Wednesday assorted links

by on November 30, 2016 at 11:46 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

I think this is one of the best videos that we have ever done at MRUniversity–it combines history, technology and economics with a great story that links it all together. It’s the final video in the section of our Principles of Macroeconomics class covering unemployment and labor force participation. As always, the videos are free to use and they pair exquisitely well with the best principles textbook, Modern Principles.

Addendum: The video is based on some great papers, here are links: The Power of the Pill by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz and Martha Bailey’s papers “Momma’s Got the Pill”: How Anthony Comstock and Griswold v. Connecticut Shaped US Childbearing and More Power to the Pill.

Tabarrok Moving to India!

by on November 30, 2016 at 7:20 am in Travel | Permalink

I am moving to India! Next semester (approx late Jan.-May) I will doing a sabbatical in India! Home base will be Mumbai at the IDFC Institute. I will be giving some talks and talking with people all over India and I hope to make some videos for Marginal Revolution University.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is just one bit from it:

In other words, the Trump program for protectionism could go far beyond interference in international trade. It also could bring the kind of crony capitalist nightmare scenarios described by Ayn Rand in her novel “Atlas Shrugged,” a book many Republican legislators would be well advised to now read or reread.

And:

The biggest irony of this whole Trump initiative is that it likely would lead to higher U.S. trade deficits. Economists stress the offsetting nature of trade flows and capital flows. As the accounting identities are constructed, a higher trade deficit corresponds to higher capital inflows, and a lower trade deficit corresponds to higher capital outflows. (To see the nature of these balanced transactions, imagine China selling goods and accumulating Treasury bills in return, a form of investment in this country.) So a Trumpian plan to limit capital outflows, through whatever means, is also — if only indirectly and without such intent — a plan to boost the trade deficit.

Do read the whole thing.

Miguel Faria-e-Castro, on the job market from NYU, has a very interesting paper on that question.  Here are his findings:

What is the impact of an extra dollar of government spending during a financial crisis? How important was fiscal policy during the Great Recession? I develop a macroeconomic model of fiscal policy with a financial sector that allows me to study the effects of fiscal policy tools such as government purchases and transfers, as well as of financial sector interventions such as bank recapitalizations and credit guarantees. Solving the model with nonlinear methods allows me to show how the linkages between household and bank balance sheets generate new channels through which fiscal policy can stimulate the economy, and study the state dependent effects of fiscal policy. I combine the model with data on the fiscal policy response to assess its role during the financial crisis and Great Recession. My main findings are that: (i) the fall in consumption would had been 1/3 worse in the absence of fiscal interventions; (ii) transfers to households and bank recapitalizations yielded the largest fiscal multipliers; and (iii) bank recapitalizations were closest to generating a Pareto improvement.

Bank recapitalizations — just remember that the next time you hear someone talking about “G” in the abstract.

See also this new Alesina NBER paper, indicating that the how of fiscal adjustment is much more important than the when.  No tax hikes!

Tuesday assorted links

by on November 29, 2016 at 1:46 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Due to massive inflation, shops in Venezuela are now weighing money rather than counting it–a true paper standard.

2. As the economy collapses, Venezuelan’s are turning to bitcoin–using free electricity to mine the coins–but the secret police are hunting the miners.

3. Larry White and Shruti Rajagopolan note that India’s demonetization is really an expropriation that will transfer wealth to the government. Whether the wealth transfer is of black market holdings or not remains to be seen.

4. George Borjas remember’s Castro’s demonetization:

Castro quickly found a simple way of confiscating “excess” cash. The currency was changed overnight. And everyone had to turn in their old paper currency for the new paper currency, with some limits being imposed on the amount of the transactions. There was a miles-long line on what I think was a Saturday morning, as the entire Cuban population was turned into beggars for the new currency.

5. Alex Bellos looks at Newcomb’s Problem. The answer is obvious.

6. Steven Pearlstein on Four tough things universities should do to rein in costs. I liked this bit of history:

In 2002, George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg noticed that the school owned roughly $1 billion worth of facilities that sat idle for at least a third of the year. If he could reconfigure the academic calendar for year-round operation, he reasoned, he could enroll thousands more students without having to build new classrooms, labs, dorms or athletic facilities.

Doing so, however, would have required some professors to periodically teach during the summer, which didn’t sit well with the Faculty Senate. Its report on the matter reads like a parody of self-interested whining by coddled academics dressed up as concern for the pedagogical and psychological well-being of their students.

Prices aren’t rising because costs are rising, however, costs are rising because prices are rising.

