Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Is There A Christmas Tree Shortage?

See No Tannenbaum! There’s a Christmas-Tree Shortage by Valerie Bauerlein of The Wall Street Journal.

They seem to be saying that there has been a decrease in supply. That will cause prices to rise and quantity to fall. But just because there are fewer trees for sale than there used to be does not mean there is a shortage. That requires that quantity demanded is greater than quantity supplied. They are equal, although at a lower quantity than before.

Excerpts:
"This Christmas, supplies of live trees are tight. Some Christmas tree lots are closing almost as soon as they open, citing a shortage of trees and presaging a potential national run on firs this weekend, traditionally the busiest of the tree-buying season.

Some suppliers blame extreme weather this past year. Some blame changes to agriculture, like small farmers in Oregon, the biggest tree-producing state, turning to grapes and cannabis instead.
But most growers blame the Great Recession.

It takes seven years to 10 years to grow a tree. Many farmers planted fewer seedlings or went out of business altogether in the years after the housing bust, when consumers pulled back spending. At the same time, total acreage in production declined 30% between 2002 and 2012, according to the latest federal data available.

The ensuing tightening of supply started last year and live-tree buyers spent an average of $74.70, more than double the average in 2011, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade association for the live-tree industry. To meet 2016 contracts, some growers cut trees from this year’s crop early, making the 2017 supply even leaner.

The lack of supply is being felt most acutely in states including Florida, Arizona and Illinois—those farther from Oregon and North Carolina, which account for 37% and 25%, respectively, of Christmas tree production.

Customers are likely to pay at least 10% more than last year for a 5-foot to 7-foot tree, and up to 20% more for a taller tree, said Steve Troxler, agricultural commissioner for North Carolina."
Previous Christmas posts:

Are Homemade Gifts Better Or More Special?

What Anthropologist Melvin Konner Fails To See When He Criticizes Economists And Their Views On Gift Giving 

Is Christmas Gift Giving Inefficient?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Does It Matter If We Call Entrepreneurs Heroes?

