Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's all Ben's fault!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Have lunch with me

To current ec 10 students (only):

I will take up to ten students out to lunch after Wednesday's lecture at Yenching, my favorite Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square. Email me if you are interested in joining the group. First come, first served.

Richard Epstein on Inequality

Watch on PBS. See more from PBS NEWSHOUR.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Milton Friedman might say to the Occupy movement

Some classic clips.  Thanks to Mark Perry for the pointer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Shopping Advice

Don't overemphasize local foods

And tomorrow, be grateful to the principle of comparative advantage.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Advice for Lost Graduate Students

Polling Economic Experts

Chapter 2 of my favorite textbook has a table showing various propositions about which economists largely agree.  It is based on the published results from several surveys.  A new project by the IGM Forum is now regularly polling a diverse group of top economists on a variety of policy-related questions.  It is a good way to see whether a professional consensus exists.  You can follow the project by clicking here.

If you are curious, I declined being a member of the panel, mainly because time is scarce.  Moreover, I have various other ways to let my opinions be known.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Straight No Chaser

Last night was date night. My wife and I went to a concert by Straight No Chaser, the a cappella group famous for its rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The tickets were a gift from our daughter.  Thank you, Catherine.

The concert was terrific! A wonderful mix of music, from traditional holiday songs to Elvis Presley and Lady Gaga. You can find out if they are giving a show near you by clicking here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The View from Penn (a shameless plug)

My favorite textbook is used at the University of Pennsylvania.  The student newspaper writes:
[Mankiw's] textbook, Principles of Economics, has sold more than one million copies worldwide. It is used in his own class and in Economics 002, Introduction to Macroeconomics, at Penn. The class, taught by Luca Bossi, enrolls about 200 students in the fall semester and 500 in the spring. 
Bossi chose the textbook because he believes it is one of the best introductory macroeconomics texts available in the market. He adds that the material is “clearly explained” and does not contain any partisan slants. 
“I think the fact that Professor Mankiw has advised and still is advising Republican candidates running for office gives the impression to people that he is a conservative in the way he approaches economics,” he said. However, this “is not reflected in the content of the book.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ugly Discrmination

Chapter 19 of my favorite textbook has a case study on the economics of beauty, highlighting research by economist Dan Hamermesh.  So I thought some blog readers might enjoy this Daily Show clip featuring Hamermesh and his work on this topic.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The British 1 Percent

This figure, via Paul Krugman, shows the income share of the top 1 percent in the United Kingdom.  The broad pattern is very similar to what U.S. data shows.  The figure suggests that the explanation of growing inequality over the past several decades cannot be U.S.-specific but must have broader applicability.

You can generate more plots like this here.  You find a similar U-shaped pattern in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand but much less so in France, Germany, Japan, and Sweden. Might the rising share of the top 1 percent be related to the increasing use of English as a global language?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Long, Sad History of Industrial Policy

Supply-side Policies as a Way to Boost Aggregate Demand

A new paper from the Philadelphia Fed makes an important point:
This paper examines how supply-side policies may play a role in fighting a low aggregate demand that traps an economy at the zero lower bound (ZLB) of nominal interest rates. Future increases in productivity or reductions in mark-ups triggered by supply-side policies generate a wealth effect that pulls current consumption and output up. Since the economy is at the ZLB, increases in the interest rates do not undo this wealth effect, as we will have in the case outside the ZLB. We illustrate this mechanism with a simple two-period New Keynesian model. We discuss possible objections to this set of policies and the relation of supply-side policies with more conventional monetary and fiscal policies.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On Leverage and Financial Regulation

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Profile of Daniel Kahneman

Darkness in Europe

A Profile of OWS

A Harvard colleague recommends this article on Occupy Wall Street.

Input from Cornell

A student defends mainstream economics and endorses my favorite textbook:
Having used Mankiw’s textbook in an Introductory Economics class at Cornell, I can attest to the fact that the book lays a thorough and necessary foundation upon which to continue the study of economics and outlines the basic economic principles through which we understand much of our economy and society.

Why I am waking up so early

I am scheduled to be on Fox and Friends this morning.  The hit will be around 6:50 am, if you are awake, curious, and happened to be near a TV.

Update: Here is the clip.

Monday, November 07, 2011

What would John Maynard Keynes have said about Obamacare?

