It is rare when I actually take the time to read Baylor’s student newspaper, the Baylor Lariat, and even rarer when I post a critical response to a Lariat article. However, I couldn’t resist commenting on an editorial from earlier this month entitled, “Baylor should implement class to ready students for real world”. In this editorial, the members of the Lariat editorial board opine that Baylor should require a one-hour credit “Life Skills” course in lieu of a basic math course such as “Ideas in Mathematics”. Basically, such a course would be designed to cover very basic personal finance principles, such as budgeting, paying off student loans, buying insurance, saving for retirement, etc. I think this is a manifestly bad idea; let me explain why.
While I am not aware of an empirical literature concerning mandated personal finance courses at colleges and universities, many states have experimented with personal finance and minimum math requirements at the high school level. A recent (2014) Harvard Business School working paper entitled “High School Curriculum and Financial Outcomes: The Impact of Mandated Personal Finance and Mathematics Courses” provides a thorough empirical analysis of personal finance and minimum math requirements and finds that mandated personal finance courses at the high school level do little to improve outcomes that are generally associated with financial literacy (e.g., such as building wealth through asset accumulation, prudent credit management, etc.), whereas “… individuals who were exposed to greater math requirements in high school are more likely to accumulate assets, have more real estate equity, are less likely to be delinquent on their loans, and are less likely to undergo foreclosure.”
The Bank of Japan’s (somewhat counterintuitive) stated goal for implementing it’s new (negative interest rate) policy is “…to push down borrowing costs to stimulate inflation”. While I certainly do not claim or pretend to be a monetary economist, a policy that punishes savers and rewards borrowers doesn’t seem like a particularly good script for long-term economic success. I think it’s a tacit acknowledgment that the Japanese economy is struggling with deflation. See https://www.boj.or.jp/en/announcements/release_2016/k160129a.pdf for the official policy statement issued by BOJ…
Tip of the hat to Free Enterprise at The Baugh Center for posting this video of Dr. Brooks’ April 21 talk at Baylor University entitled “Capitalism Without Attachment: Creating a prosperous society without losing our souls”:
I never thought that I would ever live to see the day when interest rates turned negative, creating a world where investors pay for the opportunity to lose money over time and banks pay interest to borrowers…
“As Euribor, a key benchmark used to set interest rates, seems to sliding toward zero and below, banks in some European countries are looking at previously inconceivable problem: They may soon have to pay interest to customers who borrow from them.”
Steven Levitt’s nearly 1 hour long talk entitled “Thinking Differently about Big Data“ is quite exceptional; Professor Levitt gave this talk as part of the National Academy of Sciences “Drawing Causal Inference from Big Data” colloquium in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2015.
Lately, futures prices for crude oil and refined products such as gasoline and heating oil have been in a free-fall. For example, the January 2015 futures contract for “RBOB Gasoline” is trading at the equivalent of around $1.64 per gallon. As shown in the following graph, this represents a price drop of roughly 85-90 cents per gallon since September:
AAA reports that today’s national average is $2.639 and could fall to $2.50 within the next couple of weeks. Nationally, the average markup from the near term futures contract price to prices at the pump has averaged 62 cents per gallon since January 2000 (which is when AAA began tracking this information). Therefore, if futures prices hold at (or fall further from) current levels it seems quite likely that the price at the pump may be headed even lower.
This 1 hour long presentation by University of Chicago economist Matthew Gentzkow is well worth watching; Professor Gentzkow explores the implications of new media technologies for the health of American democracy.
Clearly insurance is an enabling technology; without insurance many if not most large-scale commercial activities would grind to a halt. In a Business Week article entitled “The Unexpected Threat to Super Bowl XLIX“, Wharton professors Howard Kunreuther and Erwann Michel-Kerjan point out that that if Congress decides not to renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) (set to expire on Dec. 31), there is a chance that the Super Bowl might not be played. Will Warren Buffet step in as an insurer of last resort if TRIA is not reauthorized? Also, Gordon Woo raises some excellent points about possible private sector alternatives to TRIA in his blog posting entitled “RMS and the FIFA World Cup: Insuring Against Terrorism“.
In today’s daily USPS junk mail delivery, I was deluged (as is everyone these days) by a pile of political flyers. One of the flyers in particular caught my eye – it was entitled “Common Sense MMXIV” (why the Roman numerals? But I digress).
One of the supposed “common sense” proposals listed on this flyer was to “…. enact, as Australia has, a $20/hr. minimum wage”. Since I was not aware that Australia had a $20/hr. minimum wage, I googled this topic and found that in fact Australia does not have a $20/hr. minimum wage (source: http://www.wageindicator.org/main/salary/minimum-wage/australia). What Australia does have is a 16.87AUD/hour minimum which translates (at the current exchange rate) into 14.84USD/hour (AUD and USD are acronyms respectively for “Australian Dollar” and “US Dollar”). Furthermore, there are all sorts of caveats that apply; for example, there’s a schedule of minimum wages (expressed as a percentage of the 16.87AUD/hour baseline) based upon the age of the worker:
<16 years: 36.8%
16 years: 47.3%
17 years: 57.8%
18 years: 68.3%
19 years: 82.5%
20 years: 97.7%
For more on the economics of the minimum wage, I recommend reading the attached article by David Neumark; Dr. Neumark is an economics professor and director of the Center for Economics and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine.