nhaliday + krugman   17

Reckonings; A Rent Affair - The New York Times
Economists who have ventured into the alleged real world often quote Princeton's Alan Blinder, who has formulated what he calls ''Murphy's Law of economic policy'': ''Economists have the least influence on policy where they know the most and are most agreed; they have the most influence on policy where they know the least and disagree most vehemently.'' It's flip and cynical, but it's true.
news  org:rec  krugman  econotariat  aphorism  stylized-facts  social-choice  wonkish  economics  micro  supply-demand  macro  housing  markets  government 
august 2017 by nhaliday
The material over the ideological – Gene Expression
I come not to praise or bury Max Weber. Rather, I come to commend where warranted, and dismiss where necessary.

The problem as I see it is that though a meticulous scholar, Max Weber is the father of erudite sophistry which passes as punditry. Though he was arguably a fox, his genealogy has given rise to many hedgehogs.

Weber is famous for his work on relating the Protestant ethic and capitalism (more precisely, Calvinism). In general I think Weber is less right than he is wrong on this issue. But the bigger problem is that Weber’s style of interpretative historical analysis also has spawned many inferior and positively muddled imitators, whether consciously or not.

To my mind the problems with Weber’s sweeping generalizations, interpretations, and inferences, are clearest on the topic of China. His assertions on the nature of the Chinese mind informed by Confucianism, and how it would relate to (and hinder) modern economic development are very hit or miss.
gnxp  scitariat  critique  review  books  big-peeps  europe  germanic  the-great-west-whale  regularizer  divergence  religion  christianity  protestant-catholic  china  asia  sinosphere  confucian  economics  growth-econ  history  early-modern  mostly-modern  krugman  islam  MENA  medieval  age-of-discovery  broad-econ  wealth-of-nations  aristos  cultural-dynamics  discussion  orient  civilization  n-factor  microfoundations  ideology  vitality  labor  human-capital  hari-seldon 
may 2017 by nhaliday
'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' by Thomas Piketty, reviewed | New Republic
by Robert Solow (positive)

The data then exhibit a clear pattern. In France and Great Britain, national capital stood fairly steadily at about seven times national income from 1700 to 1910, then fell sharply from 1910 to 1950, presumably as a result of wars and depression, reaching a low of 2.5 in Britain and a bit less than 3 in France. The capital-income ratio then began to climb in both countries, and reached slightly more than 5 in Britain and slightly less than 6 in France by 2010. The trajectory in the United States was slightly different: it started at just above 3 in 1770, climbed to 5 in 1910, fell slightly in 1920, recovered to a high between 5 and 5.5 in 1930, fell to below 4 in 1950, and was back to 4.5 in 2010.

The wealth-income ratio in the United States has always been lower than in Europe. The main reason in the early years was that land values bulked less in the wide open spaces of North America. There was of course much more land, but it was very cheap. Into the twentieth century and onward, however, the lower capital-income ratio in the United States probably reflects the higher level of productivity: a given amount of capital could support a larger production of output than in Europe. It is no surprise that the two world wars caused much less destruction and dissipation of capital in the United States than in Britain and France. The important observation for Piketty’s argument is that, in all three countries, and elsewhere as well, the wealth-income ratio has been increasing since 1950, and is almost back to nineteenth-century levels. He projects this increase to continue into the current century, with weighty consequences that will be discussed as we go on.


Now if you multiply the rate of return on capital by the capital-income ratio, you get the share of capital in the national income. For example, if the rate of return is 5 percent a year and the stock of capital is six years worth of national income, income from capital will be 30 percent of national income, and so income from work will be the remaining 70 percent. At last, after all this preparation, we are beginning to talk about inequality, and in two distinct senses. First, we have arrived at the functional distribution of income—the split between income from work and income from wealth. Second, it is always the case that wealth is more highly concentrated among the rich than income from labor (although recent American history looks rather odd in this respect); and this being so, the larger the share of income from wealth, the more unequal the distribution of income among persons is likely to be. It is this inequality across persons that matters most for good or ill in a society.


