Posted: 17 Oct 2015 12:33 AM PDT
Disarticulation goes North: ... In a recent piece published in the New York Times, Paul Theroux, after traveling through the American South, was shocked by the depth of poverty there, wrought in his opinion by the destruction of jobs that have all gone to Asia and import of cheap commodities from China. He was even more distraught by the apparent lack of interest of American political and economic elites who seem to even fail to notice the plight of the Americans in states like Mississippi and most ironically in Arkansas where philanthropists such as the Clinton Foundation have not been much seen even as they proudly boast of efforts "to save the elephants in Africa".
The key issue raised by Theroux was whether trade, that is, globalization was responsible for this plight. The second issue that was raised was why there is so little empathy with the domestic poor or interest in doing something about their destitution. ...
One can safely claim, to the extent that these things that be causally proven, that the rapid worldwide progress in poverty alleviation is due to globalization. It is also true that on any income or consumption metric, poverty in parts of Africa is much worse than in Mississippi. But of course none of that may be politically or socially relevant because national populations seldom care about cosmopolitan welfare functions (where happiness of every individual in the world is equally valued). They work with national welfare functions where a given level of destitution locally is given a much greater weight than the same destitution abroad. There are studies that show the revealed difference in implicit national vs. cosmopolitan weighting of poverty (the ratio for the US is estimated at 2000 to 1); there are arguments for this, going back to Aristotle who in Nicomachean ethics thought that our level of empathy diminishes as in concentric circles as we move further from a very narrow community. And there are also political philosophy arguments (by Rawls) why co-citizens do care more for each other than for the others.
But I think that it is insufficient to leave this argument at a very abstract level where one group of Americans would have a more cosmopolitan welfare function and better perception of global benefits of trade and another would be more nativist and ignorant of economics. I do not think that the real difference between the two groups has to do with welfare concerns and economic literacy but with their interests. Many rich Americans who like to point out to the benefits of globalization worldwide significantly benefited and continue to benefit from the type of globalization that has been unfolding during the past three decades. The numbers, showing their real income gains, are so well known that they need no repeating. They are large beneficiaries from this type of globalization because of their ability to play off less well-paid and more docile labor from poorer countries against the often too expensive domestic labor. They also benefit through inflows of unskilled foreign labor that keep the costs of the services they consume low. Thus rich Americans are made better off by the key forces of globalization: migration, outsourcing, cheap imports, which have also been responsible for the major reduction of worldwide poverty. Perhaps in a somewhat crude materialist fashion I think that their sudden interest in reducing worldwide poverty is just an ethical sugar-coating over their economic interests which are perfectly well served by globalization. Like every dominant class, or every beneficiary of an economic or political regime, they feel the need to situate their success within some larger whole and to explain that it is a by-product of a much grander betterment of human condition.
A new alliance, based on the coincidence of interests, is thus formed between some of the richest people in the world and poor people of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Those who are left out in the cold are the domestic lower-middle and middle classes squeezed between the competition from foreign labor and indifference of national ruling classes. ...
The idea that globalization is a force that is good and beneficial for all is an illusion. Tectonic economic changes such as those brought by globalization always have winners and losers. (The first sentence of my forthcoming book "Global inequality", Harvard University Press, April 2016, says exactly that.) Even if globalization is, as I believe, a positive phenomenon overall, both economically ... and ethically because it allows for the creation of something akin to community of all humankind, it is, and will remain, a deeply contradictory and disruptive force that would leave, at times significant groups of people, worse off. Refusing to see that is possible only if one is blinded by ideology of universal harmonies or by own economic interests.
Posted: 17 Oct 2015 12:24 AM PDT
Threats Perceived When There Are None: Sendhil Mullainathan is one of the most thoughtful people in the economics profession, but he has a recent piece in the New York Times with which I really must take issue.
Sendhil is implicitly assuming that a white motorist who behaved in exactly the same manner as Levar Jones did in the above video would have been treated in precisely the same manner by the officer in question, or that the incident shown here is too rare to have an impact on the aggregate data. Neither hypothesis seems plausible to me.
