Saturday, October 21, 2017

24 people ACTUALLY worth following on Twitter. The definitive list.

Two lists of 25 people you should follow on Twitter caught my eye. Of course, there's Salon's 25 conservatives actually worth following, many of whom aren't conservative or worth following (Jennifer Rubin and, not one, but two Federalist-obsessed millennials). Then there's a list of 25 Not Salon-Approved Conservatives Worth Following on Twitter from Mike LaChance at Legal Insurrection. Trump syncophancy is the sole qualification of many of these, so the list includes a lot of dross (I mean, come on. Jim Hoft and John Nolte?)

Combined, the two lists provide 24 people worth following (13 from the former and 11 from the latter). I admit to not knowing much about some of them, which I take as evidence that you're not missing much.

Anyway, here's the list of 24 you should follow:
Kilgore Trout @kt_so_it_goes
Ben Howe @benhowe
Ken White @popehat
Haley Byrd @byrdinator
Josh Jordan @numbersmuncher
Tom Nichols @radiofreetom
Allahpundit @allahpundit
Kat Timpf @kattimpf
Noah Rothman @noahrothman
Jay Caruso @jaycaruso
Rick Wilson @therickwilson
John Podheretz @jpodhoretz
Stephen Hayes @stephenfhayes
Katie Pavlich @katiepavlich
Stephen Miller @redsteeze
Ben Shapiro @benshapiro
William Jacobsen @leginsurrection
Greg Gutfield @greggutfield
Christina Sommers @chsommers
Rob Province @robprovince
IowaHawk @iowahawkblog
Sean Davis @seanmdav
Asche Schow @ascheschow
Mollie Hemingway @mzhemingway

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Most-qualified presidential candidate ever?

We've heard for a while from certain people that Hillary Clinton was the most-qualified presidential candidate in our great nation's history. Somehow there were lots of her supporters who were able to keep a straight face while saying this, so I'll assume they were sincere. But, if they were sincere, then they were instead blindingly ignorant of US history.

I have often tweeted a list of more-qualified candidates, so I decided to just post them here to save time later. Note that I am restricticting myself to just the post-war period. My view is that Clinton was more qualified than only two candidates of the era: Obama and Trump, but the list below is limited to those who were inarguably more qualified the first time they ran. Note that making the list does not make one a good candidate, simply a qualified one based on prior experience.

Truman, Dewey, Eisenhower, Nixon, Goldwater, Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Ford, Reagan, Mondale, GHW Bush, Dole, Gore, Kerry, McCain, Romney.

So, best case is 18th most qualified in the post-war era.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Seattle Minimum Wage Analyzed Correctly

Many cities across the country have decided to increase their minimum wages above that of their state. Economists of all political stripes, even those who are broadly in favor of higher state and national minimum wages, are opposed to these policies because of the harm that they will do to a city's growth and employment, especially the employment of the lowest-skilled.

David Neumark remains the best source for balanced analysis of the minimum wage in theory and practice. This piece published by IZA is an excellent and accessible summary of the issue.

A minimum wage prices the least-skilled workers out of employment because firms would have to pay them more than they are able to provide in terms of productivity and revenue. As a consequence, some firms will shut down, some will substitute higher-skilled labor, and others will increase automation. In the end, low-skilled workers are shut out of the labor market and are denied the opportunity to gain experience through on-the-job training, thereby exiling them from employment now and perhaps into the future.

Because the least-skilled are the most vulnerable to job loss under a minimum wage, empirical studies tend to focus on the effects on 16-19 year olds or on industries, such as restaurants, which are relatively reliant on low-skilled workers. Competently done studies that look at these groups tend to find that increases in the minimum wage do indeed lead to lower employment. Studies that focus on overall employment are not as uniform in their findings. This has more to do with the fact that some higher-skilled types of labor see higher employment as they are hired to replace the now-overpriced low-skilled workers, thereby making statistical significance more elusive.

City minimum wages introduce an extra dimension by which employers can respond to a minimum wage hike. For a city like Seattle, which is part of a much larger metro area, firms can substitute locations outside the city for locations within the city. As a result, employment within the city is more responsive to changes in a minimum wage than if the labor market (the whole metro area) had a uniform minimum wage.

