Friday, February 05, 2016

U.S. Economy Added 151,000 Jobs in January; Unemployment at 4.9%

See Click here to read the NY Times article.

One weakness of the unemployment rate is that if people drop out of the labor force they cannot be counted as an unemployed person and the unemployment rate goes down. They are no longer actively seeking work and it might be because they are discouraged workers.

We could look at the employment to population ratio. But that includes everyone over 16 and that means that senior citizens are in the group but many of them have retired. The more that retire, the lower this ratio would be and that might be misleading.

But we have this ratio for people age 25-54 (which also eliminates college age people who might not be looking for work). Click here to see this data from the BLS.

The percentage of 25 to 54 year olds employed went from 77.4% in Dec. to 77.7% in Jan. It was 79.7% in Dec. 2007, the month the recession started. So there might still some catching up to do. But it was good to see a 0.3% increase in one month

Friday, January 29, 2016

Wh Is Most Likely To Default On Their Student Loans?

See Should Anyone Be Eligible for Student Loans? by Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal. Excerpt:
"For decades, the federal government has imposed no underwriting standards in its student-loan program. Just about any American can borrow as much as $57,500 for college—and essentially unlimited amounts for graduate school—with little regard for the person’s ability to repay. Everyone taking out federal loans in a given year pays the same interest rate.

Supporters of that no-questions-asked policy say it guarantees every American a shot at a degree and a secure middle-class income. Imposing underwriting standards would deny a higher education to many poor people who can’t get loans from private lenders, they argue.

But a sharp rise in delinquencies in the $1.2 trillion federal student-loan program is drawing comparisons to subprime mortgage lending, which added to the housing crisis. It is also stirring debate on other ways to allot student aid.

New research shows a preponderance of the millions of borrowers who have defaulted on student loans in recent years are poor, were unprepared for college, and attended troubled schools that offered little hope of leading to a decent job.

“It’s not a gift to a poor person who is not going to be able to complete a degree program to give them a loan,” said Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford University economics professor, who calls the soaring load of student debt “a self-inflicted wound on the part of the federal government.

As of Sept. 30, just over 7 million borrowers had gone at least a year without making a payment on their federal student loans, Education Department figures show.
The student-loan delinquency rate has jumped to around 12%, roughly double its level before the recession, according to the New York Federal Reserve. When excluding borrowers still in school, roughly a quarter of all student debt is at least 90 days behind on payments. The comparable number for home-mortgage debt never exceeded 9% after the housing crash.

A recent Brookings Institution study by Treasury Department economist Adam Looney and Stanford’s Constantine Yannelis attributes the rise in both borrowing and defaults since the recession largely to “nontraditional students” who enrolled at for-profit schools and community colleges. Those schools typically have low or no academic standards for enrolling.
Such students made up more than two-thirds of defaults among those who left school in 2011, the study found, analyzing government tax records and student-loan figures. The defaulted borrowers tend to be older, from lower-income families, and more likely to be first-generation college-goers compared with students who attend four-year schools.
Likewise, an October paper by Federal Reserve researchers linked defaults to those who had weak credit scores. About 30% of those who had credit scores of between 500 and 599 a year before they left school eventually became delinquent on their loans. But among those with a score of 680 to 729, only 9% became delinquent, according to the paper, by Fed economists Alvaro Mezza and Kamila Sommer."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Another Semester Has Started

Welcome to any new students. The entries usually have something to do with a basic economic principle that is related to a recent news story. If you want to learn more about me go to Why is college so hard? (you may have to be patient with this site but the article is not long)

If that link is not working try this one

Monday, December 21, 2015

The San Antonio Express-News Printed An Article By Me On Terrorism

It does not seem to be online anywhere. It is titled "Fight Terror With Entrepreneurship." It is in the Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 edition on page A11. Here is what I sent them:

Last year the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal titled The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism Military might alone won’t defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment . He favored promoting economic empowerment in less developed countries.

In his research, de Soto has documented the great difficulties poor people face in legally starting a business and establishing titles to property. When you can’t get title to a property and establish that you own it legally, it makes it hard to get credit at a bank. That limits your business’s size and income.

