Sunday, November 29, 2009

Looks Like Some Pretty Good Capitalists Run The Congress

Go to Policy, portfolios and the investor lawmaker: As stock ownership rises in Congress, experts warn of potential ethics concerns from the Washington Post this past week.

Most members of the House of Representatives own stock. The article says "The investments increasingly put lawmakers in the position of voting or advocating on matters that could affect their personal wealth, whether the lawmakers realize it or not."

Politicians who rarely agree on anything might be found to be voting for the same bill if it matters to their pocket book. They are supposed to report what they own but the drag their feet and the records are not very well computerized, so they are harder to analyze. And they are good at this investing stuff. From 1985-2001, the legislators beat the market by .55 basis points a month. In a year that means 6.6 percentage points above the market.

In that time, the market (DJIA) gained just a bit under 1% a month (from 12-31-85 to 12-31-2001). It went from 1,546 to 10,021. So, if you had $1,546 in the market it became worth $10,021. But, if you were a member of Congress, it rose about 1.5% a month and you would have ended up with $26,970. Each dollar in the market grew into $6.48 while for the lawmakers it grew into $17.44.

"The researchers, whose findings were presented at a congressional hearing in July, said the statistics suggest that those unusual returns must be based on lawmakers' access to "government and important social contacts.""

But legislators acting on their self interest is not new. Charles Beard wrote about this in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. He argued that self-interest was a big force in how the framers wrote the constitution.

In the 1950s, Forrest McDonald We the People : The Economic Origins of the Constitution, in attempt to refute Beard. But more recently, economic historian Robert A. McGuire wrote a book called To Form a More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution. He used modern statistical analysis to show that the Beard thesis may be legitimate.

My students might recall something like this that I talk about on the first day of the semester. Congressmen in the early 1790s voted on the "Funding and Assumption Act" based on how much money they would receive if that bill passed. The bill paid back all of the debts from the Revolutionary War at full value (they were not getting paid back before the Constitution was passed because under the Articles of Confederation all states had to agree to a tax increase-this did not happen much so taxes were never raised to pay back the money the government borrowed to finance the war). But under the Constitution if both the House and the Senate passed a tax increase and the president signed it, it became law.

The debts were securities or bonds. Some congressman owned them. I found how much about half the congressmen owned in these bonds from McDonald's book. The ones who voted yes on the bill had an average of about $6,000 while the ones who voted no had about $700. So it is possible that money influenced the vote.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Have Alot To Be Thankful For Since I'm Soon Going To Be Rich!!

I got this email a few days ago and it looks like it is from a famous economist. Anybody have any suggestions as to what I should do with $10 million?

"Chairman Federal Reserve Bank New York

We received the instructional letter to credit $10.5million to your account. We wish to let you know that all charges are waived for the sucess of this contract fund to be credited into the your account.

Your respond is required to enable us credit your account without any further of delay and you are also required to get back to us with the reconfirmation of your banking particulars for we to know if what we have in file is correct and to avoid crediting your fund to wrong account.

Please be fast on this matter.

Bzen S. Bernanke"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Senators And Representatives Get Paid To Talk, But Do We Always Know Who Is Paying Them?

These legislators make lots of speeches and ask questions at congressional hearings. That is part of their job and maybe they like doing that sort of thing (which might explain why they ran for office in the first place). So you might assume that the taxpayers are paying them to talk. But maybe not. The New York Times had an article recently called In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’. Here is the intro:

"In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident. Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies. E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans."

It later says

"In recent years, Genentech’s political action committee and lobbyists for Roche and Genentech have made campaign contributions to many House members, including some who filed statements in the Congressional Record. And company employees have been among the hosts at fund-raisers for some of those lawmakers."

So it looks like this company is actually paying the representatives to say what they want them to say. This reminds me of an Associated Press (AP) article from way back in 1993 (before the internet was widespread). It described how political action committees (PACs) were requiring senators and representatives to sign pledges of what their positions were on various issues before they got their campaign contributions. Of course, the PACs would not be giving money to politicians on the "wrong" side of the issue. It sounded like vote buying back then and it still does. The article was "Interest Groups Use Pointed Questionnaires As Lobbying Tactic" by Jim Drinkard and was issued by the AP on March 26, 1993. I don't think it is online anywhere.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mortgage Delinquency Rate Hits An All-Time High

In two of my classes this week we discussed the housing crisis over the last few years. The latest news is reported in Mortgage loans: Record number are late. According to the article, "In the third quarter, 9.64% of all mortgage loans were delinquent..." and "The combined percentage of loans in foreclosure or at least one payment past due was 14.41% on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the highest ever recorded in the MBA delinquency survey."

In a related article Foreclosure plague: It's spreading, McAllen, Texas is reported to have the fastest growing rate. And with the high unemployment rate, the foreclosure and delinquency rates could go higher. To see a map of the unemployment rates for each state, go to Where does your state rank?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Leggo Your Eggo: There's a Waffle Shortage

That is the title of a news article which you can read here. According to the article, "Kellogg is rationing its Eggo products due to flooding and equipment problems at two bakeries. The shortfall could last through mid-2010." So the solution? The article says "Remaining inventory will be rationed to stores across the country "based on historical percentage of business.""

Why not let the price rise? That way there won't be lines of people waiting to get them or people calling the stores or the stores having to establish waiting lists. Are stores going to set limits on how many you can buy? What if you are the first person in the store, are they going stop you from buying all that is there?

Three years ago strange things happened when Play Station 3 came out. Instead of charging a higher price at first, it was at the normal price. So there were long lines and certain people got first dibs. You will be surprised who. Read about that at this link.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Late Breaking News Bulletin: The depression is over! We're out of the red!

So said an enthusiastic character in the 1934 movie Stand Up and Cheer!. Here is the video clip of the man getting worked up about how everything has turned around. The text is below the clip in case the sound is not good enough.

Here is a link to the video file: We're out of the red!

Mr. Cromwell, I've got great news for you.
The depression is over.
Over, do you realize that.
Factories are opening up.
Men are going back to work by the thousands.
Our farm products are being sold the world over.
Savings accounts are heaping up.
The banks are pouring out new loans.
There is no unemployment.
Fear has been banished.
Confidence reborn.
Poverty has been wiped out.
Laughter resounds throughout the nation.
The people are happy again.
We're out of the red.

Here is the movie's IMBD synopsis: "President Franklin Roosevelt appoints a theatrical producer as the new Secretary of Amusement in order to cheer up an American public still suffering through the Depression. The new secretary soon runs afoul of political lobbyists out to destroy his department." I guess they were trying to make people feel better. Unemployment was 25% in 1933. This was one of the first big roles for Shirley Temple.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Get out of here and get me some money too

That is a line from a song that Peggy Lee (1920-2002) is well known for singing. Below is a video of her singing it with Benny Goodman (1909-86) and his orchestra. KRTU played it on the radio this morning and I have been meaning to post this for awhile. The lyrics are printed below the video.

The video is online at Peggy Lee - Why Don't You Do Right (1943). Here are the lyrics which I got at Why Don't You Do Right.

Why Don't You Do Right

You had plenty money, 1922
You let other women make a fool of you
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

You're sittin' there and wonderin' what it's all about
You ain't got no money, they will put you out
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

If you had prepared twenty years ago
You wouldn't be a-wanderin' from door to door
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

I fell for your jivin' and I took you in
Now all you got to offer me's a drink of gin
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Like some other men do

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

For People Who Still Have Jobs, Women's Wages Have Risen Faster Than Men's During The Recession

This was reported in a Wall Street Journal article called Women's Wages Outpaced Men's During Recession. The increase in median wages for women was 3.2% while it was 2.0% for men. The article gives a pretty thorough run down on how various demographic groups have done during the recession. Men now have an 11% unemployment rate while women have 8.4%.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Being Happy Might Hurt Your Bottom Line

This came up in two articles recently. The first is Don’t Worry, Be Happy: The Warranty Psychology. The article suggests that people are very happy when they make a big purchase like a refrigerator. So they are willing to pay alot for an extended warranty, especially if they got a discount on the product. But the price of the warranty is often too high. If a product has a 10% chance of failure, you don't want to pay more than 10% of the product price for the warranty. But people often do. To avoid this, the article concludes with "The lesson is simple: Stay grouchy while shopping."

