Category: Economics

Our three new hires at George Mason economics

Nataliya Naumenko

Northwestern Ph.D, Brown post doc, Joel Mokyr student.  Here is her job market paper:

Job Market Paper

The Political Economy of Famine: the Ukrainian Famine of 1933 Download Job Market Paper (pdf)

Abstract: The famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine killed as many as 2.6 million people out of a population of approximately 30 million. Three main explanations have been offered: negative weather shock, poor economic policies, and genocide. This paper uses variation in exposure to poor government policies and in ethnic composition within Ukraine to study the impact of policies on mortality, and the relationship between ethnic composition and mortality. It documents that (1) the data do not support the negative weather shock explanation: 1931 and 1932 weather predicts harvest roughly equal to the 1925 — 1929 average; (2) bad government policies (collectivization and the lack of favored industries) significantly increased mortality; (3) collectivization increased mortality due to drop in production on collective farms and not due to overextraction from collectives (although the evidence is indirect); (4) back-of-the-envelope calculations show that collectivization explains at least 31\% of excess deaths; (5) ethnic Ukrainians seem more likely to die, even after controlling for exposure to poor Soviet economic policies; (6) Ukrainians were more exposed to policies that later led to mortality (collectivization and the lack of favored industries); (7) enforcement of government policies did not vary with ethnic composition (e.g., there is no evidence that collectivization was enforced more harshly on Ukrainians). These results provide several important takeaways. Most importantly, the evidence is consistent with both sides of the debate (economic policies vs genocide). (1) backs those arguing that the famine was man-made. (2) — (4) support those who argue that mortality was due to bad policy. (5) is consistent with those who argue that ethnic Ukrainians were targeted. For (6) and (7) to support genocide, it has to be the case that Stalin had the foresight that his policies would fail and lead to famine mortality years after they were introduced (and therefore disproportionately exposed Ukrainians to them).

Jonathan Schulz

Cultural economics and economic history, St. Gallen Ph.D, Harvard post doc, co-author with Joe Henrich.

Job market paper, “Catholic Church, Kin Networks, and Institutional Development“:

Political institutions vary widely around the world, yet the origin of this variation is not well understood. This study tests the hypothesis that the Catholic Church’s medieval marriage policies dissolved extended kin networks and thereby fostered inclusive institutions. In a difference-in-difference setting, I demonstrate that exposure to the Church predicts the formation of inclusive, self-governed commune cities before the year 1500CE. Moreover, within medieval Christian Europe, stricter regional and temporal cousin marriage prohibitions are likewise positively associated with communes. Strengthening this finding, I show that longer Church exposure predicts lower cousin marriage rates; in turn, lower cousin marriage rates predict higher civicness and more inclusive institutions today. These associations hold at the regional, ethnicity and country level. Twentieth-century cousin marriage rates explain more than 50 percent of variation in democracy across countries today.

Jonathan P. Beauchamp

Harvard Ph.D, assistant professor of economics at University of Toronto, he works in the new field genonomics and has co-authored with David Cesarini.  Here is his presentation on GWAS of risk tolerance:

Here is his paper (with co-authors) “Genome-wide association analyses of risk tolerance and risky behaviors in over one million individuals identify hundreds of loci and shared genetic influences.”

I am very much looking forward to their arrival, they all seem like great colleagues, and I am honored to have played a role on the recruiting committee.

Compensating differentials

And even though [David] Crosby underwent a liver transplant in 1994, all four are active today. Does this mean we’ll see them together onstage again? [Graham] Nash stated in an interview not long ago that the band was offered $100 million to go on tour. But that’s not going to happen, he said, for one simple reason: “We don’t like each other.”

That is from David Kirby’s review of the other CSNY biography to have come out this month, also a good book.

*An Economist Walks into a Brothel*

That is the new Allison Schraeger book, the subtitle is And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk, and here is one excerpt:

In many ways, the brothel is like any other workplace.  There are weekly staff meetings (in a departure from the tradition at most companies, the women often wear outlandish hats and drink tea), access to financial advisers, performance bonuses, and even corporate housing…

But where Hof [the owner-manager] provided value was by reducing risk for both buyers and sellers of sex.

