Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Fallacy of Composition

Copyright, The New York Times Company

In 2009 the New York Yankees opened their new stadium on the north side of East 161st Street, replacing the historic stadium on the south side of the street. Not surprisingly, 2009 spending by consumers, news organizations and entertainment businesses, among others, on the north side of East 161st Street was a lot more than it had been in years past. It all started from the Yankees’ spending at the new location.

So a spending advocate might assert that this episode is proof that spending by one organization can stimulate spending by others, because the spending by the others on the north side of the street surged at exactly the same time that the Yankees started having their people work there.

Of course, such an analysis is flawed, because it ignores what happened on the other side of the street. Much of what happened north of East 161st Street was just a displacement of activity from the south side, rather than a creation of new activity. Even the construction workers building the stadium may well have been drawn from other tasks.

This pattern is not special to the Yankees’ move. A number of studies have shown that consumer spending associated with a sports team to a large degree displaces spending in other areas and displaces spending on other leisure activities; a family is unlikely to conclude that because there’s a new team in town or a new stadium, it should sharply increase its spending on entertainment.

Yet ignoring the displacement effects is exactly what Paul Krugman and Dean Baker have done in their praise of recent studies that use “cross-state variation in stimulus spending per capita to estimate the employment effects of the stimulus,” studies comparing states that received more stimulus to states that received less.

Spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a., the “stimulus”) could be very much like the stadium spending — a locality that received more stimulus spending merely enjoyed a displacement of activity into its area from localities that received less spending, and that nationally little or no additional spending occurred as a result of the legislation.

If you want to know about the national effects of the stimulus, at least part of the analysis has to look at the nation as a whole. The same is true of the national effects of changes in labor supply. If one group suddenly becomes more willing to work, it is possible that the group solely takes jobs from the rest of the population, with no new jobs being created for the nation as a whole.

That is why, in addition to looking at the experiences of specific groups and specific regions, I have examined the effects of supply and demand on national employment. (Professor Krugman and Dr. Baker assert in so many words that I ignore national employment, though my papers on the subject look very much at national aggregates. For example, see Figure 3 and Figure 6 of this paper and Table 2, Table 3, Figure 2, Figure 3, Figure 4 or Figure 5 of this paper).

I found, for example, that national employment increases during the summer precisely because young people are more willing to work. Not surprisingly, the summer surge of young job seekers does seem to reduce employment of the rest of the population, but the net national effect is still almost a million more jobs in the summer.

For now, it appears that government spending reduces private spending, even while it may benefit specific regions or groups.


Ian Random said...

Reminds me of the sports bar that opened across the street from a college football stadium in my area. It went out of business after a few months. I try to keep track of the games and avoid the area like the plague. They have guards out the night before to keep out that RV's, so they clog the center lane for a mile until the gates open.

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