Tyler Cowen's Blog, page 114

May 14, 2014

Already there are more American men on disability insurance than doing production work in manufacturing.


There is also this:


The determinants of levels of consumer spending have been much studied by macroeconomists. The general conclusion of the research is that an increase of $1 in wealth leads to an additional $.05 in spending. This is just enough to offset the accumulation of returns that is central to Piketty’s analysis.


That is from this very good Summers review of Piketty.


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Published on May 14, 2014 09:05 • 16 views

The same outlets appear to offer both “foot massage” and “the other kind of massage.”  Rather than doing field work, I confirmed my intuition by asking a native of Shanghai, who estimated that in eighty percent of the storefronts both of the two services are for sale.


What economic model could generate this economy of scope?  We don’t for instance see prostitution and Wonder Bread offered together in the same store.  If anything, the presence of the prostitution would create a stigma for customers who wanted Wonder Bread only.  You might, however, see prostitution and cocaine offered together, if there are economies of scope in breaking the law, such as might arise from having a longstanding relationship with the local police.


One option is that men aren’t at first sure which of the two services they want, foot massage or the other massage.  You then attract more customers by offering both and maybe they will buy one and then the other.  At the very least they are more likely to visit the massage parlor in the first place.


A second hypothesis is that the foot massage workers do not mind being affiliated with a house of prostitution or perhaps also do not mind performing acts of prostitution, at least not any more than they mind doing foot massage.  That will limit the costs of this joint supply.  There may then be an economy of scope in recruiting young female workers for both tasks.


Perhaps both factors are at play.


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Published on May 14, 2014 03:37 • 27 views

May 13, 2014

By Khandker and Samad, there is now a new study of microcredit and it has a much longer time horizon — twenty years — than the previous “gold standard” studies.  It also finds more positive effects than many of the other treatments:


This paper uses long panel survey data spanning over 20 years to study the effects of microcredit programs in Bangladesh. It uses a dynamic panel model to address a number of issues, such as whether credit effects are declining over time, whether market saturation and village diseconomies are taking place, and whether multiple program membership, which is rising as a consequence of microcredit expansion, is harming or benefiting the borrowers. The paper makes the following observations:



Group-based credit programs have significant positive effects in raising household welfare including per capita consumption, household non-land assets and net worth;
Microfinance increases income and expenditure, the labor supply of males and females, non-land asset and net worth as well as boys’ and girls’ schooling;
Microfinance, especially female credit, reduces poverty;
Past credit has a higher impact on income and expenditure than current credit;
With higher village-level aggregate current male borrowing, the marginal effect of male borrowing on per capita income gets lower.

The paper concludes that the current microfinance policy of credit expansion alone may not be enough to boost income and productivity, and, hence, sustained poverty reduction.


There is a useful write-up of the paper from The Economist.  In sum, we should up our estimate of the efficacy of microcredit.


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Published on May 13, 2014 23:47 • 23 views

Mario Costeja González, the Spanish national who brought the complaint, said it was “not going to be a big problem for Google” because the ruling only required it to remove irrelevant information.


That is from the FT story, note that the scope and applicability of this new ruling does still remain up for grabs.


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Published on May 13, 2014 17:45 • 15 views


Copyright control to Major Tom


commencing countdown


permissions gone


There’s something wrong


Can you hear me, Major Tom?



Background here.


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Published on May 13, 2014 16:16 • 35 views

There is a new NBER paper by Paul BeaudryDana Galizia and Franck Portier and perhaps it may apply to China:


Recessions often happen after periods of rapid accumulation of houses, consumer durables and business capital. This observation has led some economists, most notably Friedrich Hayek, to conclude that recessions mainly reflect periods of needed liquidation resulting from past over-investment. According to the main proponents of this view, government spending should not be used to mitigate such a liquidation process, as doing so would simply result in a needed adjustment being postponed. In contrast, ever since the work of Keynes, many economists have viewed recessions as periods of deficient demand that should be countered by activist fiscal policy. In this paper we reexamine the liquidation perspective of recessions in a setup where prices are flexible but where not all trades are coordinated by centralized markets. We show why and how liquidations can produce periods where the economy functions particularly inefficiently, with many socially desirable trades between individuals remaining unexploited when the economy inherits too many capital goods. In this sense, our model illustrates how liquidations can cause recessions characterized by deficient aggregate demand and accordingly suggests that Keynes’ and Hayek’s views of recessions may be much more closely linked than previously recognized. In our framework, interventions aimed at stimulating aggregate demand face the trade-off emphasized by Hayek whereby current stimulus mainly postpones the adjustment process and therefore prolongs the recessions. However, when examining this trade-off, we find that some stimulative policies may nevertheless remain desirable even if they postpone a recovery.