The top-earning woman at that brothel pulls in about $600,000 a year, and about half of that goes to Hof.  And to audition for the brothel, women have to invest about $1500 in upfront costs (travel, clothing), with no guarantee of a job at the end of the process.

Here is an NPR interview with Allison.

Kevin Williamson reviews *Big Business*

Here is part of the review:

Professor Cowen has a reputation as a contrarian, but that is not exactly right. He has a great talent for revealing truths that are right under our noses but oddly overlooked — or willfully obscured. His latest book, Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, is an excellent, easily digestible exercise in exactly that. Why is it, he asks, that Big Business is not more widely admired and appreciated? Large-scale corporate enterprises provide a great many jobs; relative to smaller firms, they typically pay their workers more and treat them better, invest more in research and development, are more productive and more innovative, and conduct their business at least as ethically. He knocks down a series of myths about excessive executive compensation, “quarterly capitalism” obsessed with short-term profits, monopolistic temptations, and the purportedly outsize role of finance in our economy.

On the last of those, Professor Cowen offers one of his extraordinarily useful, obvious-if-you-think-about-it insights: The argument that finance has grown too large as a share of U.S. economic activity is based in part on the fact that in the 1960s finance accounted for about 4 percent of GDP whereas it recently has been above 8 percent. That’s the wrong comparison, he argues: Finance is engaged in the business of managing wealth, not in the business of managing current income flows exclusively; it makes more sense, then, to examine the share of assets that the financial sector controls, which, as is turns out, has not changed very much over the years, floating around 2 percent. While other social critics have written great volumes about “financialization” — where it comes from, what it means, whether it is desirable — Professor Cowen first stops to ask whether the thing that everybody knows is happening is in fact happening.

There is much more at the link.

Quadratic Voting in the Field

The Democratic caucus in the Colorado state legislature wanted to get their member’s feedback on the bills most important to them. That’s hard to do because each member has an incentive to claim that their pet bill is by far the most important bill to them. Thus, Chris Hansen, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who also happens to have a PhD in economics, decided to use a modified form of quadratic voting. Each voter was given 100 tokens to vote and the price of x votes for a policy was x^2 so you could buy 10 votes on your favorite policy for 100 but you could also buy 5 votes on each of your four favorite policies (5^2+5^2+5^2+5^2=100).

Wired: So in mid-April, the representatives voted. Sure, each one could have put ten tokens on their pet project. But consider the or: Nine votes on one (cost: 81 tokens) but then three votes on another (cost: nine tokens). Or five votes each (25 tokens) on four different bills!

In Colorado at least, it worked, kind of. “There was a pretty clear signal on which items, which bills, were the most important for the caucus to fund,” Hansen says. The winner was Senate Bill 85, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, with 60 votes. “And then there’s kind of a long tail,” Hansen says. “The difference was much more clear with quadratic voting.”

Is the IT Revolution Over? An Asset Pricing View

I develop a method that structures financial market data to forecast economic outcomes. I use it to study the IT sector’s transition to its long-run share in the US economy. The method uses a model which links economy-wide growth with IT’s market valuation to match transition data on macroeconomic quantities, the sector’s life cycle patterns, and, importantly, market valuation ratios. My central estimates indicate that the revolution ends between 2028 and 2034 and that future average labor productivity growth will fall to 1.7 percent from the 2.7 recorded over 1974–2015. I show empirically the IT sector’s price-dividend ratio univariately explains over half of the variation in future productivity growth.

By Colin Ward.  Speculative, as they say!  Still, interesting to see someone go through the exercise.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The ferry subsidy culture that is New York City

One of the new routes Mr. de Blasio announced this year — between Coney Island and Wall Street — is projected to require a subsidy from the city of $24.75 for every passenger, according to a report from the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization.

The commission said that the average subsidy for each passenger in the system’s first year of operation was $10.73, far more than the $6.60 subsidy the de Blasio administration originally estimated.

…Although it would cost $27.50 per person to ride the ferry from Coney Island to Wall Street, according to the Citizens Budget Commission’s report, the estimated 1,100 commuters will only pay $2.75.

