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The Cost of “Bernie Care”

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed support for and formally introduced a plan for a health insurance system to be run by the federal government which has been called “Bernie Care” in some media outlets.  A number of other Democratic politicians have also expressed support for this idea. This is quite likely to be the Democratic Party response to the problems with Obamacare. Indeed Barack Obama expressed his own support for this national health insurance program before his first election as President (I saw the videotape of his statements at that time) but he claimed the country was not yet ready for such a health insurance program. What would such a program cost? The Urban Institute has published a study to answer this question. Read more…

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Tax-Income Ratios in G7 Countries

September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

In a previous post, I provided data on the ratio of tax receipts to GDP in the U.S. It was shown that the U.S. ratio fluctuated around 20 percent of GDP since 1960. Here I provide data on the remaining G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom) which illustrates how different the U.S. is from many European economies. Below is a graph of the data drawn from the OECD (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) covering 1995 to 2015.

The graph shows that tax-income ratios are much higher in the six G7 countries than they are

in the U.S. In 1995, the tax shares ranged from a low of 27 percent in Japan to a high of 43 percent in France. By 2015,  the tax shares range from 32 percent in Japan to 48 percent in France. In short, none of the six countries has a tax share as low as the U.S.

The Entitlements Crisis

The aging of the U.S. population is increasing the transfer payments made by the U.S. government and the obvious question is how the U.S. will finance these payments. It is unlikely that this can be done by borrowing (it is doubtful that the U.S. can borrow trillions of dollars each year) so this suggests that the tax-income ratios in Europe are what may be imposed in the U.S. as the entitlements crisis unfolds. This is what is meant by the charge that many politicians want to turn the U.S. into a European welfare state. What remains to be seen is if the U.S. taxpayers will agree to such a historically large increase in the tax-income ratio in the U.S.

Cognitive Dissonance

August 28, 2017 Leave a comment

The media recently reported the firing of a Google employee who wrote a document expressing his views on the political correctness that, he believed, permeates the work environment at Google. I began thinking about the political correctness that I see which, among other things, maintains the position that men and women are the same intellectually. This view about gender differences seems to me to be an example of cognitive dissonance, a definition of which from Wikipedia is given below.

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.

So cognitive dissonance refers to the possibility that people hold logically inconsistent positions. Here is why political correctness reveals cognitive dissonance.

The Economist, a well-known news magazine, published an article some years ago reporting the results of a brain study directed by a female physician at Stanford University. The study was designed to measure brain function. Specifically, the work attempted to measure the differences, if any, between men and women in processing verbal information. Interestingly, the director of the study was advised by colleagues, some of whom were no doubt male, that she should not conduct this study since the results from it could offend people. But the project was done anyway despite these cautionary comments. The results of the study were that women process verbal information much more efficiently than men. This may not be the final word on the subject. There may be other research which subsequently challenged these findings but imagine for the moment that this result is correct because it has survived replication efforts. Note what this finding could explain. Read more…

The U.S. Tax-Income Ratio

August 17, 2017 1 comment

I recently saw a news report about federal government tax receipts and I began to wonder what trends, if any, have been present in the public’s support of government as measured by its tax payments. Most media reports that I have seen focus on the dollar amounts of federal government tax revenue but it is more informative to include state and local governments as well so that we can get a more accurate measure of public tax payments to the government.

But rather than looking at tax payments in dollars, it is more useful to look at tax shares of our incomes. The economy grows over time and so it is more informative to see what fraction of our incomes are paid to the government so that we can adjust for the size of the economy as it changes through time. For this post, I will use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of our incomes and I will use Federal plus State and Local receipts to capture the revenues of all sorts that flow to the government. All of the data was drawn from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank FRED database which is freely available to the public. The data is annual and it covers 1929 through 2016. Read more…

The Government Deficit and the Fed

April 13, 2017 1 comment

The Federal Reserve recently announced an increase in the interest rate which it sets. This has implications for the government deficit which may not be well understood by the average person so I thought that it might make sense to discuss the connection between the Federal Reserve and the government deficit. What this discussion reveals is that the Fed has been helping to finance the government deficit in the U.S.

The Consolidated Government Budget Constraint

There is a relationship between the government and the Fed known as the Consolidated Government Budget Constraint that is written below.

Spending + Interest Payments + Net Transfer Payments =

Tax Receipts + Change in the Stock of Debt + Change in the Monetary Base

The items on the left side of the equal sign are the uses of the government’s funds. Spending refers to the fact that the government buys goods and services, it makes interest payments to the holders of government debt, and it makes transfer payments to individuals in the economy. The right side of the equation is the list of sources for the government’s spending. It receives tax payments, it issues or retires bonds, and the last item reflects bond purchases or sales by the Federal Reserve. It is these last two items that reflect the connection between the Fed and the government deficit. Read more…

Preference Revelation

February 27, 2017 2 comments

The late Paul A. Samuelson was the first Nobel laureate in economics and is widely regarded to be the most outstanding American economist to date. He wrote many papers that had a profound influence on the thinking of economists but he wrote one paper that, to me, is a great tool for all of us, not just economists. The paper is entitled “Consumption Theory in Terms of Revealed Preference” and, in a nutshell, here is what it says. If you want to know what another person is up to, watch what they do because you can, from their actions, infer their motives or preferences. Below is an example of how useful it can be to observe people’s actions when matched against what they say. Read more…

Categories: Education, Uncategorized

Equal Pay and Occupational Choice

September 28, 2016 Leave a comment

It is election season and the bombast is relentless about the so-called problems that politicians need to fix. Equal pay is one such issue. Hillary Clinton contends that, if she is elected President of the United States, she will work to ensure that women are paid equally to men. But the “evidence” that is often offered to support the existence of this problem is simply the incomes of men and women which I have argued in a previous blog post is worthless (that post is here). The reason is that income data must be adjusted for hours worked, occupations, and possibly other reasons to make the comparisons sensible. These adjustments are typically not made and so one wonders if there is really any problem to be solved.

Here I thought I would provide an example of occupational differences which I suspect is at the heart of measured pay differences. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) provides data on incomes by occupation. To illustrate the point that occupations matter in equal pay discussions, consider two occupations: chemical engineers and elementary and middle school teachers. BLS reports a mean (average) income for chemical engineers of $103,960 and teachers in elementary and middle schools is $58,060. Now consider the following table.

Teachers Engineers
Man $58,060 Man $103,960
Woman $58,060 Man $103,960
Woman $58,060 Woman $103,960
 Total Incomes
Men $265,980
Women $220,080

In the table, there are three people in each occupation. In engineering, there are two men and one woman and, in teaching, there are two women and one man. Note that within each occupation, each person makes exactly the same income so there is no evidence here about discrimination by employers. But men, in the aggregate, make 21 percent more than women ($265,980 is about 21 percent larger than $220,080). So while there is no discrimination by employers, there is a 21 percent aggregate income gap due to occupational differences between men and women.

The point of this example is that if one is to argue for gender bias, the evidence must involve the choices made by men and women, not just the wages paid by firms employing them. I doubt seriously that this would ever happen. What is more likely to happen is that another layer of bureaucratic oversight will be imposed, involving data that must be provided by the private sector to government searching for discrimination. That raises the supply price of the goods and services we buy, thus raising their prices.

I am willing to believe that discrimination exists in our society but I am not willing to believe it on the basis of worthless analysis.

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