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.
“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.”
“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).
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 :-))
This article from The Atlantic is well worth reading; quoting from this article,
“… when asked what they wish they’d done differently in college, “choosing a different major” wasn’t the top answer. The most popular answer, given by half of all respondents, was “gaining more work experience.” Choosing a different major was the fourth most popular response, after “studying harder” and “looking for work sooner.”