Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why do planning economies fail? The economic calculation problem and how markets solve it ....


To appreciate why market prices are essential to human well-being, consider what a fix we would be in without them. Suppose you were the commissar of railroads in the old Soviet Union. Markets and prices have been banished. You and your comrades. Passionate communists all. Now, directly plan how to use available resources.

You want a railroad from city A to city B, but between the cities is a mountain range. Suppose somehow you know that the railroad once built. Will serve the nation equally well. Whether it goes through the mountains or around. If you build through the mountains, you'll use much less steel for the tracks.

Because that route is shorter. But you'll use a great deal of engineering to design the trestles and tunnels needed to cross the rough terrain. That matters because engineering is also needed to design irrigation systems, mines, harbor installations and other structures. And you don't want to tie up engineering on your railroad if it would be more valuable designing those other structures instead.

You can save engineering for other projects. If you build around the mountains on level ground. But that way you'll use much more steel rail to go the longer distance and steel is also needed for other purposes. For vehicles, girders, ships, pots and pans and thousands of other things.

Which route should you choose for the good of the nation? To answer, you would need to determine which bundle of resources is less urgently needed for other purposes. The large amount of engineering and small amount of steel for the route through the mountains, where the small amount of engineering and large amount of steel for the roundabout route.

But how could you find out the urgency of need for engineering and steel in other uses?

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Firm-level political risk: measurement and effects

One obvious risk that firms face, especially these days, is political risk, but how does it effect firms and what do they do about it?

These questions are looked at in a new NBER working paper,

Firm-Level Political Risk: Measurement and Effects
Tarek A. Hassan, Stephan Hollander, Laurence van Lent and Ahmed Tahoun
NBER Working Paper No. 24029
Issued in November 2017

The abstract reads:
We adapt simple tools from computational linguistics to construct a new measure of political risk faced by individual US firms: the share of their quarterly earnings conference calls that they devote to political risks. We validate our measure by showing that it correctly identifies calls containing extensive conversations on risks that are political in nature, that it varies intuitively over time and across sectors, and that it correlates with the firm's actions and stock market volatility in a manner that is highly indicative of political risk. Firms exposed to political risk retrench hiring and investment and actively lobby and donate to politicians. Interestingly, we find that the incidence of political risk across firms is far more heterogeneous and volatile than previously thought. The vast majority of the variation in our measure is at the firm-level rather than at the aggregate or sector-level, in the sense that it is neither captured by time fixed effects and the interaction of sector and time fixed effects, nor by heterogeneous exposure of individual firms to aggregate political risk. The dispersion of this firm-level political risk increases significantly at times with high aggregate political risk. Decomposing our measure of political risk by topic, we find that firms that devote more time to discussing risks associated with a given political topic tend to increase lobbying on that topic, but not on other topics, in the following quarter.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Book contract signed

I have just signed a contract with Routledge for them to publish my second book, "A brief prehistory of the theory of the firm". The manuscript is due first thing in December (I have much work to do over the next couple of weeks) and thus with luck the book will appear a few months later.

Keep an eye out and save up so you can be one of the first lucky people to own a copy!


Contents

    Preface and acknowledgements
    A note on the numbering of equations, tables and figures

Background

    Chapter notes
    References

The division of labour and the firm

    Ancient philosophers

    Medieval period

    Pre-classical economics period

    19th century

    20th century

    Chapter notes
    References

Development of a theory of production or the firm

    Pre-classical economists

    The classical economics period

    The neoclassical era

        Behavioural and managerial models

        Contemporary criticisms of the neoclassical model

        Coase versus Demsetz on the neoclassical model

        Profit maximisation

    Malmgren (1961)

    Chapter notes
    References

Possible reasons for the neglect of the firm

    Chapter notes
    References

    Index

Monday, 13 November 2017

Common ownership, competition, and top management incentives

An interesting looking revised version of a working paper from the Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics at Yale University on "Common Ownership, Competition, and Top Management Incentives" (pdf). The paper is by Miguel Antón, Florian Ederer, Mireia Giné, and Martin Schmalz.

