Data Source

When it comes to contingent government pension liabilities as a percentage of gdp, Poland appears to be above 350%.

France, Denmark, and Germany are next in line, with figures well over 300%.  For purposes of comparison, the United States is considered to have a serious pension problem but the corresponding number is only slightly above 100%.

Here is the John Authers and Robin Wiggelsworth FT story.  Australia seems to be doing best.

One reason for this high Polish sum is that the Polish government has semi-nationalized a lot of the private sector pension liabilities.  In 2014, this procedure (FT) did not receive much discussion:

As part of an overhaul of the country’s pension system, Warsaw will next week transfer from privately-managed funds to the state 150bn zlotys (€36bn) of Polish government bonds and government-backed securities, which will then be cancelled.

I believe this idea will reenter the broader policy debate sooner or later.

Via Adam Ozimek, here is one recent (still unfinished) paper, by Kurmann, McEntarfer, and Spletzer:

Using administrative worker‐firm linked data for the United States, we examine the extent and consequences of nominal wage and earnings rigidities for U.S. firms. We find less evidence of downward wage rigidity in the administrative data than has been documented in previous studies based on self‐reported earnings from surveys. In our data, only 13 percent of workers who remain with the same firm (job stayers) experience zero change in their nominal hourly wage within a year, and over 20 percent of job stayers experience a reduction in their nominal hourly wage. The lower incidence of downward wage rigidity in the administrative data is likely a function of our broader earnings concept, which includes all monetary compensation paid to the worker (e.g. overtime pay, bonuses), whereas the previous literature has almost exclusively focused on the base rate of pay. When we examine firm labor cost adjustments on both the hours and wage margins, we find that firms have substantially more flexibility in adjusting hours downward than wages. As a result, the distribution of changes in nominal earnings is less asymmetric than the wage change distribution, with only about 6 percent of job stayers experiencing no change in nominal annual earnings, and over 25 percent of workers experiencing a reduction in nominal annual earnings. During the recent Great Recession, this earnings change distribution became almost completely symmetric and the proportion of job stayers experiencing a decline in annual earnings rose markedly to about 40 percent. Finally, we exploit the worker‐firm link in our data to show that it is mostly smaller establishments that show evidence of asymmetry in their earnings change distribution. For these smaller establishments, we find that indicators of downward wage rigidity are systematically associated with higher job destruction rates.

Here is another recent paper, this one from the NBER.  It shows that real estate agents, who have flexible, commission-based wages, do have smaller employment fluctuations than sticky-wage construction workers.  But that difference is only by about 10 to 20 percent.

Here is my previous post on sticky wages: Basu and House show that real wages vary a great deal through changes in expected career paths.  Here is Alex’s 2014 post on half the men having new jobs since the recession.

Are your views on sticky nominal wages and the minimum wage consistent?

And how are nominal wages sticky for the unemployed?

Perhaps most significantly, high nominal demand economies such as Jamaica and Brazil (yes there are still a few left!) still appear capable of generating quite high rates of unemployment.

This link is now about two weeks old, but I’m on my way to Denmark and you’re going to get whatever I am thinking about, like it or not:

The first big idea is that Denmark is not a nation of Horatio Algersens. Its high social mobility is not the result of an economy that is uniquely good at helping poor children earn middle-class salaries. Instead, it is a country much like the U.S., where the children of poor parents who don’t go to college are also unlikely to attend college or earn a high wage. Social mobility in Denmark and the U.S. seem to be remarkably similar when looking exclusively at wages—that is, before including taxes and transfers.

It is only after accounting for Denmark’s high taxes on the rich and large transfers to the poor that its social mobility looks so much better than the U.S.’s. America’s (relatively conservative) economic philosophy is that, with low taxes and little regulation, the market is an open savannah where the most talent will win out. But Denmark’s economic philosophy seems to be that the market is an unfortunate socioeconomic lottery system, and so the country compensates the poor with generous transfers paid by high taxes on the rich.

The second big idea in the paper is that Denmark’s large investment in public education pays off in higher cognitive skills among low-income children, but not in higher-education mobility—i.e., the odds that a child of a non-college grad will go on to finish college.

