PK and the literature

I always laugh when Paul Krugman urges others to read the literature. He’s a brilliant economist, but he’s not exactly the goto guy for literature reviews…

Today he says that Sumner and Avant should read the literature on macro vs micro labor supply elasticities. Well, ok, he says they should only read half of that literature. Over the last decade, Prescott has been doing a lot of work showing that differences in taxes explain differences in employment and hours worked between Europe and the US. I think his Nobel speech was about this.

The micro people threw fits though because their estimates of the response of labor supply to tax changes is much less extreme than Prescott’s finding suggest. They basically find labor supply curves are vertical. This would mean that taxes simply can’t have an effect on labor supply.

For a while, these guys had me convinced because, in general, micro/labor types do a much better job of identification and I trust their estimates more than I trust macro estimates. More recently, however, macro people ((A also vagualy remembering a paper that uses the PSID to estimate the two types of elasticities, but I can’t remember what it was.)) have been making the case that the “labor supply elasticity” estimated by the micro people is different from the “labor supply elasticity” the macro people estimate. The difference isn’t due to statistical methodology, we were just calling two different things the same thing.

Of course, its the macro elasticity that matters for tax policy, though. Prescott’s work (and not the paper that PK links to) is the place to go for understanding differences between Europe and the US. He says that difference is due to differences in tax and transfer policies.

UPDATE: AC found the PSID paper.

Mike D’s utility

Mike D commented on this post:

Let’s think about two axes here. On the x axis, put altruism (the weight my assessment of your utility has in my utility function) and on the y axis, put respect (if I assess your situation using my utility function, respect = 0, if I assess your situation using what I think is your utility function, put respect =1, and interpolate between these two).

It seems obvious why altruism decreases with distance/dissimilarity. I would submit that respect is more subtle.
1) Proximity decreases respect, as I may suffer alleged externalities (real, pecuniary, or psychic) from your choices, so I have a selfish motive to override your preferences.
2) Proximity also increases respect, because your internal emotional life becomes more real and vivid to me, instead of a highly abstracted model.

So the utility function looks like this:


where big U is total utility for the individual, little u is his Robinson Crusoe utility, little v is the other person’s utility, x is the individual’s consumption and y is the other person’s consumption. According to Mike D, the parameter’s of that utility function behave like this:
There has to be some experiment, natural or otherwise, that would let us estimate these parameters and see how they vary with social distance.

Genes or culture or both?

An implication of Wilkinson’s theory is that intergenerational mobility should decrease over time. Wilkinson claims intergenerational mobility has decreased. It hasn’t (estimates from Lee and Salon 2009):

The “intergenerational elasticity” (the percentage kids’ incomes raise for every percentage increase in parents’ income) has stayed about the same over the last couple of decades. Other studies get contradictory answers and few find a statistically significant trend.

Which suggests the answer to the question posed in the title is: none of the above.

UPDATE: On rewatching, I see that Wilkenson isn’t trying to explain increasing inequality as I first thought, he’s trying to explain non-existent decreases in mobility.


esr speaks it:

All data, including primary un-”corrected” datasets, must be available for auditing by third parties. All modeling code must be published. The assumptions made in data reduction and smoothing must be an explicitly documented part of the work product.

These requirements would kill off AGW alarmism as surely as a bullet through the head.

Transparency would kill off AGW denialism, too.

The unemployed aren’t the only ones seeking jobs

Work with me here. In normal times, say 2004 through 2007, suppose 10% of the working population are looking for jobs while still employed (do you know of a better estimate?). This means about 13 to 14 million employed workers are “job seekers” in normal times.

“Quits” are voluntary separations from jobs and folks do that because they’re leaving the work force (e.g. retiring) or because they found another job. Now look at quit rates over the last couple of years:

Quits have declined by about 40% compared to normal times. From here, about 50% of quits are retirements. If the retirement rate has stayed the same, then quits due to job changes went from 1.1% to about 0.5%. This suggests the number of “job seekers” among the employed has gone down by at least half.

How many job seekers are there right now? Supposing all unemployed workers are “job seekers” then the total number is about 20 million people. In normal times, that number is about… 21 or 22 million people (unemployed plus 10% of the working population). By this measure, the job market now is less congested than usual!