The data are complicated and not easily comparable across time and space, but here is the flavor of Piketty’s summary picture. Capital is indeed very unequally distributed. Currently in the United States, the top 10 percent own about 70 percent of all the capital, half of that belonging to the top 1 percent; the next 40 percent—who compose the “middle class”—own about a quarter of the total (much of that in the form of housing), and the remaining half of the population owns next to nothing, about 5 percent of total wealth. Even that amount of middle-class property ownership is a new phenomenon in history. The typical European country is a little more egalitarian: the top 1 percent own 25 percent of the total capital, and the middle class 35 percent. (A century ago the European middle class owned essentially no wealth at all.) If the ownership of wealth in fact becomes even more concentrated during the rest of the twenty-first century, the outlook is pretty bleak unless you have a taste for oligarchy.

Income from wealth is probably even more concentrated than wealth itself because, as Piketty notes, large blocks of wealth tend to earn a higher return than small ones. Some of this advantage comes from economies of scale, but more may come from the fact that very big investors have access to a wider range of investment opportunities than smaller investors. Income from work is naturally less concentrated than income from wealth. In Piketty’s stylized picture of the United States today, the top 1 percent earns about 12 percent of all labor income, the next 9 percent earn 23 percent, the middle class gets about 40 percent, and the bottom half about a quarter of income from work. Europe is not very different: the top 10 percent collect somewhat less and the other two groups a little more.

You get the picture: modern capitalism is an unequal society, and the rich-get-richer dynamic strongly suggest that it will get more so. But there is one more loose end to tie up, already hinted at, and it has to do with the advent of very high wage incomes. First, here are some facts about the composition of top incomes. About 60 percent of the income of the top 1 percent in the United States today is labor income. Only when you get to the top tenth of 1 percent does income from capital start to predominate. The income of the top hundredth of 1 percent is 70 percent from capital. The story for France is not very different, though the proportion of labor income is a bit higher at every level. Evidently there are some very high wage incomes, as if you didn’t know.

This is a fairly recent development. In the 1960s, the top 1 percent of wage earners collected a little more than 5 percent of all wage incomes. This fraction has risen pretty steadily until nowadays, when the top 1 percent of wage earners receive 10–12 percent of all wages. This time the story is rather different in France. There the share of total wages going to the top percentile was steady at 6 percent until very recently, when it climbed to 7 percent. The recent surge of extreme inequality at the top of the wage distribution may be primarily an American development. Piketty, who with Emmanuel Saez has made a careful study of high-income tax returns in the United States, attributes this to the rise of what he calls “supermanagers.” The very highest income class consists to a substantial extent of top executives of large corporations, with very rich compensation packages. (A disproportionate number of these, but by no means all of them, come from the financial services industry.) With or without stock options, these large pay packages get converted to wealth and future income from wealth. But the fact remains that much of the increased income (and wealth) inequality in the United States is driven by the rise of these supermanagers.

and Deirdre McCloskey (p critical): https://ejpe.org/journal/article/view/170
nice discussion of empirical economics, economic history, market failures and statism, etc., with several bon mots

Piketty’s great splash will undoubtedly bring many young economically interested scholars to devote their lives to the study of the past. That is good, because economic history is one of the few scientifically quantitative branches of economics. In economic history, as in experimental economics and a few other fields, the economists confront the evidence (as they do not for example in most macroeconomics or industrial organization or international trade theory nowadays).


Piketty gives a fine example of how to do it. He does not get entangled as so many economists do in the sole empirical tool they are taught, namely, regression analysis on someone else’s “data” (one of the problems is the word data, meaning “things given”: scientists should deal in capta, “things seized”). Therefore he does not commit one of the two sins of modern economics, the use of meaningless “tests” of statistical significance (he occasionally refers to “statistically insignificant” relations between, say, tax rates and growth rates, but I am hoping he does not suppose that a large coefficient is “insignificant” because R. A. Fisher in 1925 said it was). Piketty constructs or uses statistics of aggregate capital and of inequality and then plots them out for inspection, which is what physicists, for example, also do in dealing with their experiments and observations. Nor does he commit the other sin, which is to waste scientific time on existence theorems. Physicists, again, don’t. If we economists are going to persist in physics envy let us at least learn what physicists actually do. Piketty stays close to the facts, and does not, for example, wander into the pointless worlds of non-cooperative game theory, long demolished by experimental economics. He also does not have recourse to non-computable general equilibrium, which never was of use for quantitative economic science, being a branch of philosophy, and a futile one at that. On both points, bravissimo.