First, a funny comic fron Non Sequitur


Should society call entrepreneurs heroes? Are they like heroes from mythology? Those may seem like strange questions for an economist to ask. But they matter for several reasons. Dwight Lee and Candace Allen argued that if we don't honor entrepreneurial accomplishments, we won't get enough startups. Deirdre McCloskey says that economic growth only took off around the year 1800 because the West began according dignity to entrepreneurs. The work of entrepreneurs parallels the hero's adventure in mythology. The idea has been gaining attention recently, being discussed in The Wall Street Journal while Jeffery McMullen has called for scholars to once again take it seriously. Even Joseph Campbell, the author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, one of the inspirations for Star Wars, called the entrepreneur the real hero in American capitalistic society in a radio interview (see appendix). 
            Cyril Morong was the first to examine the similarities between entrepreneurs and mythological heroes.[i],[ii] He compared entrepreneurship research to The Hero With a Thousand Faces to see if the activities of entrepreneurs corresponded to the hero's adventure. What is the hero's adventure? According to Campbell
"The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return, which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
How is this similar to the entrepreneur's adventure?
            The hero's journey begins with a call to adventure. He or she is awakened by some herald which touches his or her unconscious world and creative destiny. The entrepreneur, too, is "called" to the adventure. By chance, he or she discovers a previously unknown product or way to make a profit. The lucky discovery cannot be planned and is itself the herald of the adventure. Israel Kirzner sees successful entrepreneurship as result of a lucky discovery of a new opportunity for economic profit, but it is luck that was due to alertness while leading a life of purposeful action.[iii]
            The entrepreneur must step out of the ordinary way of producing and into his or her imagination about the way things could be to discover the previously undreamt of technique or product. The "fabulous forces" might be applying the assembly line technique or interchangeable parts to producing automobiles or building microcomputers in a garage. The mysterious adventure is the time spent tinkering in research and development. But once those techniques are discovered or developed, the entrepreneur now has the power to bestow this boon on the rest of humankind.
            Heroes and entrepreneurs both bring change. Campbell refers to the constant change in the universe as "The Cosmogonic Cycle" which "unrolls the great vision of the creation and destruction of the world which is vouchsafed as revelation to the successful hero." This is similar to Joseph Schumpeter's theory of entrepreneurship called “creative destruction.” A successful entrepreneur simultaneously destroys and creates a new world, or at least a new way of life. Henry Ford, for example, destroyed the horse and buggy age while creating the age of the automobile. The hero also finds that the world "suffers from a symbolical deficiency" and "appears on the scene in various forms according to the changing needs of the race." The changing needs and the deficiency correspond to the changing market conditions or the changing desires for products. The entrepreneur is the first person to perceive the changing needs.
            Candace Allen and Dwight Lee say that "society needs heroes" and that "entrepreneurs are heroes in every sense." Yet they are not often see as heroes-in fact the opposite seems to be true even though they are indispensable to economic progress. One problem is that economists have not generally promoted entrepreneurs as being important. They acknowledge that creative destruction was "the hallmark of entrepreneurship" without mentioning the parallel to Campbell. Entrepreneurs are motivated not just by money but also by "service to something transcendental."  Their views can be summed up with:
“Just as the society that doesn't venerate winners of races will produce fewer champion runners than the society that does, the society that does not honor entrepreneurial accomplishment will find fewer people of ability engaged in wealth creation than the society that does.”[iv]
            Dwight Lee and Candace Allen Smith covered similar ground in a later article but also used Campbell, notably the "separation-initiation-return" core of the monomyth (although they still missed the creation destruction connection between Campbell and Schumpeter). They suggest that entrepreneurs are seen negatively due to political biases and the fact that their role in capitalism is poorly understood.[v] Calling them heroes might offset this.
            Jeffery McMullen argues that seeing entrepreneurs as heroes doesn't mean that they are hyper-individualistic lone rangers, cutoff from the rest of society. They may receive some community support, but a new venture still requires someone to act, to take the first step. This requires courage due to uncertainty. They are heroic because they bear personal costs. McMullen also bases his observations on the work of Campbell and Schumpeter. He calls on scholars to end their hostility to calling entrepreneurs heroes. Otherwise, we are all "vulnerable to the tyranny of cautious conformity while subjecting our social systems to the constant threat of stagnation."[vi]
            Charles Murnieks, Jeffery McMullen, and Melissa Cardon also mention entrepreneurs being heroes (citing Campbell and Schumpeter). Using surveys, they found that entrepreneurs experienced positive emotions (PE) when they perceived that their self-identity as entrepreneurs matched that of society or their environment. That is, if the entrepreneurs saw themselves as risk-takers who enhance social welfare, and if the entrepreneurs thought that society saw them that way as well, positive emotions were experienced.
            Their empirical findings may support Allen and Lee's contention that society should honor entrepreneurial accomplishments:
"challenging environments are part of what makes a hero’s actions valiant. In a similar manner, we contend that dynamic environments may play a key role in framing an entrepreneur’s actions as courageous or innovative, because the individual is seen to act in the face of uncertainty and turbulence. Stakeholders (such as mentors, family members, or investors) who advise entrepreneurs should know and accentuate this point. By providing reaffirming feedback in dynamic and challenging environments, these stakeholders can elevate the PE experienced by the entrepreneur and motivate them to continue on their journey. In essence, this strategy can help separate the generation of PE from the success of the venture in some cases."[vii]
The "reaffirming feedback" is a way to honor the entrepreneur which motivates them to "continue on their journey."
            The idea that entrepreneurs might be heroes is now starting to reach the popular media. Barbara Haislip reported on how storytelling, especially about the founders, can be a marketing tool for businesses. She interviewed Angela Randolph of Babson College who said “Stories about founders and new innovations are often in the form of a myth and follow the hero’s journey.” Randolph then described the hero's journey as outlined in Campbell. Telling the founding story about "the hero’s call to action...pulls the audience in" if they can trigger "strong emotions."[viii]
            This question may be relevant now since entrepreneurship may be in decline. Jeffrey Sparshott reported that “the share of private firms less than a year old has dropped from more than 12 percent during much of the 1980s to only about 8 percent since 2010. In 2014, the most recent year of data, the startup rate was the second-lowest on record, after 2010.”[ix] Honoring and respecting the work of entrepreneurs might be a way to reverse this trend.[x]
            Also, historically, it may have only been when entrepreneurs became respected that economic growth took off. Deirdre McCloskey argues that what made the world so wealthy today, when average world income in 1800 was just $1 to $5 per day (adjusted for inflation)  was a change in ideas:
"...in Holland and then in England. The revolutions and reformations of Europe, 1517 to 1789, gave voice to ordinary people outside the bishops and aristocrats. Europeans and then others came to admire entrepreneurs..."
           
