Data Source

Analyses of the effects of election outcomes on the economy have been hampered by the problem that economic outcomes also influence elections . We sidestep these problems by analyzing movements in economic indicators caused by clearly exogenous changes in expectations about the likely winner during Election Day. Analyzing high frequency financial fluctuations following the release of flawed exit poll data on Election Day 2004, and then during the vote count, we find that markets anticipated higher equity prices, interest rates and oil prices and a stronger dollar under a Bush presidency than under Kerry. A similar Republican-Democrat differential was also observed for the 2000 Bush-Gore contest. Prediction market based analyses of all Presidential elections since 1880 also reveal a similar pattern of partisan impacts, suggesting that electing a Republican President raises equity valuations by 2-3 percent, and that since Reagan, Republican Presidents have tended to raise bond yields.
That is Snowberg, Wolfers, and Zitzewitz (pdf), via Adam Ozimek.  Here is the background context, relating to prediction markets today.

People, I do think there is a uniquely bad figure on the American national scene right now, and I am hoping for that figure to leave the stage very soon.  Nonetheless intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth require me to communicate the following result to you.  This is from Sweet, Ozimek, and Asher:

More formal econometric analysis confirms the absence of a relationship between the S&P 500 and Trump’s electoral odds.  Regression analysis shows that day-to-day changes in Trump’s odds of winning had a statistically insignificant effect on log differences in the S&P 500.

See pp.21-22.  No, this doesn’t change my mind about the campaign and election, but how many commentators are willing to report this at all?  Try to come to terms with this?  The purpose of writing a blog is to force oneself to deal with the uncomfortable, not to push pat answers on the readers.  I know many of you feel it is your moral duty to stack arguments for or against one of the candidates as high as possible, but I have never myself viewed that as my mission here, no matter what I might be rooting for.

And please note that “stock markets failed to predict [fill in the particular historical event here]” is not a very strong response.  I again repeat the question: how many of you are short the market and long on volatility?

That’s what I thought.

Our findings provide empirical evidence that ride-sharing services such as Uber significantly decrease the traffic congestion after entering an urban area.

Here is the paper, by Li, Hong, and Zhang, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Kevin also directs our attention to this paper by Arye Hillman & Niklas Potrafke:

Simple correlations show that Protestantism is associated with economic freedom, Islam is not, with Catholicism in between. The Protestant ethic requires economic freedom. Our empirical estimates, which include religiosity, political institutions, and other explanatory variables, confirm that Protestantism is most conducive to economic freedom.

By the way, here is my earlier column on the benefits of Uber, one product of economic freedom.  By the way, do not try this driverless car trick at home.

China fact of the day

by on September 26, 2016 at 1:34 am in Data Source, Web/Tech | Permalink

The Chinese government estimates females found 55 percent of new Internet companies and more than a quarter of all entrepreneurs are women. In the U.S., only 22 percent of startups have one or more women on their founding teams, according to research by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya for their book ‘Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology.’

That is from Shai Oster and Selina Wang.  Some of that may stem from the one-child policy, but note ex-communist countries have relatively good records of producing female CEOs.

The Decline of Car Culture

by on September 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm in Data Source, Travels | Permalink

UMTRI: About 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but more than 30 years later, that percentage had dropped to 69 percent. Other teen driving groups have also declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 60 percent in 2014, 17-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 45 percent, and 16-year-olds plummeted from 46 percent to 24 percent.

Cars used to represent freedom. Today WiFi does. The decline of young drivers is likely another reason the roads are getting safer.

Hat tip: @counternotions.

Addendum: Steven Kopits argues (youtube) that this has more to do with lack of employment of young people than with a change in culture.

Or just a way to get rid of political opponents?  The news on this front is by no means entirely bad.  Xi Lu and Peter L. Lorentzen report:

