Category: Data Source

Who are Britain’s most influential public intellectuals?

Here is one list, from Prospect magazine. Here is some discussion. Economists include John Kay, Samuel Brittan, Martin Wolf, Adair Turner, Robert Skidelsky, Amartya Sen, and Richard Layard. You have a chance to vote for the top five of the one hundred. Here is a Richard Posner list of public intellectuals, not restricted to the UK. Here is a related review of Posner.

Do you love Dad more than Mom?

Sons and daughters plan to spend just $86 on their fathers this year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. That’s $12 less than the $98 they spent on their mothers on Mother’s Day last month…

But if you interpret these figures in per hour of labor terms, I would say that Mom is greatly underappreciated. And let’s not forget that these expenditures, in reality, often come from Dad rather than from the kids.

What’s the bad news for Dad?

This year the average family spent $13 less on Dad than last year. It gets worse:

While nearly 81 percent of Americans celebrated Mother’s Day, only 72 percent plan to celebrate Father’s Day tomorrow [today], according to the survey of 6,899 persons.

Here is the full story.

The world’s 100 largest economic entities

Fifty-one are corporations, and General Motors comes in at number twenty-three, just ahead of Denmark (the data are from 2000, Wal-Mart should be higher than listed, among other changes).

Here is the full list, courtesy of the ever-interesting Geekpress.com.

To be sure, these comparisons are problematic. Yearly sales are not strictly comparable to gross domestic product. Furthermore countries “hold” human capital and other forms of wealth in ways that corporations do not. Read Eric Rasmusen on the immense wealth of the United States. So these measures underestimate the economic significance of nations relative to corporations. Still they offer an object lesson in the importance of effective culture and incentives. How should Bangladesh feel, 133 million people strong, with a yearly gdp smaller than the sales of Hewlett-Packard?

Addendum: Here is more detail on why the comparisons are misleading. In a nutshell, gdp figures are based on “value added.”

Government spending: Brad asks me to tell my readers certain truths

Read him, he is correct that counting the number of agency spending cuts does not measure overall fiscal responsibility. My original post, titled “Has Bush Cut Back Government Bureaucracy?,” noted that he is 0-15 in this regard. That relates to my title, conclusion, and what I put in bold face print. I didn’t mean to endorse the data [I wrote “This is a highly imperfect proxy…”] for all other purposes, including for overall measures of fiscal responsibility across Presidents. And I am happy to report that, in my opinion, Clinton had better economic policies than most American Presidents, fiscal policy included.

This issue has come up a few times lately, so I will restate our general policy. There is writing, and there is linking. A link does not itself constitute a specifically inferable opinion on what is being linked to.

While we are on the topic, Brad has another excellent post about government spending under Reagan.

Facts about pets

1. There are 65 million dogs in the US and 77 million cats.

2. Seventy-six million households own a pet (roughly 3 in 4).

3. We will spend $34 billion on pets in 2004 (up from $17 billion in 1994): $1.6 b. on the pets themselves, $14 b. for food, and $8 b. for veterinarian care.

4. There are slightly more male dogs than female dogs and slightly more female cats than male cats. This suggests that we honor the cultural notion that dogs are “male” and cats as “female.” What happens to the animals that do not fit this gender profiling? You don’t want to know.

5. Some owners of Vietnamese Pot-bellied pigs found their new pets too aggressive, and they did something surprising. They took them to a slaughter house. Then they did something really surprising. “In some cases, the owners took the meat from their pigs home, which certainly goes against our traditional thinking about what we do with our pets.”

6. …more than 60 percent of cat and dog owners include news about their pets in their holiday greetings, 27 percent take their pets along for family photographs and pictures with Santa, and 79 percent give their pets holiday or birthday presents.

7. “89 percent of pet owners believe that their pet understands all or some of what they say.” [Read here for more.]

These are all quotations from the ever-excellent Grant McCracken. Grant concludes:

We have taken our peculiar idea of the person and conferred it on our pets. This is an exceedingly odd and interesting transformational exercise. After all, these animals are by human standards deeply stupid. When we treat them as persons, we engage in an astonishing act of metamorphsis. But implausibility does not discourage us. We are a nation of individuals and we have decided that our pets are going to be individuals, too.

