Sunday, April 29, 2007

Women and the Pay Gap

The American Association of University Women issued a report. One of the things it says is:

"Ten years after graduation, women fall further behind, earning only 69 percent of what men earn. Even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors known to affect earnings, the research indicates that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained and is likely due to sex discrimination."

I emailed them the following question but have not heard back:

"So the 69 percent means that women earn 69 cents for every dollar that men make ten years after college. That makes the gap 31 cents. But when these other factors are accounted for, one-quarter of the gap remains. Since one-quarter of 31 is 7.75, that means when all other factors are held constant, women earn 92.25 cents for every dollar that men make. Is my interpretation correct? How does this compare to what other studies have found? Is this gap changing over time? Were any other causes for the remaining 7.75 cents examined besides sexual discrimination?"

An article by Steve Chapman gives a different view than the American Association of University Women on this issue.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Game Theory and the Prisoner's Dilemma on the TV Show "Numb3rs"

The show mentioned this along with the scholar Anatol Rapoport who used the "tit for tat" strategy to win a prisoner's dilemma tournament. This game has applications in economics. I play it in my class then talk about how it relates to oligopoly in microecomics. Oligopoly is a market structure where a small number of firms dominate, like the auto industry. The idea in the prisoner's dilemma is that two criminals are being interrogated in separate rooms. It turns out that they would both be better off (in terms of how much jail time they will get) if they don't confess to a crime. But if one confesses while the other does not, the confessor gets alot less jail time while the one who did not gets alot more. So they each have a temptation to confess even though they would both be better off if they did not confess. How exactly this works is explained here and here. How things worked in the tournament that Rapoport won is described here. His method of playing turned out to be the best even though it was simple. How all of this works for the oligopoly and how those firms set prices is explained here.

In the tournament, players can choose two possible moves on each play: cooperate or defect. Cooperate means playing nice and not getting too greedy. Each player makes a move and gets points depending not only on what move they made but on what move the other player made. The "tit for tat" strategy means being nice (cooperating) but punishing (defecting) if the other player defects. If both players cooperate, they get more points than if they defect. But the temptation to defect is strong because if you defect when the other person is trying to cooperate, you get even more points (and the cooperator gets less). With the firms in oligopoly, cooperate is charge a high price. But the temptation is to defect, charge a lower price, and make more profit than your competitor. But then they start lowering the price, too, and you both make less profit than if you both charged a high price.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

This is the title of an essay by the famous philosopher Robert Nozick. You can read it here. I had a blog entry on how college professors are liberal, so this essay by Nozick might explain that. My blog entry from last year can be read here.

Here are two key paragraphs from Nozick's essay:

"Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards. Intellectuals feel entitled to this. But, by and large, a capitalist society does not honor its intellectuals. Ludwig von Mises explains the special resentment of intellectuals, in contrast to workers, by saying they mix socially with successful capitalists and so have them as a salient comparison group and are humiliated by their lesser status. However, even those intellectuals who do not mix socially are similarly resentful, while merely mixing is not enough--the sports and dancing instructors who cater to the rich and have affairs with them are not noticeably anti-capitalist.

Why then do contemporary intellectuals feel entitled to the highest rewards their society has to offer and resentful when they do not receive this? Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution "to each according to his merit or value." Apart from the gifts, inheritances, and gambling winnings that occur in a free society, the market distributes to those who satisfy the perceived market-expressed demands of others, and how much it so distributes depends on how much is demanded and how great the alternative supply is. Unsuccessful businessmen and workers do not have the same animus against the capitalist system as do the wordsmith intellectuals. Only the sense of unrecognized superiority, of entitlement betrayed, produces that animus."

Update on April 26: More info on political affiliations in higher education can be found here. Scholars who claim that social science and humanities professors tend to be Democrats defend their views.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Our Standard of Living Continues to Grow

A report from the Census Bureau shows that even more so than in 1992, our material needs are being met. You can read about it here in an article by Cox News Service reporter Bob Dart.

The percentage of Americans who have an air conditioner and other appliances has gone up since 1992. We are generally getting our basic needs met like food, shelter, medicine and safety. Alot more of us have things like microwave ovens and VCRs.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Former Communist Countries Benefit From Economic Freedom

In my macro class, we read a book called "The Economics of Macroissues." In the first chapter they show how countries with common law systems (as opposed to civil law systems) that tend to respect property rights have higher rates of economic growth. The difference does not have to be big. Over time, even an extra half of one percentage point in economic growth can add up. If your economy grows 2.5% a year for 100 years, it will increase 11.81 times. That means if your country's per capita income was $1,000 to begin with, 100 years later it will be $11,810. But if your economy grows 3% a year, after 100 years your per capita income would be $19,219. More than $7,000 higher than the other country and about 62% higher.