The other article is Sadder But Wiser. It discusses research by Joseph Forgas, a professor of psychology at Australia's University. The article says "Sometimes, he finds, it pays to be sad." Also, " a bad attitude makes us more critical of what we are told and less easily duped."

Here is more:

"Not only can a mild malaise keep us from being bamboozled, but we are more perceptive and have sharper, more accurate recall when we're down in the dumps. The professor tested people on their ability to remember items viewed on a cluttered table. On a dreary, drizzly day, people "had better eyewitness memory for what they saw" than those tested "on a bright, sunny day.""

"The Icelandic mood may have been knocked down a peg or two by the collapse of the country's economy, but that may not be such a bad thing. Could it be that Iceland's positive disposition is what got it into such a mess in the first place? If a dour mood dispels credulity, then where better to peddle monumental scams than in a nation awash in good feelings?"

"The method-acting crowd long ago perfected the technique of dredging up memories of life's awful moments to produce compelling stage tears. A similar technique could have business applications. A maudlin and well-timed musing on the death of your childhood dog could save the company millions.

On the flip side, a salesman looking to close a deal should do his best to induce a warm wave of good feelings. Remember, a happy customer is a rather less critical customer. The customer may want to adopt a crotchety counter-strategy akin to the old saw about not going grocery shopping when hungry: Don't do any sort of shopping when you're cheery."

One more thing. Don't have a nice day.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sports, Economics and Politics Collide When Government Officials Get World Series Tickets

The article is Lawmakers Score Ticket Deal: Baseball Sells Officials Scarce World Series Seats at Face Value, Far Below Going Rate. Why would teams give up profit? My guess is that something else is in the offer, something only politicians can trade. Here is the intro to the article:

"Tickets for Wednesday's World Series game are nearly impossible to come by at face value. But that isn't the case if you are a member of Congress or one of their aides.

Federal lawmakers and people who work for them have gotten their hands on scores of tickets to the sold-out World Series games this year between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies courtesy of a perk not available to the public.

Major League Baseball and the teams sell a limited number of prime seats to lawmakers and congressional aides at face value, often hundreds of dollars less than the going rate.

The league has sold about 75 World Series tickets to a total of 15 lawmakers or aides in the past week, according to Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball. Mr. Courtney declined to identify which lawmakers and aides sought the tickets.

Because the recipients pay for the tickets, the offer complies with ethics rules for Congress and the executive branch. The arrangement, however, highlights what some ethics watchdogs say is a loophole in recently tightened congressional ethics rules, which ban officials from receiving just about any gifts.

"Anytime you have access to something that regular people don't have, it should be considered a gift," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Regular people can't call the Major League Baseball office and get tickets.""

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Want Your Neighbors To Know How Much You Made Last Year And Your Net Worth? Move To Norway

Every year the govenment publishes the "skatteliste" or "tax list" "to uphold the country's tradition of transparency." Some people say that this is the way democracy is supposed to work. But not everyone agrees. For example

"Besides providing criminals with a useful tool to find prime targets, he said the list generates playground taunts of my-dad-is-richer-than-your-dad.

"The children of people with low wages are being teased about it in the schools," Stordrange said Thursday. "People with low salaries are being met with comments at the grocery store, 'How can you live on these low wages?'""

The article is Lutefisk and loot: Tax records open in Norway

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Some Women Actually Want Polygamy Legalized

The reasons seem to be mainly economic. It was in a
New York Times article. It was an actually an exerpt of another, longer article (link below). Here is what the Times article said:

"Women in Siberia are lobbying to legalize polygamy, a Cambridge University anthropologist reports in The Guardian in London. The critical issue is demography. Population is falling and there are fewer men than women. Caroline Humphrey, the anthropologist, said: “Women say that the legalization of polygamy would be a godsend: it would give them rights to a man’s financial and physical support, legitimacy for their children, and rights to state benefits.” Meanwhile, some Russian nationalists claim that introducing polygamy in the country would provide husbands for “10 million lonely women” and fill Mother Russia’s cradles."

The more in depth article, which discusses research by an anthropologist is 'Half a good man is better than none at all: 'A study of polygamy in Russia suggests we have a lot to learn about how to beat the recession.