Thursday, October 28, 2010

Latest Mortgage Modification Readings

Wage Cut Story

from here.

"We're a little unique," said Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer of Southold-based Sea Tow International. His company not only serves boaters in distress, but also assists in situations like the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Sea Tow has also diversified into building pontoon boats to work on at oil spill sites, he said. His workers are also involved in reseeding oyster beds in southern states, he added.

When the stock market crashed and companies began laying off workers in 2008-09, Capt. Frohnhoefer asked his staff to take a 5 percent pay cut to save jobs. They agreed and, within a few months, Sea Tow was able to restore the pay cut, he said.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Assessing the Power of One at the Polls

Copyright, The New York Times Company

Signs outside an early voting station in Lauderhill, Fla.Joe Raedle/Getty Images Signs outside an early voting station in Lauderhill, Fla.

Candidates for office can be heard these days telling constituents, “I need your vote.” But, actually, they do not: the outcomes of civic elections almost never come down to a single vote.

A pivotal vote is one cast in an election that was tied or decided by only one vote. The vote is pivotal because the election outcome might be different if that vote were cast differently. If a person votes next week with the purpose of helping her or his perceived right candidates win, that person is either delusional or extraordinarily concerned with rare events, because essentially all votes cast in civic elections are not pivotal: practically all civic elections conclude with a winner’s vote margin that is two or greater.

We have been electing presidents for more than 200 years, and none of those elections came down to one vote. Even the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush had a margin greater than two votes in Florida (and much wider margins in every other state), so any single voter in Florida that year could have voted differently, and George W. Bush would still have been elected.

An election of a United States senator, or a governor, has never in the history of the United States been decided by one vote. University of Chicago PhD Charles Hunter and I studied almost 100 years of elections of members of Congress – almost 20,000 of them in which an aggregate two billion votes were cast – and only one election was determined by a single vote of the 40,000 cast (that was in the New York’s 36th Congressional District in 1910). And that election had a recount that determined the election was decided by a margin of six votes, rather than one.

Thus, when it comes to elections to federal office, history suggests that the chances that your vote next week will change the winner of the election is less than one in 100,000; more people die in an election year in car crashes than cast a pivotal vote in a federal election.

Dr. Hunter and I also studied 21 years of elections to state legislatures in the 50 states. Our data included more than 50,000 elections with an aggregate of about a billion votes cast. Those elections were markedly smaller than the federal elections and therefore more likely to come down to one vote.

Still, only nine of these came down to one vote (before recounts), and included a grand total of less than 40,000 pivotal votes. So the probability of a pivotal vote in these elections was less than one in 25,000. (The odds are somewhat higher – one in 15,000 for the state elections and one in 89,000 for Congressional elections – if the election actually has more than one candidate; a number of elections do not, such as this year’s election in Florida’s 21st Congressional District).

Many times we cannot know for sure whether next week’s will be the election when your district’s Congressional balloting ends in a tie. Tomorrow could be the day when the lottery draws your lucky number, but few of us make the effort and accept the expense to be sure that no lottery is ever drawn without our owning a ticket. In each case, the outcome of interest is much too rare to justify action by itself.

If the election were not tied, your vote might help your, say, candidate win by 18,001 votes rather than just 18,000. Representatives who win with bigger margins can act differently in office than they otherwise might. But your representative will not change his habits or commitments based on 18,001 rather than 18,000 votes. However you look at it, the expected effect of your vote is minuscule.

Many eligible voters will not exercise their right to vote next week, and some think their vote does not matter. Civic pride, or just having fun, may be good reasons for you to vote, but history suggests that next week’s winners will not actually need your vote.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jobs Created or Saved

A translation of White House econ jargon from Jonah Goldberg:

The White House insists that it's ... responsible for every single new job that has been created or "saved" since then. Forget the "saved" part since that has always been so much Bidenesque frippery. (Though for the record, I drink scotch because it keeps away vampires and ensures the moon doesn't catch fire. You can thank me later).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Large States Show the Way, Continued

Copyright, The New York Times Company

California and other states with large populations are legal innovators of sorts, as I explained last week. In order to make all of those laws, big states need to have a different kind of legislator.

The sheer mass of state law in California and other states with large population — California has six to seven times the amount of law of small states — shows that large states are legal innovators in many other ways, using their large populations as incubators.

As I noted last week:

Population is a major determinant of whether a state has various laws, and of the amount of detail state lawmakers provide in their statutes. States with a lot of people have a greater variety of situations that arise that might be addressed by lawmakers. We found that the large states tend to be the early adopters of new laws, with the smaller states following later.

Laws do not come out of thin air but require effort by legislators to come to a consensus and put their statutes on paper. Working as a legislator in a small state like New Hampshire is a very different job than working as a California legislator.

