Have the Minimum Wage Hikes in South Korea Helped the Economy?

From The New York Times:

Under President Moon Jae-in, South Korea has raised taxes and the minimum wage in the name of economic growth. So far, it hasn’t worked out as planned.

Growth has slowed, unemployment has risen and small-business owners like Moon Seung are complaining. Mr. Moon, founder of an auto parts maker called Dasung in Incheon, an industrial town near Seoul, says his labor costs were up an extra 3 percent last year after the minimum wage rose to 7,530 Korean won, or about $6.70, an hour. That may not sound like much, but it ate into his razor-thin profit margin and prompted him to stop hiring.

“We can’t take it,” Mr. Moon said. “This is a problem not just for the employers, but for the employees.”

The NYT is quick to recover:

The discouraging early results don’t mean that Mr. Moon is wrong and Mr. Trump is right. Wage growth in the United States, though stronger in recent months, has generally remained stubbornly low despite the tightest labor market in a generation, and the American economy is widely expected to slow in 2019 as the economic sugar rush of Mr. Trump’s tax cuts wears off. Pro-business policies in Europe, where labor laws are being loosened, have been met with large-scale protests.

That’s true, but large-scale protests don’t mean that strict labor laws are right either. The article continues:

Mr. Moon aims to improve the incomes of average Korean families so they will consume more, thus reducing the economy’s reliance on exports and, with them, the ups and downs of the global economy. (Exports accounted for 43 percent of South Korea’s gross domestic product in 2017, compared with 20 percent for China.)

But joblessness hit an eight-year high in August of 4.2 percent after the new minimum wage took effect, though it has since improved. Growth was at 2 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period a year earlier, down from 2.8 percent in the second quarter.

The biggest problem is the strain on small businesses, which are often unable to pass on higher costs to their customers. In a 2017 survey of its members by a small-business organization known as Kbiz, 42 percent said they would be forced to shed employees because of the minimum wage increase.

Unsurprisingly, “Some union leaders argue that the minimum wage is not rising quickly enough, and they objected to a proposal that would give businesses more flexibility in meeting limits on working hours. On Nov. 21, an estimated 160,000 workers went on a general strike.” Some experts remain optimistic:

“It is difficult to catch two birds — economic growth and even distribution — with one stone,” said Jung Yoo-shin, dean of the Graduate School of Management of Technology at Sogang University in Seoul. “He needs more time.”

Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economics research at HSBC in Hong Kong, said South Korea’s export-led economy had been hurt more by the slowdown in global growth than the higher minimum wage. Though he is forecasting lower growth for South Korea in 2019, Mr. Neumann said lifting wages among lower-income people was good for the economy.

Maybe. Or maybe we should look at the economic evidence for minimum wage hikes.

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Does Globalization Increase Economic Mobility?

A new working paper draws on Swedish manufacturing data between 1997 and 2013 to determine the effects of globalization on economic mobility. Defining globalization as “a reduction in trade costs” (pg. 22), the authors note,

Most workers land their first full-time job in their 20s and then spend 40 to 50 years in the labor market trying to earn a living. Over their careers, workers acquire new skills, which enables them to change jobs and (sometimes) occupations in order to increase job satisfaction and career earnings. It follows that a complete picture of the impact of globalization on a typical worker should take into account its impact on skill acquisition and the rate at which workers are able to secure better jobs (that is, economic mobility) (pg. 38).

The authors develop “a model of a jobs ladder in which workers gain skills on the job that qualify them for higher-paying jobs at more productive firms” (pg. 38). They explain,

Our main finding is that when trade costs are initially high, globalization increases economic mobility through two channels. First, the reduction in trade costs leads to more international engagement by firms. As the number of exporting firms grows, the ability of workers to gain skills that reduce trade costs is enhanced. This makes it easier for workers to qualify for jobs at the top of the jobs ladder. Second, since high-productivity firms gain disproportionally from falling trade costs, globalization increases wage inequality. And, as the gaps between the wages paid by different groups of firms increase, workers become more willing to (a) incur the moving costs associated with changing jobs and (b) expend effort to keep their skills from deteriorating. As a result, upward economic mobility rises and downward economic mobility (due to demotions or terminations) falls. These changes in economic mobility reduce the differences in expected lifetime incomes forecast by workers in high-wage and low-wage jobs, resulting in the possibility that inequality in lifetime incomes might fall with globalization (even though wage inequality is rising). Even the case in which globalization increases inequality in terms of lifetime incomes, the impact is smaller than its impact on wage inequality (pg. 39).

