Archive for the ‘Economics – macro, micro etc’ Category

Opportunity cost lessons from Gulzar/Kishore Kumar/Amol Palekar

August 11, 2017

Another interesting piece from Amit Varma on learning economics from Bollywood:

Aane wala pal/ Jaane waala hai/ Ho sake tho isme/ Zindagi bita lo/ Pal jo yeh jaana waala hai/ Ho ho.’ — Gol Maal.
‘The moment that is to come/ Will soon be gone./ If you can/ Live your life/ In this passing moment/ Ho ho.’ 

These words were written by master economist Gulzar, sung by policy wonk Kishore Kumar and acted out, with his customary charm, by polemicist Amol Palekar.

Bindiya Goswami goes visibly weak in the knees when the song begins, though we can’t see her knees, and even Utpal Dutt seems to have a bit of a man crush. The song was not a wasted effort — and in that sense, followed its own instruction.

Aane Wala Pal is a favourite of economists because it is such an eloquent poetic expression of one of the most important concepts in economics: Opportunity Cost. The one basic truth about this world, poets and economists have long bemoaned, is scarcity. Everybody can’t have everything, and choices have to be made. Opportunity Cost, in the words of economist James Buchanan, “expresses the basic relationship between scarcity and choice.”

Superb…

Though, would want to keep economics away while hearing this wonderful song. It is important not to let economics mix with everything in life…

Investing in public infrastructure: Roads versus schools

August 10, 2017

Manoj Atolia, Bin Grace Li, Ricardo Marto and Giovanni Melina analyse this long standing debate. 

Education is a long term benefit but impact of roads is seen over a shorter term. Thus roads get preference:

Were Banks ‘Boring’ before the Repeal of Glass-Steagall?

August 8, 2017

The presumption is before Glass Steagall repeal banks were boring and did basic stuff. Post Glass Steagall repeal in 1995, banks became adventurous and did multiple things leading to 2007 crisis.

Right?

Not so sure as per this blogpost by  of NY Fed.

So how boring have banks been in the past few decades? Let’s look at some aggregate numbers based on a database I recently assembled on the organizational structure of BHCs. Between 1970, when the data begin, and 2016, more than 13,000 unique corporations have operated at some point with a BHC charter. Of those BHCs, more than a quarter expanded their business scope beyond traditional banking, collectively adding more than 60,000 subsidiaries. These units specialized in activities spanning the financial industry, such as specialty lending, loan brokerage, securities and commodities brokerage and dealing, wealth management, insurance, and much more. 

Was it the partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 that spurred this expansion? The chart below shows the number of unique financial activities that BHCs collectively engaged in each year. The data indicate that the trend toward expanded activities in fact began in the early 1980s, and continued unmitigated throughout the 1990s. Judging from this evidence, the restrictions under Glass-Steagall did not prevent BHCs from expanding beyond traditional (“boring”) activities by BHCs, nor did its repeal accelerate that expansion. 

Were Banks ‘Boring’ before the Repeal of Glass-Steagall?

Were Financial Holding Companies Expanding? 
Perhaps instead of looking at BHCs as a whole, we should look specifically at BHCs that converted into financial holding companies (FHCs), the legal charter introduced by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) that allowed firms to expand more freely across a broader set of activities. FHCs may have be the ones that actually chose to expand, but their dynamics could be lost within those of the broader population. Out of 5,354 BHCs in existence at the end of 1999, 526 became FHCs between 2000 and 2001. The chart below shows how the scope of financial activities has fluctuated for those FHCs and for all other (non-converting) BHCs, relative to 1999. Somewhat contrary to expectations, it seems that FHCs and BHCs experienced virtually identical dynamics in the post-1999 years, with no upward trend detectable for either group. 

Were Banks ‘Boring’ before the Repeal of Glass-Steagall?

In sum, the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 does not seem to have ignited a flurry of new activities. As I note in a recent New York Fed Staff Report(see page five), banking firms had already been widening their business scope for a long time, so it is not clear that that particular regulatory reform can be considered the catalyst of the Great Recession some ten years later, nor is it immediately obvious how reinstating restrictions per se would reduce the likelihood of a future crisis. But how is it that banks were already allowed to engage in less “traditional” activities, and what does that tell us about the nature of the banking business? To address those questions, we need to take a look at the history of banking regulation—something I will cover in a follow-up post. 

