Mostly, yes, although with some caveats (the headline of the piece doesn’t exactly capture this).  That is the topic of my latest column for The Upshot.  Here is one excerpt:

Niclas Berggren…and Therese Nilsson…have produced a fascinating series of papers on these questions, sometimes writing singly, sometimes together or with the collaboration of a variety of co-authors. Their most notable study is perhaps a paper they wrote together, “Does Economic Freedom Foster Tolerance?

…One of their most striking findings is that societies characterized by greater economic freedom and greater wealth do indeed exhibit greater tolerance toward gay people, a tendency suggesting that gay rights, including gay marriage, will spread globally as national economies liberalize and develop.

Some metrics of economic freedom count more than others:

This greater tolerance is strongly associated only with certain features of what has often been defined as economic freedom. For example, a smaller government, measured as a share of gross domestic product, is often included in so-called economic freedom indexes as an objective measure of freedom. But the data show that smaller government has a slight negative correlation with tolerance of gay people by heterosexuals. One implication is that many conservatives may be overly preoccupied with the size of government as a measure of how free societies actually are.

On the other hand, the data shows that when a society has impressive scores on property rights security and low inflation — two other components of economic freedom indexes — these characteristics are strongly and positively correlated with tolerance of gays. It’s possible that low inflation, and the behavior of a central bank, are stand-ins for the general trustworthiness of a nation’s government and broader institutions, and such trustworthiness helps foster tolerance.

The results for race are not nearly as strong, namely both freedom and prosperity are less clearly associated with higher levels of racial tolerance, although the correlation is still a positive one.

And there is this:

We are often told that education is an important remedy, yet it does not register as a meaningful factor in the cross-country data in this paper. Higher levels of education simply have not correlated significantly with higher levels of tolerance across countries.

Do read the whole thing.

Kerin Hope from the FT reports:

A reluctance to pay taxes was much criticised by Greece’s creditors as one reason why the country needed a big international bailout. Now many Greeks are again avoiding the taxman as they bet the radical left Syriza party will quickly loosen fiscal policy if it comes to power in Sunday’s general election.

A finance ministry official confirmed on Friday that state revenues had collapsed this month. “It’s normal for the tax take to decline during an election campaign but this time it’s more noticeable,” the official said, avoiding any specific figures on the projected shortfall.

However, two private sector economists forecast the shortfall could exceed €1.5bn, or more than 40 per cent of projected revenues for January.

File under “In case you had not been paying attention…”  And here is Antonio Fatás with a Grexit scenario.  That is still not what most people expect, however.

Assorted links

by on January 24, 2015 at 2:36 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Baby name markets in everything.  And kippa made out of hair.  For Europe.

2. Will the Coase theorem apply to Greece?  And prominent economists send the FT a letter on Greece.

3. The strangest, yet still credible ranking of the greatest albums ever, except it is not credible.  Or is it?

4. How scalable is the block chain?

5. Some of the Borjas results are maybe not so robust.  And “After a deal, British chocolates won’t cross the pond.”

6. Memoirs of a germaphobe: “Why do I have to touch the screen to choose a payment method?”  This short article is also a lesson in behavioral economics and nudge.

The Peltzman Effect on the Golden Gate

by on January 24, 2015 at 11:49 am in Economics | Permalink

A safety barrier on the median was just installed on the Golden Gate Bridge; unintended consequences follow.

…in the days since the more secure movable median barrier was installed, the average speed of drivers on the approach from the north has jumped even though the speed limit was lowered from 55 to 45 miles per hour.

“We’re really seeing unreasonable speeds on the bridge, much faster than before,” said Priya David Clemens, a representative for the Golden Gate Bridge District. For whatever reason, including the possibility that drivers feel safer knowing a car won’t come barreling at them from the opposite direction, “we’ve noticed speeds going up,” Clemens said. “That’s why we asked the CHP to help us.”

More on the Peltzman effect.

Hat tip: Carl Danner.

“Let’s Play Two”

by on January 24, 2015 at 11:07 am in Film, Food and Drink, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

Very sadly Ernie Banks — the baseball player for you foreigners out there — has passed away.