What’s more,

Employment is reallocated from firms that pay medium wage towards the extremes, with high-wage and low-wage employment both increasing. While it is tempting to interpret this reallocation of employment as an explanation of “job polarization” as described in recent empirical work (see Goos and Manning 2007; Goos, Manning, and Salomons 2009; Autor, Katz and Kearney 2006, 2008 and Autor and Dorn 2013), we believe that would be a mistake…Our results indicate that globalization can result in a shrinking middle-class within a given occupation, with increased export opportunities resulting in more firms willing to recruit the most experienced workers by paying the highest wage; while others react to increased competition from imports by re-orienting their hiring toward inexperienced low-wage workers. These results are not driven by outsourcing. Instead, they are completely driven by the manner in which globalization alters the networks that firms use to fill their vacancies (pg. 39-40).

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When trade costs are high, “globalization allows [low-wage workers] to move up the jobs ladder more quickly and, as they reach higher and higher rungs, they enjoy the enhanced benefits of the higher real wages generated by freer trade. In this case, a focus on wage inequality can be misleading in that low-wage workers do not lose as much relative to others in the labor market as would be indicated by standard analysis” (pg. 28-29). However, when trade costs are already low, “[w]age inequality rises and the rate at which workers move
out of their entry level jobs slows.” However,

the proper way to measure the effect of globalization on a worker is to examine its impact on that worker’s expected lifetime real income. That measure considers both the change in real wages and the degree of economic mobility faced by that worker. Thus, we can get a better view of how globalization affects inequality by examining the changes in expected lifetime real incomes for workers in different labor market states…Inexperienced workers only hold low-wage jobs for a portion of their lifetime, moving on to much better jobs as they gain skills. As they mature, they benefit from the higher real wages paid to medium-wage and high-wage production workers if they can gain the proper skills and land better jobs. The fact that using current wages as a proxy for lifetime earnings can lead to misleading conclusions is not a new insight. This issue is well understood and heavily researched in many sub-fields of economics; but, as far as we know, it has not received much attention from those investigating the link between globalization and inequality (pg. 29-30).

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The devil is in the details.

The Effects of Legalizing Immigrants

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Over at SMU’s Texas-Mexico Center blog, I wrote,

Despite the recent political rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiments, the economic benefits of immigration are well-established in the empirical literature. A 2011 meta-analysis by economist Michael Clemens found that dropping all current immigration restrictions would result in a doubling of world GDP.

A more recent analysis corroborated these findings, concluding that lifting all migration restrictions would increase world output by 126%. In 2015, migrants made up 3.4% of the world population yet contributed about $6.7 trillion to global output—9.4% of world GDP. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that this is $3 trillion more than these migrants would have produced had they stayed in their origin countries. Even undocumented workers in the United States contribute about 3.6% of private-sector GDP annually—around $6 trillion dollars over a 10-year period. Granting these migrants legal status would increase their contribution to 4.8%. 

On this last point, a recent study explores the effects of immigrant legalization in Spain. The authors explain the background for the natural experiment:

In the early 2000s, Spain experienced an incredible boom in immigration. The share of immigrants in the working-age population increased from less than 2% in 1995 to around 10% in 2004. Many of these newly arrived immigrants lacked work permits. By 2004, there were close to 1 million undocumented immigrants in a country of around 43 million inhabitants.

Despite this large number of undocumented immigrants, the government at the time, led by Jose Maria Aznar (Popular Party) and with Mariano Rajoy in its cabinet, was unlikely to legalise the work status of immigrants. Traditionally, the Popular Party had been proposing tougher policies against immigration. Its main stance was to avoid implementing policies that could attract new waves of immigrants. In this context, in the early 2000s, immigrants were granted work permits mostly on the basis of family reunification.

On 14 March 2004, voters in the Spanish general election had to determine whether the Popular Party would continue in power or be replaced by the Socialist Party. In the week before the election, the outcome seemed clear: the polls were forecasting that Zapatero of the Socialist Party was trailing Rajoy by seven percentage points. 

Yet, something completely unexpected happened just three days before the election which, as shown by Garcia-Montalvo (2011), changed the final outcome: Madrid suffered the largest terrorist attack in Spanish history, a tragedy that was poorly managed by the Popular Party. As a result, the Socialist Party came to power, and one of the first policies it implemented was the legalisation of nearly 600,000 immigrants already living (and working illegally) in Spain.

Using administrative payroll tax revenues, the authors find

that the legalisation of immigrants’ work status increased revenues locally — i.e. at the province level — by around €4,189 per newly legalised immigrant. This amount is only 55% of what we would have expected if newly legalised immigrants had shared the same characteristics as previous contributors to the social security system and had enjoyed similar labour market experiences. Two factors may explain this. First, newly legalised immigrants were perhaps disproportionately low-skilled and had worse labour market experiences than natives. Second, the legalisation may also have affected previous workers.