Hmm.. Looking forward to the post..

Cultural change and intergenerational transmission: Some lessons from China’s Cultural Revolution

August 8, 2017

Gérard Roland and David Yang in their research look at how culture shapes beliefs over a long time:

History lesson: What IndiGo and SpiceJet learnt from Iceland and hippies

August 7, 2017

Aritryi Das of moneycontrol has a nice piece. It is about how an Icelandic airline company called Loftleioir (pronounced Loftlader) pioneered low cost travel in the world.

One always thought it was South West/Ryain Air etc which started low cost air travel. But it started in Iceland catering to hippies :

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Do economists cheat us by presenting opinion as facts?

August 3, 2017

Mark Buchanan of Bloomberg serves a scathing criticism on how economists use their imperialistic powers  and push their opinions as facts.

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From a thriving bazaar to a garbage-strewn dump: Tracing the history of Bengaluru’s KR Market

August 2, 2017

A nice piece by Theja Ram on history of Bangalore’s famous K.R. Market. The initial KR stand for Krishna Rajendra Wadiyar who gave the market an uplift in 1921.

What is interesting to know is that the KR market was a battle ground earlier:

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The Secret Economic Lives of Animals: Economics isn’t just a human activity….

August 2, 2017

Fascinating piece by Ben Crair:

Economists study human behavior. “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog,” Adam Smith sniffed in The Wealth of Nations. The ability to “exchange one thing for another,” he declared, “is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.” Later economists, inheriting Smith’s self-regard, rechristened man Homo economicus in the belief that rational self-interest defined the human species. Even John Maynard Keynes, the father of modern economics, attributed our irrational choices to “animal spirits.”

But an animal spirit can actually be entrepreneurial. Consider a January study about paper wasps from the journal Nature Communications. A female paper wasp will recruit “helper” wasps to her nest to raise her offspring, and these helpers can usually choose from several different nests in a given area. The wasps are essentially making a trade: The top female offers helpers membership in her nest in exchange for childcare, and she can kick out a helper who doesn’t pull its weight.

What’s remarkable is that the terms of the wasps’ trade are determined by supply and demand. When the paper’s authors increased the number of nests in the field, they found that females were willing to tolerate smaller contributions from their helpers. The paper wasps behaved like any rent-seeking landlord, just as an economist would predict. A greater overall supply of wasp nests lowers the price of entry into any single nest. “In order to predict the level of help provided by a subordinate, it is necessary to take into account the state of the surrounding market,” the authors wrote.

If Adam Smith had strapped on a bee suit—or a safari jacket, or a scuba mask—he could have discovered that the animal kingdom is, in fact, a chamber of commerce.

Wow..

Thinking about dominance of language and currency (Kindleberger edition)…

August 2, 2017

Timothy Taylor on his blog shares a superb paper by Charles Kindleberger.

Kindleberger was one of the few economists who wrote with lots of flair and clarity. His pieces were minus all the models and math jazz but were quite rigorous in their own way and made you think about several issues.

However, the analogy which interests me most is that between the use of the dollar in international economics and the use of the English language in international intercourse more generally. Analogies are tempting, and dangerous because frequently misleading. But the dollar “talks,” and English is the “coin” of international communication. The French like neither fact, which is understandable. But to seek to use newly-created international money or a newly-created international language would be patently inefficient.

Languages are ordered hierarchically. Like sterling, French used to dominate. Like the dollar, English does now. Frenchmen must learn English; it is not vital for Anglo-Saxons to learn French.