Those are some high costs for a boat that sits on the water…here is the full story by Patrick McGeehan (NYT).

Susceptibility-based growth predictions

Modern macroeconomic theories were unable to foresee the last Great Recession and could neither predict its prolonged duration nor the recovery rate. They are based on supply−demand equilibria that do not exist during recessionary shocks. Here we focus on resilience as a nonequilibrium property of networked production systems and develop a linear response theory for input−output economics. By calibrating the framework to data from 56 industrial sectors in 43 countries between 2000 and 2014, we find that the susceptibility of individual industrial sectors to economic shocks varies greatly across countries, sectors, and time. We show that susceptibility-based growth predictions that take sector- and country-specific recovery into account, outperform—by far—standard econometric models. Our results are analytically rigorous, empirically testable, and flexible enough to address policy-relevant scenarios. We illustrate the latter by estimating the impact of recently imposed tariffs on US imports (steel and aluminum) on specific sectors across European countries.

That is the abstract of a new piece by Peter Klimek, Sebastian Poledna, and Stefan Thurner in Nature Communications.  Via the excellent Charles Klingman.

Will China capture the main benefits from Belt and Road?

Maybe not, that is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one excerpt:

I was struck by a recent deal between China and Montenegro that gave China the right to access land in Montenegro as collateral, in case Montenegro does not repay certain loans. This has upset people in Montenegro, and it makes China seem like an imperialist country with territorial designs. But there’s also a more benign interpretation: China is demanding land as collateral because it knows Montenegro is not creditworthy. The loan sent Montenegro’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product to almost 80 percent, from 63 percent in 2012.

To put that in context, let’s say you heard of a loan shark who threatened to break the fingers of borrowers who did not repay. You would sooner infer that was a risky, so-so investment rather than a sure winner.

In essence, China is playing the role of loan shark, and that is not obviously the way to get ahead in today’s world. If China did claim some land in Montenegro as recompense for a bad loan, it might find holding the asset to be more trouble than it’s worth, much as Amazon decided to depart from a deal with New York because of hostility in parts of the city and state governments. If China tried to sell the land, a potential new buyer could never be sure of having enforceable title to the property.

Another problem with Belt and Road, at least from a Chinese point of view, is that China is dealing with many countries that are much smaller in terms of their GDP. There’s a tendency for small countries to renege on deals in hopes that big creditors won’t bother to make an example of them. You might think that smaller countries are easier for China to push around, and there is some truth to that. At the same time, both China and the small countries know that the small countries are not entirely masters of their fates, and so punishment strategies can be counterproductive or occasion more resentment than it is worth. Has the U.S. found it so easy to induce Honduras and Guatemala to stem the flow of migrants toward the border?

And this:

China has proven remarkably poor at supplementing Belt and Road with soft power persuasive techniques using diplomatic and cultural influence. This is no accident, nor does it reflect some kind of stubborn unwillingness of the Chinese to learn to wield soft power tools. Rather, the problem is structural. Since the Chinese government does not derive legitimacy through normal democratic channels, much of its diplomacy and foreign policy have to be channeled to please domestic audiences, whether the citizens or coalitions within the Communist Party. The necessary internal presentation shapes incentives for Chinese foreign policy, and that in turn alienate the other countries China is dealing with.

There is much more at the link.

Enraging dinosaur bone markets in everything

For sale on eBay: what’s claimed to be “maybe the only” young Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered for $2.95 million. Paleontologists decried the sale, saying that the specimen’s cost was artificially inflating the cost of other valuable fossils. “Only casts and other replicas of vertebrate fossils should be traded, not the fossils themselves,” an open letter from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Bethesda, Maryland. read. “Scientifically important fossils like the juvenile tyrannosaur are clues to our collective natural heritage and deserve to be held in public trust.”

…“The asking price is just absurd,” one researcher said.

Here is the full story, via Ze’ev.  Might this increase the incentive to find such fossils?