That is from Derek Thompson.  Here is his source:

…this Danish Dream is a “Scandinavian Fantasy,” according to a new paper by Rasmus Landersø at the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit in Copenhagen and James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago. Low-income Danish kids are not much more likely to earn a middle-class wage than their American counterparts. What’s more, the children of non-college graduates in Denmark are about as unlikely to attend college as their American counterparts.

Both the paper and the article are recommended.

Actuality, the Faroe Islands have a crude birth rate higher than that of Denmark, Sweden, or Norway. Their fertility rate of 2.37 is higher than anywhere else in the White world:

That is from Jason Bayz.

While only 25% of the Swiss population hiked regularly in 2000, today the figure is 44%.

That is from Dina Pomeranz, original source here.

That is one question I consider in my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish policy analyst and president of European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, has recently published a book called “Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism.” And while the title may be overstated, his best facts and figures are persuasive.

For instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.

Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.

It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale.

There is more to the piece, and I will note that I see a Land of Twitter where many Danes have read only that part of the piece.   I close with this:

How’s this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam’s.

Do read the whole thing.  You can buy the Sanandaji book here.

Here’s a post I wrote in 2009 (no indent) that I will update today:

In an interesting paper, Aghion, Algan, Cahuc and Shleifer show that regulation is greater in societies where people do not trust one another.  The graph below, for example, shows that societies with a greater level of distrust have stronger minimum wage laws.  Note that the result is not that distrust in markets is associated with stronger minimum wages but that distrust in general is associated with greater regulation of all kinds.  Distrust in government, for example, is positively correlated with regulation of business.  Or to put it the other way, trust in government (as well as other institutions) is associated with less regulation.

minwagedistrustrespectdistrustAghion et al. argue that the causality flows both ways on the regulation-distrust nexus. Distrust makes people turn to government but in a society with a lot of distrust government is often corrupt and this makes people distrust even more.  Crucially, when people distrust others they invest not in the highest return projects but in human and physical capital that is complementary to distrust–for example, they invest in human capital that helps them bond with their group/tribe/family rather than in human capital that helps them to bond with “outsiders” and they invest in physical capital that is more difficult to expropriate rather than in easier to expropriate capital, even though in both cases the latter investments may be the all-else-equal higher return investments.  Such distrust traps are quite similar to Bryan Caplan’s idea traps.

Thus, societies with a lot of distrust generate regulation and corruption and citizens who don’t have the skills or preferences to break out of the distrust equilibrium.  Consider, for example, that in societies with a lot of distrust parents are less likely to consider it important to teach their children about tolerance and respect for others.

The update should be obvious. More and more this appears to be describing the United States. More distrust in government, more regulation, lower growth and more people who are so distrustful of one another that they can’t cooperate to break out of the bad equilibrium. Here drawn from Our World in Data is interpersonal trust in the United States.


That is a new paper by Camelia Simoiu, Sam Corbett-Davies, and Sharad Goel, the abstract is familiar but depressing:

In the course of conducting traffic stops, officers have discretion to search motorists for drugs, weapons, and other contraband. There is concern that these search decisions are prone to racial bias, but it has proven difficult to rigorously assess claims of discrimination. Here we develop a new statistical method—the threshold test—to test for racial discrimination in motor vehicle searches. We use geographic variation in stop outcomes to infer the effective race-specific standards of evidence that officers apply when deciding whom to search, an approach we formalize with a hierarchical Bayesian latent variable model. This technique mitigates the problems of omitted variables and infra-marginality associated with benchmark and outcome tests for discrimination. On a dataset of 4.5 million police stops in North Carolina, we find that the standard for searching black and Hispanic drivers is considerably lower than the standard for searching white and Asian drivers, a pattern that holds consistently across the 100 largest police departments in the state.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

It seems to be living near failure, not necessarily experiencing it yourself:

Yet a major new analysis from Gallup, based on 87,000 interviews the polling company conducted over the past year, suggests this narrative is not complete. According to this new analysis, those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared to people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed.

Yet while Trump’s supporters might be comparatively well off themselves, they come from places where their neighbors endure other forms of hardship. In their communities, white residents are dying younger, and it is harder for young people who grow up poor to get ahead.

