Friday, February 26, 2016

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.

This was a post from December, 2010. Here are the growth rates in real GDP for the years 2011-2015


Now here are the unemployment rates for the years 2010-2015


So unemployment has fallen quite a bit despite sluggish growth. But the employment picture might not be that great. We see a drop in the unemployment rate of 4.3 percentage points but the increase in the percentage of 25-54 year olds employed was much smaller.  Only 2.26 percentage point increase or only about half of the fall in unemployment. Here are the numbers for the percentage of 25-54 year olds employed for the years 2010-2015.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Federal Reserve Economists May Have Discovered Another Cause Of Bankruptcy

See Why You Might Go Bankrupt If Your Next-Door Neighbor Wins the Lottery by Ben Leubsdorf at The Wall Street Journal blog. In case that link does not work, try Here’s why winning the lottery makes your neighbors go broke by the same author in The New York Post. Excerpts from the WSJ blog:
"Winning the lottery can be hazardous to your neighbors’ financial health.

Research released this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found a significant jump in bankruptcies among households living near someone who won a big lottery jackpot. The economists theorized that people may have seen the good fortune next door and felt pressure to accumulate more assets of their own, especially flashy purchases like cars, that they simply could not afford.

“Income inequality induces poorer neighbors to consume more visible (rather than invisible) commodities to signal their abilities to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ to their richer neighbors,” economists Sumit Agarwal, Vyacheslav Mikhed and Barry Scholnick wrote. “This tendency can lead to additional and unsustainable borrowing among the relatively poor to finance this additional conspicuous consumption, which can eventually result in financial distress and bankruptcy.”"

"The headline finding: For every $1,000 increase in the lottery prize, there was a 2.4% increase in bankruptcy filings by the winner’s neighbors over the next few years. “These results are more pronounced for low-income neighborhoods and high income-inequality areas,” they wrote.
Why would someone winning the jackpot cause someone living down the street to go bankrupt a year or two later? The economists argued that people who feel they are poorer than their peers may spend more in a conspicuous fashion, financing their purchases with debt. But that debt will need to be repaid, potentially leading to financial difficulties and even bankruptcy.

Messrs. Agarwal, Mikhed and Scholnick analyzed the Canadian bankruptcy data and found “evidence that those who filed for bankruptcy after a larger lottery win of a close neighbor have significantly larger holdings of visible assets (e.g., cars, motorcycles, houses) relative to the holdings of these same visible assets by those who filed for bankruptcy after smaller lottery wins of a close neighbor,” they wrote. There was no similar difference for “invisible assets” like cash or pensions, they said.

In other words, when someone wins a big lottery prize, neighbors appear more likely to buy cars and remodel their houses to show that they can keep up—and go broke in the process."
I put conspicuous consumption in red because that is a well known term in economics and sociology. See Thorstein Veblen and What is Conspicuous Consumption .Veblen first coined the term over 100 years ago. The idea is that rich people buy things just to show how rich they are.

Adam Smith may have beaten Veblen to the punch. In The Wealth of Nations, he wrote:
"With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eyes is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves. In their eyes the merit of an object which is in any degree either useful or beautiful, is greatly enhanced by its scarcity, or by the great labour which it requires to collect any considerable quantity of it, a labour which nobody can afford to pay but themselves. Such objects they are willing to purchase at a higher price than things much more beautiful and useful, but more common." (the entire book is online)
See also an earlier blog post I did called Conspicuous Consumption, Conspicuous Virtue, Thorstein Veblen (and Adam Smith, too!) . See also Doctoral Thesis Says Rich People Spend More on Conspicuous Things

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Special Valentine's Message On Romantic Love

The first one is Researchers at AAAS Annual Meeting Explore the Science of Kissing. The following quote gives you an idea of what it is all about: "Kissing, it turns out, unleashes chemicals that ease stress hormones in both sexes and encourage bonding in men, though not so much in women." I guess economists call this "interdependent utility functions." Meaning that what brings one person pleasure brings brings the other person pleasure, and vice-versa.

The other is Cocoa Prices Create Chocolate Dilemma. The article opens with "Soaring cocoa prices are creating a Valentine's Day dilemma for chocolate makers. They don't want to raise retail prices when recession-weary consumers are trying to limit their spending." The problem is crop diseases in Ivory Coast and Ghana. You might need to be a WSJ subscriber to read the whole article.

Here is a new article from yesterday's San Antonio Express-News (2-13-2011). Romance in bloom at workplace: Survey indicates 59% have taken the risk-filled leap. It seems like many people admit to having a romance at work and/or meeting their spouse at work. So what starts out as economic activity leads to some other needs being met.

Now the economic definition of romantic love.

 Abstract: "Romantic love is characterized by a preoccupation with a deliberately restricted set of perceived characteristics in the love object which are viewed as means to some ideal ends. In the process of selecting the set of perceived characteristics and the process of determining the ideal ends, there is also a systematic failure to assess the accuracy of the perceived characteristics and the feasibility of achieving the ideal ends given the selected set of means and other pre-existing ends.

The study of romantic love can provide insight into the general process of introducing novelty into a system of interacting variables. Novelty, however, is functional only in an open system characterized by uncertainty where the variables have not all been functionally looped and system slacks are readily available to accommodate new things. In a closed system where all the objective functions and variables must be compatible to achieve stability and viability, adjustments in the value of some variables through romantic idealization may be dysfunctional if they represent merely residual responses to the creative combination of the variables in the open sub-system."

The author was K. K. Fung of the Department of Economics, Memphis State University, Memphis. It was from a journal article in 1979. More info on it is at this link. The entire article, which is not too long, can be found at this link.

Then there was this related article: Love really is blind, U.S. study finds. Here is an exerpt:

"Love really is blind, at least when it comes to looking at others, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

College students who reported they were in love were less likely to take careful notice of other attractive men or women, the team at the University of California Los Angeles and dating Web site eHarmony found.

"Feeling love for your romantic partner appears to make everybody else less attractive, and the emotion appears to work in very specific ways in enabling you to push thoughts of that tempting other out of your mind," said Gian Gonzaga of eHarmony, whose study is published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

"It's almost like love puts blinders on people," added Martie Haselton, an associate professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA."
More links:

How to Be a Better Valentine, Through Economics by economist Paul Oyer.

Here’s what science says is the secret ingredient to making your love spark 

Can Giving Up Money And Material Things Lead To More Love?

What Do Men In China Need To Get A Bride?

Adam Smith, Marriage Counselor

A Special Valentine's Message On Romantic Love

Can You Put A Price Tag On Love?

Do Opposites Attract? Not Usually, Except Maybe When It Comes To Money

Return of the Love Headhunters

eHarmony To Provide Personal Counselors To Help You Find Mr. Or Ms. Right

Economist Paul Zak, aka Dr. Love (he studies the brain with "neuroeconomics")

This is your brain on love   (brain scans and biology seem to confirm the economic definition given above)

Dollars & Sex: The Blog of Marina Adshade

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