How, then, can once account for the rough parity between arrest rates and the rate of shooting deaths at the hands of law enforcement? If officers frequently behave differently in encounters with black civilians, shouldn't one see a higher rate of killing per encounter?
Not necessarily. To see why, think of the encounter involving Henry Louis Gates and Officer James Crowley back in 2009. This was a safe encounter as defined above, but may not have happened in the first place had Gates been white. If the very high incidence of encounters between police and black men is due, in part, to encounters that ought not to have occurred at all, then a disproportionate share of these will be safe, and one ought to expect fewer killings per encounter in the absence of bias. Observing parity would then be suggestive of bias, and eliminating bias would surely result in fewer killings.
In justifying the termination of the officer in the video above, the director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety stated that he "reacted to a perceived threat where there was none." Fear is a powerful motivator, and even when there are strong incentives not to shoot, it is still a preferable option to being shot. This is why stand-you-ground laws have resulted in an increased incidence of homicide, despite narrowing the very definition of homicide to exclude certain killings. It is also why homicide is so volatile across time and space, and why staggering racial disparities in both victimization and offending persist.
None of this should detract from the other points made in Sendhil's piece. There are indeed deep structural problems underlying the high rate of encounters, and these need urgent policy attention. But a careful reading of the data does not support the claim that "removing police racial bias will have little effect on the killing rate." On the contrary, I expect that improved screening and better training, coupled with body and dashboard cameras, will result in fewer officers reacting to a perceived threat when there is none.
Posted: 17 Oct 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 16 Oct 2015 11:15 AM PDT
This surprised me. I was under the impression that things are moving in the opposite direction:
Economics and the Modern Economic Historian, by Ran Abramitzky, NBER Working Paper No. 21636, October 2015: Abstract I reflect on the role of modern economic history in economics. I document a substantial increase in the percentage of papers devoted to economic history in the top-5 economic journals over the last few decades. I discuss how the study of the past has contributed to economics by providing ground to test economic theory, improve economic policy, understand economic mechanisms, and answer big economic questions. Recent graduates in economic history appear to have roughly similar prospects to those of other economists in the economics job market. I speculate how the increase in availability of high quality micro level historical data, the decline in costs of digitizing data, and the use of computationally intensive methods to convert large-scale qualitative information into quantitative data might transform economic history in the future.From the introduction to the paper:
... This sense that economists "believe history to be of small and diminishing interest" was made clear ... in 1976, when McCloskey wrote in defense of economic history a paper entitled "Does the past have useful economics?". McCloskey concluded that the average American economist answers "no". McCloskey showed a sharp decline in the publication of economic history papers in the top economic journals (AER, QJE, JPE). It was clear that "…this older generation of American economists did not persuade many of the younger that history is essential to economics." ...
Today, thirty years later, economic history is far from being marginalized and overlooked by economists. To be sure, economic history remains a small field within economics, but the average economist today would answer a "yes" to the question of whether the past has useful economics. Economists increasingly recognize that historical events shape current economic development, and that current modern economies were once upon a time developing and their experience might be relevant for current developing countries. Recent debates in the US and Europe about immigration policies renewed interest in historical migration episodes. Most notably, the Great Recession of 2007-08 reminded economists of the Great Depression and other historic financial crises. Macroeconomic historian Christina Romer, a Great Depression expert, became the chief advisor of president Obama.3 Indeed, Barry Eichengreen, himself an expert on financial crises in history, started his 2011 presidential address by saying that "this has been a good crisis for economic history."
Posted: 16 Oct 2015 09:51 AM PDT
Alan S. Blinder and Mark Zandi:
The Financial Crisis: Lessons for the Next One: The massive and multifaceted policy responses to the financial crisis and Great Recession -- ranging from traditional fiscal stimulus to tools that policymakers invented on the fly -- dramatically reduced the severity and length of the meltdown that began in 2008; its effects on jobs, unemployment, and budget deficits; and its lasting impact on today's economy.