Wednesday, August 21, 2019

News from Amazon

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Macro Policy Seminar

This fall, Ben Friedman and I are organizing the Macro Policy seminar in the Harvard economics department. (I am taking over this role from Marty Feldstein, who recently passed away.) Some local blog readers might enjoy attending.

The seminar will meet on Tuesday afternoons, from 1:30 to 2:45, in Littauer M-15Here is the schedule of speakers.

September 3                Kevin Warsh (former governor, Federal Reserve System)

September 10              Jim Stock (Harvard economics department)

September 17              Larry Ball (Johns Hopkins)

September 24              Arvind Subramanian (Kennedy School; former chief economic adviser, Government of India)

October 1                    Ioana Petrescu (former finance minister, Romania)

October 8                    Steve Cecchetti (Brandeis; former chief economist, Bank of International Settlements)

October 15                  Ignazio Angeloni (Kennedy School; former supervisory board member, ECB)

October 22                  Matt Weinzierl (HBS)

October 29                  Ivan Werning (MIT)

November 5                Philippe Andrade (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston)

November 12              Karen Dynan (Harvard economics department)

November 19              Robert Lawrence (Kennedy School)

November 26              No meeting – Thanksgiving break

December 3                 Jeff Frankel (Kennedy School)

Friday, August 09, 2019

The Inflation-Unemployment Tradeoff

Click here to read my column in Sunday's NY Times.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Competing with Shakespeare

What authors appear on the greatest number of syllabuses for college courses? The Open Syllabus Project collects the data that answer exactly this question. Here is the ranking. Shakespeare is number 1, and Plato is number 2. I show up at number 22, between Martin Luther King and Virginia Woolf.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Demand Curves Slope Downward (even for socialists)

This is a wonderful story. Staffers in the Sanders campaign, who are working on salary, complain that they are paid less than the $15 per hour that Senator Sanders advocates for the minimum wage. So Sanders raises their hourly wage. Does that increase their income? No, because he raised the hourly wage by cutting the number of hours they work!

Of course, if a President Sanders raised the federal minimum wage, I am sure he would be confident that the change would not have any adverse employment effects. Downward-sloping demand curves may describe socialist political campaigns, but back in the actual capitalist economy, the laws of supply and demand work completely differently.

Happy Semicentennial, Econ Nobel

Monday, July 15, 2019

Review of Bernanke et al.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Freshman Seminar 2019

I have written in the past about the freshman seminar I run at Harvard. I am teaching it again this fall, and I thought my blog readers might be interested in my current reading list. I always mix it up a bit to keep it fresh and, to be frank, more fun for me. Here it is:

The Worldly Philosophers, by Robert Heilbroner

Capitalism and Freedom, by Milton Friedman

Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff, by Arthur Okun

The Haves and the Have-nots, by Branko Milanovic

The Wisdom of Finance, by Mihir Desai

Open: The Progressive Case For Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital, by Kimberly Clausing

Priced Out: The Economic and Ethical Costs of American Health Care, by Uwe E. Reinhardt

The Wealth of Religions, by Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary

Scarcity, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

Phishing for Phools, by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller

The Myth of the Rational Voter, by Bryan Caplan

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Matt's Best Consumer Purchase


Saturday, July 06, 2019

Wise Advice from Josh Angrist

Here. Especially useful for young academics.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Movie Recommendation

I saw the movie Yesterday yesterday. It is excellent. The best romantic comedy (an underrated genre, imho) I have seen since The Big Sick.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Not So Fast

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson argues "It’s time we tear up our economics textbooks and start over." He uses my book as a prime example. Perhaps not surprisingly, I disagree. My summary of Samuelson's article: Economics textbooks should be more like economics journalism, says an economics journalist.

Mr. Samuelson fails to fully appreciate the difference between journalism and textbook writing. Journalists are always looking for things that are new, for how the world has changed. That's why we call it the news. The editor of the science section of a newspaper would not be interested in a article explaining that Isaac Newton figured out the workings of gravity. Not newsworthy, the editor would say.

Textbook writers, on the other hand, emphasize those things that are true, important, and unknown to the typical reader (an 18 year old college freshman). Newness has little relevance. The lessons of Adam Smith do not apply only to the 18th century, the lessons of David Ricardo do not apply only to the 19th century, and the lessons of John Maynard Keynes do not apply only to the 20th century. They are timeless ideas that may not make good news stories but should be central to introductory economics. Just as Newtonian mechanics should remain central to introductory physics.

Yes, textbooks need to evolve as we learn more and as the world changes. New examples also show students how to apply the classic ideas to the issue of today. (The 9th edition of my principles text, available in about six months, includes a feature discussing social media like Facebook as a common resource.) But it would be a mistake for teachers of introductory economics to focus excessively on today's hot topics at the exclusion of timeless truths.

I had a 6th grade teacher who used to refer to newspapers as a "perishable commodity." That seems right, given their relentless focus on newness. Good textbooks, however, are more like durable goods. They do not go out of date nearly as quickly.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The National Debt Is Still a Problem

Click here to read my column in this coming Sunday's NY Times.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Bowles and Carlin on Econ 101

Here is a paper by Sam Bowles and Wendy Carlin on teaching introductory economics. It is scheduled to be published in the JEL, along with my essay on textbook writing.

Reading their paper, I learned something about my own text. In footnote 17, they tell us the following:
Standard tools originally developed to compare the complexity of the language in training manuals in the US Navy are used to compare the readability of the textbooks. The result of the Flesch test is that the CORE text is somewhat more complex than Mankiw’s but less so than Krugman-Wells and Samuelson 1948. The tests are based on syllables per word / proportion of multisyllable words, and sentence length. The use of multi-syllable words is virtually the same across the four texts, but Krugman-Wells and Samuelson use longer sentences. The F-K measure’s output is the US grade level needed to comprehend the text, according to which, Samuelson 48 and Krugman-Wells are comprehensible to a 12th grade student, Mankiw to a 10th grader, and CORE to an 11th grader. 
I was pleased to learn this, as I try to write in shorter sentences to make the text more readable. Learning economics is hard enough. So the style of writing should be as accessible as possible.

Addendum: For comparison, according to this source, academic papers are written at about the 12th grade level. Malcolm Gladwell writes at the 9th grade level, F. Scott Fitzgerald at the 8th grade level, Stephen King at the 6th grade level, and Ernest Hemingway at the 4th grade level. It also says that only about 1 in 8 U.S. adults can read at the 12th grade level.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Teaching Intermediate Macro

Click here for a new, brief article of mine about teaching intermediate macroeconomics.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Phillips curve is alive and well

Click on graphic to enlarge.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Next CBO Director

My friend and former CEA colleague Phill Swagel has been appointed the next director of the Congressional Budget Office. A great choice!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Fed should monitor wage trends

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari had a noteworthy op-ed this week, arguing that monetary policymakers should pay more attention to wage trends than they have in the past. Ricardo Reis and I reached a similar conclusion in a paper back in 2003.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Bayes likes Mayor Pete

Who has the best chance of beating Donald Trump? A clue can be found using Bayes Theorem.

Here is the logic. Let A be the event that a candidate wins the general election, and B be the event that a candidate wins his or her party's nomination. Predictit gives us the betting market's view of P(A) and P(B). It is a safe assumption that P(B / A) = 1, that is, a candidate can win only if nominated. We can then use Bayes theorem to compute P(A / B), the probability that the candidate will win the general election conditional on being nominated.

So here are the results for P(A / B) as of now:

Buttigieg 0.80
Biden 0.77
O'Rourke 0.67
Sanders 0.65
Booker 0.60
Yang 0.60
Harris 0.57
Warren 0.44

That is, the betting markets suggest that Mayor Pete would be the strongest candidate if nominated, with Joe Biden close behind. (Of course, these numbers will bounce around as the prices in betting markets change.)

By the way, when I did a similar calculation in 2006, Bayes liked Barack Obama.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tariffs raise the prices of domestic goods too

There is a nice article in the NY Times about the Trump tariffs imposed on washing machines. It should be useful as a classroom illustration.  This snip-it caught my eye:
It is hardly surprising that the tariffs drove up the price of foreign washers. Perhaps more unexpectedly, they also prompted American manufacturers to raise their prices.
This fact should not be unexpected to anyone to anyone familiar with the textbook analysis of tariffs. When foreign and domestic goods are close substitutes, increases in the price of foreign goods caused by tariffs raise the price of domestic goods. See Chapter 9 of my favorite textbook.