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8 months

What if Most Americans Don't Care That Deeply about Trade?

"In fact, recent public opinion polling uniformly reveals that, first, foreign trade and globalization are generally popular, and in fact more popular today than at any point in recent history; second, a substantial portion of the American electorate has no strong views on U.S. trade policy or trade agreements; third, and likely due to the previous point, polls on trade fluctuate based on partisanship or the state of the U.S. economy; and, fourth, Americans’ views on specific trade policies often shift depending on question wording, especially when the actual costs of protectionism are mentioned. These polling realities puncture the current conventional wisdom on trade and public opinion—in particular, that Americans have turned en masse against trade and globalization ..."

8 months

Negative Interest Rates: Evidence and Practicalities

Seven central banks around the world have lowered the interest rate that they use to implement monetary policy to a negative rate: along with the very prominent European Central Bank and Bank of Japan, the others include the central banks of Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Sweden, and Switzerland. How is this working out? When (not if) the next recession hits, are negative interest rates a tool that might be used by the US Federal Reserve? The IMF has issued a staff report on "Negative Interest Rate Policies--Initial Experiences and Assessments" (August 2017). In the Summer 2017 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Kenneth Rogoff explores the arguments for negative interest rates (as opposed to other policy options) and practical methods of moving toward such a policy in "Dealing with Monetary Paralysis at the Zero Bound" (31:3, pp. 46-77). 

8 months

Autonomous Cars: Altering One in Nine Jobs

It seems clear that driverless vehicles are coming, although the timeline for their arrival remains unclear. David Beede, Regina Powers and Cassandra Ingram of the Economics and Statistics Administration at the US Department of Commerce look at one aspect, "The Employment Impact of Autonomous Vehicles," in ESA Issue Brief #05-17 (August 11, 2017). They set the stage this way:  "In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published policy guidelines for AVs [autonomous vehicles], recognizing their potential as “the greatest personal transportation revolution since the popularization of the personal automobile nearly a century ago” (NHTSA 2016). ... The worldwide number of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), such as backup cameras and adaptive cruise control, increased from 90 million to 140 million units between 2014 and 2016. Consumers have indicated a willingness to pay $500-$2,500 per vehicle for ADAS. Sensor technologies are rapidly advancing to provide sophisticated information to vehicle operating systems about the surrounding environment, such as road conditions and the location of other nearby vehicles. However, slower progress has been made in developing software that can mimic human driver decision-making, so that fully autonomous vehicles may not be introduced for another ten or more years ..."   Autonomous vehicles could lead to sweeping changes in personal mobility, car ownership, parking arrangements, traffic congestion, road safety, and more. I ran through some of the main effects in an earlier post on "Driverless Cars" (October 31, 2012). The focus of Beede, Powers, and Ingram is on jobs that involve a substantial amount of driving. They write: "In 2015, 15.5 million U.S. workers were employed in occupations that could be affected (to varying degrees) by the introduction of automated vehicles. This represents about one in nine workers. We divide these occupations into “motor vehicle operators” and “other on-the-job drivers.” Motor vehicle operators are occupations for which driving vehicles to transport persons and goods is a primary activity, are more likely to be displaced by AVs [autonomous vehicles] than other driving-related occupations. In 2015, there were 3.8 million workers in these occupations. These workers were predominately male, older, less educated, and compensated less than the typical worker. Motor vehicle operator jobs are most concentrated in the transportation and warehousing sector. Other on-the-job drivers use roadway motor vehicles to deliver services or to travel to work sites, such as first responders, construction trades, repair and installation, and personal home care aides. In 2015, there were 11.7 million workers in these occupations and they are mostly concentrated in construction, administrative and waste management, health care, and government. Other-on-the-job drivers may be more likely to benefit from greater productivity and better working conditions offered by AVs than motor vehicle operator occupations."  When they break down these jobs by industry, I was interested to note that "government" is the area where the greatest number of jobs will potentially be affected by driverless cars. This suggests that certain might play a leading role in offering examples of how driverless vehicles could work. Or not! Many of those whose jobs would be affected by autonomous vehicles are likely to push back. When tallying up the costs and benefits, it's worth noting that those who spend a lot of time driving are actually in relatively hazardous jobs, because of the risk of motor vehicle accidents. "[T]he fatality rate (per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers) for motor vehicle operators from on-the-job roadway incidents involving motor vehicles is ten times the rate for all workers, and the numbers of roadway motor vehicle occupational injuries resulting in lost work time per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers is 8.7 times as large as that of all workers." Any innovation which directly affects the jobs of about one-ninth of all US workers has the potential to be a dislocating shock of some force. Some  types of workers who spend a good portion of every day in a vehicle will have a harder time adjusting to the change; for others, autonomous vehicles may come as a relief, by freeing them up to focus on other parts of their job. The authors note:  "Workers in motor vehicle operator jobs are older, less educated, and for the most part have fewer transferable skills than other workers, especially the kinds of skills required for non-routine cognitive tasks. ... [I]n contrast to the workers in the occupations we classify as motor vehicle operators, other on-the-job drivers, of which there are about triple the number of motor vehicle operators, have a more diversified set of work activities, knowledge, and skills. For this group, although driving is an important work activity, it is only one of many important work activities, many of which already require the kinds of non-routine cognitive skills that are becoming increasingly in demand in our economy. Such workers are likely to be able to adapt to the widespread adoption of AVs." A version of this article first appeared on Conversable Economist.

8 months

Blockchain: New Frontiers

Blockchain is a technology that offers reliable transactions thanks to decentralized record-keeping. The best-known applications of "blockchain" technology are still the alternative currencies, of which Bitcoin remains the most prominent. But it looks more and more as if the main near-term expansions of the blockchain technology are not going to be about currencies, but instead relate to other kinds of ownership, transactions, and record-keeping. A couple of recent studies emphasizing this theme are "How blockchain technology could change our lives," written by Philip Boucher, Susana Nascimento, and Mihalis Kritikos for the European Parliamentary Research Service (February 2017), and "Blockchain and Economic Development: Hype vs. Reality," written by Michael Pisa and Matt Juden for the Center for Global Development (CGD Policy Paper #107, July 2017).

8 months

A Global Human Capital Index

Finding ways for people to be healthier and better-educated is both a useful goal in itself, and also an investment that increases future economic production. When I find myself worrying, as one does, that the world is falling to pieces, it's useful to remember basic facts: 

8 months

Global Economic Outlook 2019

For 2019, the key factors that we need to think about are what is going to be the outlook on three levels: monetary, macro, and earnings. Watch my entire interview at Real Vision here.

8 months

Daniel Kahneman: "People Don't Want to be Happy"

The great utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham famously argued that "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." This principle was revolutionary in its own way. It treated people as equal. It did not emphasize the happiness of one gender over another, or one race or religion over another, or the happiness of nobles over commoners. It gave consideration to the happiness of the poor, prisoners and slaves. But it also opened up a number of deeper questions, like what actually makes people happy.