7. Evolution is amazing. By acting as selective breeders, poachers are changing the genetics of African elephants.

In some areas 98 per cent of female elephants now have no tusks, researchers have said, compared to between two and six percent born tuskless on average in the past.

Airport Privatization

by on November 29, 2016 at 7:20 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Travel | Permalink

Airports in the United States need investment and improvements in operations efficiency and are thus ripe for privatization. Privatization is not a radical concept, around the world today many airports are run by private corporations or in public-private partnerships. In their latest report, The Ownership of Europe’s Airports, the Airports Council International writes:

Today, over 40% of European airports have at least some private shareholders – and these airports handle the lion’s share of air traffic. This year, about 3 out of every 4 passenger journeys will be through one of these airports…it is only a matter of time before fully publically-owned airports become a minority in the EU.

Moreover, even the public airports are typically structured as corporations that must pay their own way:

[Europe’s] airports – be they public or private – are to be run as businesses in their own right, strongly incentivised to continuously improve and underpinned by the principle that users pay a reasonable price to cover the cost of providing the facilities and services that they benefit from. There is no denying the tangible benefits that this approach has brought the EU – significant volumes of investment in necessary infrastructure, higher service quality levels, and a commercial acumen which allows airport operators to diversify revenue streams and minimise the costs that users have to pay – all of which are fundamental requirements to boost air connectivity.

The biggest restriction on airport privatization is that if a state or local government sells an airport it must use all of the proceeds to fund airport infrastructure–which makes the procedure pointless from their point of view. As I mentioned earlier, there is an Airport Privatization Pilot Program (APPP) which lifts this restriction but only if 65% of the air carriers serving the airport agree to the privatization. The APP is also slow and includes other restrictions. The Congressional Research Service has a good run down.

[Restrictions] include the need for 65% of air carriers serving the airport to approve a lease or sale of the airport; restrictions on increases in airport rates and charges that exceed the rate of increase of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and a requirement that a private operator comply with grant assurances made by the previous public sector operator to obtain AIP [Federal] grants. In addition, after privatization the airport will be eligible for AIP formula grants to cover only 70% of the cost of improvements, versus the normal 75%- 90% federal share for AIP projects at publicly owned airports. This serves as a disincentive to privatize an airport, because it will receive less federal money after privatization.

The airlines are lukewarm on privatization. Although they would benefit from better operational efficiency, they are big recipients of the explicit and implicit subsidies and they use their effective control over airports to limit competition.

The main danger of privatization is that of monopoly power–it wouldn’t be a good idea to sell all of a city’s airports to the same corporation, for example. Thus, privatization should be accompanied by steps to increase competition. There are over 5000 non-commercial airports in the United States and some of the “National” General Aviation Airports already serve international flights (mainly corporate jets) and could be expanded to allow more commercial traffic.

Privatization should not be thought of as just a transfer of ownership but rather as a changing of the rules of the game to allow for many more private airports.

Addendum: Michael Sargent at Heritage has a useful and detailed plan. Robert Poole and Chris Edwards from Cato offer a good overview.

Market prices do convey important information about changing risks. For example, option prices suggest that Mexican assets are expected to deliver larger gains than losses, implying Trump won’t seek to impose headline-grabbing sanctions on the country. Although less pronounced, options market indicators are similar for China, Japan and emerging markets.

In short, the options market does not appear to view Trump as a protectionist but rather as someone who understands the value and importance of global trade.

That is from Myron Scholes in the FT.  Here is my earlier dialogue with Bob Zoellick on trade and Trump.

What I’ve been reading

by on November 29, 2016 at 12:50 am in Books | Permalink

1. Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives, by Sunil Khilnani.  A highly readable introduction to Indian history, structured around the lives of some of its major figures.  I passed along my copy to Alex.

2. Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa.  More for classical music and Ojawa fans than Murakami readers, this is nonetheless an easy to read and stimulating set of interviews for any serious classical music listener.  They are most interesting on Mahler.

3. Elsa Morante, History.  In America, this is one of the least frequently read and discussed great European novels of the 20th century.

4. Miriam J. Laugesen, Fixing Medical Prices: How Physicians are Paid.  Will people still care about these issues for the next four years?  I hope so, because this is the best book I know of on Medicare pricing and its influence on pricing throughout the broader U.S. health care system.

My copy of Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy has arrived.  It is a very good statement of how political fragmentation and intensified intellectual competition drove modernity and the Industrial Revolution.

I have only perused John H. Kagel and Alvin E. Roth, Handbook of Experimental Economics, volume 2, but it appears to be an extremely impressive contribution.