A recent study by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank shows that the country's that had the most economic freedom among the former communist nations or Soviet republics have had the highest growth rates. You can read this study here. I think this result is important because someone could always claim that the countries around the world with higher growth rates had them not because of more economic freedom but for some other reason. But this study has alot of countries that began with alot in common, having been former communist states. Yet again, more economic freedom means more growth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Rules Pop Culture?

There was an interesting article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. You can read it here. The article raises the question of why do some bands or movies become so popular. Were they just good or was there some kind of luck involved? According to the article, "reliable hit prediction is impossible." Maybe if the world had been only slightly different, the Beatles might not have been as popular as they were. The author of the article, Duncan Watts, used the internet to run some experiments (described in the article). To make a long story short, it seems that what we end up liking is based largely on knowing that someone else likes it. But in some experiments a song became very popular and in others it did not. If, in the beginning, people saw that other people just happened to like a song, then they liked it and vice-versa. All of this is clearly described in the article, which is relatively short and well written.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Real Estate Double Whammy?

The housing market is always in the news. Prices soar. Then prices fall because there is a glut on the market. But within a couple of blocks of where I live, there are two apartment buildings that both have a for sale sign and a for rent sign on the front lawn. It seems like the for sale sign would scare away renters since you won't know who your landlord will be. The for rent sign would scare away potential buyers since they might wonder if they could actually make money on the building. It would also make you think that is why the building is being sold-not enough renters.

Maybe this is sign of where the housing market is. There are so many houses out there that not too many people need apartments anymore. So being a landlord is not attractive. But owning a house is not always better than renting an apartment. When my wife and I looked at houses a few years ago, anything that would have given us a comparable amount of square footage as our apartment would have been $200-$300 more a month when you consider the mortgage and property taxes. Then if anything needs fixing, we would have to pay. And take care of the lawn.

Now some would say we would build up equity in the house. But we can also save more money and that builds up over time. The only good the equity in the house would be is if we borrowed against it later in life, like with a reverse mortgage. But that is only if the value of the house appreciates. There is no guarantee that the value of the house would rise fast enough to match how much our savings account would increase.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Interesting Theory on Stock Market Fluctuations

Nicholas Barberis of the University of Chicago Business School has an interesting article called Search for the Holy Grail: Demystifying the Stock Market. This is clearly written for a general audience. The basic idea seems to be that when the market is up, people feel like they are good investors and that they are playing with the "house's money." So they will keep buying, making the market go up even more. But when things are down, people get pessimistic and want to sell (also because of "loss aversion," the idea that people have a bigger drop in utility from losing a dollar than the gain from finding a dollar). So people sell more quickly since they don't want to lose anything. Then the market goes down even more. So the ups and downs are bigger than you might expect.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Life in the Pits: Anthropology Meets Economics

There is a new book out called Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology From Chicago to London. It is by Caitlin Zaloom, an assistant professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. Below are some exerpts from an article she wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Maybe you have heard of or seen the trading pits of commodities exchanges (like in the Eddie Murray/Dan Ackroyd movie "Trading Places"). The traders are buying and selling commodities like gold and wheat by yelling out their orders and offers to the other traders. But things are changing and becoming more computerized. Here are the exerpts from Zaloom's article:

"At work on the trading floor, I soon learned that a fundamental transformation was, indeed, taking place. The trading pits of Chicago were quickly being dismantled by the electronic technologies that connected traders at computer terminals around the world to a central server, swapping the raucous action of the pits for the quiet hum of online circuits. Geertz's example (Clifford Geertz was a famous anthropologist who looked at economic life) inspired me to assess what social changes facilitated such an important shift in the way money circulated around the globe, even as advocates championed the power of network connectivity and low costs of electronic trading.

The most significant transformations concerned the kind of people and the types of skills that do well in online markets. For generations, Chicago's trading fathers helped their sons into the business, and neighbors who shared fences provided entry-level jobs, like clerking, to each others' kids. (In fact, such family connections eased my own way onto the Chicago floor, providing the kind of object lesson in the culture of the trading pits that only fieldwork could offer.) Once in the pit, traders proved their mettle by being quick, loud, and brash. Each trader had to wrest his living from his competitors on the steps of the trading pit, reading a market in the voices, hands, and faces of his rivals.

The shriveling of the pits, once muscled by erstwhile Big Ten linebackers, had opened a niche for Ivy League engineers, M.B.A.'s, and math geeks, who quickly found a place in the Chicago futures markets. On a recent visit to Chicago, I met with the director of a trading firm — one located far up in a tower away from the trading floor — who gave me a blunt assessment of the social foundation of derivatives markets. "It's getting really Revenge of the Nerds around here," he reported. The unmediated physical competition that had created famously efficient markets for 150 years no longer seemed sufficient.