…Using very detailed administrative and survey data on wages and employment, we show that the policy change disproportionately affected the labour market outcomes of workers in high-immigrant locations relative to low-immigrant locations. In particular, it worsened employment opportunities for both low-skilled natives and immigrants, while it improved them for high-skilled workers. Among low-skilled natives, those who lost their jobs were negatively selected — the policy change negatively affected employment prospects of native low-skilled workers at the bottom of the wage distribution. Putting together all the labour market changes and comparing them to payroll tax revenue changes, we show that this negative selection is crucial to fully understand the effects of the reform.

We also show that, following the reform, many immigrants moved from high- to low-immigrant locations. This is important since these immigrants also contributed to payroll tax revenues, but in traditionally low-immigrant locations. This, in turn, means that comparing local payroll tax revenues in high- relative to low-immigrant locations to evaluate the effect of the policy may underestimate the true impact of immigrant legalisation on payroll tax revenues. Once we take into account internal migration and selection, we argue that the true contribution was almost €5,000 per newly legalised immigrant, i.e. substantially higher than what we would have been able to estimate on the basis of local tax revenue data alone.

The DR Book Collection: Catch-Up #7

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

I’m once again behind on my book reviews, so here’s a list of the books I’ve read recently, their descriptions, and accompanying videos.

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Bas van der Vossen, Jason Brennan, In Defense of Openness: Why Global Freedom is the Humane Solution to Global Poverty (Oxford University Press, 2018): “The topic of global justice has long been a central concern within political philosophy and political theory, and there is no doubt that it will remain significant given the persistence of poverty on a massive scale and soaring global inequality. Yet, virtually every analysis in the vast literature of the subject seems ignorant of what developmental economists, both left and right, have to say about the issue. In Defense of Openness illuminates the problem by stressing that that there is overwhelming evidence that economic rights and freedom are necessary for development, and that global redistribution tends to hurt more than it helps. Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan instead ask what a theory of global justice would look like if it were informed by the facts that mainstream development and institutional economics have brought to light. They conceptualize global justice as global freedom and insist we can help the poor-and help ourselves at the same time-by implementing open borders, free trade, the strong protection of individual freedom, and economic rights and property for all around the world. In short, they work from empirical, consequentialist grounds to advocate for the market society as a model for global justice. A spirited challenge to mainstream political theory from two leading political philosophers, In Defense of Openness offers a new approach to global justice: We don’t need to “save” the poor. The poor will save themselves, if we would only get out of their way and let them” (Amazon).

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Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (Penguin, 2018): “Something is going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and afraid to speak honestly. How did this happen? First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths are incompatible with basic psychological principles, as well as ancient wisdom from many cultures. They interfere with healthy development. Anyone who embraces these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—is less likely to become an autonomous adult able to navigate the bumpy road of life. Lukianoff and Haidt investigate the many social trends that have intersected to produce these untruths. They situate the conflicts on campus in the context of America’s rapidly rising political polarization, including a rise in hate crimes and off-campus provocation. They explore changes in childhood including the rise of fearful parenting, the decline of unsupervised play, and the new world of social media that has engulfed teenagers in the last decade. This is a book for anyone who is confused by what is happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live, work, and cooperate across party lines” (Amazon).

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Andrew Selee, Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together (PublicAffairs, 2018): “There may be no story today with a wider gap between fact and fiction than the relationship between the United States and Mexico. Wall or no wall, deeply intertwined social, economic, business, cultural, and personal relationships mean the US-Mexico border is more like a seam than a barrier, weaving together two economies and cultures. Mexico faces huge crime and corruption problems, but its remarkable transformation over the past two decades has made it a more educated, prosperous, and innovative nation than most Americans realize. Through portraits of business leaders, migrants, chefs, movie directors, police officers, and media and sports executives, Andrew Selee looks at this emerging Mexico, showing how it increasingly influences our daily lives in the United States in surprising ways–the jobs we do, the goods we consume, and even the new technology and entertainment we enjoy. From the Mexican entrepreneur in Missouri who saved the US nail industry, to the city leaders who were visionary enough to build a bridge over the border fence so the people of San Diego and Tijuana could share a single international airport, to the connections between innovators in Mexico’s emerging tech hub in Guadalajara and those in Silicon Valley, Mexicans and Americans together have been creating productive connections that now blur the boundaries that once separated us from each other” (Amazon).