Marc Levinson’s An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy details what made the post World War II era so special in terms of its economics and income distribution and why it will be so hard to recreate.

Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation, due out in March, he argues that racial equality really hasn’t improved much since 1968.

Guillermo A. Calvo, Macroeconomics in Times of Liquidity Crises is a useful book on sudden stops and related ideas.

Arrived in my pile is Yuval Noah Harati, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

Maybe not:

Interestingly enough, in two of those crucial Midwestern states that flipped to Trump, Democratic Senate candidates campaigned on economically populist platforms — but they did notably worse than Hillary Clinton. Russ Feingold underperformed Clinton by 2.4 points in Wisconsin, and Ted Strickland underperformed her by 12.8 points in Ohio. Feingold amassed a populist record of challenging big money and special interests when he was in the Senate, and Strickland harshly condemned trade deals during his campaign against Rob Portman (who served as George W. Bush’s US trade representative).

Meanwhile, the two Democratic Senate candidates in competitive races who outperformedClinton the most both self-consciously presented a moderate image rather than running as liberal firebrands. In Missouri, Jason Kander overperformed Clinton by 15.9 points, and in Indiana, Evan Bayh did 9.6 points better than her (though they both lost).

Here is more from Andrew Prokop at Vox.

Monday assorted links

by on November 28, 2016 at 12:11 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Asians in America faced heavy discrimination and animus in the early twentieth century. Yet, after institutional restrictions were lifted in the late 1940s, Asian incomes quickly converged to white incomes. Why? In the politically incorrect paper of the year (ungated) Nathaniel Hilger argues that convergence was due to market forces subverting discrimination. First, a reminder about the history and strength of discrimination against Asians:

Foreign-born Asians were barred from naturalization by the Naturalization Act of 1790. This Act excluded Asians from citizenship and voting except by birth, and created the important new legal category of “aliens ineligible for citizenship”…Asians experienced mob violence including lynchings and over 200 “roundups” from 1849-1906 (Pfaelzer, 2008), and hostility from anti-Asian clubs much like the Ku Klux Klan (e.g., the Asiatic Exclusion League, Chinese Exclusion League, Workingmen’s Party of CA), to an extent that does not appear to have any counterpart for blacks in CA history. Both Asians and blacks in CA could not testify against a white witness in court from 1853-73 (People v. Hall, 1853, see McClain, 1984), limiting Asians’ legal defense against white aggression. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in 1907 barred further immigration of all “laborers” from China and Japan.

…Asians have also faced intense economic discrimination. Many cities and states levied discriminatory taxes and fees on Asians (1852 Foreign Miner’s Tax, 1852 Commutation Tax, 1860 Fishing License, 1862 Police Tax, 1870 “queue” ordinance, 1870 sidewalk ordinance, and many others). Many professional schools and associations in CA excluded Asians (e.g., State Bar of CA), as did most labor unions (e.g., Knights of Labor, American Federation of Labor), and many employers declined to hire Asians well into the 20th century (e.g., Mears, 1928, p. 194-204). From 1913-23, virtually all western states passed increasingly strict Alien Land Acts that prohibited foreign-born Asians from owning land or leasing land for extended periods. Asians also faced laws against marriage to whites (1905 amendment to Section 60 of the CA Civil Code) and U.S. citizens (Expatriation Act 1907, Cable Act 1922). From 1942-46, the US forcibly relocated over 100,000 mainland Japanese Americans (unlike other Axis nationalities, e.g. German or Italian Americans) to military detention camps, in practice destroying a large share of Japanese American wealth. In contrast, blacks in CA were eligible for citizenship and suffrage, were officially (though often not de facto) included in CA professional associations and labor unions that excluded Asians, were not covered by the Alien Land Acts, and were not confined or expropriated during WWII.

Despite this intense discrimination, Asian (primarily Japanese and Chinese) incomes converged to white incomes as early as 1960 and certainly by 1980. One argument is that Asians invested so heavily in education that convergence has been overstated but Hilger shows that convergence occurred conditional on education. Similarly, convergence was not a matter of immigration or changing demographics. Instead, Hilger argues that once institutional discrimination was eased in the 1940s, market forces enforced convergence. As I wrote earlier, profit maximization subverts discrimination by employers:

If the wages of X-type workers are 25% lower than those of Y-type workers, for example, then a greedy capitalist can increase profits by hiring more X workers. If Y workers cost $15 per hour and X workers cost $11.25 per hour then a firm with 100 workers could make an extra $750,000 a year. In fact, a greedy capitalist could earn more than this by pricing just below the discriminating firms, taking over the market, and driving the discriminating firms under.