Oddly, I have taken to quoting him lately.  If you are going out to eat with a small group, I recommend two stops.  No, don’t eat any more food than usual, but distribute your meal across two restaurants.  Have a few appetizers in one, and then leave and move on to another.  (This is easiest to do in Eden Center, with its wide selection of small-dish Vietnamese eateries, but other methods will work.)  Of course you must sequence your meals properly, the Greek eggplant must become before the Sichuan noodles, not vice versa.

This approach will improve the conversation at your table, if only by breaking up the original seating plan.  It also makes you more aware and more appreciative of what you are eating.

If you are going out to a movie, see two.  There is a fixed cost of attending, whether in terms of the traffic, the babysitter, or simply the will to spend time away from Facebook.  “Let’s Play Two.”

I have the impression that consumers “do fewer doubleheaders” than when I was growing up, I am not sure why.  Perhaps we have grown too impatient.

Banks’s obituary described him as “an unconquerable optimist whose sunny disposition never dimmed in 19 seasons with the perennially stumbling Chicago Cubs…”

Here are other quotations from Ernie Banks.  He said “The only way to prove you are a good sport is to lose.”

Here is some media coverage of a recent Facebook study of its economic impact in terms of revenue and jobs.  Facebook claims it added $227 billion to the global economy, but they approached the question the wrong way.

The correct method is to treat jobs as a cost of Facebook, not a benefit, admittedly that is not how politics works nor is it how corporate PR works.  We should measure the benefits directly by consumer time use studies, much as Austan Goolsbee and Peter J. Klenow did in their paper on the internet (pdf).

My question today is this: what is the most accurate one line back-of-the-envelope estimate you can come up with for the gross benefits of Facebook, not bothering to subtract for the costs of running the site?  Here is one (hypothetical and illustrative) example, for America only:

100 million regular users, one hour a day, time valued at $10 an hour, and multiply for $365 billion a year.

You will notice this method implicitly captures the value and disvalue of the ads on Facebook.  The better and more useful the ads are, the more time people will spend on the site.

I don’t devote time to Facebook (I can thank MR for that), so surely you can do better than I in building a plausible one-line estimate.  Please leave your answer in the comments.

Jinfeng Luo and Yi Wen from the St. Louis Fed have a new working paper (pdf), “Institutions Do Not Rule: Reassessing the Driving Forces of Economic Development”:

We use cross-country data and instrumental variables widely used in the literature to show that (i) institutions (such as property rights and the rule of law) do not explain industrialization and (ii) agrarian countries and industrial countries have entirely different determinants for income levels.

In particular, geography, rather than institutions, explains the income differences among agrarian countries, while institutions appear to matter only for income variations in industrial economies.  Moreover, we find it is the stage of economic development (or the absence/presence of industrialization) that explains a country’s quality of institutions rather than vice versa.

The finding that institutions do not explain industrialization but are instead explained by industrialization lends support to the well-received view among prominent economic historians — that institutional changes in 17th and 18th century England did not cause the Industrial Revolution.

I am reminded of a puzzle which I think was first posed by Jeff Sachs.  Go back to 1960 and choose any measure of institutional quality you want.  Then see how well it predicts cross-national growth since then.  And that is doing the exercise knowing how the answer comes out!

Assorted links

by on January 23, 2015 at 12:47 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Scott Sumner on Keynesian excuses.

2. Alan Krueger working for Uber.  And dating average is over.  And rendering Tyler Cowen obsolete.

3. Newspapers are still deep in a financial hole.

4. Divorce machine gun markets in everything.  And Croatia wants to peg to the Swiss franc (!) for mortgage protection.

5. Department of Uh-Oh: more competition leads to higher antibiotic prescription rates.

6. Matthew Slaughter is now Dean of Dartmouth business school.

7. The legal system that is German.  They got the ruling right, I say.

8. Paul Krugman’s estimate: “So, Draghi’s big announcement seems to have raised expected European inflation by one-fifth of a percentage point.”  Alternatively, Daniel Davies on why QE might prove effective.

9. “If everything is clean, then he will be impressed.”

The Supply Curve

by on January 23, 2015 at 7:25 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

Here is our video introducing the supply curve from our principles of micro-economics course at MRUniversity. Supply, Demand and Equilibrium are available now. Next week, elasticity!

As part of a publicity stunt, author James Patterson is giving away 1,000 self-destructing digital advance copies of his latest novel, Private Vegas. If you score one, you have 24 hours to finish the entire book before the text vanishes forever. And if that’s just not risky enough, Patterson is selling a real self-destructing copy (for a whopping $294,038) that includes a dedicated bomb squad, among other creature comforts. There are likely much better ways to spend six digits in record time, but it’ll probably be the most exciting reading experience you ever have — no matter how good the story might be.

There is more here, via Kurt Busboom.  Much better than my advice, it would seem.

Read the recent testimony of Robert E. Hall (pdf):

Most of the decline in participation occurred among teenagers and young adults. The fi nding that these e ffects tend to be larger in more prosperous families points strongly away from much of a role for rising influence of benefi t programs, because these programs, especially food stamps, are only available to families with incomes well below the median.
So what is going on here?  Could it be “culture”?  Hall cites, suggestively, time use surveys showing that sleep and personal consumption of video are up strongly.

This is just published in the Journal of Development Economics, from Chris Bidner and Mukesh Eswaran, and the title is “A Gender-Based Theory of the Origin of the Caste System of India”:

We propose a theory of the origins of India’s caste system by explicitly recognizing the productivity of women in complementing their husbands’ occupation-specific skill. The theory explains the core features of the caste system: its hereditary and hierarchical nature, and its insistence on endogamy (marriage only within castes). Endogamy is embraced by a group to minimize an externality that arises when group members marry outsiders. We demonstrate why the caste system embodies gender asymmetries in punishments for violations of endogamy and tolerates hypergamy (marrying up) more than hypogamy (marrying down). Our model also speaks to other aspects of caste, such as commensality restrictions and arranged/child marriages. We suggest that India’s caste system is so unique because the Brahmins sought to preserve and orally transmit the Hindu scriptures for over a millennium with no script. We show that economic considerations were of utmost importance in the emergence of the caste system.

There are ungated versions of the paper here.  Here are earlier MR posts on the Indian caste system.  I think I am not enough of a rational choice theorist to believe in any explanation of this sort, still it is sometimes better to try and fail than never to try at all…

The pointer to this paper is from Michael Clemens.

Fighters for one of the factions battling for control of Libya seized the Benghazi branch of the country’s central bank on Thursday, threatening to set off an armed scramble for the bank’s vast stores of money and gold, and cripple one of the last functioning institutions in the country.

The central bank is the repository for Libya’s oil revenue and holds nearly $100 billion in foreign currency reserves. It is the great prize at the center of the armed struggles that have raged here since the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011.

There is more here.  And in collapsing Yemen, the Iran-funded Houthi fighters seem to have the central bank tightly under guard.  Mario Draghi does not in fact have the toughest job in the world.

From the letters page of the FT:

Sir, Whether the European Central Bank chooses to embark on a programme of sovereign QE (or quantitative easing, as it used to be known) is of little day-to-day interest to most citizens of the EU. Whether the compilers of dictionaries accept that QE is now a word in its own right — as opposed to an abbreviation — is of far more relevance to us scrabble players. Using a Q without needing a free U it would rapidly be up there with Qi (the Chinese word for life force) as one of the most useful words in the lexicon.

Richard Kemmish

Surbiton, Surrey, UK

I would think that for the foreseeable future QE would be ruled an abbreviation, not a word, although enough years of macroeconomic misery eventually could flip this the other way.

Some abbreviations, however, are acceptable Scrabble words because they have entered common parlance.

Here are other “Q without U” words which are eligible for use in Scrabble.

Arrived in my pile

by on January 22, 2015 at 1:17 pm in Books, History, Philosophy | Permalink

Ian Morris, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve.

A Tanner Lecture, with comments by Richard Seaford, Jonathan D. Spence, Christine Korsgaard, and Margaret Atwood, and edited by Stephen Macedo.  Due out March 22.