Grant is an anthropologist who writes about the boundaries of anthropology, culture and economics. For something slightly more prurient by him, (but still PG-13), read his post on the economics of the bare mid-riff.

Girls’ names are more inventive

Her parents called her Apple Blythe Alison Martin, hardly a common moniker. The trend, however, is more general:

…the “mutation rate” in names is higher for girls than for boys. Parents, in other words, are more liable to be inventive when choosing a name for a baby girl. The researchers have found that for every 10,000 daughters born in America there is an average of 2.3 new names. For sons, the figure is 1.6.

Why might this be?

One possibility is that in a society where family names are inherited patrilineally, parents feel constrained by tradition when it comes to choosing first names for their sons. As a result, boys often end up with the names of their ancestors. But when those same parents come to choose names for their daughters, they feel less constrained and more able to choose based on style and beauty.

Here is the full story. Here is another summary, with a link to the original research. African-Americans appear to be much more creative in naming than others, see Alex’s discussion.

The bottom line:

Most new parents copy existing names when naming their babies, say Bentley and his colleague Matthew Hahn of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Nonetheless, the overall distribution looks like a product of random copying, they demonstrate. Bentley and Hahn modelled the allotment of baby names in the United States during the twentieth century. The names follow a pattern called a power law: most names are present at a very low frequency, while a small handful are very common.

That being said, it remains a mystery why parents take more chances with the names of their baby girls. But here is the best part of the article, a paean to the leadership abilities of my parents:

But that does not explain the rise of Tyler, which first appeared in the top 1,000 in the 1950s, and reached the top ten in 1992.

I can remember a time when the only other “Tyler” in my mental universe was Henry Kissinger’s dog.

Who are the hardest workers in the world?

The answer surprised me.

Keep in mind, though, that the figures are for hours per person, not hours per working person. So a country with a low unemployment rate will do relatively well in the rankings, even if it is full of slackers.

That same country has: “one of the strongest levels of economic growth, but donates the fourth-lowest level of official foreign aid per person at $54 a year, and has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita.”

McLeod’s Daughters anyone?

The most dangerous jobs

Timber cutters come in first place, here is the longer list. Being a timber cutter is 26 times more dangerous than the average American job (the link has wage data as well). Here is one morbid description of a timber accident; here is another detailed account.

By the way, delivering pizzas is one of the most dangerous occupations as well. Being an Alaskan pilot is especially hazardous although it does not count as a separate occupation. In a thirty year career you have a one in eight chance of dying; flying into a mountain during bad weather is the most common boo-boo. If you look at absolute numbers only, more truck drivers die on the job (808, in 2002) than any other occupation.

Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the original pointer.

Which country does the most to help the world’s poor?

Foreign Policy magazine will tell you it is the Netherlands. If you click on the link, you will see their rankings. (Note that the paper edition has more detail and less confusing visuals.) Denmark and Sweden are next in line, the U.S. comes in seventh. Japan comes in last among the developed nations. The metrics are adjusted to per capita terms.

Unlike many other studies, this metric goes beyond foreign aid payments. It also considers immigration policy, trade, and investment as means of helping the world’s poor.

Looking at the index, the aid component is too heavily weighted and the immigration component is underweighted. I find the issue-by-issue scores most informative. Canada has the best immigration score, the U.S. is a close second. The U.S. has the best trade score. The Netherlands and Germany have the highest investment scores. The Scandinavian countries have the highest aid scores, by far. Norway has the lowest trade score, largely because of its high agricultural tariffs. By the way, here is an earlier MR post on the importance of remittances.

The bottom line: OK, I am an American. But it is hard for me to resist pushing the United States into the top slot. Can we look at all of history since the 1930s? If you consider military and cultural influence over the long haul, I think we have it clinched.

