Data Source

When Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, in an early round of negotiations in Brussels, complained that Greek pensions could not be cut any further, he was reminded bluntly by his colleague from Lithuania that pensioners there have survived on far less. Lithuania, according to the most recent figures issued by Eurostat, the European statistics agency, spends 472 euros, about $598, per capita on pensions, less than a third of the 1,625 euros spent by Greece. Bulgaria spends just 257 euros. This data refers to 2012 and Greek pensions have since been cut, but they still remain higher than those in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia and nearly all other states in eastern, central and southeastern Europe.

There is more from Andrew Higgins in the NYT here.

That is the new IEA book from Nima Sanandaji, freely available here (pdf), introduction by Tom G. Palmer.  Here is one short bit:

The descendants of Scandinavian migrants in the US combine the high living standards of the US with the high levels of equality of Scandinavian countries. Median incomes of Scandinavian descendants are 20 per cent higher than average US incomes. It is true that poverty rates in Scandinavian countries are lower than in the US. However, the poverty rate among descendants of Nordic immigrants in the US today is half the average poverty rate of Americans – this has been a consistent finding for decades. In fact, Scandinavian Americans have lower poverty rates than Scandinavian citizens who have not emigrated. This suggests that pre-existing cultural norms are responsible for the low levels of poverty among Scandinavians rather than Nordic welfare states.

The book has many other points of interest.

What depresses us is how little attention has been paid to one major area of Greek government spending that seems ripe for the ax: defense spending.  Greece spends a whopping 2.2% of GDP on defense, more than any NATO member-state save the United States and France.  Bringing Greece into line with the NATO average would alone achieve ¾ of what the IMF is demanding through pension cuts.

There is more here from Benn Steil and Dinah Walker.  And here is further discussion of the issue.

Ekaterina V. Peneva and Jeremy B. Rudd have a new paper with the Fed (pdf):

We use a time-varying parameter/stochastic volatility VAR framework to assess how the passthrough of labor costs to price inflation has evolved over time in U.S. data. We find little evidence that changes in labor costs have had a material effect on price inflation in recent years, even for compensation measures where some degree of passthrough to prices still appears to be present. Our results cast doubt on explanations of recent inflation behavior that appeal to such mechanisms as downward nominal wage rigidity or a differential contribution of long-term and short-term unemployed workers to wage and price pressures.

Economists knew or figured that to be the case a while ago, I am glad to see it being relearned.

You can see a tightening labor market, and some of this you might interpret in terms of a growing skills gap:

filljob

The national time-to-fill average rose in February to the highest level in 15 years.

Sponsored by the career sites publisher Dice Holdings, the Dice-DFH Vacancy Duration Measure says it took an average of 26.8 working days to fill jobs in February. In January, according to the report, the average (as revised) was 25.7 working days.

“We are continuing to see signs of a tightening labor market,” said Michael Durney, president and CEO of Dice Holdings. “Unemployment rates are declining across several core industries, such as tech and healthcare, and the time-to-fill-open positions has hit an all-time high in the 15 years the data has been tracked.”

Jobs in the financial services sector took the longest to fill, averaging 43.1 days. Healthcare jobs averaged 42.6 days to fill. Both are historic highs for their respective industry sectors.

The full article, by John Zappe, is here, via David Wessel.

By the way, the skills mismatch hypothesis (not a substitute for AD hypotheses, let me stress) is stronger than you think.  Catherine Rampell writes:

Companies themselves are indeed reporting difficulty acquiring talent. Nearly half of small and medium-size businesses with recent vacancies say they could find few or no “qualified applicants,” according to the latest monthly survey of the National Federation of Independent Business. Over the past couple of years, firms have also become increasingly likely to say that “quality of labor” is the “single most important problem” facing their businesses.

