Data Source

Pete asked that question, more specifically:

Economics tries to put a price on most everything, even things that are nearly impossible to quantify such as happiness. Where in your opinion does the economic approach currently fail the worst at measurement and quantification?

I believe economics does not measure “culture” very well, including the all-important “corporate culture.”  It is hard to think of a good way of encoding companies to reflect how things actually work inside the firm, all the harder for a region or nation.  In this context you could define culture as consisting of expectations about the reciprocal behavior of others, across a variety of contexts.  We do OK however if it is just a univariate measure of trust, see Knack and Keefer.

It is hard to measure rates of price inflation over longer periods of time.  Since 1900, has the American economy had massive inflation or massive deflation?  If you are spending fifty cents, it is massive inflation, as today that sum hardly buys you anything, but earlier you could have received a nice white shirt.  If you are spending 100k a year, there has been radical deflation.

Those to me are two of the worst failures of quantification in economics.  What else?

Here is Robin Hanson on “the data we need.”

That is the title of a new and interesting paper by Enrique Garcia and Juan Merlo, here is the (to me) rather surprising summary:

The Nordic countries are the most gender equal nations in the world, but at the same time, they also have a disproportionately high rate of intimate partner violence against women. This is perplexing because logically violence against women would be expected to drop as women gained equal status in a society. A new study explores this contradictory situation, which has been labeled the ‘Nordic paradox.’

Denmark clocks in at about 32%, Finland at 30%, and Sweden at 28%; Denmark and Finland by the way should disabuse you from blaming this phenomenon on immigrants.

My first response was to think this must be a data reporting issue.  Perhaps Nordic women are more willing to step forward, or somehow those systems are more efficient in recording such complaints.  But the paper does not support that interpretation:

…the same FRA survey provides data suggesting lower levels of disclosure of IPV [intimate partner violence] to the police by women in Nordic countries as compared to other EU countries.  For example the average percentage for the EU of women indicating that the most serious incident of IPV came to the attention of the police is 20%, whereas for Denmark and Finland is 10% and 17% for Sweden.  In any case, the ‘higher disclosure’ explanation, however, would not solve the Nordic paradox, as these more ‘reliable’ levels of disclosure would rather reinforce the paradox posited by very high levels of IPV prevalence (prevalence rates around 30% is by all means disproportionate) in countries with high levels of gender equality.

So this remains a puzzle.  Here is an earlier post on a very different form of the Nordic gender equality paradox.  And here is a recent post on (non-Nordic) brutishness.

For the pointer I thank Eric Barker.

“We’re living through an historic glut of stolen data,” explains Brian Krebs, who writes the blog Krebs on Security. “More supply drives the price way down, and there’s so much data for sale, we’re sort of having a shortage of buyers at this point.”

…But cybercriminals’ most crucial adaptation in recent years has little to do with their technical tools and everything to do with their business model: They have started selling stolen data back to its original owners. To keep cybercrime profitable, criminals needed to find a new cohort of potential buyers, and they did: all of us. At the heart of this new business model for cybercrime is the fact that individuals and businesses, not retailers and banks, are the ones footing the bill for data breaches.

Here is the full Josephine Wolff piece.

From Isaac Sorkin (pdf, or try this link):

… changes in sectoral composition depressed real pay growth by 2.9 percentage points from 1990 to 2016. This change in pay, however, overstates the change in the overall value of jobs because the economy is moving toward sectors that are more desirable along nonpay dimensions. Changes in nonpay compensation offset about half of the decline in pay, so that sectoral composition changes led to the equivalent of a 1.4 percentage point decline in pay since 1990. Is the role of changing sectoral composition big or small? From 1990 to 2016, real weekly earnings grew by 11.2%. All else being equal, then, these sectoral shifts were the equivalent of about three or four years of real wage growth.

The importance of manufacturing jobs — in good and bad ways — is one of the ideas which has risen in status most rapidly in the last five years.

That is a recent paper from Schneider, Harknett, and Mclanahan (pdf), here is the abstract:

In the United States, the Great Recession has been marked by severe negative shocks to labor market conditions. In this study, we combine longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study with Bureau of Labor Statistics data on local area unemployment rates to examine the relationship between adverse labor market conditions and intimate partner violence between 1999 and 2010. We find that rapidly worsening labor market conditions are associated with increases in the prevalence of violent/controlling behavior in marriage. These effects are most pronounced among whites and those with at least some post-secondary education. Worsening economic conditions significantly increase the risk that white mothers and more educated mothers will be in violent/controlling marriages rather than high quality marital unions.
That backlash seems to have started more or less right away…

From Sanjeev Sanyal:

The TFR for rural areas stands at 2.5, but that for urban India is down at 1.8 — marginally below the readings for Britain and the US. An important implication of this is that India’s overall TFR will almost certainly fall below replacement as it rapidly urbanises over the next 20 years.