Making the assumptions that I made above, I constructed a “job seekers” per job opening time series:

If you assume none of the currently employed workers are “job seekers” then the graph above looks like the one put up by EPI. If you assume 20% of the currently employed are “job seekers” then even the up-tick seen in the later part of the time series goes away.

England since, like, ever

Prof. Clark sits in the “what revolution?” camp among economic historians that try to date the industrial revolution. His data:

Why does this matter? Well, if there was no revolution, only evolution, to modern industrial society, you need an underlying evolutionary mechanism. Clark favors genes-based stories, but most other folks are more comfortable with culture-based stories. In either case, its hard to look at Clark’s data and pick a year before 1900 that would look like a revolution in efficiency.

A definition of paternalism

Just read Mankiw’s new paper and this occurred to me:

I’m definitely a jerk if I don’t have other’s outcomes in my utility function. I’m a paternalist if I have other people’s consumption in my utility function, not their utility.

This is why a paternalist can give you healthcare instead of cash because your consumption of healthcare matters to him more than your happiness/contentedness/life satisfaction/etc.

Interestingly, most folks are jerks with respect to foreigners, they’re paternalist with respect to other anonymous citizens and they’re neither with respect to their close friends and family. I can’t find reason in this mix of preferences.

Haitian Coffee

From an article about Haitian coffee (ht MR):

Atlantic Food Channel contributor Jerry Baldwin, co-founder of Starbucks and the company’s first roaster and buyer, agrees. He now owns Peet’s Coffee and Tea, and he says the relatively low-altitude Haitian coffee doesn’t have the taste his company seeks. Still, he suggests that coffee drinkers who want to help Haiti donate to long-term agriculture projects.

I emailed Peet’s after the earthquake to ask about Haitian coffee. They said the distribution network isn’t there yet and the quality is low. I simple-mindedly suggested Peet’s throw money at the problem, perhaps funded by customer donations. Peet’s representative Ginny replied (Technoserve is an NGO Peet’s works with that has a very small team in Haiti working with farmers):

I don’t think it’s overly optimistic to think that eventually Technoserve or another similar NGO might help Haitian growers start producing really high quality beans, and that Peet’s might be a part of this, just as we have been in East Africa. But our main contribution in this kind of endeavor is expertise, not money. Jerry Baldwin, who bought Peet’s from Alfred Peet many years ago, and our buyers Jim Reynolds, Doug Welsh, and Shirin Moayyad have all lent their coffee expertise to growers all over the world (not just those served by Technoserve). And a Peet’s employee left Peet’s about a year ago to go work for Technoserve full time – his many years at Peet’s as a coffee and tea trainer helped to give him the expertise that Technoserve looks for.

So the issue is not simply money. Producing coffee of the very high quality that Peet’s looks for can take years. When I started with Peet’s 11 years ago, the only East African country producing coffee of the quality Peet’s looks for was Kenya. Now we are buying from Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, and Tanzania. But this certainly didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t just money that made it happen. Issues that have to be addressed include proper care of the land, the soil, and the coffee trees themselves, selective picking of the coffee cherries, proper processing techniques, etc. It’s a long process of education, training, and feedback from experts.

She suggested to me that I take a look at Technoserve (which looks to be legit). Here’s their reply to my email to them about “my” idea to work in Haiti:

While I certainly like your idea and we do work in Haiti, we do not have the capacity or funding at the moment to certify farmers to sell to Peet’s Coffee. We do hope to have the capacity to do this in the future.

Incidentally, the Haiti – Integrated Financing for Value Chains and Enterprises (HIFIVE) team that TechnoServe is a part of does some work involving coffee. We assist small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or associations that could include coffee producers or coffee traders. With only a three-person team, however, we do not have the capacity to work with farmers directly as we do in other countries and other programs. Therefore, I am afraid that our partnership with Peet’s Coffee in other countries could not apply to our work in Haiti.

In the Atlantic article, someone is quoted as saying Haitian coffee is a “cause” coffee not a “quality” coffee. If the long-run recovery of Haiti concerns you, supporting groups like TechnoServe might be the way to go.