Archive

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Real business cycles — nonsense on stilts

June 16, 2021 1 comment

from Lars Syll

rbcThey try to explain business cycles solely as problems of information, such as asymmetries and imperfections in the information agents have. Those assumptions are just as arbitrary as the institutional rigidities and inertia they find objectionable in other theories of business fluctuations … I try to point out how incapable the new equilibrium business cycles models are of explaining the most obvious observed facts of cyclical fluctuations … I don’t think that models so far from realistic description should be taken seriously as a guide to policy … I don’t think that there is a way to write down any model which at one hand respects the possible diversity of agents in taste, circumstances, and so on, and at the other hand also grounds behavior rigorously in utility maximization and which has any substantive content to it.

James Tobin

Real business cycle theory (RBC) basically says that Read more…

Cash industry association slams banks’ war on cash

June 16, 2021 Leave a comment

from Norbert Häring

The hypocrisy of a working group led by the European Central Bank (ECB) on the preservation of cash, which is dominated by banks who at the same time continue to wage their war on cash, has been exposed by cash industry group ESTA in a report. ESTA sent the report to this working group – after it had recently left it in protest.

As a part of its cash strategy, which the ECB Governing Council adopted last September and which it has been hiding in the depths of the ECB’s website since December, the ECB has tasked a working group of the European Retail Payment Board (ERPB) with producing a report on securing access to and acceptance of cash. The ERPB is an ECB-led advisory group. Members are representatives of banks and other associations involved in payment transactions, as providers, merchants or consumers. Entrusting this group with the task of helping to preserve cash – a group,  whose very definition of payment transactions strangely excludes cash – has led to a clash with ESTA, the association of the European cash industry, which had been invited to participate in the working group as a non-member of the EPRB. Read more…

Remote working pay cut?

June 16, 2021 1 comment

from Peter Radford

When a large corporation goes on the hunt for a lower cost base of operations I doubt whether it thinks it will be penalized for what is a rational and frequently made decision.  After all if you can make the same revenue and reduce your costs your profit goes up. Yeah.  Capitalism 101.  If we all go about life in this way, and if we believe Adam Smith, all this pursuit of self-interest will shower society with the glories of social benefits previously unheard of.

I know, that’s twisting things a bit.  But self-interest in a corporation is most often expressed in the endless search for that extra little bit of profit.  So re-locating to a low cost base is a classic move in the well-read CEO playbook.  And who cares if your employees have to uproot themselves and take their families to a less desirable part of the country?  Tough on them.  They need to suck it up and take one for the shareholders.  Or that can quit.

Loyalty, though, is a one way street in corporate life.  Beware the foolish soul who settles in and falls for the human resource department jargon. Read more…

How much longer can this continue?

June 15, 2021 2 comments

CO2 on the atmosphere and annual emissions (1750-2019)

June 14, 2021 5 comments

Discrimination and the use of ‘statistical controls’

June 14, 2021 3 comments

from Lars Syll

The gender pay gap is a fact that, sad to say, to a non-negligible extent is the result of discrimination. And even though many women are not deliberately discriminated against, but rather self-select into lower-wage jobs, this in no way magically explains away the discrimination gap. As decades of socialization research has shown, women may be ‘structural’ victims of impersonal social mechanisms that in different ways aggrieve them. Wage discrimination is unacceptable. Wage discrimination is a shame.

You see it all the time in studies. “We controlled for…” And then the list starts … The more things you can control for, the stronger your study is — or, at least, the stronger your study seems. Controls give the feeling of specificity, of precision. But sometimes, you can control for too much. Sometimes you end up controlling for the thing you’re trying to measure …

paperAn example is research around the gender wage gap, which tries to control for so many things that it ends up controlling for the thing it’s trying to measure …

Take hours worked, which is a standard control in some of the more sophisticated wage gap studies. Women tend to work fewer hours than men. If you control for hours worked, then some of the gender wage gap vanishes. As Yglesias wrote, it’s “silly to act like this is just some crazy coincidence. Women work shorter hours because as a society we hold women to a higher standard of housekeeping, and because they tend to be assigned the bulk of childcare responsibilities.”

Controlling for hours worked, in other words, is at least partly controlling for how gender works in our society. It’s controlling for the thing that you’re trying to isolate.

Ezra Klein

Read more…

What’s the difference between a waitress and a private equity partner? (their tax ate)

June 13, 2021 4 comments

from Dean Baker

If the waitress works in an upscale restaurant and earns a decent living, there is a good chance that she is paying a higher tax rate than a private equity partner. The reason is that private equity (PE) partners get most of their pay in the form of “carried interest.” This is money that is paid to them as a share of the returns on the money they manage. Since private equity partners are rich and powerful, their carried interest payments are taxed at the capital gains tax rate of 20 percent, instead of the 37 percent top tax rate that people earning millions a year would be paying.

The ostensible rationale for allowing PE partners to pay a lower tax rate on their carried interest is that these payments involve risk. If the funds don’t meet some threshold rate of return, then they don’t earn any money.

The New York Times had a major piece on tax avoidance and evasion by private equity partners, which gave this rationale. However, the piece neglected to point out that millions of workers take this sort of risk, since they get paid, in large part, on commission. This list would include realtors, car salespeople, and waiters and waitresses. In all of these cases, the money earned as a commission is taxed as normal income. It is only PE partners, or hedge fund and venture capital partners, that get to pay a lower tax rate.

The tax savings for PE partners are substantial. For a PE partner earning $10 million a year, the savings between the current 37 percent top marginal rate and the 20 percent capital gains rate would be roughly $1.7 million a year. That comes to more than 1,100 food stamp person years.

How does bloated CEO pay maximize shareholder value? One of the great mysteries of the world

June 12, 2021 1 comment

from Dean Baker

There is plenty of evidence at this point that CEO pay bears little relationship to returns to shareholders. Yet, it is an article of faith in policy circles, especially progressive policy circles, that companies are being run to maximize returns to shareholders.

This is why I loved this story. According to the NYT, Chad Richison, the CEO of Paycom, had a pay package that was worth $211 million. When it came up for vote of shareholders in a say-on-pay ballot, it was voted down. The article tells readers:

“Shareholders opposing the compensation won a say-on-pay vote at the company, and a majority also withheld votes from a director on the board’s compensation committee. Under Paycom’s governance guidelines, the director had to tender his resignation. The board’s nominating and corporate governance committee did not accept it, however, instead reaffirming his appointment, according to a company filing.”

So we have a story where the shareholders explicitly rejected a CEO pay package and voted to remove the director most responsible for the pay package. But their votes on both are ignored and the director stays on the job and the CEO keeps the cash.

Can someone explain how this is maximizing shareholder value?

If history follows the path Thomas Piketty noted, it will . . .

June 11, 2021 1 comment

from Ikonoclast  (originally a comment)

If history follows the path Thomas PIketty noted, it will take a major war or revolution to change matters. Each time profit rises faster than the overall rate of growth we get a war, like WW1 or WW2 or a great depression like most of the 1930s. Sometimes we get the depression, then the war. Piketty noted that under capitalism’s axioms:

If R (rate of return on capital) is Greater Than G (growth in inflation adjusted dollars) then inequality increases.

There are real limits to the increase in inequality. People reach the point where they will not tolerate greater inequality. They will rebel against the system and elites enforcing the inequality or be diverted by elite misdirection into attacking others.

Piketty’s “Conditional Law of Approach to an Asymptote” (my clumsy title for it) is fully compatible with Capital as Power theory. There is no need to assume that R and G are measuring real wealth. They are simply the ratios of nominal capital being assigned to each variable by the calculations and operations of the capitalist financial system. Since money does not measure value but rather implements creorder power, then the relative power of the owners of capital axiomatically increases and the relative power of the rest of society axiomatically decreases. However, the decrease in the relative power of the bulk of the people has a lower real limit (more a band than a precise point) this being the physiological or psychological limits beyond which people find life intolerable or impossible. The rise in real inequality will be found to have real limits. Read more…

On the limits of ‘mediation analysis’ and ‘statistical causality’

June 11, 2021 1 comment

from Lars Syll

mediator“Mediation analysis” is this thing where you have a treatment and an outcome and you’re trying to model how the treatment works: how much does it directly affect the outcome, and how much is the effect “mediated” through intermediate variables …

In the real world, it’s my impression that almost all the mediation analyses that people actually fit in the social and medical sciences are misguided: lots of examples where the assumptions aren’t clear and where, in any case, coefficient estimates are hopelessly noisy and where confused people will over-interpret statistical significance …

More and more I’ve been coming to the conclusion that the standard causal inference paradigm is broken … So how to do it? I don’t think traditional path analysis or other multivariate methods of the throw-all-the-data-in-the-blender-and-let-God-sort-em-out variety will do the job. Instead we need some structure and some prior information.

Andrew Gelman

Causality in social sciences — and economics — can never solely be a question of statistical inference. Causality entails more than predictability, and to really in depth explain social phenomena require theory. Read more…

The quant case for open-access COVID vaccines

June 10, 2021 5 comments

from Blair Fix

Around the world, rich countries are celebrating as their COVID numbers fall. Their success is no mystery — it’s because of a massive rollout of COVID vaccines. While we should celebrate the development of these vaccines, their deployment highlights the tyrannies of capitalism.

Most of the basic research for COVID vaccines was funded by the public. Yet their manufacture is controlled by Big Pharma. The predictable result is that vaccines flow to the highest bidder and Big Pharma reaps the profit. Thus, the world is now ‘blessed’ with 9 new pharma billionaires.

Since we’re stuck with COVID for the long haul, we need to end the privatized vaccine model. The alternative is surprisingly simple. Let governments continue to fund basic science. And let private companies continue to manufacture vaccines. Just don’t let these companies have a monopoly on property rights. Instead, put vaccines in the Creative Commons. The result will be cheap vaccines, available to all.

To make the case for open-access vaccines, it helps to run the numbers. To date, the vast majority of COVID vaccines have gone to rich nations. It’s plutocratic healthcare in action: more money = more vaccines.

Let the data speak.

The global distribution of COVID cases

We’ll start by looking at how the global distribution of COVID cases has played out since the beginning of the pandemic. Figure 1 shows the global share of cases by continent since February 2020. Read more…

Power shifts, or not?

June 9, 2021 4 comments

from Peter Radford

“Even someone as smart as Larry Summers.”  

Power can flummox even the best economist.  A typical explanation of events in an economy makes scant reference to the way in which power distorts the wondrous smooth motions that so obsess the discipline.  It’s almost as if human relationships don’t exist in those wonderful models they are all so proud of.  For the rest of us, power is central.  It takes little time to realize that establishing an imbalance can have all sorts of advantages.  They most notable being that it defeats or undermines the consequences of the classic impersonal marketplace.  Fair is out.  Asymmetry is in.

Not that the existence of asymmetry ought surprise anyone.  The real world is an awfully lumpy place.  Resources, information, people, and everything else exist in clumps.  Without those clumps there would be no exchange.  There would be no trade.  There would be no markets.  But the world is lumpy, hence all of the above.  This paradox, that economists study idealized worlds whose features eliminate the very phenomena that are the supposed object of study, is one of the more endearing aspects of economics.  Building theories about made up worlds is a whole lot more fun and easier than inventing them to explain the real world.  But, hey, let’s be fair: as long as we all know that we are theorizing about our fantasies in order to extract useful nuggets about the real world, we should go for it.  Unfortunately, and I think this is fair criticism, the way in which economics is taught often elides this. Read more…

Pharmaceuticals: Beating the hell out of the average

June 9, 2021 7 comments

from Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan

A lot has been written on the imminent decline of pharmaceuticals: their falling production, reduced R&D, declining innovation, the opioid crisis, patent cliffs, biting competition from generic drugs, growing opposition to IPR. The list goes on.

Top Guns

Judging by the yardsticks that matter the most, though – namely, the companies’ relative profit and relative capitalization – pharmaceuticals are doing just fine. In fact, based on these yardsticks, they remain the most powerful corporate sector of all.

In their 2020 study, ‘Profitability of Large Pharmaceutical Companies Compared With Other Large Public Companies‘ (JAMA 323, 9, March 3, pp. 834-843), Ledley et al. show that, during the period 2000-2018, the top 35 listed pharmaceutical firms outperformed every other corporate group in the S&P 500 (with the possible neck and neck exception of technology companies).

They had higher than average: (1) gross profit margins (76.5% vs 37.4% for the remaining S&P 500); (2) EBITDA margins (29.4% vs 19%) [2];  and (3) net profit margins (13.8% vs 7.7%). They also did better on all three margins than every other corporate subsector in the S&P 500, including non-pharmaceutical health-care firms.

Figure 1, taken from Ledley et al., visualizes this systematic out-performance. Read more…

And we are still doing nothing substantive to stop this

June 8, 2021 21 comments

from Ikonoclast  (originally a comment)

. . . what really counts is the amount of coal, oil and gas we are burning and thus how much CO2 we are releasing into the atmosphere. The benign Holocene is ending. Scientists have declared we have already entered a new era, the Anthropocene. The climate, and thus weather patterns, of the benign (for humans at least) Holocene were a resource for human civilization.

It is common mistake, and one I long made, to pay attention only to primary input resources. Thus we were obsessed about peak oil, peak coal and peak gas, imagining that the supply of these primary input resources would be the constraint for our global civilization, civilization being so energy dependent. However, it turns out that the major constraint on civilization involves not our inputs but our wastes. Our wastes wreck ecological, biosphere and geosphere systems.

Climate change is the best case in point of the above (though not the only case). Climate change melts ice caps and glaciers, raises sea levels, raises temperatures and exacerbates both floods and droughts, generating wilder swings between the two and periods where regional climate remains stuck longer in one phase. It changes growing seasons affecting food production.

It is extremely troubling that coal, oil and gas still contribute so much to our energy mix. To save the world from catastrophic climate change we should have already reduced our use to the point that we could reach zero use by 2030. We have already used up almost all of our carbon budget. Read more…

Global energy consumption 1900 to 2017

June 8, 2021 10 comments

Patent monopolies and inequality: When we give rich people money, why does inequality surprise us?

June 7, 2021 7 comments

from Dean Baker

In recent weeks there have been several articles noting the enormous wealth that a small number of people have made off of the vaccines and treatments developed to control the pandemic. Many see this as an unfortunate outcome of our efforts to contain the pandemic. In that view, containing the pandemic is an immensely important goal, if some people get incredibly rich as result, it’s a price well worth paying. After all, maybe we can even tax back some of their wealth after the fact.

The infuriating part of this story is that it is so obviously not true. But, just as followers of Donald Trump are prepared to believe any crazy story he tells about the stolen election, our intellectual types are willing to accept the idea that the only way we could have gotten vaccines as quickly as we did was by granting a small number of companies and individuals patent monopolies. And, just as no amount of evidence can dissuade Trumpers from believing their guy actually won the election, it is not possible to get most people involved in policy debates to consider the possibility that we don’t need patent monopolies to finance the development of drugs or vaccines.

This is especially disturbing in the case of the current crop of vaccines developed in the United States and Europe. The development of mRNA technology was done overwhelming on the public dime. This is hardly a secret. In fact, the NIH owns one of the key patents that Moderna used in the development of its vaccine. Read more…

Are mindless zombies a projection of what we fear we have really become?

June 6, 2021 12 comments

from Ikonoclast (originally a comment)

It’s strange in a time of gross over-population that dystopian fiction so often focuses on hypothesized fertility crises. We see this in The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men, for example. This is when the real problem is of course the diametric opposite. The earth has a vast over-population crisis of humans and an accelerating decline of all other forms of life (the sixth mass extinction).

It leads me to wonder if genuine fears are deflected by an invocation of the opposite in story-telling. Dystopian and horror fiction give us a delicious thrill of vicarious fear when we actually feel fully secure that “that could never happen”. What people enjoy about disaster storytelling is feeling proof against the specific disaster depicted. It could only happen to others or so we think. We are not so foolish and purblind as the people in the story so that could never happen to us. Actually, we are as foolish and purblind but in a afferent way. The laws of nature would never recoil against us and seriously threaten us with zombies. Actually the laws of nature do recoil against us and are about to do so in a catastrophic manner, though probably not by generating zombies. Although, it must be said that humans infected by capitalist ideology are pretty much like mindless zombies in the way they consume today without thought for a sustainable tomorrow. Are mindless zombies a projection of what we fear we have really become? Are we truly afraid of ourselves, of our inner mindlessness, as we indeed should be? Read more…

How statistics can be misleading

June 5, 2021 2 comments

.

from Lars Syll

From a theoretical perspective, Simpson’s paradox importantly shows that causality can never be reduced to a question of statistics or probabilities.

To understand causality we always have to relate it to a specific causal structure. Statistical correlations are never enough. No structure, no causality. Read more…

How U.S. capitalism lifts all boats

June 4, 2021 20 comments

from Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler

Nitzan june 4

Liberals insist that capitalism lifts all boats. It doesn’t, certainly not in the U.S. Since 1880, ‘real’ total returns on the S&P 500 rose, on an annual average, 4.6% faster than U.S. ‘real’ wages. The total returns/wage ratio today is 1,166 greater than in 1880.

Causal inference from observational data

June 4, 2021 2 comments

from Lars Syll

nisbettResearchers often determine the individual’s contemporary IQ or IQ earlier in life, socioeconomic status of the family of origin, living circumstances when the individual was a child, number of siblings, whether the family had a library card, educational attainment of the individual, and other variables, and put all of them into a multiple-regression equation predicting adult socioeconomic status or income or social pathology or whatever. Researchers then report the magnitude of the contribution of each of the variables in the regression equation, net of all the others (that is, holding constant all the others). It always turns out that IQ, net of all the other variables, is important to outcomes. But … the independent variables pose a tangle of causality – with some causing others in goodness-knows-what ways and some being caused by unknown variables that have not even been measured. Higher socioeconomic status of parents is related to educational attainment of the child, but higher-socioeconomic-status parents have higher IQs, and this affects both the genes that the child has and the emphasis that the parents are likely to place on education and the quality of the parenting with respect to encouragement of intellectual skills and so on. So statements such as “IQ accounts for X percent of the variation in occupational attainment” are built on the shakiest of statistical foundations. What nature hath joined together, multiple regressions cannot put asunder.

Now, I think this is right as far as it goes, although it would certainly have strengthened Nisbett’s argumentation if he had elaborated more on the methodological question around causality, or at least had given some mathematical-statistical-econometric references. Unfortunately, his alternative approach is not more convincing than regression analysis. Read more…