It was a "Middle-Class Deal" that gave entrepreneurs dignity and liberty to seek profit and generate social welfare. This led to a flurry of inventions, innovations and new institutions that made our modern world and therefore "the ordinary people, and especially the very poor, were made much, much better off." She even says "People had to start liking "creative destruction...""[xi]
            In fact, one of her books is titled Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. McCloskey writes
"that the modern world was made not by the usual material causes, such as coal or thrift or capital or exports or imperialism or good property rights or even good science, all of which have been widespread in other cultures and at other times."[xii]
McCloskey even credits "the Kirznerian entrepreneur [for allowing her] to make progress on the puzzle of economic growth." What is entrepreneurship? It is an "unhirable factor" or "alertness" and "can't be something that can be provided routinely, such as the services of banking or management. It must be creative."[xiii] Creativity comes from stepping outside the normal way of doing things, "jumping over the edge and moving into the adventure" (see the Campbell interview in the appendix). So the entrepreneur is just like the hero in mythology.[xiv]
Appendix
Tape #1901: "Call of the Hero" with Joseph Campbell interviewed by Michael Toms. New Dimensions Foundation audio tape from a live interview on San  Francisco's radio station KQED. The following exchange was part of a discussion of the question of: What is creativity?
Toms: In a sense it's the going for, the jumping over the edge and moving into the adventure that really catalyzes the creativity, isn't it?
Campbell: I would say so, you don't have creativity otherwise.
Toms: Otherwise there's no fire, you're just following somebody else's rules.
Campbell: Well, my wife is a dancer. She has had dance companies for many, many years. I don't know whether I should talk about this. But when the young people are really adventuring, it's amazing what guts they have and what meager lives they can be living, and yet the richness of the action in the studio. Then, you are going to have a concert season. They all have to join a union. And as soon as they join a union, their character changes. (emphasis added, but Campbell changed the tone of his voice) There are rules of how many hours a day you can rehearse. There are certain rules of how many weeks of rehearsal you can have. They bring this down like a sledgehammer on the whole thing. There are two mentalities. There's the mentality of security, of money. And there's the mentality of open risk.
Toms: In other societies we can look and see that there are those that honor elders. In our society it seems much like the elders are part of the main stream and there is a continual kind of wanting to turn away from what the elders have to say, the way it is, the way to do it. The union example is a typical one, where the authority, institution, namely the union comes in and says this is the way it's done. And then one has to fall into line or one has to find something else to do.
Campbell: That's right.
Toms: And it's like treating this dichotomy between elders and the sons and daughters of the elders. How do you see that in relationship to other cultures?
Campbell: This comes to the conflict of the art, the creative art and economic security. I don't think I have seen it in other cultures. The artist doesn't have to buck against quite the odds that he has to buck against today.
Toms: The artist is honored in other cultures.
Campbell: He is honored and quickly honored. But you might hit it off, something that really strikes the need and requirements of the day. Then you've given your gift early. But basically it is a real risk. I think that is so in any adventure, even in business, the man who has the idea of a new kind of gift (emphasis added) to society and he is willing to risk it (this is exactly what George Gilder says in chapter three, "The Returns of Giving" in his book Wealth and Poverty). Then the workers come in and claim they are the ones that did it. Then he (the entrepreneur) can't afford to perform his performance. It's a grotesque conflict, I think between the security and the creativity ideas. The entrepreneur is a creator; he's running a risk.
Toms: Maybe in American capitalistic society the entrepreneur is the creative hero in some sense.
 Campbell: Oh, I think he is, I mean the real one. Most people go into economic activities not for risk but for security. You see what I mean. And the elder psychology tends to take over.
This discussion ended and after a short break a new topic was discussed.


