Friday, January 31, 2014

An Econ Conference for Undergrads

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Proposed (but not accepted) Bet with Paul Krugman on the Obama Forecast

What worries Americans?

When Gallup recently asked Americans what the biggest problem facing the United States is, the four most common answers were dissatisfaction with government, the economy in general, unemployment, and healthcare.  Each was mentioned by more than 15 percent of those polled.  The gap between rich and poor was mentioned by only 4 percent.

If President Obama wants to make the 2014 electoral debate about income inequality, as he seems to, he has an uphill climb ahead of him.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How an Economist Helped Inspire the Movie Dr. Strangelove

Does income inequality increase mortality?

In his recent Times column, Paul Krugman writes:
Rising inequality has obvious economic costs: stagnant wages despite rising productivity, rising debt that makes us more vulnerable to financial crisis. It also has big social and human costs. There is, for example, strong evidence that high inequality leads to worse health and higher mortality.
The links are from the online version of Paul's column.  I followed the second link to an interesting article by Angus Deaton.  Angus writes the following (emphasis added):
Darren Lubotsky and I 7 have investigated the relationship between income inequality, race, and mortality at both the state and metropolitan statistical area level. In both the state and the city data, mortality is positively and significantly correlated with almost any measure of income inequality. Because whites have higher incomes and lower mortality rates than blacks, places where the population has a large fraction of blacks are also places where both mortality and income inequality are relatively high. However, the relationship is robust to controlling for average income (or poverty rates) and also holds, albeit less strongly, for black and white mortality separately. Nevertheless, it turns out that race is indeed the crucial omitted variable. In states, cities, and counties with a higher fraction of African-Americans, white incomes are higher and black incomes are lower, so that income inequality (through its interracial component) is higher in places with a high fraction black. It is also true that both white and black mortality rates are higher in places with a higher fraction black and that, once we control for the fraction black, income inequality has no effect on mortality rates, a result that has been replicated by Victor Fuchs, Mark McClellan, and Jonathan Skinner9 using the Medicare records data. This result is consistent with the lack of any relationship between income inequality and mortality across Canadian or Australian provinces, where race does not have the same salience. Our finding is robust; it holds for a wide range of inequality measures; it holds for men and women separately; it holds when we control for average education; and it holds once we abandon age-adjusted mortality and look at mortality at specific ages. None of this tells us why the correlation exists, and what it is about cities with substantial black populations that causes both whites and blacks to die sooner.
In a review of the literature on inequality and health, I note that Wilkinson's original evidence, which was (and in many quarters is still) widely accepted showed a negative cross-country relationship between life expectancy and income inequality, not only in levels but also, and more impressively, in changes. But subsequent work has shown that these findings were the result of the use of unreliable and outdated information on income inequality, and that they do not appear if recent, high quality data are used. There are now also a large number of individual level studies exploring the health consequences of ambient income inequality and none of these provide any convincing evidence that inequality is a health hazard. Indeed, the only robust correlations appear to be those among U.S. cities and states (discussed above) which, as we have seen, vanish once we control for racial composition. I suggest that inequality may indeed be important for health, but that income inequality is less important than other dimensions, such as political or gender inequality.10
Is Angus's article really support for Paul's claim?  It seems to me that it is more the opposite.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On Assortative Mating

A new working paper concludes:
"Data from the United States Census Bureau suggests there has been a rise in assortative mating....[I]f matching in 2005 between husbands and wives had been random, instead of the pattern observed in the data, then the Gini coefficient would have fallen from the observed 0.43 to 0.34, so that income inequality would be smaller"

Friday, January 24, 2014

How much income inequality is explained by varying parental resources?

When people think about inequality of incomes, a key issue is inequality of opportunity. Some people are born to rich parents who can afford private schools, summer camp, SAT tutors, etc., while others have poorer parents who cannot easily afford such things. One might wonder how much of the income inequality we observe can be explained by differences in the resources that people get because of varying parental incomes.

Let me suggest a rough calculation that gives an approximate answer.

The recent paper by Chetty et al. finds that the regression of kids’ income rank on parents’ income rank has a coefficient of 0.3. (See Figure 1.) That implies an R2 for the regression of 0.09. In other words, 91 percent of the variance is unexplained by parents’ income.

I would be willing venture a guess, based on adoption studies, that a lot of that 9 percent is genetics rather than environment. That is, talented parents have talented kids partly because of good genes. Conservatively, let’s say half is genetics. That leaves only 4.5 percent of the variance attributed directly to parents’ income.

Now, if you let me play a bit fast and loose with the difference between income and income rank, these numbers suggest the following: If we had some perfect policy invention (such as universal super-duper pre-school) that completely neutralized the effect of parent’s income, we would reduce the variance of kids' income to .955 of what it now is. This implies that the standard deviation of income would fall to 0.977 of what it now is.

The bottom line: Even a highly successful policy intervention that neutralized the effects of differing parental incomes would reduce the gap between rich and poor by only about 2 percent.

This conclusion does not mean such a policy intervention is not worth doing. Evaluating the policy would require a cost-benefit analysis. But the calculations above do suggest that all the money the affluent spend on private schools, etc., explains only a tiny fraction of the income inequality that we observe.
Addendum: A few readers seem confused about how to infer an R2 from a coefficient.  The key is that the left and right hand side variables in the regression have the same variance.  In this case, the R2 is the square of the coefficient.  This conclusion is a standard result for AR(1) models, which is what we have here, as applied to generational data.  (Also, a few readers are confused when they look at the paper's Figure 1. The points plotted are not the raw data but binned averages, so you cannot see the R2 in the plot.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Has economic mobility declined?

No, says a new paper by Raj Chetty et al.:
"We present new evidence on trends in intergenerational mobility in the U.S. using administrative earnings records. We find that percentile rank-based measures of intergenerational mobility have remained extremely stable for the 1971-1993 birth cohorts....[C]hildren entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Do department chairs have real effects?

Apparently we do:
"There is one robust predictor of a department’s future research output. After adjustment for a range of personal and institutional characteristics, departmental research productivity improves when the incoming department Chair’s publications are highly cited."

A Summer Opportunity...

...for graduate students with an interest in matching theory, especially as applied to market design. Click here to learn more.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How much is a Lars Hansen autographed reprint worth?

A student is trying to find out.  He emails me:
I'm a 1st year MBA student at Chicago Booth -- where even the Marketing Professors have a PhD in Economics. 
I'm taking a class this quarter called Entrepreneurial Selling (more info here). One of the coolest assignments is a bartering challenge: Prof. Wortmann gives everybody a simple Chicago Booth pen and we need to barter it for something with larger monetary value, and then keep bartering once a week until the end of the quarter. 
I did my first trade with Prof. Lars Peter Hansen (Economics Nobel Prize 2013). In exchange for my pen, he gave me an autographed copy (he wrote a cool anecdote as well) of his most famous article. I'm now running an auction at eBay (it's OK to trade things for cash): see here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Minimum Wage as an Antipoverty Tool

David Henderson reports:

If the federal minimum wage were increased to $9.50 per hour:
  •  Only 11.3 percent of workers who would gain from the increase live in households officially defined as poor.
  •  A whopping 63.2 percent of workers who would gain were second or even third earners living in households with incomes equal to twice the poverty line or more.
  •  Some 42.3 percent of workers who would gain were second or even third earners who live in households that have incomes equal to three times the poverty line or more.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Stanley Fischer as the Fed's Vice Chair

President Obama just nominated Stanley Fischer to become vice chair of the Federal Reserve.

Stan is a great choice: smart, sensible, open-minded, and experienced.  He also has first-rate people skills, which will come in useful handling the many personalities on the FOMC and in Washington. He will be a perfect #2 to Janet Yellen.

In related news, Stan recently became a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economics Association.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

On Corporate Tax Reform

An article out of the Richmond Fed offers a nice overview of the issues.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

H index and H University

A friend writes:

Glen Ellison has a very neat study (ungated version) of adjusted h-index measures of citation performance that he shows have great predictive power for where people end up getting tenure (among other things).

What I thought you would find more interesting is that:

i) Harvard comes out first in citations to its faculty members.  See table 5 page 84.
ii) Table 6, page 87, has a list of the top 5 economists by decade. In the two cohorts of people with PhDs after 1996, I was struck that 5 out of 10 have Harvard PhDs (with 3 MIT, 1 Chicago, and 1 Berkeley rounding the list).

Don Cheadle on Inferior Goods

A friend emails me:
Entertainment Weekly asked Don Cheadle what his last splurge was.  Here is his reply:  
"I went to Giorgio Baldi restaurant [in Santa Monica]. When I was a broke student and a very poor actor, I made a deal with myself that when I started to make money, I would spend it on meals so I didn't have to just eat ramen, potatoes and Kraft mac and cheese." 

Why I hate JetBlue just now

I was supposed to be on my way to St John today, but then this happened.

Monday, January 06, 2014

If you teach high school economics... will most definitely want to click here.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

How to Help the Working Poor

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

Friday, January 03, 2014

A Tribute to Ben Bernanke

Thursday, January 02, 2014

I'm back at the ASSA; you don't know how lucky you are, boy; back at the ASSA.

I am at the Philly Allied Social Science Associations conference now and over the next few days.  Terrible weather, great cheese steaks.

The publisher of my favorite textbook will be promoting the new edition--the 7th.  If you would like to get a peek, stop by the Cengage booth.  Tomorrow (Friday), I will be hanging around there from about 3:30 to 4: 15 pm.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


If you will be in Philadelphia over the next few days, take note:

6th Annual AEA Economics Humor Session in Honor of Caroline Postelle Clotfelter

At 8pm on Saturday Jan 4 2014 at the Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom. With an introduction by Benjamin Franklin (aka Mark Skousen) and talks by Noah Smith, Karl Geisler, Yaniv Reingewertz, and stand-up economist Yoram Bauman. Free and open to the public!


Over on their blogs, Noah Smith and David Henderson have some compelling observations about respect. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that treating others with respect, regardless of economic or social class, is crucial to a well-functioning civil society. It is also simply good manners. As a personal code of conduct, I have long aimed to treat the guy pumping my gas with the same respect as the President of Harvard (or the United States).

I will take exception with Noah's idea that we should "redistribute respect." Respect is not rival. We can increase the respect for some without diminishing the respect for others.

I will also add that we should also do more to respect those with whom we have political and philosophical disagreements. Sadly, some bloggers like to castigate their ideological opposites with the kind of rude name-calling that they would never do face-to-face.  While the blogosphere in general is a good thing in many ways, I am afraid that it has often acted to diminish respect for others, reducing the overall level of civility in society.