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Blaire G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, Boyd J. Petersen (eds.), The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts (Greg Kofford Books, 2018): “Among the most distinctive and defining features of Mormonism is the affirmation of continuing revelation through modern day prophets and apostles. An important component of this concept is the acknowledgement of an open canon—that the body of authoritative scriptural texts can expand as new revelations are made available and presented to the membership for ratification. This volume brings together both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars to examine the place, purpose, and meaning of the LDS Standard Works (Christian Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) in the Mormon tradition, as well as the extra-canonical sources that play a near-scriptural role in the lives of believers. Approaching LDS scripture from a variety of disciplines, methodologies, and perspectives, these scholars offer new insights into both the historical and contemporary understandings of Mormon continuing revelation” (Amazon).

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Beth Felker Jones, Faithful: A Theology of Sex (Zondervan, 2015): “Many believers accept traditional Christian sexual morality but have very little idea why it matters for the Christian life. In Faithful, author Beth Felker Jones sketches a theology of sexuality that demonstrates sex is not about legalistic morals with no basis in reality but rather about the God who is faithful to us. In Hosea 2:19-20 God says to Israel, “I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” This short book explores the goodness of sexuality as created and redeemed, and it suggests ways to navigate the difficulties of living in a world in which sexuality, like everything else, suffers the effects of the fall. As part of Zondervan’s Ordinary Theology series, Faithful takes a deeper look at a subject Christians talk about often but not always thoughtfully. This short, insightful reflection explores the deeper significance of the body and sexuality” (Amazon).

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Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Penguin, 2014): “Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. He explores innovative treatments—from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga—that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives” (Amazon).

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Kevin Simler, Robin Hanson, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life (Oxford University Press, 2018): “Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better – and thus we don’t like to talk or even think about the extent of our selfishness. This is “the elephant in the brain.” Such an introspective taboo makes it hard for us to think clearly about our nature and the explanations for our behavior. The aim of this book, then, is to confront our hidden motives directly – to track down the darker, unexamined corners of our psyches and blast them with floodlights. Then, once everything is clearly visible, we can work to better understand ourselves: Why do we laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do we brag about travel? Why do we prefer to speak rather than listen? Our unconscious motives drive more than just our private behavior; they also infect our venerated social institutions such as Art, School, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion. In fact, these institutions are in many ways designed to accommodate our hidden motives, to serve covert agendas alongside their “official” ones. The existence of big hidden motives can upend the usual political debates, leading one to question the legitimacy of these social institutions, and of standard policies designed to favor or discourage them. You won’t see yourself – or the world – the same after confronting the elephant in the brain” (Amazon).

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Michael D. Tanner, The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor (Cato Institute, 2018):The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor energetically challenges the conventional wisdom of both the right and the left that underlies much of the contemporary debate over poverty and welfare policy. Author and national public policy expert Michael Tanner takes to task conservative critiques of a “culture of poverty” for their failure to account for the structural circumstances in which the poor live. In addition, he criticizes liberal calls for fighting poverty primarily through greater redistribution of wealth and new government programs. Rather than engaging in yet another debate over which government programs should be increased or decreased by billions of dollars, Tanner calls for an end to policies that have continued to push people into poverty. Combining social justice with limited government, his plan includes reforming the criminal justice system and curtailing the War on Drugs, bringing down the cost of housing, reforming education to give more control and choice to parents, and making it easier to bank, save, borrow, and invest. The comprehensive evidence provided in The Inclusive Economy is overwhelming: economic growth lifts more people out of poverty than any achievable amount of redistribution does. As Tanner notes, “we need a new debate, one that moves beyond our current approach to fighting poverty to focus on what works rather than on noble sentiments or good intentions.” The Inclusive Economy is a major step forward in that debate” (Amazon).

Incoherent Know-Nothings

Cards Against Humanity’s Pulse of the Nation poll from 2017 to 2018 has some pretty interesting, disturbing, and rather unsurprising findings about the American public:

Conflicting Views

39.1% of Democrats think that it’s wrong to negatively stereotype people based on their place of birth, but also think Southerners are more racist.

65.2% of Republicans think that people are too easily offended, yet find Black Lives Matter offensive.

64.6% of Democrats think that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body, except when it comes to selling her kidney. Nearly half also believe a woman has the right to do whatever she wants with her body, except sell it for sex.

57.9% of Republicans think that people should be free to express their political opinions in the workplace, but athletes shouldn’t be allowed to make political protests at games.

Over half of Democrats think that men and women “are equal in their talents and abilities,” except when it comes to multitasking and empathy.

About 1/3 of Republicans think we should be more suspicious of foreigners, yet believe Putin when he says he didn’t interfere in the 2016 election. (You’re twice as likely to do this if you support Trump.)