[i] Cyril Morong, "The Creative-Destroyers: Are Entrepreneurs Mythological Heroes?" (Presented at the annual meetings of the Western Economic Association, July), 1992, available at: http://cyrilmorong.com/CreativeDestroyers.pdf
Cyril Morong, "The Calling of the Entrepreneur," The New Leaders: The Business Bulletin for Transformative Leadership, November/December 1992, p. 4, available at:  http://cyrilmorong.com/ENTREPRENEURshort.pdf
Cyril Morong, "Mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the Socioeconomic Conflict,” The Journal of Socio-Economics, Volume 23, No.4, Winter 1994, pp. 363-382, available at:  http://cyrilmorong.com/MythCampbellSocioEconomic2.pdf
[ii] Wyn Wachhorst in Thomas Alva Edison: An American Myth (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), pp.74-86, uses Joseph Campbell's book The Hero With a Thousand Faces to analyze part of Edison's early life, although Wachhorst suggests that Edison might have been more trickster than hero. Wachhorst quotes David McClelland from The Achieving Society with: "Interestingly, David McClelland found that Hermes, the trickster of the Greek pantheon, is the mythological type which best reflects the "achievement personality [of entrepreneurs]."" Morong (1992a) also mentions tricksters. The word entrepreneur does not appear in the index of the Edison book. So Wachhorst probably did not look at any research on entrepreneurs in general. He did not mention Schumpeter and creative destruction, either. Wachhorst often compares Edison to Prometheus, suggesting that using electricity is like stealing fire.
[iii] Israel Kirzner, Perception, Opportunity, and Profit (The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 163, 181.
From personal correspondence with Israel Kirzner he writes "I should point out in my own treatment of the entrepreneur, he is not seen as a "hero." Moreover, in my own treatment pure luck is not seen as entrepreneurial. (but as the act of deliberately putting oneself into a situation which one hopes will prove lucky is entrepreneurial)." It is my contention that the best way for a person to put themselves into a situation in which they will be lucky is for them to follow Campbell's advice that is based on his analysis of the hero's adventure. This is to follow your bliss, to listen to the wisdom of your heart and do what you love, not what the social system would have you do. If you follow your bliss, you are a hero. I believe that the most successful entrepreneurs follow their bliss and are therefore heroes. Jeffery McMullen (cited below) also mentions that entrepreneurs follow their bliss.
Joseph Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development (New Brunswick, NJ:Transaction Books, 1983), p. 923 lists three classes of motives for entrepreneurship: the will to found private kingdom, the will to conquer, and the joy of creating. The first, although seemingly only greedy, ranges, however, from "spiritual ambition down to mere snobbery." The second was like a sporting event, with money used to keep score, and not an end in itself. The entrepreneur of the third class of motives is in it for the sake of "exercising one's energy and ingenuity" and for the delight in venturing. All three classes of motives are anti-hedonistic, with the third being the most so. This certainly makes it plausible to see the entrepreneur as someone who follows his or her bliss.
[iv] Candace Allen and Dwight Lee, "The entrepreneur as hero," Journal of Private Enterprise, Volume 12, No. 1, Fall 1996, pp. 1–15.
[v] Dwight Lee and Candace Allen Smith,  “The Entrepreneur on the Heroic Journey,” The Freeman, Vol. 47 No. 4, April 1997, available at: https://fee.org/articles/the-entrepreneur-on-the-heroic-journey/
[vi] Jeffery McMullen, "Are we confounding heroism and individualism? Entrepreneurs may not be lone rangers, but they are heroic nonetheless," Business Horizons, Volume 60,          Issue 3, May–June 2017, pp. 257–259.
[vii] Charles Y. Murnieks, Jeffery S. McMullen, and Melissa S. Cardon, "Does Congruence with an Entrepreneur Social Identity Encourage Positive Emotion Under Environmental Dynamism?" Journal of Small Business Management, 27 February 2017, doi:10.1111/jsbm.12335, abstract available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsbm.12335/abstract
[viii] Barbara Haislip, "Tell Me a Story," The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2017, page R8, available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-entrepreneurs-story-can-be-the-perfect-marketing-tool-1493604360
[ix] Jeffery Sparshott, "Sputtering Startups Weigh on U.S. Economic Growth," The Wall Street Journal, October  23, 2016, available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/sputtering-startups-weigh-on-u-s-economic-growth-1477235874
[x] Allen and Lee (1996) mention that "during the 1980s almost 90 percent of all business characters on television were portrayed as corrupt." It does not seem like there are many movies or TV programs even now that show entrepreneurs in a positive light.
[xi] Deirdre McCloskey, "Liberty and Dignity Explain the Modern World": An Essay Based on Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World, November 2011, available at: http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/articles/bd/briefBD.php.
[xii] Deirdre McCloskey, "Ideas, Not "Capital," Enriched the World," March 19, 2016, available at: https://fee.org/articles/ideas-not-capital-enriched-the-world/
[xiii] Deirdre McCloskey, "A Kirznerian Economic History of the Modern World,"  June 17, 2011, available at: http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/editorials/kirzner.php
[xiv] McCloskey also writes that the growing freedom and increasing respect for entrepreneurs "created more and more opportunities for Kirznerian alertness." Furthermore "Austrian discovery and creativity depends also on the other virtues, in particular on Courage and Hope" and "A new rhetorical environment in the eighteenth century encouraged (literally: "gave courage" to the hope of) entrepreneurs." She does, however, see a weakness in that Kirzner does not consider the audience of the entrepreneur, the customers and the rhetoric they use.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Farm Bureau Survey Reveals Lowest Thanksgiving Dinner Cost in Five Years