It is impossible to know, of course, but this passage from an open letter Keynes wrote to FDR in 1933 offers some hints (emphasis added):

You are engaged on a double task, Recovery and Reform;--recovery from the slump and the passage of those business and social reforms which are long overdue. For the first, speed and quick results are essential. The second may be urgent too; but haste will be injurious, and wisdom of long-range purpose is more necessary than immediate achievement. It will be through raising high the prestige of your administration by success in short-range Recovery, that you will have the driving force to accomplish long-range Reform. On the other hand, even wise and necessary Reform may, in some respects, impede and complicate Recovery. For it will upset the confidence of the business world and weaken their existing motives to action, before you have had time to put other motives in their place. It may over-task your bureaucratic machine, which the traditional individualism of the United States and the old "spoils system" have left none too strong. And it will confuse the thought and aim of yourself and your administration by giving you too much to think about all at once.
I know that some people would dismiss this appeal to the "confidence fairy," but clearly Keynes was a big believer in her importance to the short-run business cycle.

Race Against the Machine

MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson emails me:
I agree with your recent blog post that "the timing suggests that the two trends--the increasing value of education and the rising share of the top 1 percent--may be related." But how are they related?  I think the biggest single factor is the digital revolution, which is boosting the economy and benefitting you, me and Paul Krugman, while leaving many people behind.  The median worker's skills and our institutions aren't keeping up with accelerating technological change.
I discuss this in my very short new ebook (about 20,000 words) with Andrew McAfee called "Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Accelerates Innovation, Drives Productivity and Irreversibly Transforms Employment and the Economy".  In it, we seek to reconcile the fact that the 2000s has been the best decade since the 1960s for productivity growth, better than the roaring 1990s even. And yet median wages have largely stagnated and employment actually has fallen since 2000. We attribute this in part to the fact that tech. progress is driving productivity even has it leaves many types of workers behind.  In fact, a large group has been made worse off, even as those with education and talent have gained immensely, and opportunities for entrepreneurs are better than ever.  In my judgment, the underlying trends are on track to accelerating in coming years.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Educating Oligarchs

In a couple of recent posts (here and here), Paul Krugman claims that it is just wrong to think that increasing income inequality is largely about education, because much of the income gains have accrued to the very top of the income distribution--the much discussed 1 percent.  Instead, he says, increasing inequality is about the growing influence of oligarchs.

I have been puzzled by Paul's argument.  My initial reaction was that it struck me as a non sequitur.  Even if the income gains are in the top 1 percent, why does that imply that the right story is not about education?

I then realized that Paul is making an implicit assumption--that the return to education is deterministic.  If indeed a year of schooling guaranteed you precisely a 10 percent increase in earnings, then there is no way increasing education by a few years could move you from the middle class to the top 1 percent.

But it may be better to think of the return to education as stochastic.  Education not only increases the average income a person will earn, but it also changes the entire distribution of possible life outcomes.  It does not guarantee that a person will end up in the top 1 percent, but it increases the likelihood.  I have not seen any data on this, but I am willing to bet that the top 1 percent are more educated than the average American; while their education did not ensure their economic success, it played a role.

Let me give you a couple examples.  I am comfortably in the top 1 percent.  I believe that Paul, with his Princeton professorship, regular Times column, speaking fees, and moderately successful textbook, is there as well. I suspect (although cannot prove) that if he and I had stopped our educations after finishing high school, we would not have been anywhere near where we are in the income distribution.  If that is correct, might it be better to think of education as the key rather than focusing on the growing influence of oligarchs?

I am inclined to think that education is important here in part because the large increase in the share of the top 1 percent from the 1970s to the present occurred together with the increase in the rate of return to education during this period documented by labor economists.  It is possible, of course, that the the two phenomena just happened to occur simultaneously.  But the timing suggests that the two trends--the increasing value of education and the rising share of the top 1 percent--may be related.

Addendum: Here is a related old post.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

I speak with NPR

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Occupy Wall Street comes to Ec 10

The Harvard Crimson has the story.  Ironically, the topic for today's lecture is the distribution of income, including the growing gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent.  I am sorry the protesters will miss it.

  1. The open letter that attacks ec 10.
  2. A student comes to ec 10's defense.
  3. Here's what happened: About 5 to 10 percent of the class participated in the walk-out. At the same time, some previous ec 10 students came in to sit in the lecture as counter-protesters. The lecture then proceeded as planned.
  4. The Crimson offers an editorial on the protest.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Distributional Effects of the Perry Plan