The analogy with the language quarrel in Belgium is exact. The Flemish must learn French, but the Walloons, despite their constitutional edict of equality between the languages and the legislative edict which requires civil servants to do so, do not learn or use Dutch. The Flemish are offended and begin to insist on Flemish, exactly as France has insisted that its representatives at international conferences, even when they know English perfectly, must speak only French and insist on all speeches in English being translated into French. The transactions costs of translation, including the misunderstanding in communication and the waste of time, are even more evident than the transactions costs of converting gold to dollars and dollars to gold, when it is dollars—not gold—that are necessary to transactions.  …

It is easy to imagine what is implied in a “sabotage” of French as a working language at the United Nations. Someone—presumably an Anglo-Saxon—at a working-committee meeting, observing that all the Francophones had a good command of English, suggested that the translation into French from English and possibly from French into English be dispensed with in the interest of efficiency. The transactions (translation) costs of simultaneous but especially of consecutive translation are high in efficiency, owing to loss of time or accuracy and of intimacy in two-way communication. It is highly desirable for Americans and British to know enough French, German, Italian, Spanish, and perhaps Russian to be able to receive in those languages, or some of them, even if they transmit only in English. But world efficiency is achieved when all countries learn the same second language, just as when the different nationalities in India use English as a lingua franca. …  One’s own currency is the native language, and foreign transactions are carried on in the vehicle currency of a common second language, the dollar.

It is hard on French, which used to be the language of diplomacy, to have lost this distinction; but it is a fact. In scientific writing, as in communication between international airplane and control tower, English is the universal language, except for the rescue call “Mayday” which … would have put in French as “M’aidez.” But a common second language is efficient, rather than nationalist or imperialist. 

Fascinating.

Why the quest for a single currency for West Africa won’t materialise soon

August 1, 2017

Interesting piece by Prof. Tahiru Azaaviele Liedong of University of Bath. One would imagine most monetary union projects would be stalled seeing the case of Europe, but not really.

Apparently there are 15 West African countries which want to form a monetary union. Of these 15, 8 are French colonies, 5 English and two are Portuguese. Of the 8 French colonies, 7 are already in a monetary union along with one of the Portuguese speaking nations (Guinea-Bissau). Their common currency is CFA Franc.

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New road infrastructure in UK: The effects on firms

August 1, 2017

It is always tricky to do such studies. Does road connectivity lead to firm agglomeration and more productivity? Or do roads eventually get built in higher productivity places?

A team of researchers Steve Gibbons, Henry Overman, Teemu Lyytikainen, Rosa Sanchis-Guarner try and see impact of new roads on firms:

Need Economics with less math and more Jane Austen…

July 31, 2017

Interesting piece by Profs. Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, both from Northwestern University.

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70 years of John Bate Clarke Medals: How do you define excellence in economics?

July 28, 2017

Beatrice Cherrier and Andrej Svorenčík research on 70 years of Clark Medal. They analyse the forces behind the medal and the several arguments over what is meant by excellence in economics:

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Bolivia’s President Morales declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF

July 27, 2017

Interesting development from South America:

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Looking at the Stars while making economic policy…

July 26, 2017

John K Galbraith famously said: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” 

Least did he know economists would take this seriously!

RBNZ Deputy Governor titles his speech: Looking at stars! Just that these stars are the unobserved variables which economists try along which economists shape the economy:

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Our obsession with using survey data for economic research is ruining economics…

July 26, 2017

Jonathan Newman has a piece saying economic research relies too much on survey data. However, most of surveys are biased and even large samples cannot do away with these biases:

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Game of monopoly was invented to demonstrate the evils of capitalism!

July 25, 2017

Kate Raworth, senior visiting research associate at Oxford University has a nice piece.

She says how history of monopoly game has been altered. Currently we see the game explaining virtues of capitalism. But in reality it was designed to explain the vices of the very system.

The earlier avatar of Monopoly was called Landlord’s game and was invented by Liz Magie. She drew inspiration from her father’s works which showed how capitalism was exploiting people:

Magie invented and in 1904 patented what she called the Landlord’s Game. Laid out on the board as a circuit (which was a novelty at the time), it was populated with streets and landmarks for sale. The key innovation of her game, however, lay in the two sets of rules that she wrote for playing it.

Under the ‘Prosperity’ set of rules, every player gained each time someone acquired a new property (designed to reflect George’s policy of taxing the value of land), and the game was won (by all!) when the player who had started out with the least money had doubled it. Under the ‘Monopolist’ set of rules, in contrast, players got ahead by acquiring properties and collecting rent from all those who were unfortunate enough to land there – and whoever managed to bankrupt the rest emerged as the sole winner (sound a little familiar?)