Click here to read the story. Excerpts:
"American Farm Bureau Federation’s 32nd annual price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.12, a 75-cent decrease from last year’s average of $49.87.

The big ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – came in at a total of $22.38 this year. That’s roughly $1.40 per pound, a decrease of 2 cents per pound, or a total of 36 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2016."

"The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers."

It also looks like the cost has not changed much, adjusted for inflation, over time.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is There Economic And Political Meaning In "The Wizard of Oz?"

We covered international trade in my micro class recently and the text book has something about this in that chapter.

To get a handle on this, you can read Money and Politics in the Land of Oz By Quentin P. Taylor. Also, for my students, there is an article in chapter 15 of the micro book by Tucker and in chapter 18 in the macro book.Below is an excerpt from the Taylor paper:


"Dorothy, the protagonist of the story, represents an individualized ideal of the American people. She is each of us at our best-kind but self-respecting, guileless but levelheaded, wholesome but plucky. She is akin to Everyman, or, in modern parlance, “the girl next door.” Dorothy lives in Kansas, where virtually everything-the treeless prairie, the sun-beaten grass, the paint-stripped house, even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry-is a dull, drab, lifeless gray. This grim depiction reflects the forlorn condition of Kansas in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when a combination of scorching droughts, severe winters, and an invasion of grasshoppers reduced the prairie to an uninhabitable wasteland. The result for farmers and all who depended on agriculture for their livelihood was devastating. Many ascribed their misfortune to the natural elements, called it quits, and moved on. Others blamed the hard times on bankers, the railroads, and various middlemen who seemed to profit at the farmers’ expense. Angry victims of the Kansas calamity also took aim at the politicians, who often appeared indifferent to their plight. Around these economic and political grievances, the Populist movement coalesced.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Populism spread rapidly throughout the Midwest and into the South, but Kansas was always the site of its most popular and radical elements. In 1890, Populist candidates began winning seats in state legislatures and Congress, and two years later Populists in Kansas gained control of the lower house of the state assembly, elected a Populist governor, and sent a Populist to the U.S. Senate. The twister that carries Dorothy to Oz symbolizes the Populist cyclone that swept across Kansas in the early 1890s. Baum was not the first to use the metaphor. Mary E. Lease, a fire-breathing Populist orator, was often referred to as the “Kansas Cyclone,” and the free-silver movement was often likened to a political whirlwind that had taken the nation by storm. Although Dorothy does not stand for Lease, Baum did give her (in the stage version) the last name “Gale”-a further pun on the cyclone metaphor.

The name of Dorothy’s canine companion, Toto, is also a pun, a play on teetotaler. Prohibitionists were among the Populists’ most faithful allies, and the Populist hope William Jennings Bryan was himself a “dry.” As Dorothy embarks on the Yellow Brick Road, Toto trots “soberly” behind her, just as the Prohibitionists soberly followed the Populists.

