Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Dave Brubeck, Economist

Okay, he isn't an economist. But he is one of my favorite musicians and composers. He did say something related to economics, though, in a recent Wall Street Journal article. See Ranching's Loss, Jazz's Gain. Brubeck has been in the news lately because he celebrated his 90th birthday on Monday, Dec. 6. Here is the quote:

"Mr. Brubeck also has taken heat for prospering in a profession that isn't supposed to pay well. "It never has," he responded dryly. "My wife Iola and I were always very careful with our money. When I started out, Joe the butcher in our San Francisco neighborhood would ask me weekly if I wanted beef bones for our dog. He knew we didn't have a dog. I'd take them to make soup. I'd also go to the farmer's market to pick up discarded fruits and vegetables. We saved every penny.""

Here are some links so you can watch and hear some of his music performed:

Take Five

Blue Rondo à la Turk

The saxophonist is Paul Desmond. Eugene Wright on base and Joe Morello on drums.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Okun's Law

In my macro classes when I talk about how the unemployment rate falls when GDP increases (because greater output usually requires more workers), I usually say something like "but we probably need at least some minimum increase in GDP to see the unemploymet rate go down." This where Okun's Law might come help out. See Mr. Okun Saw This One Coming: Jobs Report Follows His 'Law'.

This is the key passage:

""Okun's Law," as it came to be known, has been tweaked over the years, and now states that for every two percentage points the economy grows above its long-term trend annually, unemployment falls by a percentage point.

Most economists peg the economy's long-term trend rate at about 2.5%, which is roughly where economists polled by The Wall Street Journal estimate growth stands in the current quarter.That means, according to Okun's Law, that the economy isn't growing fast enough to bring down unemployment."

See also Arthur M. Okun from the Library of Economics and Liberty.

And Is Okun’s Law Really Broken? By JUSTIN WOLFERS.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Thrift Might Be Okay Nowadays

See In a tough economy, old stigmas fall away. For example, more people are using layaway, even the wealthy.

"The old stigmas are the new realities," says Emanuel Weintraub, a New York-based retail consultant. "Now, people don't have a problem saying, 'I can't afford it.' It's a sign of strength."

Here is some evidence:

"Store-branded groceries now make up 22 percent of total sales, up from 20 percent before the recession, according to The Nielsen Co. The private-label business is worth $500 billion a year, so even a 2 percentage point change means $10 billion."

"At an Aldi location in Chicago on a recent evening, shoppers didn't care that the only recognizable brands were the Splenda sweetener, a Butterball turkey and a few kinds of candy.

Six no-name grocery items - macaroni and cheese, potato chips, cream cheese, sour cream, olive oil and guacamole - cost about $10. The same six brand-name items cost $22 at the nearby Dominick's."

"New research from American Express found that the super-affluent, which it defines as those who put at least $7,000 a month on their credit cards, spent 24 percent more on fast-food last spring than the year before. They spent 12 percent more on fine dining."

See an earlier post, Frugal Is The New Sexy.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Does Wealth Make Us Happier?

In my micro class, the last chapter we covered dealt with incomes and wealth. The question "does money buy happiness?" is perennial. Matt Ridley wrote a column about some new happiness research recently in The Wall Street Journal. See Wealth Makes Us Happier, But Why? Here is an exerpt:

"As Buddhists have long recognized, attaining our desires doesn't seem to bring satisfaction, just further restlessness. This is no surprise to evolutionary psychologists. Natural selection shaped human nature to be ambitious, not to settle for contentment. The person who kept striving to be successful left more offspring behind than the Epicurean hedonist.

So the pursuit of happiness turns out to be as frustrating as hunting the holy grail. Forcing people to be jolly seems to be counterproductive. Having children, which we do to make ourselves happy, generally makes us a bit unhappier in practice.

If you ask people whether suffering a disabling accident would make them unhappy a year after the event, they say "of course." But if you ask people who were disabled in an accident a year before if they are unhappy now, they say "no." For some people at least, happiness almost seems to have a thermostat: After good or bad things happen, we return to our own personal levels of contentedness.

Nonetheless, people say they've been getting slowly happier. In 45 of 52 countries, happiness has risen during the past 30 years. This coincides with people getting richer. Contrary to myth, rich countries have slightly happier citizens than poor countries. Of course, it's possible to be rich and unhappy, as many a celebrity deliciously reminds us. A study done in the 1970s bolstered the cheering (for the rest of us) notion that rich people are not necessarily happier, but it has since been challenged by larger statistical samples, especially in the work of Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers at the University of Pennsylvania.

What is it about prosperity that brings happiness? Rather than having more "stuff," it is probably the freedom that wealth buys, letting us make choices about our lifestyle—where to live, who to marry, what to wear. The political scientist Ronald Inglehart argues that the big gains in happiness come from living in a society that frees you to be yourself—"

Another interesting article is The pursuit of happiness: Author seeks to take its measure and find where people are most content. It quotes former University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He said "Without dreams, without risks, only a trivial semblance of living can be achieved."

Some earlier posts on happiness:

Does Or Can Money Buy Happiness?

Interesting Book: Stumbling on Happiness

Does Money Make You Mean?

I wonder if you can be mean and happy at the same time.