Because Seattle has had its minimum wage in place the longest, it's the city that has been analyzed most frequently in the debate over city minimum wages. For the most part, the analysis that has been done has been pretty shoddy. One common piece of shoddiness is a failure to control for changes in overall economic conditions. For example, one could look at Seattle before and after the higher minimum wage was in place and see that employment has risen over time. One might conclude from this that the minimum wage did not harm employment, and might even have helped it. But the relevant comparison is to what would have happened in the absence of the higher minimum wage, which means that general trends need to be controlled for. Thus, it's not enough to look at Seattle alone, it must be compared to what happened in the entire metro area, which was presumably facing very similar long-term trends and the same business cycle.

A second common source of shoddiness uses inappropriate data. Largely because of data availability, some have compared the unemployment rates of Seattle and its surrounding counties. The idea being that the effects of the minimum wage can be detected if there were changes in Seattle's unemployment rate that don't happen to its neighbors'. That is, it's assumed that the movement of Seattle's unemployment rate in the absence of the higher minimum wage would look like that of the other parts of its metro area.

The problem with this analysis is that the unemployment rate is simply a very poor indicator of changes in labor market conditions. This is because events usually affect the numerator and denominator of the unemployment rate at the same time. For instance, an increase in the minimum wage is expected to reduce the number of people employed and the number of people in the labor force (people give up even looking for work in the absence of employment prospects). As these discouraged workers are not counted as either unemployed or as in the labor force, the unemployment rate can fall after the introduction of a higher minimum wage. As a result, a higher minimum wage in Seattle might lead to lower unemployment rate in the city and in its surrounding area, but for completely opposite reasons: Employment and the labor force would both fall in Seattle and both rise in the surrounding areas.

In my analysis, I look at employment and labor force trends in the city of Seattle relative to the entire Seattle metro area. You can't see much by simply comparing the two data series unless there is some way to control for the normal trends underlying them. These trends are the business cycle, which should affect both in very similar ways, and the location-specific trends that would make the city and the metro area grow at different rates regardless of changes in the minimum wage. To control for these trends, I simply take Seattle's share of metro employment and see if there are any changes to it that are coincident with minimum wage policy. The result is the following chart:

The chart looks at household employment and labor force from 2006 through 2016. As you can see, starting with the beginning of 2009, Seattle's employment and labor force were both growing at a faster rate than its metro area's. Thus, Seattle's economy was becoming larger relative to the metro area as a whole. This trend came to a halt in June 2014, however, the exact month in which Seattle passed its minimum wage increase. Because hiring and expansion decisions are made with future conditions in mind, the deleterious effects of the minimum wage were felt as soon as it was passed. The first of the scheduled minimum wage increases occurred in April 2015, at which time Seattle's relative employment took an other downward turn, which is indicated by the fact that the city's employment share in April 2016 was lower than in April 2015. (Note that there appears to be some seasonality in these ratios, so it's best to compare year-over-year changes.)

Unless someone can point to other events that occurred precisely at these times, this picture shows very clearly that Seattle's minimum wage law had a negative effect on the Seattle labor market. Unfortunately, this chart doesn't provide us with an estimate of the size of the effect in terms of the change in the level of employment. It should, however, put to rest the notion that the city's minimum has had anything but a negative effect on the city's employment.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Lies, Damn Lies, and Phony Statistics Graphics

The graphic below showing the changing distribution of US income has making the rounds for over a year, including in this story in the FT. It sure looks scary, doesn't it? That big mountain of super rich people has just been growing and growing since 1971, while the middle class has been getting squashed down. Boy oh boy has the US become polarized! Yikes! What inequality!

The thing about the graphic is that it's complete nonsense. If you look at what's been happening. the income distribution has been stretching out as nearly every low-income group (except the very very poorest) has become smaller, while higher-income groups have become larger. But at what cost? If this graphic is to be believed, it's that we've let the benefits of growth become so skewed that we've created a class of super-rich who have become distinct from the rest of us. But it's nothing more that a graphical trick. By truncating the x-axis at $200k and collecting together all those above that income level into one group, this apparent growing upper class will happen even if there is no change in inequality. 