Over half of Republicans believe nobody deserves a handout and that the government should do more to help small, working-class towns in America’s heartland.

About 1/3 of Democrats say that they trust the scientific consensus, just not when it comes to GMOs.

Political Ignorance

39% of Americans either think low GDP is better than high GDP or have no clue altogether.

The majority of Americans can’t name the three branches of government.

Only 12.7% of Americans can name a living, breathing economist. 55.9% can’t name a living economist, but think their opinions about economic policy are well-informed.

The richest 1% of Americans own 39% of the country’s wealth. Everyone overestimates the amount. If you’re a Democrat, you think it is 75 percent. If you’re a Republican, you think it’s 50 percent. Perhaps surprisingly, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to overestimate the amount.

Nearly half of Americans do not believe the U.S. has interfered with foreign democratic elections. You’re less likely to believe it if you’re Republican.

Other Stuff

Those who think “sex without love” is okay are far more likely to be pro-choice.

If you rely on “common sense” instead of empirical evidence, you’re likely older, less educated, and lack a Twitter account. You also are more likely support military action against Russia for their 2016 election interference. 

29% of Trump supporters would still stick with him in 2020 even if he murdered journalist for spreading lies.

Do Bumps in the Minimum Wage Increase the Number of Job Seekers?

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Some argue that increasing the minimum wage will increase the number of job seekers and, consequently, employment. From a new NBER paper:

Do minimum wage increases affect search effort by job seekers?

…We investigate the effect of minimum wage increases on job search effort utilizing data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). We exploit the staggered nature of CPS and ATUS interviews and use an event-study approach, leveraging within-state variation in the adoption of minimum wage changes. We account for shocks affecting a particular state in a given year as well as month effects to control for seasonality, and individual demographic characteristics. Intuitively, we compare the outcomes in each month near the treatment date to the outcomes for otherwise-identical individuals in the same state and year whose survey period was not near a treatment date.

We find no evidence that the minimum wage has persistent effects on search effort; the likelihood of searching does not increase in the aftermath of minimum wage increases. However, there is a large yet transitory increase in the intensive margin of search effort, concentrated
in the month of the minimum wage increase, that fades almost immediately. There is no short-run increase in the employment rate nor changes in observable characteristics of searchers, suggesting that our results are not driven by changes in the composition of job seekers. These findings are robust to the inclusion of demographic controls, the duration of unemployment benefits, and month-by-year fixed effects that account for any idiosyncratic national-level variation in a given month. We also conduct a permutation test for our search duration results in which we randomly assign minimum wage increases across time periods and show that these results do not appear to be due to chance.

Our results call into question the assumption underpinning search-and-matching models as applied to analysis of the minimum wage – namely, that more workers will enter the labor market and each worker will search harder, increasing the returns to firm vacancy postings. Importantly, we find minimum wage increases do not induce individuals to begin searching. While we find that minimum wage increases yield significant increases in worker search effort on the intensive margin, they are transitory (pg. 2-3).

 

What Kind of Immigration Fuels Nationalism?

From a recent NBER Digest:

In Skill of Immigrants and Vote of the Natives: Immigration and Nationalism in European Elections 2007-16 (NBER Working Paper No. 25077), Simone Moriconi, Giovanni Peri, and Riccardo Turati explore the relationship between immigration and European elections. They develop an index of “nationalistic” attitudes of political parties to measure the shift in preferences among voters when confronted with influxes of skilled and unskilled immigrants. They find that larger inflows of highly educated immigrants dampen nationalistic sentiments, while larger inflows of less-educated immigrants heighten them. Their results imply that a more balanced inflow of high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants could attenuate voters’ nationalistic attitudes.

...The new study tracks voter attitudes and behavior for all political parties and elections in 12 European countries for a decade. It relies on demographic and political data from the European Social Survey and a number of other sources. In addition, the researchers collected and classified the political manifestos of 126 parties for 28 elections, focusing in particular on how frequently these materials mentioned nationalistic subjects, the European Union, and other indicators of where parties stood on the political spectrum.

The researchers found “that highly educated native voters are less nationalistic in their attitudes towards immigrants than less-educated natives. The data also show strong nationalistic sentiments in regional pockets in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Demark, Sweden, Norway and, especially, Italy.”

The results suggest that a 1 percent increase in the share of a country’s population who are immigrants in highly educated, highly skilled groups was associated with a 0.1 standard deviation voting change away from nationalism. An increase of comparable size in the number of less-educated and lower-skilled immigrants led to a 0.12 standard deviation voting change towards nationalism. The same patterns emerged when the researchers analyzed voter sentiment expressed in surveys. In this case, a 1 percent increase in high-skilled immigrants led to a 0.07 standard deviation decrease away from nationalism, while a 1 percent increase in lower-skilled immigrants lead to a 0.07 standard deviation increase in nationalism. The results were broadly similar regardless of whether the analysis focused on all immigrants or only on immigrants from non-EU nations.