Since those founding geniuses of classical economics, a market-tested betterment (a locution to be preferred to “capitalism”, with its erroneous implication that capital accumulation, not innovation, is what made us better off) has enormously enriched large parts of a humanity now seven times larger in population than in 1800, and bids fair in the next fifty years or so to enrich everyone on the planet. [Not SSA or MENA...]


Then economists, many on the left but some on the right, in quick succession from 1880 to the present—at the same time that market-tested betterment was driving real wages up and up and up—commenced worrying about, to name a few of the pessimisms concerning “capitalism” they discerned: greed, alienation, racial impurity, workers’ lack of bargaining strength, workers’ bad taste in consumption, immigration of lesser breeds, monopoly, unemployment, business cycles, increasing returns, externalities, under-consumption, monopolistic competition, separation of ownership from control, lack of planning, post-War stagnation, investment spillovers, unbalanced growth, dual labor markets, capital insufficiency (William Easterly calls it “capital fundamentalism”), peasant irrationality, capital-market imperfections, public … [more]
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Skills, Tasks and Technologies: Implications for Employment and Earnings
A central organizing framework of the voluminous recent literature studying changes in the returns to skills and the evolution of earnings inequality is what we refer to as the canonical model, which elegantly and powerfully operationalizes the supply and demand for skills by assuming two distinct skill groups that perform two different and imperfectly substitutable tasks or produce two imperfectly substitutable goods. Technology is assumed to take a factor-augmenting form, which, by complementing either high or low skill workers, can generate skill biased demand shifts. In this paper, we argue that despite its notable successes, the canonical model is largely silent on a number of central empirical developments of the last three decades, including: (1) significant declines in real wages of low skill workers, particularly low skill males; (2) non-monotone changes in wages at different parts of the earnings distribution during different decades; (3) broad-based increases in employment in high skill and low skill occupations relative to middle skilled occupations (i.e., job 'polarization'); (4) rapid diffusion of new technologies that directly substitute capital for labor in tasks previously performed by moderately-skilled workers; and (5) expanding offshoring opportunities, enabled by technology, which allow foreign labor to substitute for domestic workers in specific tasks. Motivated by these patterns, we argue that it is valuable to consider a richer framework for analyzing how recent changes in the earnings and employment distribution in the United States and other advanced economies are shaped by the interactions among worker skills, job tasks, evolving technologies, and shifting trading opportunities. We propose a tractable task-based model in which the assignment of skills to tasks is endogenous and technical change may involve the substitution of machines for certain tasks previously performed by labor. We further consider how the evolution of technology in this task-based setting may be endogenized. We show how such a framework can be used to interpret several central recent trends, and we also suggest further directions for empirical exploration.

study  acemoglu  economics  models  trends  labor  automation  education  human-capital  🎩  winner-take-all  econometrics  planning  compensation  capital  polarization  stylized-facts  heavy-industry  multi  news  org:rec  krugman  regularizer 
february 2017 by nhaliday
Paul Krugman Is an "Evolution Groupie" - Evonomics
Let me give you an example. William Hamilton’s wonderfully named paper “Geometry for the Selfish Herd” imagines a group of frogs sitting at the edge of a circular pond, from which a snake may emerge – and he supposes that the snake will grab and eat the nearest frog. Where will the frogs sit? To compress his argument, Hamilton points out that if there are two groups of frogs around the pool, each group has an equal chance of being targeted, and so does each frog within each group – which means that the chance of being eaten is less if you are a frog in the larger group. Thus if you are a frog trying to maximize your choice of survival, you will want to be part of the larger group; and the equilibrium must involve clumping of all the frogs as close together as possible.

Notice what is missing from this analysis. Hamilton does not talk about the evolutionary dynamics by which frogs might acquire a sit-with-the-other-frogs instinct; he does not take us through the intermediate steps along the evolutionary path in which frogs had not yet completely “realized” that they should stay with the herd. Why not? Because to do so would involve him in enormous complications that are basically irrelevant to his point, whereas – ahem – leapfrogging straight over these difficulties to look at the equilibrium in which all frogs maximize their chances given what the other frogs do is a very parsimonious, sharp-edged way of gaining insight.
essay  economics  evolution  interdisciplinary  methodology  reflection  krugman  heterodox  🎩  econotariat  c:**  equilibrium  parsimony  complex-systems  lens  competition  news  org:sci  org:mag  elegance 
november 2016 by nhaliday

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