Economics

When do economists matter?

by on August 21, 2014 at 2:05 am in Economics, Political Science | Permalink

Christopher D. Johnston and Andrew Ballard have a new paper on this neglected topic, the abstract is this:

Given an increasing presence in the public sphere, what role do economic experts play in shaping public opinion on economic issues? In this paper, we examine the responsiveness of American public opinion on five economic policy issues to real information regarding the distribution of opinion on these issues among economists. We also examine the extent and role of trust in economists within the public. On average, we find meaningful changes in public opinion in the direction of expert consensus when citizens are given explicit information about expert opinion. However, we also find heterogeneity in citizen responsiveness across issues, such that aggregate opinion change is smaller on symbolic policy issues relative to technical ones. Further, on symbolic (but not technical) issues we find that citizens use judgments of the trustworthiness of economic experts in a motivated fashion, as a means of reinforcing prior opinions.

That is a little bloodless and the paper is also poorly written and organized but nonetheless it is important work.  Here is one very interesting bit:

…strongly left-leaning citizens are about 12 percentage points more trusting of economists than strongly right-leaning citizens.

This part of (sort of) encouraging:

…all three groups of respondents show greater trust than predicted after exposure to consensus information.  This pattern is consistent with the notion that exposure to highly technical, means-oriented issues makes one’s lack of knowledge salient, and perhaps engenders greater respect for experts…

The full paper is here, I would say start reading on p.16 and return to the beginning later on if you wish.

There is a new paper out by them:

Thomas Piketty’s recent book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, follows in the tradition of the great classical economists, Malthus, Ricardo and Marx, in formulating “general” laws to diagnose and predict the dynamics of inequality. We argue that all of these general laws are unhelpful as a guide to understand the past or predict the future, because they ignore the central role of political and economic institutions in shaping the evolution of technology and the distribution of resources in a society. Using the economic and political histories of South Africa and Sweden, we illustrate not only that the focus on the share of top incomes gives a misleading characterization of the key determinants of societal inequality, but also that inequality dynamics are closely linked to institutional factors and their endogenous evolution, much more than the forces emphasized in Piketty’s book, such as the gap between the interest rate and the growth rate.

For the pointer I thank Nathaniel Bechhofer.

Here is an update from Leonid Bershidsky:

Among the 28 EU members, public spending reached 49 percent of gross domestic product in 2013, 3.5 percentage points more than in 2007.

There is more detail at the link, via Garett Jones, Humanist by way of Walt Whitman, Civilizationist by way of Jane Jacobs.

A Reason-Rupee poll asked

Do you think all kids who play sports should receive a trophy for their participation, or should only the winning players be awarded trophies?

Overall, an estimated 57% Americans said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies but there were big differences according to gender, race, politics, education and income. 62% of men, for example, said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies compared to 52% of women. These results are consistent with experiments in which women tend to shy away from competition (perhaps with long-run consequences in the workforce). Whites opt for trophies to the winners-only at 63% compared to African Americans at just 44% and Hispanics at 39%. A whopping 80% of libertarians say that trophies should go only to the winners compared to conservatives at 63% and liberals and progressives both at 53%. More educated respondents were more likely to opt for trophies for only the winners.  Trophies for the winners also increased strongly in income which could be because people with high income feel that they are winners or perhaps because people with high incomes are the types of people who enjoy competition.

Trophy1

Note that these are raw differences not betas from a statistical regression and since income, race, education etc. aren’t independent we don’t know which are the most controlling although the results point in directions consistent with other evidence. The data can be found here.

For context, CAPE is the cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio.  On that topic, 3rdMoment writes:

While I have great respect for Shiller, I don’t understand his confidence that the CAPE is likely to return to it’s historical average of around 16. There are several reasons why we might expect the average CAPE going forward to be higher than in the past:

1. The average levels of CAPE in most of the last century appear, with hindsight, to have been puzzlingly low. This is the well-known “equity premium puzzle.”

2. There has been a large shift in corporate payout mix, from virtually all dividends in the past, to a roughly equal mix of dividends and share repurchases today. This by itself will add a couple of points to CAPE even if nothing else changes, (as shown in this post by the anonymous blogger who tweets as “Jesse Livermore”): http://www.philosophicaleconomics.com/2013/12/Shiller/

3. Some other accounting changes to the definition of profits might raise the CAPE as well, again see the linked blog post above.