In order to maintain popular support or at least acquiescence, autocrats must control the rapacious tendencies of other members of the governing elite. At the same time, the support of this elite is at least as important as the support of the broader population. This creates difficult tradeoffs and limits the autocrat’s ability to enforce discipline. We explore this issue in the context of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. There have been two schools of thought about this campaign. One holds that it is nothing but a cover for intra-elite struggle and a purge of Xi’s opponents, while the other finds more credibility in the CCP’s claim that the movement is sincere. In this article, we demonstrate three facts, using a new dataset we have created. First, we use the political connections revealed by legal documents and media reports to visualize the corruption network. We demonstrate that although many of the corrupt officials are connected, Xi’s most prominent political opponent, Bo Xilai, is less central by any network measure than other officials who were not viewed as challenging Xi’s leadership. Second, we use a recursive selection model to analyze who the campaign has targeted, providing evidence that even personal ties to top leaders provided little protection. Finally, using another comprehensive dataset on the prefectural-city level, we show that the provinces later targeted by the corruption campaign differed from the rest in important ways. In particular, it appears that promotion patterns departed from the growth-oriented meritocratic selection procedures evidence in other provinces. Overall, our findings contradict the factional purge view and are more consistent with the view that the campaign is indeed primarily an attempt to root out systemic corruption problems.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Equally, in a world where academics are obliged to offer up each piece of work to be evaluated as internationally significant, world leading etc., they will seek to signal such a rating discursively. A study by Vinkers et al. in the British Medical Journal uncovered a new tendency towards hyperbole in scientific reports. They found the absolute frequency of positive words increased from 2.0% (1974-80) to 17.5% (2014), which amounts to a relative increase of 880% over four decades. 25 individual positive words contributed to the increase, particularly the words “robust,” “novel,” “innovative,” and “unprecedented,” which increased in relative frequency up to 15 000%”). The authors comment upon an apparent evolution in scientific writing to ‘look on the bright side of life’.

That is by Liz Morrish, via Mark Carrigan.

Bowling alone and for peanuts too:

In 1964, “bowling legend” Don Carter was the first athlete in any sport to receive a $1 million endorsement deal ($7.6 million today). In return, bowling manufacturing company Ebonite got the rights to release the bowler’s signature model ball. At the time, the offer was 200x what professional golfer Arnold Palmer got for his endorsement with Wilson, and 100x what football star Joe Namath got from his deal with Schick razor. Additionally, Carter was already making $100,000 ($750,000) per year through tournaments, exhibitions, television appearances, and other endorsements, including Miller, Viceroys, and Wonder Bread.

…Of the 300 bowlers who competed in PBA events during the 2012-2013 season, a select few did surprisingly well. The average yearly salary of the top ten competitors was just below $155,000, with Sean Rash topping the list at $248,317. Even so, in the 1960s, top bowlers made twice as much as top football stars — today, as the highest grossing professional bowler in the world, Sean Rash makes significantly less than a rookie NFL player’s minimum base salary of $375,000.

In 1982, the bowler ranked 20th on the PBA’s money list made $51,690; today, the bowler ranked 20th earns $26,645.

The article, by Zachary Crockett, suggests numerous hypotheses for the economic decline of bowling, but ultimately the answer is not clear to me.  I would suggest the null of “non-bowling is better and now it is better yet.”  A more subtle point is that perhaps bowling had Baumol’s “cost disease,” but under some assumptions about elasticities a cost disease sector can shrink rather than ballooning as a share of gdp.

For the pointer I thank Mike Donohoo.

Total outstanding mortgage loans rose more than 30 percent and new mortgage growth clocked in at 111 percent in the past year. Since June 2012, outstanding mortgage loans have grown at an annualized rate of 30 percent. Predictably, that’s pushed prices higher and higher.

In urban China, the average price per square foot of a home has risen to $171, compared to $132 in the U.S. In first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen, prices have increased by about 25 percent in the past year. A 100-city index compiled by SouFun Holdings Ltd. surged by a worrisome 14 percent in the last year. Developers are buying up land in some prime areas that would need to sell for $15,000 per square meter just to break even.

That is from Christopher Balding, there is more at the link.  Might as much as 70% of Chinese household wealth be in housing?  Here is some follow-up analysis.

It seems so, at least subject to the usual caveats about happiness studies:

In spite of the great U-turn that saw income inequality rise in Western countries in the 1980s, happiness inequality has fallen in countries that have experienced income growth (but not in those that did not). Modern growth has reduced the share of both the “very unhappy” and the “perfectly happy”. Lower happiness inequality is found both between and within countries, and between and within individuals. Our cross-country regression results argue that the extension of various public goods helps to explain this greater happiness homogeneity. This new stylised fact arguably comes as a bonus to the Easterlin paradox, offering a somewhat brighter perspective for developing countries.

That is from a new paper by Clark AE1, Flèche S2, Senik C3. via Neuroskeptic.  In other words, for the variable that really matters for welfarism, inequality is down not up.  Shout it from the rooftops…

The elephant chart is the tool, developed by Branko Milanovic, often used to show that globalization has hurt the interests of much of the middle class, presumably due to competition with lower wage countries, most notably China.  Now from the Resolution Foundation there is a new study of the matter, based in part on updated data from Milanovic, here are excerpts from Chris Giles and Shawn Donnan at the FT:

The Resolution Foundation found that faster population growth in emerging markets made it difficult to compare the incomes of the lower middle classes over time because their position in global income rankings changed. The larger number of Chinese families made it appear that the US poor were further up the global income scale in 2008 than they were in 1988.

