Sunday, January 30, 2011

31% Of Americans Cheat On Their Spouses--About Finances

See Is Your Partner Cheating On You Financially? 31% Admit Money Deception. It seems selfish to cheat. If there is any circumstance in which people might not follow their own self-interest, it would be with their significant other. Yet many people admit to doing it.

A related post from last Sept. was Should You Break Up With Your Fiancé If They Have Too Much Debt?

This cheating undermines trust in the relationship. One woman says she does not tell her current husband about the child support she gets from her first husband that she puts in a secret bank account.

Here are some excerpts:

"Among both offenders and victims, the leading money crimes were hiding cash, minor purchases and bills. Meanwhile, a significant number of people admitted hiding major purchases, keeping secret bank accounts and lying about their debt or earnings.

“A third of the population admits to not being honest with their spouse,” says NEFE chief executive Ted Beck. “That is a big number. These indiscretions cause significant damage to the relationship.”"

"Among couples impacted by financial infidelity, 67% said the deception led to an argument and 42% said it caused less trust in the relationship. Perhaps most alarming, 16% of these respondents said the money lie led to a divorce and 11% said it led to a separation."

"According to the survey, over half of all financial cheaters admitted hiding cash (58%) or minor purchases (54%). NEFE’s Beck says this is particularly concerning, as small lies often compound over time to become increasingly larger and more harmful deceptions. Of the offenders, 30% have hidden a bill, 16% have hidden a major purchase, 15% had a secret bank account, 11% lied about their debts and another 11% lied about the amount of money they earned."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Want Your Kids To Visit You When You're In A Nursing Home? Then Be Rich

See Do We Really Only Care About Ourselves? What Makes People Give? Economists Say Charity Almost Always Has Strings Attached from ABC News. They talked to Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of the books Freakonomics and SuperFreaknomics (links to their Amazon pages are below).

Here is an excerpt:

"What the "SuperFreakonomics" duo found at retirement homes surprised them.

"If you're a parent in a nursing home, the best predictor that your child will show up is if you, the parent, are quite rich," Levitt said. "Children of rich parents are much more likely to show up in nursing homes than are children of poor parents."

But even that wasn't a guarantee.

"If you didn't have to compete against your brothers and sisters to go and get the bequest, you didn't show up at the nursing home," said Levitt.

It may sound depressing to think that's what drives us, but as Dubner said, "It would be depressing if we were all just cruel and selfish all the time, but we know we're not."

Americans donate $300 billion to charity every year, according to Giving USA 2009. Clearly, we are incredibly giving. So what gives? Is this pure altruism or does something else motivate us to give?"
The whole question of how selfish or altruistic we are is one of the more important issues in economics. We normally assume people act on their self-interest. We may be altruistic, but how much?

They also mention that good looking people raise more money for charity than average looking people. People like the benefits of giving, like when a college names a building after them. So what sometimes looks like an altruistic act might be motivated by self interest. And if people are altruistic, how come we never have enough kidney donors?

They also give a different view on the famous Kitty Genovese murder and the question of whether or not 38 people watched her get killed and did nothing.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything


SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Small Changes In Growth Rates Add Up Over Time

In my macro courses we read a chapter in the book "The Economics of Macroissues." The chapter discussed how nations with common law systems, where property rights are better protected than in nations with civil law systems, have higher growth rates. I pointed out to my classes that even a small difference in growth rates ends up causing a very big difference in per capita incomes due to the annual compounding effect.

About a year ago, Paul Krugman mentioned that the per capita GDP since 1980 has grown 1.95% in the US and 1.83% in the EU. But we should also remember that small differences in growth rates compound over time. If per capita income was 20,000 in both the US and EU 29 years ago, the per capita income (or GDP) now would be 35,015 in the US and 33,839 in the EU, a difference of $1,176. Maybe not a big difference. But after 100 years the US income level would be 12% higher. After 200 years it would be 26% higher.

The table below shows how much per capita income would be at various rates after 100 and 200 years. Assume we start with a per capita income of $1,000. If we grow 2.0% per year, after 100 years it will be $7,245. At 2.1% per year, it would be $7,791 or about $700 more. That is how much that little .1% matters. The difference over 200 years is about $11,000. After 100 years at 2.5% per year, per capita income would be $11,814. That is $4,000 more than the 2.0% rate. Small differences in growth rates add up to big differences over time.

Per Capita Income After 100 and 200 Years At Various Annual Growth Rates (Starting With $1,000)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Recession Cleaned The Air, Another Example Of How Life Is Full Of Tradeoffs

One of the first things I teach each semester is how there is no free lunch. If you want more of one thing you have to give up something else. This is usually when I talk about scarcity, opportunity cost and the production possibilities frontier.

The recession has been painful for many people. But the air is probably cleaner than it otherwise would have been. See Recession Special: Cleaner Air from last Sunday's NY Times. Here are some excerpts:

"emissions of global warming gases in the United States are down.