Any business a poor person starts remains in the underground economy and can’t grow and flourish to its full potential. Just starting a business legally in a less developed country can take months of filling out a great deal of paper work, something only the well off and well educated can do easily.

In Egypt, de Soto says in another article, Egypt's Economic Apartheid “To open a small bakery… would take more than 500 days” and “an aspiring poor entrepreneur would have to deal with 56 government agencies.”

He explained how the Shining Path terrorists were defeated in Peru. A change in policy “gave indigenous entrepreneurs and farmers control over their assets and a new, more accessible legal framework in which to run businesses, make contracts and borrow.”

This led to more economic growth than the rest of South America as well as a faster growing middle class. He recommended doing the same in Arab countries.

In the Arab Spring in 2010, the big problem was small entrepreneurs being harassed by government bureaucrats who constantly demanded bribes and payoffs to let them continue operating their businesses.

James Surowiecki wrote a similar article in The New Yorker in 2011 called The Tyrant Tax. He argued that the stifling of entrepreneurship was especially hard on young people since it limits their opportunities and slows down economic growth.

That just increases their chances of turning to terrorist groups like ISIS. But given we have a case, Peru, where terrorism was successfully fought through the expansion of entrepreneurship, we should again be looking at it as a viable policy option.

The views of de Soto and Surowiecki are supported by more widespread research done by economists William Easterly and Ross Levine. They found that institutions matter more for economic growth than natural resources.

What are those institutions? They include, along with political stability, protection of property, security of contracts and freedom from regulatory burdens.

How much difference can this make? If Mexico had the same institutions as the U.S., its per capita income would be just as high, instead of only being about one-third as much.

If there were greater opportunities in Arab countries because regulatory burdens were eased, then maybe fewer young people would turn to terrorism.

Fighting terrorism through reduced regulations might seem farfetched. But George McGovern, the very liberal democratic candidate for president in 1972, told of how the regulatory burden affected him.

He ran an inn after he left the senate. It went bankrupt and he wrote in a Wall Street Journal article that costly regulations may have played a role. He also noted that we should make sure policies are not “choking off those opportunities” for entrepreneurs.

If someone like McGovern had problems with regulations, just imagine how hard it is for a poor entrepreneur in a less developed country who faces even more bureaucracy, delays and red tape. We get slow growth economies that fall short of opportunities for young people, creating a breeding ground for terrorism. Hernando de Soto shows us this can be reversed.


A good resource on these issues is the book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity By William J. Baumol, Robert E. Litan, Carl J. Schramm

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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

See What Economists Fail to See in the Act of Gift-Giving: New research suggests why holiday gifts—unlike purchases for oneself—have a value far higher than some economists previously thought from the WSJ. Here is a letter I submitted to the WSJ:
"Melvin Konner takes economists to task because they ignore the fact that gifts symbolize your friendship with someone else and instead focus only on their efficiency ("What Economists Fail to See in the Act of Gift-Giving," Dec. 5.) He argued that gifts have sentimental value, too. That may be true, but we could just as easily see gift giving as an example of what economists call signals. If I spend money on a gift for you, that signals that I am willing to incur a cost to show to you that I am truly your friend. You would not spend money on another person if you did not think you were friends. Konner actually hints at this when he says we feel cheated if we give gifts to a friend but they never reciprocate. Their not spending money on us signals their lack of feelings for us."
 To me, just the very fact that we spend money to prove to another person that we are their friend shows that economics is a very significant part of gift giving. Konner did not mention this possibility at all.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The unemployment rate held at a 7-1/2-year low of 5 percent

See Sturdy U.S. employment report a green light for December rate hike.

One weakness of the unemployment rate is that if people drop out of the labor force they cannot be counted as an unemployed person and the unemployment rate goes down. They are no longer actively seeking work and it might be because they are discouraged workers.

We could look at the employment to population ratio. But that includes everyone over 16 and that means that senior citizens are in the group but many of them have retired. The more that retire, the lower this ratio would be and that might be misleading.

But we have this ratio for people age 25-54 (which also eliminates college age people who might not be looking for work). Click here to see this data from the BLS.

The percentage of 25 to 54 year olds employed went from 77.2% to 77.4% in Nov. It was 79.7% in Dec. 2007, month recession started. So there might still some catching up to do.

Friday, November 20, 2015

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.