Immigration is not only about ethnicity, but class as well.

What’s Behind Cuba’s Health Outcomes?

The above comes from Michael Moore’s Sicko. Cuba’s healthcare system is a common talking point among those of Moore’s persuasion. However, a recent study should give us pause regarding some of the overly positive claims about Cuba’s system. First, what people like Moore get right:

How is Cuba healthy while poor? Most attribute the fact to Cuba’s zero monetary cost health care system. There is some truth to that attribution. With 11.1% of GDP dedicated to health care and 0.8% of the population working as physicians, a substantial amount of resources is directed towards reducing infant mortality and increasing longevity. An economy with centralized economic planning by government like that of Cuba can force more resources into an industry than its population might desire in order to achieve improved outcomes in that industry at the expense of other goods and services the population might more highly desire (pg. 755).

However,

Centralized planning has disadvantages. Physicians are given health outcome targets to meet or face penalties. This provides incentives to manipulate data. Take Cuba’s much praised infant mortality rate for example. In most countries, the ratio of the numbers of neonatal deaths and late fetal deaths stay within a certain range of each other as they have many common causes and determinants. One study found that that while the ratio of late fetal deaths to early neonatal deaths in countries with available data stood between 1.04 and 3.03 (Gonzalez, 2015)—a ratio which is representative of Latin American countries as well (Gonzalez and Gilleskie, 2017). Cuba, with a ratio of 6, was a clear outlier. This skewed ratio is evidence that physicians likely reclassified early neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths, thus deflating the infant mortality statistics and propping up life expectancy. Cuban doctors were re-categorizing neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths in order for doctors to meet government targets for infant mortality.

Using the ratios found for other countries, corrections were proposed to the statistics published by the Cuban government: instead of 5.79 per 1000 births, the rate stands between 7.45 and 11.16 per 1000 births. Recalculating life expectancy at birth to account for these corrections (using WHO life tables and assuming that they are accurate depictions of reality), the life expectancy at birth of men by between 0.22 and 0.55 years (Gonzalez, 2015) (pg. 755).

But that’s not the only thing driving low infant mortality rates:

Coercing or pressuring patients into having abortions artificially improve infant mortality by preventing marginally riskier births from occurring help doctors meet their centrally fixed targets. At 72.8 abortions per 100 births, Cuba has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. If only 5% of the abortions are actually pressured abortions meant to keep health statistics up, life expectancy at birth must be lowered by a sizeable amount. If we combine the misreporting of late fetal deaths and pressured abortions, life expectancy would drop by between 1.46 and 1.79 years for men. In Figure 1 below, we show that that with this adjustment alone, instead of being first in the ranking of life expectancy at birth for men in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba falls either to the third or fourth place depending on the range (pg. 755-756).

The researchers explain, “Other repressive policies, unrelated to health care, contribute to Cuba’s health outcomes” (pg. 756) These include:

  • Restrictions in car ownership leading to low automobile fatalities.
  • Rationing combined with physically demanding transportation (e.g., cycling) contributing to reductions in obesity and deaths caused by diabetes, coronary heart diseases and strokes.

The researchers conclude,

Cuban mortality and longevity statistics appear impressive. They are a result of some combination of the government’s choice to allocate more resources into the health care industry (at the expense of other industries that could produce needed goods) and from coercive measures through both health delivery and economic planning that improve health statistics at the expense of other spheres of life.

Although the USA and other countries re-examine how to design health care delivery they should not uncritically accept the myth that the Cuban health care system has been the sole, or even the most important, cause of Cuba’s abnormally high longevity statistics. The role of Cuban economic and political oppression in coercing ‘good’ health outcomes merits further study (pg. 756).

The Effects of Corporate Taxes on Innovation

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I’ve looked at some of the negative effects of corporate taxes in previous posts. These largely had to do with wages and employment. But a new study based on Chinese data finds that they can have negative effects on innovation:

Theoretically, taxes can have either positive or negative impacts on firm innovation. On the one hand, lower taxes can increase the after-tax profit of firms, so that they have better capacity to invest in new technologies or products. Moreover, lower taxes may reduce the resources that firms spend on tax evasion, such as the costs of bribing tax officers, which can be instead used on innovation activities. On the other hand, lower taxes may also have a negative impact on innovation because they decrease government revenue, and in turn may reduce government spending on public goods such as research, education, and infrastructure. As a result, whether providing tax incentives can improve firm innovation is ambiguous. 