There continue to be wide variations in the fertility rates across the country. Readings for the southern states have been low for some time, but are now dropping sharply in many northern states.

Tamil Nadu has a TFR of 1.7 but so do Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar continue to have the country’s highest TFR at 3.1 and 3.5 respectively, but these are also falling steadily.

Demise of the Bhadralok Interestingly, West Bengal has the lowest fertility in the country with a TFR reading of 1.6. The level for rural Bengal is 1.8 but is a shockingly low 1.2 for the cities. This is one of the lowest levels in the world and is at par with Singapore and South Korea.

Do read the whole thing.  The net Indian TFR is about 2.3, which given gender imbalance and infant and child mortality is already about replacement rate.

Maybe so, here is the latest:

Where witchcraft beliefs are widespread, American University Economics Professor Boris Gershman found high levels of mistrust exist among people. Gershman also found a negative relationship between witchcraft beliefs and other metrics of relied upon for a functioning society, including religious participation and charitable giving.

It’s long been argued that witchcraft beliefs impede economic progress and disrupt social relations, and Gershman’s statistical analysis supports that theory. From a policy perspective, Gershman’s results emphasize the importance of accounting for local culture when undertaking development projects, especially those that require communal effort and cooperation. Gershman and other social scientists believe that education can help foster improved trust and decrease the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs.


Parents in witchcraft-believing societies inculcate antisocial traits in children.

Second-generation immigrants from witchcraft-believing nations are less trusting.

Here is the summary statement, here is the full article.  Here are related papers by Gershman.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

That is a new paper from Sean E. Mulholland and Angela K. Dills.  Here is the abstract:

The advent of smart-phone based, ride-sharing applications has revolutionized the vehicle for hire market. Advocates point to the ease of use and lower wait times compared to hailing a taxi or pre-arranging limousine service. Others argue that proper government oversight is necessary to protect ride-share passengers from driver error or vehicle part failure and violence from unlicensed strangers. Using a unique panel of over 150 cities and counties from 2010 through 2013, we investigate whether the introduction of the ride-sharing service, Uber, is associated with changes in vehicle accidents and crime. We find that Uber’s entry lowers the rate of DUIs and fatal accidents. For most specifications, we also find declines in arrests for assault and disorderly conduct. Conversely, we observe an increase in vehicle thefts.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about the New York City Subway has been its utter dominance of the well-publicized national transit ridership increases of the last decade. According to annual data published by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ridership on the New York City Subway accounts for all of the transit increase since 2005. Between 2005 and 2015, ridership on the New York City Subway increased nearly 1 billion trips. By contrast, all of the transit services in the United States, including the New York City Subway, increased only 800 million over the same period. On services outside the New York City subway, three was a loss of nearly 200 million riders between 2005 and 2015…

That is from Wendell Cox.  And note that use of the NYC system peaked in the late 1940s!


For the pointer I thank the estimable Chug.

Plug those numbers into the formula, and the prediction is that the Democratic share of the two-party presidential vote in 2016 will be 44.99%.

That is from Timothy Taylor, here is an earlier piece by Jeff Sommer.

For women, most of it, at least according to Wong and Penner:

This study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to (1) replicate research that documents a positive association between physical attractiveness and income; (2) examine whether the returns to attractiveness differ for women and men; and 3) explore the role that grooming plays in the attractiveness-income relationship. We find that attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness, but this gap is reduced when controlling for grooming, suggesting that the beauty premium can be actively cultivated. Further, while both conventional wisdom and previous research suggest the importance of attractiveness might vary by gender, we find no gender differences in the attractiveness gradient. However, we do find that grooming accounts for the entire attractiveness premium for women, and only half of the premium for men.

Those results are consistent with my intuition, and here is some Ana Swanson discussion of the results.  That is via Samir Varma, and here is Allison Schrager on whether female scientists should try to look frumpy.