When Dorothy’s twister-tossed house comes to rest in Oz, it lands squarely on the wicked Witch of the East, killing her instantly. The startled girl emerges from the abode to find herself in a strange land of remarkable beauty, whose inhabitants, the diminutive Munchkins, rejoice at the death of the Witch. The Witch represents eastern financial-industrial interests and their gold-standard political allies, the main targets of Populist venom. Midwestern farmers often blamed their woes on the nefarious practices of Wall Street bankers and the captains of industry, whom they believed were engaged in a conspiracy to “enslave” the “little people,” just as the Witch of the East had enslaved the Munchkins. Populists viewed establishment politicians, including presidents, as helpless pawns or willing accomplices. Had not President Cleveland bowed to eastern bankers by repealing the Silver Purchase Act in 1893, thus further restricting much-needed credit? Had not McKinley (prompted by the wealthy industrialist Mark Hanna) made the gold standard the centerpiece of his campaign against Bryan and free silver?"
Now an excerpt from Tucker:
"Gold is always a fascinating story: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900 and this children's tale has been interpreted as an allegory for political and economic events of the 1890s. For example, the Yellow Brick Road represents the gold standard, Oz in the title is an abbreviation for ounce, Dorothy is the naive public, Emerald City symbolizes Washington, D.C., the Tin Woodman represents the industrial worker, the Scarecrow is the farmer, and the Cyclone is a metaphor for a political revolution. In the end, Dorothy discovers magical powers in her silver shoes (changed to ruby in the 1939 film) to find her way home and not the fallacy of the Yellow Brick Road. Although the author of the story, L. Frank Baum, never stated it was his intention, it can be argued that the issue of the story concerns the election of 1896. Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan (the Cowardly Lion) supported fixing the value of the dollar to both gold and silver (bimetallism), but Republican William McKinley (the Wicked Witch) advocated using only the gold standard. Since McKinley won, the United States remained on the Yellow Brick Road."
But not everyone agrees with this. Economist Bradley Hansen wrote an article titled The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics in the Journal of Economic Education in 2002. Here is his conclusion:
"Rockoff noted that the empirical evidence that Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an allegory was slim, but he compared an allegorical interpretation to a model and suggested that “economists should not have any difficulty accepting, at least provisionally, an elegant but controversial model” (Rockoff 1990, 757). He was right—we did not have any difficulty accepting it. Despite Rockoff’s warning, we appear to have accepted the story wholeheartedly rather than provisionally, simply because of its elegance. It is as difficult to prove that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was not a monetary allegory as it is to prove that it was. In the end, we will never know for certain what Baum was thinking when he wrote the book. I suggest that the vast majority of the evidence weighs heavily against the allegorical interpretation. It should be remembered that no record exists that Baum ever acknowledged any political meanings in the story and that no one even suggested such an interpretation until the 1960s. There certainly does not seem to be sufficient evidence to overwhelm Baum’s explicit statement in the introduction of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that his sole purpose was to entertain children and not to impress upon them some moral. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a great story. Telling students that the Populist movement was like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz does seem to catch their attention. It may be a useful pedagogical tool to illuminate the debate on bimetallism, but we should stop telling our students that it was written for that purpose."
I found a review of the book in the NY Times from 1900 and it does not mention anything about OZ having political or economic meaning. The book was also made into a musical a few years later and none of the reviews of the musical mention any political or economic meaning.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Deficit Trials 2017 A. D.

This was a commercial back in 1986. It paints a bleak picture of America in the future, presumably caused by the growing national debt ($2 trillion then, about $20.5 trillion now-adjusted for inflation the 1986 figure would be about $4.4-4.5 trillion now, so we have still risen quite a bit). I think this thing is way over the top but there may be some real dangers from the debt that I mention below. You might have to watch a brief commercial for some product first. We have been covering the deficit and debt this week in my macro classes. If the embedded video does not appear, use the link below it.

Ridley Scott - W. R. Grace Deficit Trials

Real problems the national debt might cause
 

1. About 31% of the debt is owed to foreign citizens. When they get paid back, they come and buy American goods. That leaves fewer goods for Americans (who can't afford to buy as much due to higher taxes that were needed to pay back the debt). BUT THIS MIGHT NOT BE A CONCERN IF WE ORIGINALLY BORROWED THE MONEY FOR A GOOD PURPOSE.

People borrow money all the time to buy houses and cars. Then they pay it back to a person outside of their family or household. We don’t consider this a burden since the money was put to good use. Right after World War II, the national debt was 120% of the GDP. This was much higher than it is now and we survived. No one complains that we borrowed to win the war. The national debt is about 105% of the GDP now. In 1986, the year the video was made, it was about 50% of GDP.

2. Raising taxes might hurt economic incentives. At higher tax rates, people might want to work and invest less. Fewer businesses might expand and fewer news ones created since you will get to keep less profit. But again, THIS MIGHT NOT BE A CONCERN IF WE ORIGINALLY BORROWED THE MONEY FOR A GOOD PURPOSE. Also, if taxes only go up a little, and the debt is slowly paid off each year (like after WW II), it may not hurt too much.

3. We may have fewer government services in the future if we pay back the debt by lowering government spending. But this means that we are trading more government services today for fewer in the future. THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A BAD THING IF THE MONEY IS SPENT WISELY (which everyone not might not agree on).

