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%||AUD6.21||USD5.46|
|16 years: 47.3%||AUD7.98||USD7.02|
|17 years: 57.8%||AUD9.75||USD8.58|
|18 years: 68.3%||AUD11.52||USD10.13|
|19 years: 82.5%||AUD13.92||USD12.24|
|20 years: 97.7%||AUD16.48||USD14.49|
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.
I just received this email from Professor Don Boudreaux, who chairs the Department of Economics at George Mason University. It is a (free) course announcement – the title of the course is “Everyday Economics”. I highly recommend this course and plan to “sit” through it myself!
From: Don Boudreaux
Sent: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 4:04 PM
Subject: My New MRU Course: Trade and Prosperity
These videos are part of a new course, Everyday Economics, where instructors take a look at everyday scenarios to illustrate the role economics plays in our day-to-day lives.
In these videos on trade and prosperity, we’ll answer questions such as:
- How is it that human prosperity flatlined for most of history and then exploded in the last few hundred years?
- What can we learn about division of labor from the simple example of hamburgers being made at home versus at a restaurant?
- How did specialization of knowledge help my son overcome a life-threatening illness?
- What can we learn about cooperation and trade from the tragedy of Tasmania?
One of the key features of this course is that the viewer decides what we should cover next. Do you have questions about trade? Anything specific you’ve wondered about? Submit your ideas and vote on topics submitted by other viewers.
Also, keep an eye out for future Everyday Economics sections. Up next is Tyler Cowen’s section on the economics of food, to be released later this year.
See you in class,
This week’s IGM Economic Experts Panel statements:
- Employers that discriminate in hiring will be at a competitive disadvantage, if their customers do not care about their mix of employees, compared with firms that do not discriminate.
- Rising market wages are an important reason — over and above any changes in medical technology, social norms or preferences — why family sizes have fallen over the past century in rich countries.
See http://bit.ly/Trzm4k for poll results!
In my opinion, the following 3 books are particularly worthwhile for students who are interested in learning more about finance and risk management:
- Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter L. Bernstein.
- A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing, by Burton G. Malkiel.
- Stocks for the Long Run : The Definitive Guide to Financial Market Returns and Long-Term Investment Strategies, by Jeremy J. Siegel.
Philosophically, these books present what I would consider to be an “orthodox” perspective; i.e., they fit well with the so-called rational choice, efficient markets view of the world which is prevalent in most departments of finance and economics. For some “heterodox” alternatives, I like (but am nevertheless highly critical of) both of Nicholas Taleb’s books:
- Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (read this first).
- The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (the sequel to “Fooled by Randomness”).
Finally, I would be remiss to not also include two other favorites which are not books on finance or economics; rather they deal with the history and philosophy of applied mathematics. These books include:
- Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos.
- A Brief History of Infinity, by Brian Clegg.
House of Debt – http://bit.ly/1rulBgN
This 1 hour long video (@ http://bit.ly/1rulBgN) featuring Amir Sufi (who is the Chicago Board of Trade Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business) was recorded last Monday evening as part of the Myron Scholes Global Markets Forum at Chicago Booth. Here’s a description of his talk:
“The Great American Recession resulted in the loss of eight million jobs between 2007 and 2009. More than four million homes were lost to foreclosures. Is it a coincidence that the United States witnessed a dramatic rise in household debt in the years before the recession—that the total amount of debt for American households doubled between 2000 and 2007 to $14 trillion? Definitely not. Armed with clear and powerful evidence, Professor Sufi will discuss his forthcoming book, House of Debt, and how it reveals the Great Recession and Great Depression, as well as the current economic malaise in Europe, were caused by a large run-up in household debt followed by a significantly large drop in household spending.”
From The Economist:
“This week we publish an essay on the history of finance in five crises. They have a common theme: in each case the state increased the subsidies and guarantees it gave to finance—and helped set up the next crisis. Our cover leader points out that this is happening again. An American can now blindly put $250,000 in a bank, knowing his deposit is insured by the state. Finance, we say, should be treated more like other industries.”
In The Wall Street Journal, Mark J. Perry and Andrew G. Biggs write that once education, marital status and occupations are considered, the ‘gender wage gap’ all but disappears.
An important problem with the “equal pay” canard is its simplistic comparison of female versus male wages; as if the sole determinant of compensation were gender. We live in a multivariate world where all sorts of factors jointly determine outcomes. Economists June and David O’Neill understand this and find, after controlling for various wage determinants such as education, experience, industry, occupation, time spent as an active labor force participant, risk, and so forth (see “The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market: The Role of Employment Discrimination Policies“), that labor market discrimination is unlikely to account for more than 5% but may not be present at all.
But then the “equal pay” canard really has nothing to do with economics. It has everything to do with identity politics. Identity politics is a long-time, proven formula for political success. You divide people into groups based upon ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, income, and so forth and then promise to deliver group-specific benefits at the expense of the rest of society. Politicians get away with this because the public at large is innumerate and not able (or lack incentives) to grasp even the basic statistical concepts and principles (such as the idea that there are multiple determinants of wages other than gender differences).
Quoting from my annual Social Security Statement; I can’t help but wonder what the numbers are for “optimistic” assumptions and for “pessimistic” assumptions (see the “fine print” by the asterisk below):
About Social Security’s future…
Social Security is a compact between generations. Since 1935, America has kept the promise of security for its workers and their families. Now, however, the Social Security system is facing serious financial problems, and action is needed soon to make sure the system will be sound when today’s younger workers are ready for retirement.
Without changes, in 2033 the Social Security Trust Fund will be able to pay only about 77 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits.* We need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protection for future generations.
* These estimates are based on the intermediate assumptions from the Social Security Trustees’ Annual Report to the Congress.