If that theory is true, however, then why haven’t black incomes converged? And here is where the paper gets into the politically incorrect:

Modern empirical work has indicated that cognitive test scores—interpreted as measures of productivity not captured by educational attainment—can account for a large share of black-white wage and earnings gaps (Neal and Johnson, 1996; Johnson and Neal, 1998; Fryer, 2010; Carruthers and Wanamaker, 2016). This literature documents large black-white test score gaps that emerge early in childhood (Fryer and Levitt, 2013), persist into adulthood, and appear to reflect genuine skills related to labor market productivity rather than racial bias in the testing instrument (Neal and Johnson, 1996). While these modern score gaps test-scoreshave not been fully accounted for by measured background characteristics (Neal, 2006; Fryer and Levitt, 2006; Fryer, 2010), they likely relate to suppressed black skill acquisition during slavery and subsequent educational discrimination against blacks spanning multiple generations (Margo, 2016).

…A basic requirement of this hypothesis is that Asians in 1940 possessed greater skills than blacks, conditional on education. In fact, previous research on Japanese Americans in CA support this theory. Evidence from a variety of cognitive tests given to students in CA in the early 20th century suggest test score parity of Japanese Americans with local whites after accounting for linguistic and cultural discrepancies, and superiority of Japanese Americans in academic performance in grades 7-12 (Ichihashi, 1932; Bell, 1935).

Hilger supplements these earlier findings with a small dataset from the Army General Classification Test:

…these groups’ cognitive test performance can be studied using AGCT scores in WWII enlistment records from 1943. Remarkably, these data are large enough to compare Chinese, blacks and whites living in CA for these earlier cohorts. In addition, this sample contains enough young men past their early 20s to compare test scores conditional on final educational attainment, which can help to shed light on mechanisms underlying the conditional earnings gap documented above.

Figure XII plots the distribution of normalized test score residuals by race from an OLS regression of test z-scores on dummies for education and age. Chinese Americans and whites have strikingly similar conditional skill distributions, while the black skill distribution lags behind by nearly a full standard deviation. Table VIII shows that this pattern holds separately within broad educational categories. These high test scores of Chinese Americans provide strong evidence that the AGCT was not hopelessly biased against non-whites, as Neal and Johnson (1996) also find for the AFQT (the successor to the AGCT) in more recent cohorts.

From Hilger’s conclusion:

Using a large and broadly representative sample of WWII enlistee test scores from 1943 both on their own and matched to the 1940 census, I document the striking fact that these test scores can account for a large share of the black, but not Asian, conditional earnings gap in 1940. This result suggests that Asians earnings gaps in 1940 stemmed primarily from taste-based or some other non-statistical discrimination, in sharp contrast with the black earnings gap which largely reflected statistical discrimination based on skill gaps inherited from centuries of slavery and educational exclusion. The rapid divergence of conditional earnings between CA-born Asians and blacks after 1940—once CA abandoned its most severe discriminatory laws and practices—provides the first direct empirical evidence in support of the hypothesis of Arrow (1972) and others that competitive labor markets tend to eliminate earnings gaps based purely on taste-based but not statistical discrimination.

Hilger’s other research is here.

The best non-fiction books of 2016

by on November 28, 2016 at 12:28 am in Books | Permalink

In most cases, my review is behind the link, though a few times it leads merely to the Amazon page.  If I wrote only a few words about the book, I have reproduced them directly in this post.  And the books are listed, more or less, in the order I read them.  Apologies if I forgot your book, each year I do neglect a few.  Here goes:

Robert J. Gordon, Rise and Fall of American Growth, my review is here.

Marco Santagana, Dante: The Story of His Life.

Melancholy, by László F. Földényi.

Ji Xianlin, The Cowshed: Memoirs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  The classic account of its kind, in this edition brilliantly translated and presented.

Robin Hanson, The Age of Em.  Unlike any other on this list, this work created a new genre.

Benedict Anderson, A Life Beyond Boundaries.

Tom Bissell, Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve.  Fun, engaging, and informative, worthy of the “best of the year non-fiction” list.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History.

Srinath Raghavan, India’s War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia.

Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon, Continental Drift: Britain and Europe from the End of Empire to the Rise of Euroscepticism.

Marie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying.

Peter Parker, Housman Country: Into the Heart of England.  It’s already out in the UK, which is where I bought my copy.

Lawrence Rosen, Two Arabs, a Berber, and a Jew: Entangled Lives in Morocco.  Superb descriptive anthropology.

Lyndal Roper, Martin Luther: Renegade and ProphetDue out in February, the UK edition is already out.  Substantive and delightful on every page.

Kerry Brown, CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping.

Richard van Glahn, The Economic History of China: From Antiquity through the 19th Century.

Christopher Goscha, The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam.  The best general history of Vietnam I know, and it does not obsess over “the Vietnam War.”  Readable and instructive on pretty much every page.

Andrew Scott Cooper, The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.

William Domnarski, Richard Posner.

Peter Laurence, Becoming Jane Jacobs.

Daniel Gormally, Insanity, Passion, and Addiction: A Year Inside the Chess World.  A personal favorite, you can read this as a study in labor economics as to why people hang on to crummy jobs.

Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.  Short descriptions of places you ought to visit, such as ossuaries, micronations, museums of invisible microbes, the floating school of Lagos, the Mistake House of Elsah, Illinois, Bangkok’s Museum of Counterfeit Goods, and the world’s largest Tesla coil in Makarau, controlled by Alan Gibbs of New Zealand.  The selection is conceptual, so I like it.  I will keep this book.

Jean Lucey Pratt, A Notable Woman.

Ben H. Shepherd, Hitler’s Soldiers: The German Army in the Third Reich.

Sebastian Mallaby, The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan

Tim Harford, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

Julian Gewirtz, Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China.

Marina Abramović, Walk Through Walls.

Christopher de Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.

shah

Here is Arnold Kling’s list.  Here is my list of the year’s best fiction.

I would describe this year as thick in wonderful, superb books, though I remain uncertain which of these is truly the year’s winner.  So many plausible contenders!  I can only promise I’ll continue to cover what comes out between now and the end of the year, and apologies if one or two of those above are from late 2015.

Unsexy Infrastructure: Lock and Dam

by on November 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm in Economics | Permalink

The NYTimes has a good piece on dam infrastructure:

Built in 1929, Lock No. 52 sits in a quiet corner of southern Illinois that happens to be the busiest spot on America’s inland waterways, where traffic from the eastern United States meets and passes traffic from the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. More than 80 million tons of grain, coal, fuel and other goods — worth over $22 billion — move through here each year.

The problem is that the old dam is crumbling and a new one is way behind schedule:

The average delay at No. 52 in October and November was 15 to 20 hours. At the moment, No. 52’s sister dam downriver, No. 53, is adding 48 more hours to the wait.

Dealing with both dams, it can take five days to travel just 100 miles on this stretch of the Ohio River.

It’s not just dams, there is a lot of room for relatively simple infrastructure projects which aren’t sexy like high-speed rail but are valuable. As I wrote in 2012 (no indent):

Rail congestion in Chicago, for example, is so bad that freight passing through Chicago often slows down to less than the pace of an electric wheel chair. Improvements are sometimes as simple as replacing 19th century technology with 20th century (not even 21st century!) technology. Even today (2012, improvements are being made, albeit slowly AT), for example:

…engineers at some points have to get out of their cabins, walk the length of the train back to the switch — a mile or more — operate the switch, and then trudge back to their place at the head of the train before setting out again.

In a useful article Phillip Longman points out that there are choke points on the Eastern Seaboard which severely reduce the potential for rail:

…railroads can capture only 2 percent of the container traffic traveling up and down the eastern seaboard because of obscure choke points, such as the Howard Street Tunnel in downtown Baltimore. The tunnel is too small to allow double-stack container trains through, and so antiquated it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. When it shut down in 2001 due to a fire, trains had to divert as far as Cincinnati to get around it. Owner CSX has big plans for capturing more truck traffic from I-95, and for creating room for more passenger trains as well, but can’t do any of this until it finds the financing to fix or bypass this tunnel and make other infrastructure improvements down the line. In 2007, it submitted a detailed plan to the U.S. Department of Transportation to build a steel wheel interstate from Washington to Miami, but no federal funding has been forthcoming.

Longman points out that:

Railroads have gone from having too much track to having not enough. Today, the nation’s rail network is just 94,942 miles, less than half of what it was in 1970, yet it is hauling 137 percent more freight, making for extreme congestion and longer shipping times.

…. And it’s not just rail, sewers and the water supply are another example. Consider:

The average D.C. water pipe is 77 years old, but a great many were laid in the 19th century. Sewers are even older. Most should have been replaced decades ago.

Does that sound like the infrastructure of an advanced nation?