So say Hummel, Pfaff, and Rost, in a recent paper:

In view of the numerous accounting and corporate scandals associated with various forms of moral misconduct and the recent financial crisis, economics and business programs are often accused of actively contributing to the amoral decision making of their graduates. It is argued that theories and ideas taught at universities engender moral misbehavior among some managers, as these theories mainly focus on the primacy of profit-maximization and typically neglect the ethical and moral dimensions of decision making. To investigate this criticism, two overlapping effects must be disentangled: the self-selection effect and the treatment effect. Drawing on the concept of moral judgment competence, we empirically examine this question with a sample of 1773 bachelor’s and 501 master’s students. Our results reveal that there is neither a self-selection nor a treatment effect for economics and business studies. Moreover, our results indicate that—regardless of the course of studies—university education in general does not seem to foster students’ moral development.

For the pointer, I thank a lost, forgotten soldier in my Twitter feed.

Which search terms correlate with support for which politicians?  Why not at least ask this question?

John Kasich. Places that like Kasich are richer in some fairly policy-wonkish search terms: “net cost,” “renewable portfolio standard,” the economist Joseph Stiglitz, Financial Times writer Martin Wolf, and Vox writer Dylan Matthews. These terms have a ring of plausibility. They might be good fodder for small talk…if you are talking with a Kasich supporter!

But then there are terms that I don’t entirely understand: Route 73 and Haven Pizza. Maybe someone can explain those to me. It is also true that with billions of search terms to choose from, occasionally a correlation will arise by chance. These might be false positives.

Ted Cruz. Many Cruz-related search terms are related to domestic life of a certain kind: family photos, felt Christmas stockings, scentsy plug ins, balloon animals, Baby Trend car seats, and DIY cribs. Easy enchiladas are particularly Cruz-y. Mmmm, enchiladas. And udder covers…I wasn’t expecting that one. Maybe the Cruz campaign could start distributing Cruz-themed udder covers!

Donald Trump. Note that the correlations are weaker. That could be because Trump support is broad-based in the Republican Party. Or it could be that the connection between the voter and the Google-searcher is indirect (i.e. they are different individuals who live near one another).

That is from Sam Wang, via the keen-eyed Jordan Schneider.  And what about the Democrats?

Near Clinton supporters it’s cheap bedroom furniture, Nicki Minaj fans, and pink hoverboard shoppers. And “career in” – Google auto-complete as a job counselor!

And the strongest correlate with Bernie Sanders support?: “candied nuts,” next in line is “best oatmeal,” ladies and gentlemen that is proof this is not just data mining and false correlations.  The list is dominated by recipe terms, and “corn syrup substitute” is number four!  Oh where oh where is Martin Wolf?

James E. Campbell has written an excellent book on this contested and…polarizing…topic.  Here is just one of many good bits:

As they [some commentators] see it, party polarization has been asymmetrical.  The Republican Party allegedly has been captured by right-wing zealots while the Democratic Party has remained a reasonable center-left party.  The claim of asymmetrical party polarization is half-true and completely understandable.  First, there should be no mystery to asymmetry.  If the parties are very competitive, as they are, and the public is skewed to the conservative end of the ideological scale, the parties should be similarly skewed.  In a center-right nation, the right-wing party should be further to the right than the left-wing party is to the left.  If the two parties were equally ideological, the Democrats would be in a permanent minority.  That said, the increased polarization of the parties cannot be entirely attributed to the Republican Party becoming more conservative.  Before the Republicans began moving to the right, Democrats had moved further to the left.  Party polarization followed the staggered nature of the realignment.  In the 1970s, congressional Democrats moved significantly to the left, while there was little change in congressional Republicans.  The Republican shift to the right came later and was augmented by the growth of conservatism in the public.  The polarization of the parties was a two-step dance — maybe three big steps: One big step to the left and two smaller steps to the right.

There is also this:

A five- or ten-percentage-point shift in ideological preferences may seem like “small potatoes,” but a nation that is 40% moderate and 60% ideological (liberal or conservative) operates quite different politically from one that is a 50-50 split.

By the way, it is sometimes noted, or noticed, that left-leaning thinkers have become crazier lately.  I think overall that is true.  It may be a sign that America is switching from a center-right to a center-left nation, given Campbell’s analysis above.

Recommended, due out in June from Princeton University Press.  And here is Timothy Taylor on polarization.


There is also this:


Here is the source, full text and explanation here.  There is much more of interest at that final link.