To illustrate this point, I've created a simple graphic that does exactly the same as the one above. The blue bars are represent the income distribution in year 1, and the red bars are the distribution in year 2. Median income rises, but there's disproportionate growth in the group of super-rich folks ($110k and above in the example). Awful, isn't it?

It turns out that the data underlying the above figure is nothing but good news. The figure below removes the arbitrary top group and displays the whole income distribution. Every group from the lowest to the median sees a decrease in the number of people, while all higher groups see smaller increases. Is this change in the income distribution bad? If you think it is, then you're nuts. But it's exactly the same as the one right above, which looked so evil.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Silly and ignorant criticisms of economics

Economics, as does any academic discipline, has its share of problems. Unfortunately, most of the criticism one hears in popular publications or other non-academic places are based on a near complete ignorance of what economists do. A few years ago, Chris Auld came up with a handy list of the most common and dumbest criticisms. I've reproduced them here because they now reside on a site that has appropriated his name, and I want to send people to them.
Every mainstream science which touches on political or religious ideology attracts more than its fair share of deniers: the anti-vaccine crowd v mainstream medicine, GMO fearmongers v geneticists, creationists v biologists, global warming deniers v climatologists. Economics is no different, but economics cranks differ in that they typically make false claims about the content of economics itself, as opposed, or as a prelude, to false claims about the way the world works. That target sometimes making it hard for non-economists to differentiate crankery from solid criticism.
Here, then, are some symptoms of bad critiques of economics:
  1. Treats macroeconomic forecasting as the major or only goal of economic analysis.
  2. Frames critique in terms of politics, most commonly the claim that economists are market fundamentalists.
  3. You believe that “gambling” is a bad word. Not knowing the difference between risk vs. reward and therefore never depositing at the online casino of life. If you don’t play, you can never win.
  4. Uses “neoclassical” as if it refers to a political philosophy, set of policy prescriptions, or actual economies. Bonus: spells it “neo-classical” or “Neo-classical.”
  5. Refers to “the” neoclassical model or otherwise suggests all of economic thought is contained in Walras (1874).
  6. Uses “neoclassical economics” and “mainstream economics” interchangeably. Bonus: uses “neoliberal economics” interchangeably with either.
  7. Uses the word “neoliberal” for any reason.
  8. Refers to “corporate masters” or otherwise implies economists are shills for the wealthy or corporations.
  9. Claims economists think people are always rational.
  10. Claims financial crisis disproved mainstream economics.
  11. Explicitly claims that economics is not empirical, or does so implicitly by ignoring empirical economics.
  12. Treats all of economics as if it’s battling schools of macroeconomics.
  13. Misconstrues jargon: “rational.”
  14. Misconstrues jargon: “efficient” (financial sense) or “efficient” (Pareto sense).
  15. Misconstrues jargon: “externality“.
  16. Claims economists only care about money.
  17. Claims economists ignore the environment. Variant: claims economics falters on point that “infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.”
  18. Goes out of its way to point out that the Economics Nobel is not a real Nobel."

Friday, October 14, 2016

Voters, Ranked

1. (tie) Both Clinton and Trump are awful, but I'll hold my nose and vote for the one I think will do the least damage to the republic.

1. (tie) Both Clinton and Trump are awful, so I will vote for a third-party or independent candidate.

1. (tie) Both Clinton and Trump are awful and I will not be a party to this monstrosity.

4. All others.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Election 2016 in a Nutshell

As of today, I am undecided between SMOD and Cthulhu as my choice for President of the United States. Both are running very convincing campaigns, but I'm currently leaning SMOD because I think he'll administer the end with the level of pain and suffering that we deserve. I remain persuadable, however.