According to the Energy Department, carbon dioxide emissions peaked in this country in 2005 and will not reach that level again until the early 2020s."

"“The recession has led to a smaller economy, less activity and less energy consumption,” said Revis W. James, director of the Energy Technology Assessment Center at the Electric Power Research Institute, a utility consortium.

Electricity consumption had been growing at a rate of 1 percent to 1.5 percent a year, but the recession brought on the steepest drop in decades. When demand fell, the utilities cut back on the use of their least-efficient generating stations, the ones that emit the highest amounts of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Milton Friedman vs. John F. Kennedy

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's famous inaugural address. You might have noticed that Google commemorated it. Many writers have commented on it this past week. Below are the first two paragraphs from the introduction to Friedman's 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom. Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976.

"IN A MUCH QUOTED PASSAGE in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny.

The organismic, "what you can do for your 'country" implies tht government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather "What can I and my compatriots do through government" to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Would You Pay $250,000 To Get Your Friends' Respect?

This is the question rasied by the article Is Law School a Losing Game? (from the NY Times) The article discusses how law school graduates are having a harder time finding good paying jobs as lawyers. In the last 10-15 years many more students have graduated but law firms have cut their staffs. Some students end up tens of thousands of dollars or even hundred of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for law school. The schools seem to fudge the numbers as to how many of their graduates actually get jobs. Many students don't make anything close to a six-figure salary.

But here is something interesting about one student, who is now $250,000 in debt:

"Mr. Wallerstein, for his part, is not complaining. Once you throw in the intangibles of having a J.D., he says, he is one of law schools' satisfied customers.

"It's a prestige thing," he says. "I'm an attorney. All of my friends see me as a person they look up to. They understand I'm in a lot of debt, but I've done something they feel they could never do and the respect and admiration is important.""

That seems like alot of money to pay to get respect. It just does not seem necessary for the price to be that high.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tough Professors Are Better For Students In The Long Run

See One Measure of a Professor: Students' Grades in Later Courses: Course sequences may indicate instructors' strengths, but colleges find the data hard to tease out. It was in the Chronicle of Higher Education (it might only available to subscribers but I'm not sure).

The research shows that although tougher professors don't give out as many A's and B's, and their student evaluations are not as good, their students do better when they get to upper level (junior and senior level) classes.

It can be hard to find this out. A study like this needs "ceteris paribus" conditions. That is, all other factors have to be held constant (something discussed in the first chapter of probably all principles of economics texts). For example, if good students intentionally take tough profs, then we can't be sure why they did better later. Was it because they were better students or because the profs were tough and upheld high academic standards?

But at the Air Force Academy, here is why they have "ceteris paribus" conditions:

"All students at the academy are required to take a common core of 30 credits. No matter how much they might hate Calculus I, they still have to take Calculus II. Most course sections are small—about 20 students—and students have no discretion in choosing their sections or instructors. Finally, every Calculus I section uses the same common tests, which are graded by a pool of instructors. (One instructor grades Question 1 for every section, another instructor grades Question 2, and so on.)

All those factors make the Air Force Academy a beautifully sterile environment for studying course sequences.

Mr. West and Mr. Carrell (the economists who did the study) didn't have to worry that their data would be contaminated by students self-selecting into sections taught by supposedly easy instructors, or male instructors, or any other bias. They didn't have to worry about how to account for students who never took the follow-up courses, because every student takes the same core sequence. And they didn't have to worry about some instructors subtly grading the tests more leniently than others."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sitting Too Much Can Damage Your Health, But Taking Breaks May Help Offset The Effect

A few days ago the news media reported on a newly published study that said that:

"Spending lots of free time glued to the TV or computer screen can hurt your heart and shorten your life, no matter how much exercise you get when you're not riding the couch, a new study suggests."

See Too much TV time may hurt your heart by Anne Harding. The research was done by Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at University College London. The article also says:

"Why is sitting harmful? It's not entirely clear, but animal studies have shown that prolonged sitting slows down the action of an enzyme (lipoprotein lipase) that breaks down fats in the blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides. When the enzyme activity slows, levels of those substances climb. This is a "very plausible explanation" for the findings, Stamatakis says."

It concluded with "Stamatakis and his colleagues are now investigating whether getting up and walking around or even just standing can help counter the ill effects of sitting."

But just today another article came out about research which says that taking breaks will help. See Taking Short Breaks From Sitting May Help Waistline and Heart: Even a little more activity spread through the average workday boosts health, study suggests by Alan Mozes.

This research was done by Genevieve N. Healy, of the Cancer Prevention Research Centre at in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Herston, Australia.

""This research suggests that even small changes to a person's activity levels [as little as standing up regularly] might help to lower cardiovascular risk. These changes can be readily incorporated into the person's day-to-day life [including the work environment]. Stand up, move more, more often, could be used as a slogan to help get this message across.""