The Gallup analysis is the most comprehensive statistical profile of Trump’s supporters so far. Jonathan Rothwell, the economist at Gallup who conducted the analysis, sorted the respondents by their Zip code and then compared those findings with a host of other data from a variety of sources.

That is from Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo at the always-excellent Wonkblog.  And there is this:

White households tend be more affluent than other households, and Trump’s supporters are overwhelmingly white. The same is true of Republicans in general. Yet when Rothwell focused only on white Republicans, he also found that demographically similar respondents who were more affluent viewed Trump more favorably.

These results suggest that personal finances cannot account alone for Trump’s appeal. His popularity with less educated men is probably due to some other trait that these supporters share.

Rothwell’s results also very much downplay the roles of trade and China, compared to some other estimates.  Here is a link to Rothwell summarizing some of these results, I am not sure if there is a link to the full study proper.

Here is one recent paper by Leticia J. Marteleto and Molly Dondero:

Racial disparities in education in Brazil (and elsewhere) are well documented. Because this research typically examines educational variation between individuals in different families, however, it cannot disentangle whether racial differences in education are due to racial discrimination or to structural differences in unobserved neighborhood and family characteristics. To address this common data limitation, we use an innovative within-family twin approach that takes advantage of the large sample of Brazilian adolescent twins classified as different races in the 1982 and 1987–2009 Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios. We first examine the contexts within which adolescent twins in the same family are labeled as different races to determine the characteristics of families crossing racial boundaries. Then, as a way to hold constant shared unobserved and observed neighborhood and family characteristics, we use twins fixed-effects models to assess whether racial disparities in education exist between twins and whether such disparities vary by gender. We find that even under this stringent test of racial inequality, the nonwhite educational disadvantage persists and is especially pronounced for nonwhite adolescent boys.

The pointer is from the highly rated but still underrated Ben Southwood.

That is what the new Steve Levitt paper looks at and it does seem people stick with their current circumstances too much:

Little is known about whether people make good choices when facing important decisions. This paper reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), those who make a change (regardless of the outcome of the coin toss) report being substantially happier two months and six months later. This correlation, however, need not reflect a causal impact. To assess causality, I use the outcome of a coin toss. Individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are much more likely to make a change and are happier six months later than those who were told by the coin to maintain the status quo. The results of this paper suggest that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.

Of course not all coin flips turn out the right way.  And furthermore we all know that the control premium is one of the most underrated ideas in economics…

Here is my latest Bloomberg column, based on the research of Kenneth R. Ahern at USC.  Here is to me the most interesting bit:

Some aspects come pretty close to what we see in the movies. The average insider trader is 43 years old, and nine out of 10 are male. The practice also seems correlated with some features of recklessness: Insider traders are younger than their associates, less likely to own real estate, and have fewer family members on average. More than half have criminal records, with almost all charges stemming from traffic violations.

To my eye, the most striking data involve personal connections: Insider traders appear to be pretty careful in choosing their accomplices. Of the known pairs of people who provide and act upon private information (“tipper and tippee”), 64 percent met before college, and 16 percent met in college or graduate school. Another 23 percent are family relations — more siblings and parents than aunts and uncles, despite the added capital that the latter might have provided. Tips are also commonly shared among people with ethnically similar surnames: Of 24 tips coming from people with Celtic surnames, for example, 14 went to individuals who also had Celtic surnames.

The choice of accomplices demonstrates how hard it is to trust people you haven’t known very long, especially if you’re not all that trustworthy yourself. It also implies that modern corporations are, in some ways, more honest places than one might think. Not that people are always so law-abiding; rather, many workplace relationships may be too superficial and too transient to develop the trust and cooperation typically required for villainy and law-breaking.

Do read the whole thing, there is much more at the link, including information on the size of profits earned, and how much the practice is addictive.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one bit:

The paper, by Marian Moszoro and Michael Bykhovsky, uses Federal Election Commission data to identify equity fund managers by their political contributions. If the managers at a fund gave to only one of the two major political parties, that fund is then classified as having an intellectual or ideological connection to that party.

…The authors find that for the years 2004 to 2014, with the exception of one period, equity fund managers of the two political affiliations did about the same. That should give pause to anyone who thinks that either political party has a monopoly on a better or more accurate view of the economy.

