilled labor.  Second, when a downturn comes, it is unskilled labor who are laid off.

I used to think it was a decent enough school, and now:

Sweet Briar College announced today that it is shutting down at the end of this academic year.

Small colleges close or merge from time to time, more frequently since the economic downturn started in 2008. But the move is unusual in that Sweet Briar still has a $94 million endowment, regional accreditation and some well-respected programs. But college officials said that the trend lines were too unfavorable, and that efforts to consider different strategies didn’t yield any viable options. So the college decided to close now, with some sense of order, rather than dragging out the process for several more years, as it could have done.

The story is here, and this is not the last such event of its kind.  Why is it failing financially?  Here is one take:

Sweet Briar officials cited overarching challenges that the college has been unable to handle: the lack of interest from female high school students in attending a women’s college like Sweet Briar, declining interest in liberal arts colleges generally and declining interest in attending colleges in rural areas. Sweet Briar is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. “We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks,” said James F. Jones Jr., president of the college.

It seems to me that many other small colleges are in a far worse position, but are instead papering over the cracks, for how long I do not know.  Update: This revised version of the story has additional information.

Tuesday assorted links

by on March 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The New Rambler, a new book review journal, edited by Eric Posner, Arian Vermeule, and Blakey Vermeule, looks very good plus I owe them a review.

2. Toulouse School of Economics magazine (pdf).

3. WaPo covers the best places to visit internationally, now that the dollar is stronger.

4. How much did ATMs displace bank tellers?

5. It’s all about the land, not the capital-output ratio.

So the problem is not that austerity was tried and failed in Greece. It is that, despite unprecedented international generosity, fiscal policy was completely out of control and needed major adjustments. Insufficient spending was never an issue. From 1998 to 2007, Greece’s annual per capita GDP growth averaged 3.8%, the second fastest in Western Europe, behind only Ireland.

…Unsustainable growth paths often end in a sudden stop of capital inflows, forcing countries to bring their spending back in line with production. In Greece, however, official lenders’ unprecedented munificence made the adjustment more gradual than in, say, Latvia or Ireland.

There are many other good points at the link.  Hausmann makes this point:

Greece never had the productive structure to be as rich as it was: its income was inflated by massive amounts of borrowed money that was not used to upgrade its productive capacity.

And then the closer can only be described as an “ouch”!:

Unfortunately, this is not what many Greeks (or Spaniards) believe. A large plurality of them voted for Syriza, which wants to reallocate resources to wage increases and subsidies and does not even mention exports in its growth strategy. They would be wise to remember that having Stiglitz as a cheerleader and Podemos as advisers did not save Venezuela from its current hyper-inflationary catastrophe.

As I’ve said before, that out of control Greek government spending and borrowing has been converted into a (supposed) cautionary tale about the dangers of fiscal conservatism is one of the greatest (and most unfortunate) public relations triumphs of modern times.  That said, I would have preferred it if Hausmann had paid more attention to monetary policy.

Open English Borders

by on March 3, 2015 at 7:30 am in Economics, Law, Political Science | Permalink

I am in favor of open borders for economic and moral reasons. It’s not crazy, however, to be concerned about some of the potential consequences of immediately opening borders between countries with very different income levels, culture or history. It is crazy, however, to fear opening borders between countries with similar income levels, culture and history. Thus, I fully support the petition of the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation:

Because of the unique relationship and socio-economic bonds that the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand share, we believe that each country can benefit from a free movement agreement with each other, similar to the policies of the European Union and the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (T.T.T.A) between Australia and New Zealand.

We propose that the governments of the aforementioned countries finalise agreements (and inevitably, legislation) which make it possible for citizens to move freely with no restrictions regarding work permits or visa controls.

Amen to that.

The only problem with agreements like this is that the very big gains come from opening up borders between countries that are different. Still, I am for lowering transportation and transaction costs. I do hope, however, that more people will come to appreciate that the right to move is a human right and not just a right of the British and their colonial cousins.

Addendum: Open Borders Day is coming on March 16. Write about open borders–pro or con–on that day. Let’s peacefully debate.

The only version of the new Houllebecq novel I can read now is the one in German, Entwerfung., as the English edition does not come out until September.   I am about halfway through and can report it is excellent and a fun read as well, most of all when it makes fun of the vulnerabilities and vacillations of the West.