The Effect of Economic Vulnerability on Protest Participation in the National Football League

Also known as “Incentives matter”:

What distinguishes between National Football League (NFL) players who participated in protests during the National Anthem and those who did not? Does the finding of a personal vulnerability constraint in high‐risk activism apply to this relatively elite population?

Protest participation during 2017 was determined for every NFL player, along with several variables pertaining to their performance, compensation, and the political atmosphere of their team.

Bivariate and multivariate tests both reveal that protest participation was far greater among players with large guaranteed contracts and among players who were well regarded for their performance.

Economic vulnerability ranges widely within the NFL such that players hold contracts offering guaranteed payments of anywhere between $92 million and nothing at all. The data here suggest that the personal vulnerability constraint documented in protest participation research also applies to this unique population of high‐profile people engaged in a most high‐profile protest. Documenting the existence of these constraints helps offer a more systematic foundation to our understanding of political activism behavior among athletes.

That is from a newly published article by David Niven.

Tax returns should not be made public information

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is an excerpt:

This idea has been suggested recently by Binyamin Appelbaum of The New York Times and also Matt Yglesias of Vox. In Norway it has been policy since 1814 and Finland does something similar.

I’m afraid, though, that universal tax transparency would boost U.S. economic inequality, take away second chances and devastate privacy.


Or think about the dating market. Tax transparency would give high-earning men and women a bigger advantage and hurt their lower-earning competitors. Do we really wish to do that in an age of growing income inequality and diminished upward mobility?

Is it better if your parents and all your friends can see how well your new job is going or how much in royalties your last book earned? As it stands, we exist in a slightly more comfortable social equilibrium where your close associates assume the best or at least give you the benefit of the doubt. Transparency of earnings would increase stress and make failure and disappointment all too publicly evident. Or entrepreneurs with long-term projects which are going to make it — but not right away — might face too many social or family pressures to quit.

Snooping through the tax system would definitely happen. Evidence from Norway indicates that in 2007, 40 percent of Norwegian adults checked somebody’s tax information online, higher than the penetration of Facebook in Norway. Anonymity of the snooper was removed in 2014, and visits fell dramatically (88 percent by one measure), but still you can imagine paying others to snoop for you or the information eventually getting out over time.

The result of tax-record publication was that “this game of income comparisons negatively affected the well-being of poorer Norwegians while at the same time boosting the self-esteem of the rich,” according to Ricardo Perez-Truglia, a UCLA economics professor writing last week in VoxEU. There’s even a smartphone app that creates income leaderboards from the data on your Facebook friends.

Just as personal freedom and economic freedom are not so easily separable, the same is true for personal privacy and financial privacy.  Are there actually people out there worried about Facebook privacy violations who wish to make all tax returns public and on-line?

The cost of Parisian Gothic cathedrals

This thesis examines the implicit costs of building the Gothic churches of the Paris Basin built between 1100-1250, and attempts to estimate the percentage of the regional economy that was devoted to build them. I estimate that over this 150-year period, on average, 21.5 percent of the regional economy was devoted to the construction of these Gothic churches, 1.5 percent of which is directly related to the implicit cost of labor.

That is from an honors thesis by Amy Denning, joint work with Keith Jakee.

New results on the China shock, furthermore the China shock is largely over

Using Census micro data we find that the impact of Chinese import competition on US manufacturing had a striking regional variation. In high-human capital areas (for example, much of the West Coast or New England) most manufacturing job losses came from establishments industry switching to services. The establishment remained open but changed to research, design, management or wholesale. In the low human-capital areas (for example, much of the South and mid-West) manufacturing job-losses came from plant closure without much offsetting gain in service employment. Offshoring appears to drive these manufacturing job losses – the Chinese trade impact arose primarily in large importing firms that were simultaneously expanding service sector employment. Hence, our data suggest Chinese trade redistributed jobs from manufacturing in lower income areas to services in higher income areas. Finally, the impact of Chinese imports appear to have disappeared after 2007 – we find strong employment impacts from 2000 to 2007, but nothing since from 2008 to 2015.

That is from a new paper by Nicholas Bloom, Kyle Handley, André Kurmann, and Philip Luck.  Via Bryan Caplan.