The talents of the traders must match the kinds of technologies with which they work. Instead of bodies, voices, and well-known personalities, traders now confront changing numbers on a "dealing" screen. This simple display creates an image of the market seemingly separate from the people who make it up, and which appears to exist beyond the cities in which they work. Training on the football field is less important now than hours and days spent in front of video games. Stamina is no longer displayed in a crowded pit but in the ability to resist the eye-glazing glare of the computer screen. In the shift from the trading pit to the computer, a new kind of trader emerges, one who can shape complex mathematical models, observe the market, make cool judgments, and take dispassionate action; in other words, a trader who can embody the value of efficiency that we associate with the market itself."

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Free Market: Friend to Third World, Less Developed Countries

Three recent articles illustrate this:

Writing in the San Antonio Express-News, Jeanie Wyatt writes about Ireland. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is now 4th in the world in per capita GDP. How did they do it? Several factors bu among them are low taxes " The corporate tax rate was 10 percent to 12.5 percent throughout the late 1990s" and "limited government intervention."

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had an article about Kenya. The government is getting out of the way to let entrepreneurs set up call centers that are helping the economy. It even did away with the government phone monopoly.

The Wall Street Journal had an editorial called The Mozambique Miracle. You have to be a subscriber to read that one. But here are some exerpts:

""We opened our markets and dropped the centralized economy," says Miquelina Menezes, who chairs the country's association of economists and runs a fund devoted to bringing electricity to rural areas."

"But hyperinflation and a stagnant economy forced leaders of the neo-Marxist liberation movement, Frelimo, to shift their approach. Starting in the early 1990s, the ruling party cut subsidies, opened to outside investment, privatized firms nationalized after independence in 1975 and got a grip on borrowing and the budget. An independent central bank brought inflation into single digits. According to the World Economic Forum's competitiveness index, Mozambique has reformed more than any sub-Saharan African country."

"The payoff is the highest average growth rate, at 8% over the last decade, among the continent's non-oil exporters. GDP per capita is a still tiny $320, but that's compared with $178 in 1992. Since 1997, poverty rates decreased more in rural areas (from 71% to 55%) than in urban (62% to 52%), according to the World Bank. Child mortality has declined to 152 per 1,000 live births from 235. And primary-school enrollment has risen to 71% from 43%. Once a leading recipient of food aid, Mozambique now exports maize, with 5.6% average yearly growth in farming in the last 15 years. Banks, telecom and tourist firms, many from neighboring South Africa, have come in."

"But neighbors in similar straits haven't put in place Mozambique's fixes. Inflation in Zimbabwe is 1,700%; nearby Malawi and Zambia, their economies distorted by subsidies on commodities, are growing haphazardly."

Friday, April 06, 2007

Interesting Looking Movie: The Call of the Entrepreneur

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty has produced a documentary titled The Call of the Entrepreneur. If you go to the link you can view the trailer. It looks good. Nice to see someone promoting the good side of capitalism and entrepreneurship.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

San Antonio College Math Professor Reforms Texas State Lottery

His name is Gerald Busald and over the years he has found inaccuracies in the odds that the lottery states as well as other misleading aspects. Becaue of him (and his students), the lottery has had to institute reforms. Great to see a professor from my college getting such richly deserved recognition. You can read all about it here for the full article. Below are some key excerpts.

"Until recently, the Texas Lottery did not disclose cash values — the amount won if players chose to collect a top prize in one lump sum payment. The lottery only disclosed the amount that would be collected in 25 annual installments. Players have always known that a winning cash-value ticket contained a lesser prize than the jackpot listed. But now, thanks to the intervention of local lottery critic Gerald Busald, millions can actually know what they're playing for.

In June, Busald recommended eight changes in the lottery. In December, the Texas Lottery Commission implemented one of them — disclosing cash-value amounts on its Web site. By Aug. 31, cash-value amounts will appear on tickets. More remarkably, TLC has agreed to implement all of Busald's recommendations.

On the back of a ticket are the overall odds of winning Lotto Texas: 1 in 71. What a ticket doesn't reveal are the odds of winning the top prize: One in 25.8 million.
Thanks to Busald, jackpot odds will soon be posted on tickets, and the print will be larger.

Thanks to Busald, lottery billboards across the state have been changed to include "annuitized" beside the word jackpot. Most players, Busald says, know the advertised jackpot will be paid in annual installments. But inclusion of "annuitized," he insisted, is proper disclosure.

Persuading TLC to make minor changes is one thing. But Busald's fingerprints appear on a major one. In a January TLC meeting, Busald chided the lottery for continuing to sell scratch-off tickets after all top prizes had been claimed. Commissioners refused to halt the practice. Last week, TLC capitulated. Gerald Busald wields clout because he helped TLC in its search for a new executive director."