The abstract reads:
We show theoretically and empirically that managers have steeper financial incentives to expend effort and reduce costs when an industry’s firms tend to be controlled by shareholders with concentrated stakes in the firm, and relatively few holdings in competitors. A side effect of steep incentives is more aggressive competition. These findings inform a debate about the objective function of the firm.
The basic conclusion of the paper is,
We found that the sensitivity between top managers’ wealth and their firm’s performance is weaker when the firms’ largest shareholders are also large shareholders of competitors. The wealth-performance relation for managers is steeper when firms are owned by shareholders without significant stakes in competitors.
Thus you will get more competition when a firm is owned by shareholders without significant stakes in competitors.

Trade, merchants, and the lost cities of the Bronze Age

An interesting new NBER working paper on Trade, Merchants, and the Lost Cities of the Bronze Age by Gojko Barjamovic, Thomas Chaney, Kerem A. Coşar and Ali Hortaçsu.

NBER Working Paper No. 23992
Issued in November 2017
NBER Program(s): ITI
We analyze a large dataset of commercial records produced by Assyrian merchants in the 19th Century BCE. Using the information collected from these records, we estimate a structural gravity model of long-distance trade in the Bronze Age. We use our structural gravity model to locate lost ancient cities. In many instances, our structural estimates confirm the conjectures of historians who follow different methodologies. In some instances, our estimates confirm one conjecture against others. Confronting our structural estimates for ancient city sizes to modern data on population, income, and regional trade, we document persistent patterns in the distribution of city sizes across four millennia, even after controlling for time-invariant geographic attributes such as agricultural suitability. Finally, we offer evidence in support of the hypothesis that large cities tend to emerge at the intersections of natural transport routes, as dictated by topography.
Alex Tabarrok writes on this paper at Marginal Revolution:
In a stunningly original paper Gojko Barjamovic, Thomas Chaney, Kerem A. Coşar, and Ali Hortaçsu use the gravity model of trade to infer the location of lost cities from Bronze age Assyria! The simplest gravity model makes predictions about trade flows based on the sizes of cities and the distances between them. More complicated models add costs based on geographic barriers. The authors have data from ancient texts on trade flows between all the cities, they know the locations of some of the cities, and they know the geography of the region. Using this data they can invert the gravity model and, triangulating from the known cities, find the lost cities that would best “fit” the model. In other words, by assuming the model is true the authors can predict where the lost cities should be located. To test the idea the authors pretend that some known cities are lost and amazingly the model is able to accurately rediscover those cities.

Dennis Rasmussen on Hume and Smith and "The Infidel and the Professor"

In this audio from EconTalk Russ Roberts interviews Dennis Rasmussen about Rasmussen's new book "The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought".
How did the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith influence their ideas? Why do their ideas still matter today? Political Scientist Dennis Rasmussen of Tufts University and author of The Infidel and the Professor talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book--the intellectual and personal connections between two of the greatest thinkers of all time, David Hume and Adam Smith.
A direct link to the audio is available here.

Its a book that's well worth reading.

Claudia Goldin on the gender earnings gap

Claudia Goldin (Professor of Economics at Harvard University) writes, in the New York Times, on How to Win the Battle of the Sexes Over Pay (Hint: It Isn’t Simple.)

The executive summary
In sum, the gap is mainly the upshot of two separate but related forces: workplaces that pay more per hour to those who work longer and more uncertain hours, and households in which women have assumed disproportionately large responsibilities.
And now a bit more detail.
Yet it is also true that the time demands of many jobs can explain much of the pay difference, a finding that has sobering implications. Eliminating the gender earnings gap will require changes in millions of households and thousands of individual workplaces.
and
The gap is larger among more educated people, for example, and varies according to occupation, often in big ways. Among college graduates, it is far larger in business, finance and legal careers than in science and technology jobs. In health care, it is larger when self-employment is high (think dentists) and much lower when professionals are mainly employees (think pharmacists).

What’s more, the gap is a statistic that changes during the life of a worker. Typically, it’s small when formal education ends and employment begins, and it increases with age. More to the point, it increases when women marry and when they begin bearing children.
and
Similar patterns appear using data for women and men who have earned master’s degrees in business administration. Immediately after graduation, women earn 92 cents for each male dollar. A decade later they earn only 57 cents.

