Category Archives: Econ & Money

This Explains a Lot: Why Minimum Wage Increases Haven’t Reduced Employment

Source: of the striking features of the US economy is how much concentration we’ve allowed in major industries: national monopolies, regional monopolies (e.g. cable), oligopolies. Now come economists tying that trend to why raising the minimum wage doesn’t cause the job losses that micro-economics might predict: one of the things that makes market concentration profitable is that it allows firms to underpay workers (that is, pay them below their marginal productivity). So long as the raise in minimum wage doesn’t rise to a level exceeding the value of the work, businesses rationally decide to hold on to the workers.

José Azar, Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, Ioana Marinescu, Bledi Taska, and Till von Wachter: Minimum Wage Employment Effects and Labor Market Concentration:

Why is the employment effect of the minimum wage frequently found to be close to zero? Theory tells us that when wages are below marginal productivity, as with monopsony, employers are able to increase wages without laying off workers, but systematic evidence directly supporting this explanation is lacking. In this paper, we provide empirical support for the monopsony explanation by studying a key low-wage retail sector and using data on labor market concentration that covers the entirety of the United States with fine spatial variation at the occupation-level. We find that more concentrated labor markets–where wages are more likely to be below marginal productivity–experience significantly more positive employment effects from the minimum wage. While increases in the minimum wage are found to significantly decrease employment of workers in low concentration markets, minimum wage-induced employment changes become less negative as labor concentration increases, and are even estimated to be positive in the most highly concentrated markets. Our findings provide direct empirical evidence supporting the monopsony model as an explanation for the near-zero minimum wage employment effect documented in prior work. They suggest the aggregate minimum wage employment effects estimated thus far in the literature may mask heterogeneity across different levels of labor market concentration.

Spotted via Brad DeLong.

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Fiat Currency vs. Bitcoin Rap

This rap video featuring ‘Alexander Hamilton’ vs. ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ over the merits of centralized, government-fiat currency, versus decentralized surprisingly good; actually it’s very good:

Posted in Cryptography, Econ & Money | 2 Comments

Student Debt Growing Quickly

I never used to worry about the morality of teaching in a private law school. But as the debt burden grew on students, I began to worry, and charts like this one from Naked Capitalism make me worry even more.

Unfortunately, many public law schools now charge comparable tuition (but some still don’t).

In any case, student debt of this magnitude is not sustainable, and even if it were the drag on people’s futures and life choices seems excessive. I think the first part of the answer is to bring down the cost of public college: we should return to the era, not so long ago, where you could pretty much finance your college education from a summer job.

Law school prices may still be too high even in that scenario, but at least the overall consequences for students wouldn’t be as bad.

What we do with the debt overhang, meanwhile, is a wicked problem. To simply forgive the debt would be a windfall for the debtors. As a taxpayer, I could live with that; the problem that bugs me is that it seems so unfair to the people who didn’t borrow or who paid down their debt, and those who made sacrifices to finance education or chose less-expensive and perhaps lesser alternatives…or who chose to forgo education entirely.

Posted in Econ & Money, Law School | 3 Comments

China and US Treasuries

As I write this in Q2 2018, non-agency US federal debt is estimated at $21,120,516,214,632.52, or about $64,727 per person in the US.

What fraction of that $21.1 trillion debt do you suppose is held by the Chinese? Go ahead, guess, I’ll wait.

No idea? Does this from a recent Reuters piece that ran in the NY Times help? (Hint: not really.)

China held around [redacted] trillion of Treasuries as of the end of January, making it the largest of America’s foreign creditors and the No. 2 overall owner of U.S. government bonds after the Federal Reserve. Any move by China to chop its Treasury portfolio could inflict significant harm on U.S. finances and global investors, driving bond yields higher and making it more costly to finance the federal government.

Ready to guess now? Answer below.
Continue reading

Posted in Econ & Money, FAQs | 1 Comment

Terrific Pie Charts

These pie charts come from the Washington Post Wonkblog. First there’s one symbolizing what US survey respondents said they though would be the ideal distribution of wealth:

But in fact we in the US have this distribution:

Or, if you want to show just how skewed things are, you could represent it like this:

Of course the GOP tax plan being rammed through Congress will just make all this worse.

Myself, I think Herbert Stein’s law applies here (“Trends that can’t continue, won’t.”). Sooner or later there will be a reaction, or more accurately a counter-reaction.  If we are lucky, it will be systemic and electoral and we’ll get a progressive government. If we are less fortunate, and we just get just Third Way types or more gridlock, there’s a risk the counter-reaction will be more revolutionary and more violent. (And I don’t mean that the top .1% will get pie in the face.)

Posted in 99%, Econ & Money | 1 Comment

Good Stuff

Elizabeth & Bernie do the tax bill:

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