If incomes were unchanged in every country, this population effect alone would lead to apparent drops of 25 per cent in parts of the global income scale associated with poorer people in rich countries. That generated the characteristic “elephant” shape, according to the Resolution Foundation.

These results were exacerbated by outlying factors, such as the former Soviet states of eastern Europe, which had incomes in the same zone and saw them collapse after the fall of communism.

Adjusting the chart for constant populations and removing China, ex-Soviet states and Japan shows a relatively even spread of income growth across the world. China is a clear outlier in performing very strongly.

“Globalisation is not to blame for all the ills of the world,” Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said.

Is it “elephant chart,” “elephant curve,” or “elephant graph”?  I would stress two points.  First, I am not sure the highly aggregated elephant “thing” was so useful to begin with, and indeed you will not see much of it in the MR archives.  Second, there still may be significant cases where globalization has depressed or held down middle class wages.  This is an important revision to how we organize the data, but maybe not a big revision to how we should think about the world.

Here is the actual report, go to Figure 10 on p.23 (this pdf), or try this link, the Resolution Foundation is on a roll these days.

…just as the bulk of the growth in employment can be attributed to a few sectors where productivity is either low or unmeasurable, a whopping 88 per cent of the total rise in the price level boils down to four sectors of the US economy…

How did you guess it was health care, higher education, real estate, and prescription drugs?

…In January 1990, those four product categories only accounted for 30 per cent of the money spent on consumption by the average American. (Housing was about half that.) Even after more than a quarter-century in which prices of these goods and services rose significantly faster than everything else, these four sectors still account for less than 40 per cent of total consumer spending.

Within health care, dentistry has seen the highest rate of price inflation.  Televisions, however, have been falling in price at the rate of about 12 percent a year since 1990.  Luggage, “dishes and flatware,” and household linens are all down in price dramatically, as are telephone and communication services.  Durable goods are down in price by about a third.

That is from Matthew C. Klein at FT Alphaville.

Workplace sentences to ponder

by on September 9, 2016 at 3:04 am in Data Source, Economics | Permalink

It really is time to hurry up and give Bill Baumol that Nobel Prize:

…In the past sixteen years, 94 per cent of the net jobs created were in education, healthcare, social assistance, bars, restaurants, and retail, even though those sectors only employed 36 per cent of America’s workforce at the start of the millennium…

Average hourly pay in these sectors, weighted by their relative sizes, has consistently been about 30 per cent lower than in the rest of the economy…

And since typical jobs in bars, restaurants, and retail involve far fewer hours than normal, weekly pay packets for workers in these growing industries were more than 40 per cent lower than workers in the rest of the economy. Average weekly earnings are now 3 per cent lower than they would have been if the distribution of employment had stayed the same as in January, 2000…

That is from Matthew C. Klein, who is riffing on Ryan Avent, don’t forget Ryan’s new book.

That is my latest column for Bloomberg, here is the method:

Uber calculates figures for surge pricing at times of high demand, but it rounds off. So a computation of market conditions that might lead to a surge price that is 1.249 times higher than normal fares is rounded down to 1.2, but 1.251 would be rounded up to 1.3. Yet the initial, unrounded 1.249 and 1.251 estimates represent almost the same underlying market tightness.

Using data from Uber, the authors therefore could see how the demand for Uber varied with surge prices that vary (say from 20 percent to 30 percent above normal fares) even when market conditions are roughly constant.

Here is the source:

A new paper by Peter Cohen, Robert Hahn, Jonathan Hall, Steven Levitt…and Robert Metcalfe…

They conclude UberX produces about $6.8 billion in consumer surplus a year.  My caveat:

If anything, this method underestimates the worth of Uber, as it doesn’t capture what economists call “option value.” Let’s say you walk home with a guy or gal late at night, hoping something nice will happen. But you’re not quite sure, as he or she might make the wrong noises about a particular political candidate, and then you would wish to bail out quickly. Uber would be the safety net. Most of the time you don’t end up using the service or recording a transaction that would count for this study, but you can start making plans because you know you have Uber as a fallback.

Or consider those urban residents who have ditched their cars altogether. They know they can take Uber to the local market if they need to, even if most of the time they have not run out of milk and dog food. Similarly, the existence of Uber is helping some localities economize on mass transit expenditures.

The study also doesn’t measure how Uber might help get the U.S. to the next level of market innovation, which in this case might mean a network of on-demand, self-driving vehicles.

Do read the whole thing.