Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is Obamatrade the same as freer trade?

The legal question du jour is whether Congress should allow special voting procedures (fast track) for international trade agreement agreements negotiated by the executive branch. This brings forth the age-old debate of the merits of free trade, as if free or freer trade is at stake with fast track.

But that is jumping to conclusions without reading the text of the trade agreements.

Experts jumped to conclusion, based on chapter titles alone, that the ARRA would help the economy recover, when in fact it prolonged the recession.

Experts jumped to the conclusion that Obamacare would create economic growth, when in fact it is hindering it.

Is Obamatrade another chapter in this saga, in which the federal government hinders economic growth and in the process convinces the experts to assert the opposite?

Reading the text of Obamatrade (specifically, the international trade agreements that would be fast tracked) is a better way of answering the question than extrapolating from the above historical pattern. But the text is secret.

Here are four educated guesses, that perhaps someday might be confirmed by reading the text.

  1. There are some begger-thy-neighbor policies that are implemented when nations act unilaterally. Because they shrink the world economic pie, one might expect such policies be restricted by multinational agreements.
  2. There are some internationally procompetitive policies that are implemented when nations act unilaterally. Multinational agreements set the stage for international collusion, which benefits the parties to the agreement but shrinks the worldwide pie and harms those not party to the agreement (the latter parties can be entire nations or parts of nations not represented).  Some of the nations harmed might be small nations and African nations.
  3. Rumor has it that financial services, which includes insurance, are part of the agreements. But there is no way that the Obama administration would allow foreign businesses to sell their health insurance products -- without politically correct elements like "free" birth control, deductibles ceilings, and regulated premiums. So expect the actual trade agreements to help prevent citizens from looking to foreign businesses to supply desirable products that are currently not supplied domestically.
  4. Among world leaders, there is a near consensus to do a lot of bad economics in the name of "public health." E.g., to dishonor patents on pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

In my view one should seriously consider the possibility that the new and secret trade agreements make trade less free, rather than more.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Piketty's Feast

Revealed preference speaks volumes. Admittedly, my hardcover version of Capital in the Twenty-First Century was delivered “for free” by the publisher of this periodical, but the opportunity cost of retaining it was extraordinary last spring when its publisher and distributors remarkably ran out of stock and the market for used copies was surging. I did more than retain it: I also purchased the electronic version so that I could search its contents readily and accurately and fit the 685-pager in a coat pocket.

More significantly, I read it, in some places carefully enough to dig into the appendices of its online appendices. The University of Chicago—my alma mater and employer—offered Thomas Piketty a faculty position in 1993, and to our disappointment he turned us down. For several years, Piketty’s (and Emmanuel Saez’s) inequality estimates have been used for teaching public economics at Chicago, and I have personally benefitted from his tutoring regarding the details therein. The students are hungry for data on inequality and its trends, and it is my privilege to help with the grocery shopping.

[read the rest at The Independent Review]

Friday, April 3, 2015

Update on self-employment and total employment

Again the headlines (today: "below expectations") are different from the totals including self-employment. Below uses the same methodology I displayed last month.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Burtless: Two Economic Mistakes in One Sentence

Brookings' Gary Burtless writes

It seems odd that critics of the ACA emphasize the potentially adverse impacts of the law on workers forced to accept part-time jobs but fail to notice that their logic suggests more workers in total must be employed.

Dr. Burtless should have read my book, or some of the labor economics literature dealing with part-time work cited therein, to see why he has the economic logic backwards, and in fact nothing here is "odd."

My revised edition (to be published by University of Chicago Press), has the clearest explanation:

A conventional wisdom [e.g., Burtless quote] says that employment rates increase to “compensate” for work hours lost from taxes on full-time schedules. Under this view, more people working 29 hours rather than, say, 35, would mean that employers simply have to hire more or keep workers on the payroll longer in order to accomplish the tasks necessary to conduct their business. The conventional wisdom fails in two ways. ...full-time employment taxes can be avoided by reducing employment and increasing hours per employee. My conservative estimates suggest that this case will be far more prevalent than the twenty-niner situation: the ACA will reduce the nationwide weekly employment rate by 3 percent below what it would have been without the ACA.

...Moreover, even if full-time employment taxes were avoided by reducing weekly work hours, there would not be a commensurate increase in the employment rate because weekly hours would not be reduced for normal business or personal reasons, but rather to avoid penalties and implicit taxes. The penalties and implicit taxes make the business of an employer more expensive, or being an employee less rewarding, even in those cases when people avoid the new tax by adjusting their employment conditions rather than writing a check to the federal treasury. Some employers may go out of business, or never start their businesses in the first place, because of the extra cost of the tax (or the costs of adjustments needed to avoid the tax) or because of the additional costs (e.g., higher wages) needed to attract workers to positions that render them ineligible for exchange subsidies. The net result is that the labor market will involve fewer total hours, and that higher employment rates, if any, will not be enough to compensate for the reduced hours per week. This economic reasoning has been confirmed by empirical studies of previous public policies that raised the relative employer cost of weekly work hours, and failed to create a commensurate increase in employment because the average hour worked by employees had been made more expensive or less productive.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fewer jobs in February?!

The headline payroll employment was (seasonally adjusted) higher in February than in January. However, the headline does not include the self employed or agricultural workers. If we add those in (from the household survey), the number of jobs fell from Jan to Feb. If we also look at it per capita terms, jobs per capita fell two months in a row after being essentially constant Nov-Dec.

Jobs in Thousands through Feb 2015

Jobs per Adult through Feb 2015

To be clear, I am measuring the vast majority of jobs from the same establishment survey that makes headlines. All I'm doing is adding an estimate for the narrow category of workers known to be excluded (in terms of FRED series, my formula is PAYEMS + LNS12027714 + LNS12032184). Interestingly, self employment fell 340,000 in the past month and 238,000 over the past year.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The War on Poverty

According to Milton Friedman

The war on poverty of which so much has been made since then has been a very good thing indeed for many thousands of civil servants who have been able to make excellent careers and many thousands of academic people who have been able to do study after study on poverty.

From Friedman on Galbraith

Monday, February 23, 2015

Opeds about Redistribution and Obamacare

I published three opeds in the Wall Street Journal, but do not reproduce them here in real time to be consistent with WSJ's copyright. Here are some shortcuts to ungated versions:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Robocall cost-benefit analysis

I just answered a Robocall from Covered Illinois touting Obamacare policies.  Will the time I spent answering the call be counted in any cost-benefit analysis?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Republicans help to socialize medicine

Wow!  A widespread failure to consider the economics of health reform has led Republicans to push legislation to (unwittingly, may we suppose?) promote socialized medicine, and Democrats to oppose it!

The new Republican-sponsored bill ("Save American Workers Act") is about changing the "definition of full-time work" from 30+ hours to 40+ hours. But we are not really talking about definitions because the federal government does not publish the English dictionary.

What we are talking about the threshold for getting free stuff: government-financed health care in this case. Because of the original ACA, it is much more difficult for full-time workers to get subsidized coverage without experiencing an employment penalty than it is for part-time workers or non-workers. So the new bill is vastly increasing the number of people who would be deemed part time (for the purposes of getting free stuff), or could be deemed part time with a trivial change in their work schedule.

As a result, the bill will take millions of people off employer coverage and put them on Obamacare, all at taxpayer expense.  The bill will put the U.S. dramatically closer to "single payer" than it would be with Obamacare as originally written.

The great political question is: which party will consider the economics first? Maybe Democrats? The White House statement makes me think that they understand the economics pretty well, and the Wall Street Journal editorial suggests that the Republicans may be lagging.  Maybe the President will sign the bill, laughing all of the way to the history books?

Even if they are not concerned about the economic effects, do Republicans really want to bet that the President is not bluffing about veto?  Ie, bet that he is NOT willing to take another big step toward single payer with a Republican-sponsored bill that increases the deficit?  And bet that the President is NOT willing to make his Department of Health and Human Services even more powerful than it already is?  And bet that the President is NOT willing to make a move that makes several 2016 Presidential contenders look like fools?

(Original here)

P.S. The Congressional Budget Office estimates than "only" one million people would change coverage coverage as a result of the bill. With all due respect for their admirable efforts, the CBO is wrong on this.  They are using a variant of the Gruber microsimulation model (all of the sudden, even the Wall Street Journal is relying on the nonsense output from the model), which fails to include any market analysis and improperly uses elasticities from an era where the (non-elderly) alternatives to employer coverage primarily were Medicaid or being uninsured. All of this is explained in my book about the economic consequences of the health reform.