To examine this further, I went back to studies of state politics by Robert E. McCormick and Robert D. Tollison of Clemson and William F. Shugart of the University of Mississippi that began in the 1970s. They examined the size of the state legislatures, the work hours of legislators and legislator salaries.

I have reformatted some of their data to focus on the effects of population and displayed some of the results in the chart below, comparing the population of each state with the total payroll of the state’s legislature in the 1970s (as these studies were published years ago, they do not reflect more recent data). Total payroll is the product of the number of legislators and the annual salary of each legislator.

California’s legislature had about five times the payroll of the smallest states’ legislatures (and 90 times the payroll of New Hampshire!). Just as a state’s population is tied to the volume of its laws, so, too, is there a clear positive relationship between number of people in the state and the amount the state spends on its legislature.

It is not simply a case of more people, more legislators, because the number of seats in state houses and state senates were in most cases determined more than 100 years earlier when California and Texas did not have much population, while Massachusetts and other eastern states were among the nation’s leaders in population.

Instead, the states seem to differ in the amount of work they require from each legislator. In small states, being a legislator is a part-time part-year job, whereas many large states have their legislators working full-time full-year. And legislators are paid for their efforts: in the 1970s, the average annual pay of California legislators was more than 300 times the salary in New Hampshire ($32,000 compared with $100).

Because the number of legislators is not closely linked to population, each legislator in a high-population state has a much larger constituency than his counterpart in a small state. The process of getting elected and making legislation once elected varies widely with the population of the state, and those different processes demand different talents from the politicians.

When voting takes place in every state next month, the types of candidates on the ballot and the ultimately victorious will vary widely between the small states and the large states. Given the differences in workloads, compensation and expectations, this is no surprise.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Will California Show the Way on Marijuana?

Copyright, The New York Times Company

Next month Californians will vote on Proposition 19, which would change state law to allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana. Possession and sale of marijuana remain federal crimes, but the proposition is a current example of how California is a legal innovator of sorts.

Much economic and social activity is regulated at the discretion of the states. Federal laws apply uniformly across the states but, when state law comes into play, some activities can be legal in one state and illegal in another. (Connecticut requires gamblers at casinos and race tracks to be at least 21, while New York sets the bar at 18, for example.) Proponents of Proposition 19 hope that marijuana use by adults will soon be one such activity.

Economists have long studied why jurisdictions vary in their regulation of activities, and one of those studies was published by me and Prof. Andrei Shleifer of Harvard. With states legislating so many behaviors, we borrowed a device from Ronald Reagan’s 1981 State of the Union Address: we measured the number of kilobytes (a printed page is about a kilobyte) in each state’s law books.

The chart below, from our paper, compares each state’s law kilobytes (measured in 2002) with its population. The first thing to notice is how much law the states have: more than 20,000 kilobytes (about 20,000 printed pages). California is the most highly regulated state by this measure, with well over 100,000 kilobytes.

Legal Statutes and Populations Among the States Legal Statutes and Populations Among the States

California’s penchant for unusual legislation is well known, so its leadership in terms of the quantity of law is no surprise. But we noticed that Texas — a state with quite a different society and economy than California — is fairly similar to California in terms of kilobytes of law. We also noticed a similar pattern at the bottom end: Alaska and Delaware have a similar number of pages in their law books, despite being very different.

We concluded that population is a major determinant of whether a state has various laws, and of the amount of detail state lawmakers provide in their statutes. States with a lot of people have a greater variety of situations that arise that might be addressed by lawmakers. We found that the large states tend to be the early adopters of new laws, with the smaller states following later.

Like it or not, the tens of millions of people in California serve as a laboratory for new legislation, and their state sets a legal example that the rest of the states might follow. So, even if you do not live in California, pay attention to Proposition 19: maybe someday marijuana may come to a store near you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Today Professor Krugman applauded my creativity, but forgot to mention my detailed forecasts, and their accuracy over the past year-and-a-half.

Click below for some of those predictions:

The academic papers are released later than the blog entries, but they give extensive details of how the models work, and how the statistical analysis compares them to "Keynesian" models:

Does Labor Supply Matter During a Recession? Evidence from the Seasonal Cycle

The Housing Cycle and Prospects for Technical Progress

Simple Analytics and Empirics of the Government Spending Multiplier and Other “Keynesian” Paradoxes

Aggregate Implications of Labor Market Distortions: The Recession of 2008-9 and Beyond

And don't forget my debate with Dr. Eggertsson.

Contrary to Professor Krugman's claims, I have not made any predictions regarding interest rates. I have made predictions related to inflation:

Government spending does NOT create inflation

Inflation depends on investor sentiment, and I don't make predictions about that!

When inflation comes, it will be welcome.