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The Secret Consensus Among Economists

If you follow the economic policy debate in the popular press, you would be excused for missing one of our best-kept secrets: There’s remarkable agreement among economists on most policy questions.  Unfortunately, this consensus remains obscured by the two laws of punditry: First, for any issue, there’s always at least one idiot willing to claim the spotlight to argue for it; and second, that idiot may sound more respectable if he calls himself an economist. 

How then can the quiet consensus compete with these squawking heads?  A wonderful innovation run by Brian Barry and Anil Kashyap at the University of Chicago’s Booth School Initial on Global Markets provides one answer: Data.  Their “Economic Experts Panel” involves 40 of the leading economists across the US who have agreed to respond on the economic policy question du jour.  The panel involves a geographically and ideologically diverse array of leading economists working across different fields.  The main thing that unites them is that they are outstanding economists who care about public policy.  The most striking result is just how often even this very diverse group of economists agree, even when there’s stark disagreement in Washington. 

That observation is the starting point for my latest column with Betsey StevensonRead More »



How Economics Explains The Rising Support for Gay Marriage

President Obama’s personal evolution toward accepting same-sex marriage has certainly made plenty of headlines.  But perhaps the bigger—and untold story—is the evolution of marriage itself, and how the generational shift in how we experience marriage underpins rising toward support for same-sex marriage.  At least that’s the idea that Betsey Stevenson and I explore in our latest column:

For our grandparents’ generation, marriage was about separate roles, separate spheres and specialization. Gary Becker, an economist at the University of Chicago, won the Nobel Prize partly for describing the family as an economic institution — a bit like a small firm that employs people with different skills to produce both income and a well-run household.

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Tax Deductions or Tax Expenditures?

Chances are, you’re going to spend tonight finalizing your taxes, making sure that you ferret every last deduction. And probably pretty pleased to be getting these deductions; but when you dig in a bit deeper, you may not be so sure — at least that’s what Betsey Stevenson and I argue in our latest column.

In fact, tax breaks are no different from either government handouts, or federal mandates, whether evaluated in terms of your finances, the government’s finances, or incentives:

Instead of looking at all the breaks for mortgage interest, health care, retirement savings and so on as deductions, picture the government writing you a check for each item. This equivalence between tax deductions and government spending leads economists to call them “tax expenditures.” Reformers have hit on an even more pointed description: spending through the tax code.

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Who Lived in Your House in 1940?

Here’s a splendid diversion if you’re a data nerd, a history buff, or even just like good detective work: Tell the story of the family that lived in your house in 1940. 

A bit more background.  If you are in the United States, you probably remember participating in the Decennial Census in 2010.  These forms are kept confidential for 72 years—roughly an average American’s life span.  But this same rule means that today (actually, a couple of days ago), the 1940 Census results became public information.  The good folks at the National Archives have scanned all of these census forms, and put them all online. With a bit of work, you should be able to find your house—or if you are in a newer neighborhood, perhaps a neighboring house. Read More »



In Defense of Two-Handed Economists

My latest Bloomberg View column with Betsey Stevenson is now online:

Here’s something you don’t often hear an economist admit: We have very little idea where the economy will be next year.

Truth be told, our best guesses just aren’t very good. Government forecasts regularly go awry. Private-sector economists and cutting-edge macroeconomic models do even worse.

Our objective isn’t to beat up economists. Rather, we want to make the point that when we recognize our shortcomings, we’re forced to confront the enormous uncertainty that lies ahead.  And appropriate humility about the economy changes how we think about policy. Read More »



Charts: Name That Rap Song

Like most economists, I spend much of my day analyzing data, distilling it into the perfect charts. And I also like to listen to music, while doing this.  The brilliant Elisabeth Fosslien has found a way to combine the two.  Yes: Rap Music in Charts. Brilliant! Here’s a chance to test your pop culture knowledge and chart reading […]



What If It Rained on the Tea Party Parade?

My latest Bloomberg View column with Betsey is all about the Tea Party.  Well, actually, it’s really about some superb research about the Tea Party, by Andreas MadestamDaniel ShoagStan Veuger and David Yanagizawa-Drott.  Their big question: “Do Political Protests Matter? Evidence from the Tea Party.”  We know that lots of people turn out to Tea Party rallies. But does it really change anything? Read More »



What can Eeyore and Tigger Teach Bernanke About Monetary Policy?

What can Eeyore and Tigger tell us about the current state of monetary policy?  A lot.  At least that’s the argument that Betsey Stevenson and I make in our new column for Bloomberg View.

The Fed is now engaged in the game of “forward guidance”—they’ve announced that they anticipate keeping interest rates at zero, until late 2014—and hope that it will shape the recovery.  But what effects will this announcement have?  To figure this out, let’s visit two of the greatest ever Fed Chairmen: Eeyore and Tigger. Read More »