Where Your Money is Going

The federal government is projected to spend $21,671 per household in 2004…$3,500 more than in 2001. Tax revenues will reach $16,981 per household through a combination of the income tax, payroll tax, gas tax, estate tax and assorted business taxes typically passed on through higher prices and smaller investment returns. The remaining $4,690 represents the deficit per household, which will be dumped in the laps of our children.

Here is a breakdown of where that $21,671 goes:

Social Security and Medicare: $7,165. The 15.3 percent payroll tax, split evenly between the employer and employee, covers most of these costs.

Defense: $4,240. Lawmakers drastically cut defense spending throughout the 1990s. The September 11 attacks reversed this trend, and the $1,300 per household increase since 2001 has returned defense spending to its historical levels.

Low-income programs: $3,479. Nearly half of this spending subsidizes state Medicaid programs that provide health services to poor families. In line with economywide health-care trends, Medicaid costs are rising 10 percent per year. Other low-income spending includes: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, housing subsidies, child-care subsidies, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and low-income tax credits.

Interest on the federal debt: $1,460. Washington is $7 trillion in debt. It owes $4 trillion to the public that owns its bonds and the rest to other federal agencies. Record-low interest rates have reduced the interest payments by $1,000 per household over the last six years. As interest rates climb back to normal levels, so will these costs to taxpayers.

Federal employee retirement benefits: $835. This funds the retirement and disability benefits of federal employees, including the military. Interest from federal trust funds covers part of this spending.

Health research and regulation: $619. Health-research spending has doubled since 1998, and nearly all of that spending growth has been concentrated in the National Institute of Health. This category also includes the Food and Drug Administration and dozens of grant programs for health providers.

Education: $583. Primarily a state and local function, 8 percent of education spending comes from Washington. Federal education spending has surged 76 percent since the 2001 enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act. Most federal dollars go to low-income school districts, special education, and college student financial aid.

Veterans benefits: $565. The federal government provides income and health benefits to veterans. Spending is up 34 percent since 2001.

Unemployment benefits: $451. Unemployment costs fluctuate based on the number of unemployed Americans. Recent costs have ranged between $220 per household in 2000 (when unemployment was low) and $526 per household in 2003 (when unemployment was higher). This year, unemployment costs are decreasing as job growth continues.

Highways and mass transit: $400. Most highway and mass transit spending is financed by the 18.4 cent per-gallon federal gas tax. Per-household costs have increased from $254 in 1998 to $400 this year, and the current highway reauthorization bill in Congress would boost them substantially.

Justice administration: $389. Justice spending includes federal attorneys and prisons, as well as law enforcement grant programs. New homeland security costs have added $100 per household to justice spending.

International affairs: $320. This includes foreign economic and military assistance, operation of U.S. Embassies abroad, and contributions to organizations such as the United Nations. International spending has doubled since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The programs listed above cover $20,506 per household. The remaining $1,165 is allocated to all other federal programs, including farm subsidies, environmental programs, space exploration, air transportation and community development.

Here is the full story, I’ve added the bold face. Here is a Charles Murray proposal to let taxpayers choose which parts of government they will finance. You can’t lower your tax bill but you can direct your funds to one department rather than another. The obvious problem is that everyone will wish to send their money to the glamorous programs, but still the sentiment is a good one.

P.S. Don’t forget to send in your check. That’s today’s bottom line, no matter what else I have to say.

Econ Journal Watch

The inaugural issue of Econ Journal Watch has just been published (I am an advisor and have a paper in the first issue). EJW publishes comments on articles appearing in economics journals. Other journals also publish comments but they are rare and generally restricted to pointing out logical or mathematical flaws in a chain of deductions. EJW, in contrast, seeks to take on the unrealistic assumptions, omission of relevant facts, and phony claims of relevance that pervade many economics articles.

EJW also has a number of recurring features such as “Do Economists Reach a Conclusion?.” Papers in this section test Truman’s quip about needing a one-handed economist. In the first issue, Rick Geddes looks at the postal monopoly and Mark Thornton at drug prohibition. When attention is focused on those economists who have actually studied the issue and reached a policy conclusion both authors find a surprising consensus in favor of reform.