This is in noted contrast to Krugman’s frequent claim that the Republican fund managers are somehow unmoored from macroeconomic realities.  But:

…for one critical period of time, December 2008 to September 2009, the Democratic fund managers did much better. They earned 25.25 percent on average, compared with the Republicans’ 17.17 percent — a difference that, by the authors’ back-of-the envelope calculations, amounted to about $13.7 billion.

My (unconfirmed) view is that much of this was lack of faith in President Obama, though a big market rally was to start in March 2009.  Perhaps the Republican fund managers were not in the market enough.  Another possibility of course was that some of the Republican managers expected high inflation, due to the Fed injecting trillions of liquid reserves into the banking system.  Finally, the Democratic equity fund managers may have had better political connections and thus been better informed.  The timing of the returns discrepancy, however, I think squares best with the “confidence in Obama” interpretation.  And here is the Hansonian part of the column:

Another interesting finding: Most of the fund managers donated exclusively to either the Democratic or Republican Party — 44.9 percent and 46.6 percent, respectively. “Mixed” funds accounted for only 8.3 percent of the overall sample (of more than 80,000 fund-month observations). Since the choice of party doesn’t appear to provide much of a market edge, the loyalties might reflect longer-standing personal, regional, and institutional connections. Perhaps political unity within a company serves social and networking functions, even if it doesn’t provide any special economic insight.

Do read the whole thing.  And if you are wondering:

Hedge-Fund Money: $48.5 Million for Hillary Clinton, $19,000 for Donald Trump

For the original pointer to the Moszoro and Bykhovsky piece I am grateful to Samir Varma.

Here is a new and intriguing paper by Leong,

In urban ecosystems, socioeconomics contribute to patterns of biodiversity. The ‘luxury effect’, in which wealthier neighbourhoods are more biologically diverse, has been observed for plants, birds, bats and lizards. Here, we used data from a survey of indoor arthropod diversity (defined throughout as family-level richness) from 50 urban houses and found that house size, surrounding vegetation, as well as mean neighbourhood income best predict the number of kinds of arthropods found indoors. Our finding, that homes in wealthier neighbourhoods host higher indoor arthropod diversity (consisting of primarily non-pest species), shows that the luxury effect can extend to the indoor environment. The effect of mean neighbourhood income on indoor arthropod diversity was particularly strong for individual houses that lacked high surrounding vegetation ground cover, suggesting that neighbourhood dynamics can compensate for local choices of homeowners. Our work suggests that the management of neighbourhoods and cities can have effects on biodiversity that can extend from trees and birds all the way to the arthropod life in bedrooms and basements.

Didn’t Paul Romer say this once?  Here is a Guardian summary of one point:

The researchers said the work overturns the “general perception” that homes in poorer neighbourhoods host more indoor arthropods.

For the pointers I thank Niroscience and Michelle Dawson.

The paper title is “Strip Clubs, ‘Secondary Effects’, and Residential Property Prices,” and the authors are Taggart J. Brooks, brad R. Humphries, and Adam Nowak, here is the abstract maybe strip clubs are more popular than I thought:

The ‘secondary effects’ legal doctrine allows municipalities to zone, or otherwise regulate, sexually oriented businesses. Negative ‘secondary effects’ (economic externalities) justify limiting First Amendment protection of speech conducted inside strip clubs. One example of a secondary effect, cited in no fewer than four United States Supreme Court rulings, is the negative effect of strip clubs on the quality of the surrounding neighborhood. Little empirical evidence that strip clubs do, in fact, have a negative effect on the surrounding neighborhood exists. To the extent that changes in neighborhood quality are reflected by changes in property prices, property prices should decrease when a strip club opens up nearby. We estimate an augmented repeat sales regression model of housing prices to estimate the effect of strip clubs on nearby residential property prices. Using real estate transactions from King County, Washington, we test the hypothesis that strip clubs have a negative effect on surrounding residential property prices. We exploit the unique and unexpected termination of a 17 year moratorium on new strip club openings in order to generate exogenous variation in the operation of strip clubs. We find no statistical evidence that strip clubs have ‘secondary effects’ on nearby residential property prices.

Is this evidence for or against “the death of distance”?

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.