Category Archives: Economics

New MRU Course: Trade and Prosperity

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

Dear Friends,

I’m excited to announce a new video series at Marginal Revolution University on 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:

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,

Don Boudreaux
MRUniversity.com

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This week’s Initiative on Global Markets (IGM) Economic Experts Panel statements

This week’s IGM Economic Experts Panel statements:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

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Suggested books and readings on finance and risk management

In my opinion, the following 3 books are particularly worthwhile for students who are interested in learning more about finance and risk management:

  1. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter L. Bernstein.
  2. A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing, by Burton G. Malkiel.
  3. 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:

  1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (read this first).
  2. 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:

  1. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos.
  2. A Brief History of Infinity, by Brian Clegg.
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House of Debt

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.”

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The Economist: Essay on the history of finance in five crises

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.”

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The ’77 Cents on the Dollar’ Myth About Women’s Pay

The ’77 Cents on the Dollar’ Myth About Women’s Pay

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).

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Should the Minimum Wage Be Raised? Economists Weigh In

The Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Economics blog recently posted an article entitled “Should the Minimum Wage Be Raised? Economists Weigh In” @ http://on.wsj.com/1kYgJj6.

I am most convinced by the recent (July 2013) survey article entitled “Revisiting the Minimum Wage-Employment Debate: Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater?” (available from http://bit.ly/1dNSMao) which documents that minimum wages pose a tradeoff of higher wages for some against job losses for others.   I am particularly fond of the following quote from that article: “We revisit the minimum wage-employment debate, which is as old as the Department of Labor” (historical note: the US Department of Labor was founded March 4, 1913 :-))
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About Social Security’s future…

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.

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77 cents on the dollar

The key problem with the “77 cents on the dollar statistic” cited in President Obama’s SOTU speech is that it is based upon a naive comparison of average earnings for females compared with males. There are a number of other wage determinants (e.g., differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, hours worked, etc.) which must also be taken into consideration.  AEI scholar Christine Sommers notes (in the Daily Beast article linked below): “When all.. relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers.”

www.thedailybeast.com
“It’s the bogus statistic that won’t die—and president deployed it during the State of the Union—but women do not make 77 cents to every dollar a man earns.”
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On the role of health insurance as an “enabling technology” that facilitates risky behaviors…

ACA Ad

The vast majority of the ads shown on the www.doyougotinsurance.com website promote health insurance as an “enabling technology” that facilitates various risky behaviors; e.g., uncelibate sex, binge drinking, bungee jumping, white water rafting, etc. These ads are (condescendingly and stereotypically) targeting millenials whose overpriced premiums are needed in order to cross-subsidize premium costs for older, sicker people. It turns out that the financing model underlying the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA) critically depends upon such cross-subsidies in order for ACA to be financially sustainable. Without these cross-subsidies, the more likely outcome for ACA is what Cutler and Zeckhauser (1998; cf. http://dx.doi.org/10.2202%2F1558-9544.1056) refer to as an “adverse selection death spiral” (see also AEI Resident Fellow Scott Gottleib’s Forbes piece on this very same topic @ http://is.gd/jnh04G).

Since the ACA is designed to vastly expand Medicaid and offer subsidies to households with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level, then somebody has to pay for it. And if the plan works as it is supposed to, young middle class workers will have to enroll in droves to pay for overpriced insurance. However, based upon the early returns from enrollment at the Federal and state websites, this does not appear likely. Thus the aggressive ads designed to convince otherwise reticent millennials to sign up for overpriced insurance.  Apparently health insurance can be “fun” because it makes it possible to not have to fully internalize the costs of risky behaviors.  This would be the Peltzman effect on steroids

The aforementioned website (doyougotinsurance.com) is “…a project of the Thanks Obamacare campaign, created by the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education to educate everyone about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.”

 

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