There is another copy here.


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Published on May 13, 2014 11:48 • 36 views

Philosopher Thomas Wells argues that future citizens need the vote today:


…future generations must accept whatever we choose to bequeath them, and they have no way of informing us of their values. In this, they are even more helpless than foreigners, on whom our political decisions about pollution, trade, war and so on are similarly imposed without consent. Disenfranchised as they are, such foreigners can at least petition their own governments to tell ours off, or engage with us directly by writing articles in our newspapers about the justice of their cause. The citizens of the future lack even this recourse.


The asymmetry between past and future is more than unfair. Our ancestors are beyond harm; they cannot know if we disappoint them. Yet the political decisions we make today will do more than just determine the burdens of citizenship for our grandchildren. They also concern existential dangers such as the likelihood of pandemics and environmental collapse. Without a presence in our political system, the plight of future citizens who might suffer or gain from our present political decisions cannot be properly weighed. We need to give them a voice.


But how can we solve this problem? Wells has some very good insights:


If current citizens can’t help but be short-sighted, perhaps we should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way. They would need to be credibly motivated to defend the basic interests of future generations as a whole, rather than certain favoured subsets, and they would require the expertise to calculate the long-term actuarial implications of government policies.


But then his solution turns laughable:


Such voters would have to be more than human. I am thinking of civic organisations, such as charitable foundations, environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks.


Well’s solution (give these groups votes) is so tied to his conception of what the “enlightened” future will bring that it clearly fails the far-seeing, impartiality, credibly motivated and expertise requirements that he outlines as desirable. We need not conclude, however, that Well’s plea is disingenuous or impossible but we do need a better implementation.


Robin Hanson’s government of prediction markets (“futarchy“) is a better approach. It is know well understood that relative to other institutions prediction markets draw on expertise to produce predictions that are far seeing and impartial. What is less well understood is that through a suitable choice of what is to be traded, prediction markets can be designed to be credibly motivated by a variety of goals including the interests of future generations.


To understand futarchy note that a prediction market in future GDP would be a good predictor of future GDP. Thus, if all we cared about was future GDP, a good rule would be to pass a policy if prediction markets estimate that future GDP will be higher with the policy than without the policy. Of course, we care about more than future GDP; perhaps we also care about environmental quality, risk, inequality, liberty and so forth. What Hanson’s futarchy proposes is to incorporate all these ideas into a weighted measure of welfare. Prediction markets would then be used to predict and make policy choices based on future welfare. Incorporated within the measure of welfare could be factors like environmental quality many years into the future. 


Note, however, that even this assumes that we know what people in the future will care about. Here then is the final meta-twist. We can also incorporate into our measure of welfare predictions of how future generations will define welfare. We could, for example, choose a rule such that we will pass policies that increase future environmental quality unless a prediction market in future definitions of welfare suggests that future generations will change their welfare standards. It sounds complicated but then so is the problem.


In short, more than any other form of government, futarchy is based on far seeing, impartial, expertise driven and credibly motivated predictions of future welfare and it is flexible enough to allow for a wide definition of welfare including taking into account the interests of future generations.


Hat tip: Carl Close.


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Published on May 13, 2014 04:14 • 11 views

Very good dumplings and noodle soups can be had on the streets in small restaurants for a dollar or two.  When you look further afield I can recommend Yi Long Court, a very fine Cantonese restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel.  Lost Heaven is a very good Yunnanese restaurant, get the Ti dishes, I enjoyed both branches of this place.  For Shanghai dishes, go to Jesse.


The more developed parts of Shanghai feel much more like the United States than any part of Beijing does, yet many traditional neighborhoods remain and there is plenty of good architecture from the early 20th century.  If not for the air pollution, this would be one of the best cities in the world.  It’s not that cheap, though, once you get past food and taxis.


The long, tree-lined alleys of Chinese neighborhoods have led to a superior reconceptualization of the outdoor shopping mall.


There are policemen who seem to be there to teach drivers how to back into spots using parallel parking.


For eleven years I’ve been writing about “Markets in Everything,” but here in Shanghai I transacted in one of those markets for the first time.  I went to “More Than Toilet,” a cafe/restaurant with a toilets theme.   Your chair is designed to look like a potty, and I was served my watermelon juice in a model of a urinal, with an elaborate straw, $6 for the experience.  (Who knows what I will try next?)  The food that was passing by looked horrible, like Chinese Denny’s on steroids.  I had blogged the original Taiwan branch of the place some time ago.


The luxury malls do not seem to have benches to sit down on and check your email.  But since hardly anyone is shopping in most of those malls, perhaps that doesn’t matter very much.


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Published on May 13, 2014 03:24 • 10 views

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