Correcting for time off and hours of work reduces the difference in the earnings between men and women but doesn’t eliminate it.

On the face of it, that looks like proof of disparate treatment. It may seem understandable that when a man works more hours than a woman, he earns more. But why should his compensation per hour be greater, given the same qualifications? But once again, the problem isn’t simple.
and
The data shows that women disproportionately seek jobs — including full-time jobs — that are more likely to mesh with family responsibilities, which, for the most part, are still greater for women than for men. So, the research shows, women tend to prefer jobs that offer flexibility: the ability to shift hours of work and rearrange shifts to accommodate emergencies at home.

Such jobs tend to be more predictable, with fewer on-call hours and less exposure to weekend and evening obligations. These advantages have a negative consequence: lower earnings per hour, even when the number of hours worked is the same.

Is that unfair? Maybe. But it isn’t always an open-and-shut case. Companies point out that flexibility is often expensive — more so in some jobs than others.

Certain job characteristics have a big impact on the gender earnings gap. I have looked closely at these issues, including the extent to which workers are:
  • Subject to strict deadlines and time pressure
  • Expected to be in direct contact with other workers or clients
  • Instructed to develop cooperative working relationships
  • Assigned to work on highly specific projects
  • Unable to independently determine their tasks and goals
Occupations with a lower level of these characteristics (like jobs in science and technology) show smaller gaps, corrected for hours of work. Occupations with a higher level (like those in finance and law) have greater gaps. Men’s earnings tend to surge when there are fewer substitutes for a given worker, when the job must be done in teams and when clients demand specific lawyers, accountants, consultants and financial advisers. Such differences can account for about half the gender earnings gap.
Ask yourself, do you really care who your pharmacist is versus do you care who your doctor or lawyer is? A particular pharmacist not having to be there to deal with customers mean greater flexibility in hours worked but this comes with lower pay while the fact that people want a particular doctor or lawyer to deal with them means long hours with little flexibility but with higher pay to compensate.
These findings provide more nuance in explaining why the gap widens with age and why it is greater for women with children. Whatever changes have already taken place in American society, the duty of caring for children — and for other family members — still weighs more heavily on women. And if you thought that moving to a more family-friendly nation would eliminate the gap, think again. In several nations, including Sweden and Denmark, a “motherhood penalty” in earnings exists, even though these nations have generous family policies, including paid family leave and subsidized child care.

Such considerations bring us to a very sensitive area: domestic arrangements at home, especially among couples with children. These are personal questions. In theory, gender earnings equality is possible when both parents take off the same amount of time and enjoy the same flexibility at work.
So domestic arrangement with a more equal distribution of childcare may reduce the wage gap but it may also make the family poorer.
From a classic economic standpoint, if one spouse or partner can earn more by working less flexible hours, as a family, the couple would earn more money by having that parent in that job, while the other partner accepts the more flexible one. A man can certainly be the more flexible member of this household — though he typically is not. Such decisions need to be made couple by couple.
So the answer to the pay gap may be in the choices made within the home. And that makes it difficult for public policy to deal with.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Zingales, McCloskey, Karlson and Kuran on populism and the free society

What does populism mean? Why do people buy it? Is the critique against the established elites valid? What are the main causes of the populist threats to the free society? How can public discourse and liberal democracy be restored?

Deirdre McCloskey, Luigi Zingales and Timur Kuran are some of the sharpets minds in academia today. They have all written extensively on the foundations of liberal societies. In conjunction with a special meeting with the Mont Pelerin Society on the populist threats to the free society and the reconstruction of the liberal project hosted by the Ratio Institute in Stockholm Sweden, they got together for a dialogue on some of the most pressing issues of our time. Professor Nils Karlson, CEO of the Ratio Institute and author of the book Statecraft and Liberal Reform in Advanced Democracies (Palgrave Macmillan), was the chair of the discussion.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Immigration with Art Carden

An interview from the Libertarian Christian Institute with economist Art Carden about immigration.


THE LIBERTARIAN CHRISTIAN PODCASTEp 16: Immigration with Art Carden