I have generally been skeptical of the “skills mismatch” story, mostly because wage growth has been so pitiful during this recovery. If qualified applicants were really so scarce, businesses should be bidding up the salaries of the few hot commodities available. But Steven J. Davis , an economics professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and one of the creators of the vacancy duration metric, says it’s unclear how a widespread skills mismatch, if one exists, would actually affect wages. Maybe a shortage of some highly desirable skill would lead employers to bid up the price of that qualification, he says, but that same scarcity might also lead firms to instead settle “for workers who have less of [or] lower-quality versions of the desired skills.” That could, in theory, cause hourly wages to fall overall. Robust research on the connection between skills mismatch and wages is in short supply.

This point from Davis is appreciated only rarely.

Over the past five seasons, LeBron’s played a total of 18,087 minutes, counting the regular season and the playoffs.

What that means: Compared to every other player, LeBron’s played at least 15% more minutes than anyone else in the league. He’s played nearly 2,500 more minutes than Kevin Durant, the runner-up.

Basically, pick any other NBA player. Since 2010, LeBron has played the equivalent of at least one extra season compared to that player — and likely, a lot more.

And over the past ten seasons, the minutes gap widens — LeBron has a 20% edge on Joe Johnson (who’s played the second-most minutes) and a 30% edge on Tim Duncan (who’s played the tenth-most).

And yet that is with very little in the way of injury, perhaps his most remarkable achievement.  That is all from Dan Diamond.

Scott Sumner serves up the appropriate links.  He cites Mark Sadowski, who tells us:

…Iceland’s general government budget ran a surplus equal to 1.8% of GDP in 2014, or a change in fiscal stance since 2009 equal to 11.5% of GDP. This can be found on Table A1 of the April 2015 IMF fiscal Monitor.

…Table A3 shows that Iceland’s general government cyclically adjusted balance rose from a deficit of 10.0% of potential GDP in 2009 to a surplus of 2.7% of potential GDP in 2014, or a change of 12.7% of potential GDP…

But even this tends to understate the amount of fiscal austerity that Iceland has engaged in. This is because it includes the increase in spending attributable to rising interest payments on the national debt. To get a proper idea of the amount of fiscal austerity that Iceland has engaged in (i.e. cuts in direct spending and increases in taxes) one has to look at the general government cyclically adjusted primary balance which can be found in Table A4.  Iceland’s general government cyclically adjusted primary balance rose from a deficit of 6.9% of potential GDP in 2009 to a surplus of 6.2% of potential GDP in 2014, or a change of 13.1% of potential GDP.

…By this standard Iceland has done about 30% more austerity than Ireland, over double that of the UK, roughly two and a half times as much as the US, and approximately five and a half times as much as Latvia. The only country that has done more fiscal austerity is Greece.

None of this should come as a surprise. When nearly all the other OECD members were busy implementing fiscal stimuli in early 2009, Iceland (joined only by Ireland) was engaged in a massive fiscal consolidation.

Scream it from the rooftops: massive fiscal austerity in Iceland.  (Or should that be something like “gegnheill ríkisfjármálum austerity á Íslandi!”)  There is plenty more detail and argumentation in Mark’s post.  Here is my previous post on Iceland.

Europe facts of the day

by on June 10, 2015 at 4:41 am in Current Affairs, Data Source, Law | Permalink

“At least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia,” the Pew Research Center said it found in its survey, which is based on interviews in 10 nations.

There is more here, and so every great moderation must come to an end…

This is also of note:

According to the study, residents of most NATO countries still believe that the United States would come to their defense.

Meanwhile:

Eighty-eight percent of Russians said they had confidence in Mr. Putin to do the right thing on international affairs…

Solve for the equilibrium, as they like to say.  It is much easier to stabilize a conservative power (e.g., the USSR) than a revisionist power (Putin’s Russia).

It is also worth thinking about how this entire state of affairs has come to pass.