The purpose of the dual sets of rules, said Magie, was for players to experience a ‘practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences’ and hence to understand how different approaches to property ownership can lead to vastly different social outcomes. ‘It might well have been called “The Game of Life”,’ remarked Magie, ‘as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seems to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.’

Hmm..

The history was altered by Parker brothers who bought the game and repackaged it as capitalism:

The game was soon a hit among Left-wing intellectuals, on college campuses including the Wharton School, Harvard and Columbia, and also among Quaker communities, some of which modified the rules and redrew the board with street names from Atlantic City. Among the players of this Quaker adaptation was an unemployed man called Charles Darrow, who later sold such a modified version to the games company Parker Brothers as his own.

Once the game’s true origins came to light, Parker Brothers bought up Magie’s patent, but then re-launched the board game simply as Monopoly, and provided the eager public with just one set of rules: those that celebrate the triumph of one over all. Worse, they marketed it along with the claim that the game’s inventor was Darrow, who they said had dreamed it up in the 1930s, sold it to Parker Brothers, and become a millionaire. It was a rags-to-riches fabrication that ironically exemplified Monopoly’s implicit values: chase wealth and crush your opponents if you want to come out on top.

So next time someone invites you to join a game of Monopoly, here’s a thought. As you set out piles for the Chance and Community Chest cards, establish a third pile for Land-Value Tax, to which every property owner must contribute each time they charge rent to a fellow player. How high should that land tax be? And how should the resulting tax receipts be distributed? Such questions will no doubt lead to fiery debate around the Monopoly board – but then that is exactly what Magie had always hoped for.

What is Dictionary Money? When Governments can change value of unit of account almost at will..

July 24, 2017

Most books on monetary economics tell you there are three functions of money:

  • Store of value
  • Unit of account
  • Medium of exchange

All these are taught really mechanically and one is always struggling to figure the differences and meanings of the three terms. What we and our textbooks forget is that all these ideas have evolved historically and the story is hardly as linear.

The superb JP Koning in his new blogpost takes us through the history of unit of account idea. Earlier, we hardly had a fixed unit of account as today. Kings were free to announce and change value of the coins as and when. This was in a way like dictionary money where the meaning of money changed everyday:

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How to think like an economist (if you wish to)…

July 19, 2017

Brad DeLong has a long post on the topic:

I have long had a “thinking like an economist” lecture in the can. But I very rarely give it. It seems to me that it is important stuff—that people really should know it before they begin studying economics, because it would make studying economics much easier. But it also seems to me—usually—that it is pointless to give it at the start of a course to newBs: they just won’t understand it. And it also seems to me—usually—that it is also pointless to give it to students at the end of their college years: they either understand it already, or it is too late.

By continuity that would seem to imply that there is an optimal point in the college curriculum to teach this stuff. But is that true?

Every new subject requires new patterns of thought; every intellectual discipline calls for new ways of thinking about the world. After all, that is what makes it a discipline: a discipline that allows people to think about a subject in some new way. Economics is no exception.

In a way, learning an intellectual discipline like economics is similar to learning a new language or being initiated into a club. Economists’ way of thinking allows us to see the economy more sharply and clearly than we could in other ways. (Of course, it can also cause us to miss certain relationships that are hard to quantify or hard to think of as purchases and sales; that is why economics is not the only social science, and we need sociologists, political scientists, historians, psychologists, and anthropologists as well.) In this chapter we will survey the intellectual landmarks of economists’ system of thought, in order to help you orient yourself in the mental landscape of economics.

Nice bit..

Who Would Be Affected by More Banking Deserts (branchless banking)?

July 18, 2017

Learnt about this new term from St Louis Fed blog: banking deserts:

Although technology has made it easy to bank from almost anywhere, personal and public benefits are still derived from bank branches. In areas without branches—commonly referred to as “banking deserts”—the costs and inconveniences of cashing checks, establishing deposit accounts, obtaining loans and maintaining banking relationships are exacerbated.

As expected, the deserts ill impact the poor:

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