If taxes and interest rates are higher in the future due to the debt, that will lower our future economic growth rate. We will still probably grow, but not as much.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Today Is Day Of The Deadweight Loss

On this day, economists mourn all the social welfare that has been lost in the last year. That social welfare is lost and we will never get it back. 

Deadweight loss is the loss of social welfare caused by that dreaded demon, inefficiency. Examples are monopoly and externalities. To learn more, go the following link:

Deadweight_loss

One good way to commemorate this day would be to cut out the deadweight loss triangle from a monopoly graph (like the one shown below) and burn it, to symbolize all of the lost social welfare. Doing so is both a life-changing and life-affirming ritual.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Female homicide rate dropped after Craigslist launched its erotic services platform

Sex workers have long argued that online erotic services platforms make their jobs safer. A new study proves it.

In my micro sections, we have been reading a chapter titled "Sex, Booze and Drugs" in the book The Economics of Public Issues. That chapter mentions that prostitutes are safer when they can advertise online.

By Noah Berlatsky of ThinkProgress. Excerpts:

"The September 2017 study, authored by West Virginia University and Baylor University economics and information systems experts, analyzes rates of female homicides in various cities before and after Craigslist opened an erotic services section on its website. The authors found a shocking 17 percent decrease in homicides with female victims after Craigslist erotic services were introduced.

The data does not provide a single clear explanation as to why female homicide rates drop so steeply, Scott Cunningham, one of the paper’s authors, told ThinkProgress. It’s possible, for example, that when Craigslist opens erotic services ads, some women in abusive domestic situations decide to become sex workers, move out, and so escape violent homicide at the hands of their spouses or boyfriends.

The most likely explanation, though, Cunningham says, is that sex workers simply make up a huge percentage of female homicide victims. When sex workers are safer, female homicide rates drop significantly.

Cunningham and the paper’s other authors, Gregory DeAngelo and John Tripp, analyzed online escort review sites in order to try document the movement of sex workers to indoor locations. They found that after Craigslist introduced erotic services pages, client reviewers mentioned lower prices and lower satisfaction — a sign that lower-priced street workers were moving indoors and receiving reviews for the first time.

Once sex workers move indoors, they are much safer for a number of reasons, Cunningham said. When you’re indoors, “you can screen your clients more efficiently. When you’re soliciting a client on the street, there is no real screening opportunity. The sex worker just has to make the split second decision. She relies on very limited and complete information about the client’s identity and purposes. Whereas when a sex worker solicits indoors through digital means, she has Google, she has a lot of correspondence, she can ask a lot of questions. It’s not perfect screening, but it’s better.” 

There’s some evidence that other crimes are decreased by online advertising as well. Kristen DiAngelo, executive director of the peer sex worker advocacy organization Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) Sacramento, pointed to a study conducted by the organization in 2015. Researchers interviewed 44 sex workers on the street and, of those workers, 18 percent said they had moved outdoors following the closing of SFRedbook. 

“Of that 18 percent, almost every one of them had been raped since they’d been out there,” DiAngelo told ThinkProgress. “We had been asking them ‘have you been raped?’ but there was a point where I wanted to say, ‘Have you been raped yet?’ because it was just that prevalent.”

DiAngelo also believes that easy access to online ads makes trafficking less likely, rather than more likely. On the street, women are visible; it’s easy for pimps and traffickers to find them. Online, DiAngelo says, “women can run their own business and predators don’t have immediate access to them.” 

Maxine Doogan, founder of the California-based Erotic Service Providers Union, added that online ad providers like Craigslist and Backpage also improve safety because they provide access to steadier work and more affluent clients. Shutting down the sites “makes people desperate for money,” she told ThinkProgress."

In theory, closing down advertising is supposed to reduce exploitation of women. In practice, when resources are taken away from people living on the edge of poverty, they have fewer options and are less able to protect themselves.

For all these reasons access to the Internet can transform the experience of sex work. Young women who have been able to screen clients using sites like Craigslist, “almost feel like this is a safe job because they have these tools,” DiAngelo said.

Sex workers report that free online advertising makes them safer. There is now data showing that erotic services ads significantly decrease female homicide rates. So, will law enforcement back down and allow these sites to operate again?"

Feedspot named this blog number 97 on its list of the top 100 economics blogs and websites (so that is my third top 100 ranking)