The ratio of incomes gives a sense of the relative differences in productivity between the cities and countryside. For China, this ratio is 3.2 – the highest in world. On average, urban workers are more than three times as productive as rural workers and are being compensated accordingly. No wonder some 270m migrant workers have flocked to the cities to secure better paying industrial jobs. For India, the same measure gives a ratio of 1.6, one of the lowest for emerging market economies, indicating that urban productivity is only moderately higher than in rural areas, and cities do not offer such a magnet of higher earnings.

The other key indicator is the relative difference in property prices in China versus India. China’s mega-cities have seen a five-fold increase in property prices in renminbi terms, or nearly seven-fold in US dollars over the past decade. No wonder concerns about a possible property bubble in China dominate global financial news. Yet despite these astounding increases, property prices in Beijing and Shanghai are still only half those of their Indian counterparts of New Delhi and Mumbai.

…India’s excessively high property prices reflect a combination of two archaic practices. One is the legacy of its colonial past in reserving large parcels of valuable urban land for government use, including sprawling and wasteful estates for civil servants and military cantonments. The other comes from outdated and overly rigid building codes that discourage concentrated development of commercial activity and housing in the core of its major cities. This pushes development to the outer suburbs, making it difficult to realise the agglomeration benefits that drive productivity gains.

That is from Yukon Hwang at the FT.

There is a new and probably very important paper by Amy Finkelstein, Nathaniel Hendren, and Erzo F.P. Luttmer:

We develop and implement a set of frameworks for valuing Medicaid and apply them to welfare analysis of the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, a Medicaid expansion that occurred via random assignment. Our baseline estimates of the welfare benefit to recipients from Medicaid per dollar of government spending range from about $0.2 to $0.4, depending on the framework, with a relatively robust lower bound of about $0.15. At least two-fifths – and as much as four-fifths – of the value of Medicaid comes from a transfer component, as opposed to its ability to move resources across states of the world. In addition, we estimate that Medicaid generates a substantial transfer to non-recipients of about $0.6 per dollar of government spending.

An implication of this is that the poor would be better off getting direct cash transfers: “Our welfare estimates suggest that if (counterfactually) Medicaid recipients had to pay the government’s cost of their Medicaid, they would not be willing to do so.”

And perhaps this sentence could use the “rooftops treatment”:

It is a striking finding that Medicaid transfers to non-recipients are large relative to the benefits to recipients; depending on which welfare approach is used, transfers to non-recipients are between one-and-a-half and three times the size of benefits to recipients.

Or this:

Across a variety of alternative specifications, we consistently find that Medicaid’s value to recipients is lower than the government’s costs of the program, and usually substantially below. This stands in contrast to the current approach used by the Congressional Budget Office to value Medicaid at its cost. It is, however, not inconsistent with the few other attempts we know of to formally estimate a value for Medicaid; these are based on using choices to reveal ex-ante willingness to pay, and tend to find estimates (albeit for different populations) in the range of 0.3 to 0.5.

Might the program in fact be a bad idea?

Alexandra M. de Pleijt has a new paper on that topic (pdf):

Did human capital contribute to economic growth in England? In this paper the stock of total years of schooling present in the population between 1300 and 1900 is quantified. The stock incorporates extensive source material on literacy rates, the number of primary and secondary schools and enrollment figures. The trends in the data suggest that, whilst human capital facilitated pre-industrial economic development, it had no role to play during the Industrial Revolution itself: there was a strong decline in educational attainment between ca. 1750 and 1830. A time series analysis has been carried out that confirms this conclusion.

The reference there is from Ben Southwood.

The education myth?

by on June 1, 2015 at 1:48 pm in Data Source, Economics, Education | Permalink

Ricardo Hausmann has an excellent and provocative column, here is part of it:

In the 50 years from 1960 to 2010, the global labor force’s average time in school essentially tripled, from 2.8 years to 8.3 years. This means that the average worker in a median country went from less than half a primary education to more than half a high school education.