Lots of other interesting material. I’ve put this one in our permanent list of resources (left hand side bar).

Beliefs about welfare

Why does Western Europe spend so much more on welfare payments than does the United States?

Why is the latter system (45% of GDP) bigger than the former system (30% of GDP)?

While 29% of Americans believe that poor people are trapped in poverty, 60% of Europeans share this belief.

While 30% of Americans believe that luck determines income, 54% of Europeans share this belief.

While 60% of Americans believe that poor people are lazy, 24% of Europeans share this belief.

Robert Tagorda continues with the following:

These statistics come from the Economist, which has a fascinating review of Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference. Authored by Harvard scholars Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, this forthcoming book argues that institutional and political differences lead to contrasting American and European approaches.

More provocatively [we now move to Tagorda citing The Economist]:

The other half of the explanation lies in America’s racial diversity. In spite of 20 years of unprecedented immigration, European countries, particularly smaller ones like Portugal and those of Scandinavia, are still highly racially homogenous. America, by contrast, has great diversity, which is especially wide in some states. In addition, the poor in America are disproportionately non-white. Non-Hispanic whites are 71% of America’s population but only 46% of the poor.

Racial diversity in individual states is correlated with the generosity of welfare. For instance, the authors find that in 1990 Aid to Families with Dependent Children ranged from over $800 per family per month in mainly white Alaska to less than $150 in Alabama and Mississippi, where almost one-third of the population is black. Even after adjustment for inter-state differences in average incomes, the correlation with race remained strong. Across countries, too, racial diversity goes with low government spending on poverty relief.

The reason, argue the authors, is that “race matters”, and they marshal statistical evidence, much of it from opinion surveys, to back this up. People are likely to support welfare if they live close to recipients of their own race; but are antipathetic if they live near recipients from another race. The divergent attitudes of Europeans and Americans to the poor are underwritten by the fact that the poor in Europe tend to be ethnically the same as most other folk. In America, their skin is often a different colour. [Emphasis added by Tagorda.]

My take: I buy the basic results. The sorry truth is that a fully cosmopolitan society is an impossible ideal. Furthermore the proffered questions don’t fully get at the real beliefs of many Americans, which is that most poor people deserve their status. (I think some of the poor are lazy, but being a determinist I don’t assign fault.) That being said, it is such false beliefs that keep American welfare spending at reasonable, non-European levels. By the way, here is a related paper by the authors.

Measuring globalization

Foreign Policy magazine has just published its globalization index. The top five?

1. Ireland
2. Switzerland
3. Netherlands
4. Finland
5. Canada

The losers include Indonesia, Egypt, India (outsourcing has not taken over the country), and Iran. The index includes factors of economic integration, personal contact, technology, and political engagement. The link includes the full data plus a detailed discussion of how the index was constructed.

Check out this graph, levels of globalization vs. life expectancy. Globalization vs. religious participation is harder to read but interesting nonetheless.

My favorite is levels of globalization vs. women’s well-being, take a guess which way it goes. This graph should be enshrined in the undergraduate curriculum of every major university.

Economic freedom in North America

The Fraser Institute has just put out its Economic Freedom of North America, 2004 report, here is the full and lengthy text, including all the data.

And how do the freedom rankings look? If you look at all sources of government intervention, the winners are:

1. Delaware
2. Colorado
3. Georgia
4. Nevada
5. New Hampshire

Louisiana comes in seventh, Alberta comes in ninth. Here is a short piece on enterprise culture in Alberta, here is a press release on possible declines in economic freedom in Alberta.

The eight biggest losers are all Canadian provinces, with Prince Edward Island as the least free. Here is a bureaucratic report on their current economic situation. Here is a summary of other Canadian results, including a recent upward freedom trend in Canada as a whole.

As for the States, West Virginia comes in last; for the full list go the linked report. If you look only at “sub-national” freedom (state-level regulations but not federal impacts), Colorado moves into first place, most of the other results do not change very much.

Economic freedom and prosperity are strongly correlated (Louisiana is an outlier), although the direction of causality of course can be debated. Here is a link to other Fraser data sources.