In a new study, we investigate the impact of taxes on firm innovation using a natural experiment in China (Cai et al. 2018). In November 2001, China implemented a tax collection reform on all manufacturing firms established on or after January 2002, which switched the collection of corporate income taxes from the local tax bureau to the state tax bureau. After the reform, similar firms established before or after 2002 could pay very different effective tax rates because of the differences in the management and incentives of those two types of tax bureaus…[T]he reform changed the enforcement of tax collection, resulting in a reduction of effective corporate income tax rates by almost 10% among newly established firms.

…To test the impact of taxes on innovation, we combine a comprehensive dataset of all medium and large enterprises in China between 1998 and 2007 with patent data from the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO), including all patents applied in China by the year 2014. We use the data to measure three dimensions of innovation activities – input (R&D expenditure and skilled labour ratio), output (number of patent application), and quality (type and characteristics of patent application). 

Our analysis yields several interesting results. First, we show a strong and robust causal relationship between tax rate and firm innovation. Decreasing the effective tax rate by one standard deviation (0.01) increases the average number of patent application by a significant 5.7% (see Figure 2 for the graphical evidence). The reform also stimulated R&D expenditures and increased the skilled-labour ratio by 14%. Second, a lower tax rate also improves the quality of patents. The impact of tax reform on patent applications mainly comes from its effect on invention and utility patents – decreasing the effective tax rate by one standard deviation improves the probability of having an invention patent application by 4.4% and increases the number of utility patent applications by 4.7%. This suggests that the improvement in innovation outcomes is not merely driven by the low-quality design patents. We also use the detailed information on patent applications as proxies for the patent quality, including number of claims, number of independent claims, and the amount of effort that was spent on the patent application (length of the application document, number of figures, and length of abstract). In our patent data, only invention and utility patents have the above information, and results suggest that a reduction in the tax rate significantly improved patent quality, and the effect is significant for both invention and utility patents. 

Another study drawing on datasets from the 20th century had similar results:

We use new data from the 20th century to show a negative effect of high taxes on innovation. We use three newly constructed datasets consisting of: (1) the universe of corporate and non-corporate inventors who patented since 1920, as well as the citations to their patents; (2) the patents, research employment, and location of laboratory facilities of firms active in R&D; and (3) an historical state-level database of corporate income taxes linked to personal income tax rates from Bakija (2017).

…At the macro level, we find that the effects of taxes are strongly negative and quantitatively important. For example, a one percentage point increase in either the median or top marginal tax rate is associated with an approximately 4% decline in patents, citations, and inventors, and a close to 5% decline in the number of superstar inventors in the state. A one percentage point higher top corporate tax rate leads to around 6-6.3% fewer patents, 5.5-6% fewer citations, 4.6-5% fewer inventors, and 8.5-9.3% fewer superstar inventors.

Furthermore, we find that the share of patentsassigned to corporations appears to be extremely sensitive to the corporate tax rate. A one percentage point increase in the top corporate tax rate is associated with close to 1.2 percentage points fewer patents assigned to companies.      

Individual case studies of tax regime changes underscore how important the effect of taxation could be. As one example, Figure 4 shows the depressing impact on innovation of Michigan’s 1967 and 1968 tax reform bills. In 1967, Michigan introduced its personal income tax, at a rate of 2.6%. In 1968, it then introduced its corporate income tax, at a rate of 5.6%. In the subsequent years, the state experienced a substantial decline in innovative output relative to its peer states.

…At the micro level, we similarly find that taxation negatively affects innovation. To estimate the effect, we assign inventors to their tax brackets based on their productivity, which we observe in the patent data. A one percentage point higher tax rate at the individual level decreases the likelihood of having a patent in the next three years by 0.63 percentage points, even controlling for inventor quality and all other state-level policy changes. The likelihood of having high-qualitypatents with more than ten citations decreases by 0.6 percentage points for every percentage point increase in the personal tax rate. We also show that corporate inventors — inventors who appear on at least one patent assigned to a company — are much more responsive to personal and corporate income taxes than non-corporate inventors, consistent with the profit-sharing narrative posited above, as well as with different motives for innovation. 

Inventors prefer to locate in places where other inventors are active in their particular technology area. This suggests there are particular characteristics which may matter to inventors, and which can ultimately dampen their responses to taxation. Silicon Valley, for example, still attracts an abundance of tech inventors due to its rich network of capital and labour resources for innovation, despite California being a high tax state.          

At the firm level, we find consistently negative effects of taxation on patents and citations. We also find that the top corporate tax rate has a significantly negative effect on the decision of a firm to locate its R&D laboratory in a given state.

Innovation is critical to improvements in human well-being. Something for policymakers to consider.

The Benefits of Walmart

Image result for walmart

Walmart catches a lot of grief. For example, as reported by CNN, Bernie Sanders recently “introduced a bill, titled the Stop Walmart Act, that would prevent large companies from buying back stock unless they pay all employees at least $15 an hour, allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave and limit CEO compensation to no more than 150 times the median pay of all staffers.” Yet, many don’t consider the massive benefits produced by Walmart: 

A 2005 Global Insight study commissioned by Wal-Mart and overseen by an independent panel suggested that a new Wal-Mart would create, on net, 137 jobs in the short term and 97 jobs in the long term (Global Insight 2005: 2). Studying Pennsylvania counties, Hicks (2005, discussed by Vedder and Cox 2006: 110) found that the company led to a net increase of fifty new jobs with a 40% reduction in job turnover. Hicks (2007: 93-94) uses data from Indiana to estimate that Wal-Mart increases rural retail employment from 3.4% to 4.8% after correcting for endogeneity. After correcting for endogeneity of urban Wal-Mart entry, Hicks argues that Wal-Mart leads to a 1.2% increase in employment but points out that this estimate is statistically insignificant.

…Wal-Mart’s most obvious effect on the retail sector comes through its policy of Every Day Low Prices. Basker (2005b) and Basker and Noel (2009) estimate that WalMart has a substantial price advantage over competitors with the effect being that prices among incumbent competitors fall after Wal-Mart entry. Hausman and Leibtag (2007: 1147) argue that the compensating variation from Big Box retailers’ effect on prices leads to welfare increases of some 25% of total food expenditure for people who enjoy the direct and indirect effects of Big Box stores. Further, they argue (Hausman and Leibtag 2009) that the Consumer Price Index is over-estimated because it fails to account properly for price effects of supercenters, mass merchandisers, and club stores. Evaluating estimates of the price effects of Big Box retailers and adjusting for foreign sales, Vedder and Cox (2006: 18-19) argue that “the annual American-derived welfare gains are probably still in excess of $65 billion, or about $225 for every American, or $900 for a typical family of four.”

…Jason Furman (2005) called Wal-Mart a “progressive success story” because of its impact on prices. He notes that if the 2005 Global Insight estimate of annual average household savings of $2,329 is accurate, the annual Wal-Mart related consumer savings of $263 billion dwarfs Wal-Mart-generated reductions in retail wages of $4.7 billion estimated by Dube et al. (2005). Hicks (2007: 82) notes that reductions in nominal retail wages are likely offset by larger price reductions, which translates into higher real wages. Courtemanche and Carden’s (2011a) estimate of $177 per household in savings attributable to the effects of Wal-Mart Supercenters in 2002 multiplied by the 105,401,101 households in the 2000 census yields household savings of $18.7 billion, which is still substantially higher than Dube et al.’s estimate of lost wages. 

Hausman and Leibtag (2007: 25) argue that the compensating variation—i.e., welfare increase—attributable to supercenters, mass merchandisers, and club stores is some 25% of food expenditures. Since poorer households spend more of their income on food, the effect (as a percentage of income) is higher toward the bottom of the income distribution (Furman 2005: 2-3). Hausman and Leibtag (2007: 1172, 1174) further argue that compensating variation from access to non-traditional retailers is higher at lower income levels, which would make the effect even more progressive (pgs. 8-9).

A brand new study demonstrates even more benefits provided by Walmart:

We estimate the effects that Walmart Supercenters have on food security using data from the 2001–2012 waves of the December Current Population Study Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS). Narrow geographic identifiers available in the restricted version of these data enable us to compute the distance from each household’s census tract to the nearest Walmart Supercenter. Our outcomes are counts of the number of affirmative responses on the household and child-specific portions of the food insecurity questionnaire, along with binary variables for household food insecurity, household very low food security, child food insecurity, and child very low food security. We estimate instrumental variables (IV) models that leverage the predictable geographic expansion patterns of Walmart Supercenters outward from corporate headquarters. Specifically, we instrument for Walmart Supercenters with the interaction of distance from Bentonville, Arkansas (Walmart’s headquarters), with time. For both households in general and children specifically, the results show that a closer proximity to the nearest Walmart Supercenter leads to sizeable and statistically significant improvements in all food security measures except the indicator for very low food security. Subsample analyses reveal that the effects are especially large for low-income households and children, though they are also sizeable for middle-income children.

As journalist John Tierney asked, “How could any progressive with a conscience oppose an organization that confers such benefits?”