Here is an Anthony Daniels review, with lots of plot summary (and spoilers), part of the last paragraph shows he understands the work:

This novel is far from a crude anti-Islamic polemic, however, as many might have supposed it to be from its pre-publication publicity (Houellebecq has expressed himself very unfavorably on Islam elsewhere). It is rather a meditation, admittedly using all the author’s habitual tropes which fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, are susceptible to an infinite number of bitterly amusing variations, on the state of Western civilization and what makes that civilization vulnerable to attack…In other words, it is an implicit invitation to us to look inwards, to think of what is wrong with us rather than with them. Whether we or they will read it like this, I rather doubt…

This is one of the novels of the year.  Here is a good Adam Gopnik piece on Houllebecq and the book.

It’s in an economics journal, so it must be true.   Agne Suziedelyte reports, from Economic Inquiry:

According to the literature, video game playing can improve such cognitive skills as problem solving, abstract reasoning, and spatial logic. I test this hypothesis using the data from the Child Development Supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The endogeneity of video game playing is addressed by using panel data methods and controlling for an extensive list of child and family characteristics. To address the measurement error in video game playing, I instrument children’s weekday time use with their weekend time use. After taking into account the endogeneity and measurement error, video game playing is found to positively affect children’s problem solving ability. The effect of video game playing on problem solving ability is comparable to the effect of educational activities. (JEL I2, J13, J24)

I wonder how much endogeneity can be overcome in such settings, but if nothing else there is positive selection into video games and perhaps you should not be upset if your child is playing them.

Do any of you see an ungated copy?  The pointer here is from Kevin Lewis.

Monday assorted links

by on March 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Myths about Bitcoin and the block chain.  And a decentralized lie detector.  And faster now! (with lasers).

2. Will Brazil be seeing a resurgent free market movement?

3. The origins of dishonesty.

4. For which major religion is the work ethic strongest?

5. “What was even the point of websites? Were they just weird slow apps with nobody in them?”

6. Fortunately, most of the statues destroyed by ISIS were fakes.

7. Actually confronting the ethics of self-driving vehicles.

8. Bias against Asian instructors.

American military commanders rarely seek out deserters and even more rarely punish them.  At the height of the Iraq War, fewer than 5 percent of deserters received a court-martial, and fewer than one percent served prison time.

And:

…the only deserters who have consistently been punished by the American military are those who went to Canada.

The full article, by Wil S. Hylton, is interesting throughout.

More than 100% of the self-reported income of Greece’s professional classes is going toward paying off consumer debts.

From Mike Bird, there is more here, via MacroDigest.

Please apply and encourage students to apply to the annual Public Choice Outreach Conference!

What is the Public Choice Outreach Conference?
The Public Choice Outreach Conference is a compact lecture series designed as a “crash course” in Public Choice for students planning careers in academia, journalism, law, or public policy.

When and where is the Conference?
The 2015 Conference will be held at the Hyatt Arlington in Rosslyn, Virginia during June 12-14, 2015.

What will I learn?
Students are introduced to the history and basic tools of public choice analysis, such as models of voting and elections, and models of government and legislative organization. Students also learn to apply public choice theory to a wide range of relevant issues.

Who can apply?
Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Students majoring in economics, history, international studies, law, philosophy political science, psychology, public administration, religious studies, and sociology have attended past conferences. Advanced degree students with a demonstrated interest in political economy or demonstrated interest in political economy are invited to apply. Applicants unfamiliar with Public Choice are especially encouraged.

More information and application here.

Facts about families

by on March 2, 2015 at 1:19 am in Current Affairs, Data Source | Permalink

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium—the birth-land of the scholars who initially detected this Second Transition—the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

…Given recent trajectories, demographers Miho Iwasawa and Ryuichi Kaneko project that a Japanese woman born in 1990 stands less than even odds of getting married and staying married to age 50.

That is from Nicholas Eberstadt, hat tip goes to Philip Wallach.

Stone Age Britons imported wheat about 8,000 years ago in a surprising sign of sophistication for primitive hunter-gatherers long viewed as isolated from European agriculture, a study showed on Thursday.

British scientists found traces of wheat DNA in a Stone Age site off the south coast of England near the Isle of Wight, giving an unexpected sign of contact between ancient hunter-gatherers and farmers who eventually replaced them.

The wheat DNA was dated to 8,000 years ago, 2,000 years before Stone Age people in mainland Britain started growing cereals and 400 years before farming reached what is now northern Germany or France, they wrote in the journal Science.

“We were surprised to find wheat,” co-author Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick told Reuters of finds at Bouldnor Cliff.

“This is a smoking gun of cultural interaction,” between primitive hunter-gatherers in Britain and farmers in Europe, he said of the findings in the journal Science.

The find of wheat “will make us re-evaluate the relationships between farmers and hunter-gatherers,” he told Reuters.

There is more here, and the original research is here.  As I’ve said in the past, believing that early trade and globalization were more extensive than is usually believed is one of my “crank views.”