4. Lower information and transaction costs and the rise of index investing have dramatically lowered the cost of maintaining a globally diversified portfolio. This decreases the raw rate of return for any given required rate of realized returns. For example if the costs of investing in equities fall by just 50 basis points, this would allow the required raw earnings yield to fall from 5% to 4.5%, corresponding to a rise in CAPE from 20 to 22, without changing realized returns for investors.

5. The real “risk free” return on treasuries seems to be very low by historic standards. Real returns on other forms of debt also appear low. This lowers the return stocks need to be attractive by comparison.

6. Large corporate cash balances, a “global savings glut,” lower rates of real economic growth, possible “secular stagnation,” all seem to point to the idea that real returns are somewhat harder to get than the past.

Some of these reasons are more certain than others, but taken together they seem to show that we have good reason to expect CAPE levels significantly above the historical average going forward.

Are there any countervailing reasons offsetting the list above, factors that would tend to make CAPE lower than in the past? I can’t really think of any. And I haven’t seen anybody else offering any.

He brings new life to a much-covered topic, here is one good bit of many:

Inserts are one of the last sources of advertising to resist digitization. They are also the next to go. Businesses like Cellfire and Find & Save are working on digital coupons; stores like Kroger’s and Safeway already offer online coupons direct to customers. This digitization is progressing as print circulation decays. Back in Roanoke, the Times was on the market for 5 years before it was bought; in that time the paper lost a quarter of its Sunday readers — 106,000 to 85,000 — and a third of its weekday readers — 96,000 to 65,000. This story too is being repeated all over the country. The print audience continues to defect to mobile, abandon the local paper, or die.

As digital alternatives become attractive while print circulation withers, business will start to shift their money away from inserts. When the inserts go, Sundays won’t prop up the rest of the week. When Sundays turn bad, the presses will become unprofitable.

The full piece is here, and for the pointer I thank Hugo Lindgren.

Stephen Williamson on secular stagnation

by on August 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm in Economics | Permalink

Well, Eggertsson and Mehrotra have fleshed out a theory that they think captures what Summers and Krugman are trying to get at. The Eggertsson and Mehrotra chapter in this volume is a summary of a formal academic paper that I discussed in this post. The gist of that blog post is that Eggertsson and Mehrotra – as with Eggertsson/Krugman, which is closely related – focus on the wrong problem. The key inefficiency in their model arises from a credit friction, but they are focusing their attention on the secondary zero-lower-bound inefficiency that the credit friction creates. Basically, the problem is insufficient government debt, and the solution is straightforward.

There is more here, interesting throughout, for those who find this interesting that is.

Addendum: Scott Sumner has some more practical comments.

I did not know this idea was under consideration:

Los Angeles city leaders are considering a lottery system to reward citizens for casting a ballot in local elections, in a measure to combat low voter turnout that officials and outside observers say could be a first for any U.S. municipality.

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted 3-0 on Thursday to recommend that members of the City Council move forward with the lottery idea, either by putting it before voters as a local initiative or by adopting it on their own, said commission president Nathan Hochman.

The commission discussed a number of possible ways for the lottery to work, including the use of $100,000 to be split into four prizes of $25,000, or 100 pots of $1,000 for lucky voters who win the drawing, Hochman said.

The story is here, hat tip goes to long-time MR correspondent Daniel Lippman, who now is working for Politico.

File under The Polity that is California.

There are many interesting charts and graphs in the post, and he argues against a belief in mean reversion, along with a discussion of “the original Black Swan.”  It is a difficult post to excerpt, best to read and view the whole thing.

In a great paper, The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials, Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer and Randi Hjalmarsson exploit random variation in the jury pool to estimate the effect of race on criminal trials. The authors have data from nearly 800 trials in two Florida counties. On any given day, a jury pool is randomly drawn from a master list based on driver’s licenses. On some days, the pool of about 30 people contains some black members and on other days, purely for random reasons, it does not. The voir dire process–>For every $1 spent on legal aid, the savings can range from $1.60 to $30.removals, excuses and challenges–whittles down the jury pool to 6 jury members with typically 1 alternate.

The authors have data on the race, gender, and age of each member of the jury pool as well as each member of the ultimate jury. The authors also know the race and gender of the defendant and the charges. What the authors discover is that all white juries are 16% more likely to convict black defendants than white defendants but the presence of just a single black person in the jury pool equalizes conviction rates by race. The effect is large and remarkably it occurs even when the black person is not picked for the jury. The latter may not seem possible but the authors develop an elegant model of voir dire that shows how using up a veto on a black member of the pool shifts the characteristics of remaining pool members from which the lawyers must pick; that is, a diverse jury pool can make for a more “ideologically” balanced jury even when the jury is not racially balanced.

The author’s results show not only that blacks and whites are treated differently depending on the composition of the jury pool but also that random variation in the jury pool adds to the variability of sentences holding race constant. Like is not treated as like. The results also suggest that we don’t need racial quotas to increase fairness. We can increase fairness and reduce variability in a racially neutrally way by expanding the size of juries. Six-person juries have become common because they are cheap(er) but a return to twelve person juries would reduce the variability of sentences and greatly equalize conviction rates across race.

How much does an EU cow earn?

by on August 18, 2014 at 2:51 am in Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

This is an old link, from an old blog post, but I believe I missed it the first time around:

A typical cow in the European Union receives a government subsidy of $2.20 a day. The cow earns more than 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people.

That is from Mark Perry, citing an Australian minister, via Garett Jones on Twitter.  Despite being in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, I don’t think these subsidies have changed much in the interim.

Addendum: It may be up to $2.60 a day.

Here is one bit:

 The combination of low inflation and low growth means that it is the evolution of nominal GDP that really matters now. Nominal GDP is non inflation corrected GDP (or GDP at current rather than constant prices). If inflation remains low or even becomes negative, then nominal GDP will hardly increase and may even continue to contract (as has happened in Japan). The result is bound to be that the gross government debt to GDP ratio rises above the 135.6% it hit in March.

One of the arguments frequently advanced about how this dynamic could be turned around would be for Italy to run a “large” primary budget surplus. Now the emphasis here is on large since the country has in fact run a primary surplus (income – expenditure before paying debt interest) since the early 1990s, but that hasn’t stopped the weight of the debt climbing and climbing.

The full post is here, scary throughout.

A Job is an Exchange

by on August 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm in Economics | Permalink

I love Natasha Singer’s parenthetical in her excellent NYTimes article about job exchanges like Uber, Lyft and Task Rabbit.

“These are not jobs, jobs that have any future, jobs that have the possibility of upgrading; this is contingent, arbitrary work,” says Stanley Aronowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “It might as well be called wage slavery in which all the cards are held, mediated by technology, by the employer, whether it is the intermediary company or the customer.”

(Disclosure: For two weeks in the summer of 1988, I had a gig as the au pair for Professor Aronowitz’s daughter, then a toddler.)

There is a semi-new paper (pdf) by Youjin Hahn, Liang Choon Wang, and Hee-Seung Yang, the abstract is this:

We show that private high school students outperform public high school students in Seoul, South Korea, where secondary school students are randomly assigned into schools within school districts. Both private and public schools in Seoul must admit students randomly assigned to them, charge the same fees, and use the same curricula under the so-called equalization policy’, but private schools enjoy greater autonomy in hiring and other staffing decisions and their principals and teachers face stronger incentives to deliver good students’ performance. Our findings suggest that providing schools greater autonomy in their personnel and resource allocation decisions while keeping school principals accountable can be effective in improving students’ outcomes.

That is from G Heller Sahlgren, who has numerous tweets of interest on Korean schooling.

Down on the farm?

by on August 17, 2014 at 8:27 am in Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

Farming businesses in the United States are still dominated by whites, but Mr. Flores (whose last name means “flowers” in English) is one of a growing number of Latinos who own or operate farms in the country. While the overall number of farms in the United States decreased by 4 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same period the number of farms run by Hispanics increased by 21 percent to 67,000 from 55,570, according to data released in May from the government’s 2012 census of agriculture. The numbers signaled a small but consistent pattern of growth in agribusiness among Latinos, many of whom have gone from working in the fields to sitting in the head offices.

Many, like Mr. Flores, emigrated from Mexico in the 1970s and ’80s and worked their way up from picking produce to managing the business. They have classic American bootstrap stories of grit, determination and a little bit of luck. Some own the land they till while others rent. Many employ Mexicans whose language and job duties they understand intimately.

That is from Tanzina Vega, there is more here.