How much richer should these countries have expected to become? In 1965, France had a labor force that averaged less than five years of schooling and a per capita income of $14,000 (at 2005 prices). In 2010, countries with a similar level of education had a per capita income of less than $1,000.

In 1960, countries with an education level of 8.3 years of schooling were 5.5 times richer than those with 2.8 year of schooling. By contrast, countries that had increased their education from 2.8 years of schooling in 1960 to 8.3 years of schooling in 2010 were only 167% richer. Moreover, much of this increase cannot possibly be attributed to education, as workers in 2010 had the advantage of technologies that were 50 years more advanced than those in 1960. Clearly, something other than education is needed to generate prosperity.

As is often the case, the experience of individual countries is more revealing than the averages. China started with less education than Tunisia, Mexico, Kenya, or Iran in 1960, and had made less progress than them by 2010. And yet, in terms of economic growth, China blew all of them out of the water. The same can be said of Thailand and Indonesia vis-à-vis the Philippines, Cameroon, Ghana, or Panama. Again, the fast growers must be doing something in addition to providing education.

The piece is interesting throughout.

Nearly half of the biggest US metropolitan areas have yet to recoup all the lost jobs from the Great Recession and almost a third have failed to return to previous levels of output, according to analysis that underscores the fragmenting urban fortunes beneath the surface of America’s recovery.

Research on 100 urban areas from the Brookings think-tank, reveals an economic patchwork in which the legacy of boom and bust hangs heavily over cities in Florida and inland California, while at the other end of the spectrum, technology and bioscience-focused cities such as Austin, Texas, San Francisco, and Raleigh, North Carolina have comfortably surpassed their previous peaks.

“This may be the norm now — extreme variation,” said Mark Muro, policy director for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Washington-based Brookings.

That is from Sam Fleming and Demetri Sevastopulo.

There is a new paper by Karol Jan Borowiecki, published in Oxford Economic Papers:

I investigate the consequences of long-run persistence of a society’s preferences for cultural goods. Historical cultural activity is approximated with the frequency of births of music composers during the Renaissance and is linked with contemporary measures of cultural activity in Italian provinces. Areas with a 1% higher number of composer births nowadays show an up to 0.29% higher supply of classical concerts and 0.16% more opera performances. Classical concerts and opera performances have also rather bigger audiences and obtain greater revenues in provinces that have been culturally active in the past. Today, those provinces also exhibit a somewhat lower supply of other forms of entertainment (e.g., sport events), thereby implying a tantalizing divergence in societies’ cultural preferences that is attributable to events rooted in the past. It is also shown that the geography of composer births is remarkably persistent over a period of seven centuries.

For the pointer I thank Ben Southwood.

In 2012 economists at the University of Auckland published research establishing clear correlations between family circumstances and incidents of child abuse or neglect. “No one realized we were sitting on such rich data in terms of its predictive power,” says Rhema Vaithianathan, who led the research. “We can find children who are at considerably elevated risk, and we can find them at birth.”

And:

Using data from welfare, education, employment, and housing agencies and the courts, the government identified the most expensive welfare beneficiaries—kids who have at least one close adult relative who’s previously been reported to child safety authorities, been to prison, and spent substantial time on welfare. “There are million-dollar kids in those families,” English says. “By the time they are 10, their likelihood of incarceration is 70 percent. You’ve got to do something about that.”

Moving closer to home:

Jennie Feria, who oversees risk assessment for L.A.’s Department of Children and Family Services, says one idea is to rate families, giving them a number that could be used to identify who’s most at risk in the way lenders rely on credit scores to determine creditworthiness. “The way we may use it, it’s going to be like it’s a FICO score,” Feria says. The information, she says, could be used both to prioritize cases and to figure out who needs extra services. “It’s at the very early stages, because we don’t know how we’re going to use it yet exactly.”

It will be interesting to see how that one develops.  The article is by Josh Eidelson.