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24 days

US Homeownership Patterns

Homeownership rates in the US rebounded a bit in 2017, but remain near historically low levels. This is a source of concern for a number of reasons: homeownership is a savings vehicle that has worked for a number of households over time; being a homeowner encourages people to look after and contribute to their neighborhoods; and homeownership is part of that loose vision of the good life sometimes called the "American dream." I'll draw on evidence presented in The State of the Nation's Housing 2018, the 30th version of an report produced annually by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. For those who want an overview of US housing markets, including issues of rental markets and low-income affordability, it's a good place to start. Here, I'll focus on homeownership patterns.

25 days

The Medical Bankruptcies Debate

The debate over the extent to which uninsured medical costs lead to personal bankruptcies is interesting for a couple of reasons. In terms of social science, it shows the difference between a naive reading of survey data and an actual research design. In terms of politics, it shows the allure of a more glamorous and striking claim, even when incorrect, over a similar claim that is less flashy but actually true.

28 days

Snapshots of Economic Inequality Around the World

Compiling data on economic inequality from countries all around the world is a hefty task, which has been shouldered by a group of more than 100 researchers around the world who contribute to the efforts of the World Inequality Lab and the World Wealth and Income Database. The World Inequality Report 2018, written and coordinated by Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, provides an overview of their findings. Here are a few of the figures that jumped out at me.

30 days

Happiness Around the World — And For Migrants

The utilititarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote of a "sacred truth — that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation." The World Happiness Report 2018 is edited by John F. Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey D. Sachs, with chapters by various scholars. It takes insights about happiness seriously. In this version of the annual report, most of the chapters relate happiness to migration topics, although are also a few chapters with a review of recent happiness data around the world, chapters about about happiness in Latin America more broadly, and about happiness issues related to the US health care system.

1 month

The Dramatic Expansion of Corporate Bonds

Overall world debt in the last year or two is at its all-time high as a share of world GDP. But there is common pattern that as countries grow and their financial markets develop, their level of debt also tends to rise. Perhaps even more interesting is that the importance of the components of that debt have been shifting. During and after the Great Recession, government borrowing was the main driver of rising global debt. But corporate borrowing has become more important.

1 month

A Puzzle: Why Do Retail Chains Charge Uniform Prices Across Stores?

Imagine yourself as the profit-seeking owner of a chain of retail stores. Would you charge the same (or nearly the same) price across all the stores? Or would you vary prices according to average income level of consumers who use that store, or according to whether the local economy was  robust or shaky, or according to whether the store had geographically nearby competitors?

1 month

Thaler on the Evolution of Behavioral Economics

Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2017  "for his contributions to behavioural economics".  He tells the story of how the field evolved from early musings through small-scale tests and more comprehensive theories and all the way to public policy in his Nobel prize lecture, "From Cashews to Nudges: The Evolution of Behavioral Economics." It is ungated and freely available in the June 2018 issue of the American Economic Review (108:6, pp. 1265–1287).  Video of the lecture being delivered is here.