The arguments for SMOD and Cthulhu are obvious, so you can look at their twitter feeds linked above for information to help you decide between them. My summaries of the candidates offered by the four largest parties are outlined below.
  • The Republicans have put forth Donald Trump, an emotionally and intellectually insecure man-child with a sexual fascination for his daughter and a homoerotic fascination for men who wield power. As a person, he is a huge POS.
  • The Democrats have as their candidate Hillary Clinton, a congenital liar who ran the State Department as an international influence-peddling scheme, using her husband's charitable foundation to launder the proceeds. To cover the tracks of this operation, she used private e-mail servers that exposed classified information to hackers. She's managed to stay ahead of the FBI by a combination of obstruction, lying, destruction of evidence, and a deeply partisan Department of Justice.
  • The Libertarian Party, finally seeing its opportunity on the big stage, nominated Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico. He turns out to be a semi-retired stoner who, surprisingly for a self-proclaimed libertarian, is at best lukewarm about individual rights and the rule of law.
  • Finally, the Green Party, looking to tap into the millions of voters energized by failed Democratic candidate and noted socialist Bernie Sanders, nominated Dr. Jill Stein, who is still mourning the death of Harambe.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Economics Research Rankings for Missouri

RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) is an extremely valuable resource for economists. Produced by volunteers from around the world, it's a database of working papers, journal articles, books, etc. that's become the go-to place for everything about economics research past and present.

It was inevitable that this data would be used to create rankings of journals, departments, and even individual economists. These rankings have been sliced and diced by field, country, region, state, type of item, sex, graduation cohort, and even deceasedness. Below is the current ranking of university economics departments in Missouri:

RankDepartment, UniversityScore
1Dept of Economics, Washington Univ in St. Louis3.19
2Olin School of Business, Washington Univ in St. Louis4.16
3Economics Department, Univ of Missouri5.05
4Center for Economics & the Environment, Lindenwood Univ7.92
5Dept of Economics, Univ of Missouri-St. Louis10.92
6John Cook School of Business, St. Louis Univ13.72

Note that I have excluded the state's two Feds in Missouri because of the difficulty in figuring out who actually works in which division and because their lists of people include some who are just visiting scholars. Thus, their RePEc rankings are not terribly informative. Given that the two Feds account for a significant portion of the economics research done in the state, this is unfortunate.

In addition, RePEc's overall ranking methodology suffers from a severe case of information kitchen-sinkism. That is, the department rankings are determined by the harmonic average of 33 rankings, some of which are of questionable importance, and many of which are little more than minor variations of each other. Specifically, the 33 rankings include seven variations on the number of works, 12 variations on the number of citations, six variations on the number of pages, two variations on the number of citing authors, two variations for each of abstract views and downloads from the RePEc site, a measure of the success of graduate students, and the department H-index.

The rankings of individual economists are burdened by four additional sub-rankings: the closeness and betweenness measures of one's co-authorship network, the breadth of citations across fields, and the Wu-index. The its credit, the site allows you to choose criteria of your own, but you only get the world's top 5% for each.

I've created a more-useful ranking of Missouri's departments using individual economist's H-indices from the CitEc project, which contains RePEc's raw data on citations. The H-index is a simple and popular measure that is meant to capture both the quantity and impact of an author's body of work. From Wikipedia:
The definition of the index is that a scholar with an index of h has published h papers each of which has been cited in other papers at least h times.
Note that I include each author's primary affiliation only, and, to fix inconsistencies in how authors chose their affiliation, each author was assigned to a specific department within a Fed or University. Here are the top 25% of research economists in Missouri according to their H-indexes:

1Anjan V. ThakorOlin School of Business, Washington U31
2William A. BrockDept of Economics, U of Missouri30
3Robert A. PollakOlin School of Business, Washington U29
4Michele BoldrinDept of Economics, Washington U23
5Christopher NeelyResearch Division, St Louis Fed22
6James BullardResearch Division, St Louis Fed19
6Bruce PetersenDept of Economics, Washington U19
8Christopher OtrokDept of Economics, U of Missouri18
8Ping WangDept of Economics, Washington U18
8Rodolfo E. ManuelliDept of Economics, Washington U18
8Goufu ZhouOlin School of Business, Washington U18
12B RavikumarResearch Division, St Louis Fed17
12Stephen WilliamsonResearch Division, St Louis Fed17
14Michael T. OwyangResearch Division, St Louis Fed16
14Steven FazzariDept of Economics, Washington U16
14Philip H. DybvigOlin School of Business, Washington U16
17Howard WallCenter for Econ & Environment, Lindenwood U15
17Christopher WallerResearch Division, St Louis Fed15
17David WheelockResearch Division, St Louis Fed15
17Michael McCrackenResearch Division, St Louis Fed15
21Ronald M. HarstadDept of Economics, U of Missouri14
22Costas AzariadisDept of Economics, Washington U13
22Marcus BerliantDept of Economics, Washington U13
22Jeroen SwinkelsOlin School of Business, Washington U13
25Jonathan WillisResearch Division, Kansas City Fed12
25Troy DavigResearch Division, Kansas City Fed12
25Rik HaferCenter for Econ & Environment, Lindenwood U12
28Craig S. HakkioResearch Division, Kansas City Fed11
28Don SchlagenhaufCent for Household Fin Stability, St Louis Fed11
28Bill DuporResearch Division, St Louis Fed11
28Cletus C. CoughlinResearch Division, St Louis Fed11
28Jeffrey MilyoDept of Economics, U of Missouri11
28L. Randall WrayDept of Economics, UM-Kansas City11
28Werner PlobergerDept of Economics, Washington U11
35Jordan RappaportResearch Division, Kansas City Fed10
35Richard AndersonCenter for Econ & Environment, Lindenwood U10
35David AndolfattoResearch Division, St Louis Fed10
35Yi WenResearch Division, St Louis Fed10
35Barton HamiltonOlin School of Business, Washington U10
35Glenn MacDonaldOlin School of Business, Washington U10
35Hong LiuOlin School of Business, Washington U10
42George A. KahnResearch Division, Kansas City Fed9
42Richard J. SullivanResearch Division, Kansas City Fed9
42Carlos GarrigaResearch Division, St Louis Fed9
42Christian ZimmermannResearch Division, St Louis Fed9
42S. BandyopadhyayResearch Division, St Louis Fed9
42Michael PodgurskyDept of Economics, U of Missouri9
42Selahattin DiboogluDept of Economics, UM-St Louis9
42Norman SchofieldDept of Economics, Washington U9

One way to obtain department rankings from individual rankings is to take an average of the H-index for the economists within a department. Doing so would give an upward bias to departments like mine, which is small and has a skewed distribution of H-indices (i.e., we skew old). So, instead, I also used the department H-index, which benefits large departments while also trimming the high end of the distribution. A department's score is then the sum of these two Hs relative to the maximum across departments. The result is ranking that includes the two Feds and the 11 departments in Missouri with at least 2 authors registered with RePEc:

1Olin School of Business, Washington U100
2Dept of Economics, Washington U92
3Research Division, St Louis Fed91
4Dept of Economics, U of Missouri76
5Center for Econ & the Environment, Lindenwood U62
6Research Division, Kansas City Fed55
7Center for Household Financial Stability, St Louis Fed53
8Dept of Economics, UM-St Louis47
9Dept of Ag and Applied Econ, U of Missouri34
10Dept of Economics, UM-Kansas City32
11Department of Economics, St Louis U29
12Bloch School of Business, UM-Kansas City27
13Dept of Econ and Finance, U of Central Missouri22

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Building a Successful Center on a Shoestring Budget

Back in April I gave a presentation at the annual APEE conference in Las Vegas. The session was one of several on the program which had directors of centers like mine (The Hammond Institute at Lindenwood University) exchanging best practices. I had found these sessions at previous APEE conferences to be very useful, so I was very happy to be a presenter this time around. 

The Hammond Institute happens to be one of many academic centers that receives support from the Charles Koch Foundation. Anti-Koch paranoia is the chemtrails of the loopy left, so a group called UnKoch My Campus decided to use hidden microphones to record the proceedings of my session, and of two other sessions. You can find the recordings and transcripts here. Despite the fevered rambling of UnKoch guys, the actual sessions were pretty innocuous, just what you would expect from academics discussing administrative practices in a forum open to the public. 

For my part, I thanked the UnKoch people for providing the recordings. There were some people who couldn't make my session to receive my sage advice. I also sent them a better photo to include on their web page, which is called KochiLeaks, of course:

I also made sure that they had a copy of the last slide of my presentation. There was a lot of laughing at that stage of my talk, so I didn't want them to be left out of the joke:

I'd like to thank the UnKoch people once more for providing the recordings, which I have synced up with my PowerPoint slides and made into a movie. I thought I gave some great advice, so now Koch-funded centers around the world can operate at least a bit better now because they can watch my presentation. Enjoy: