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2 months

Some Thoughts About Economic Exposition in Math and Words

Analysis in economics and other social sciences often uses a combination of words and mathematics. There is an ongoing critique by those who argue that while the math may sometimes be useful, it is too often deployed with insufficient regard for whether it captures the underlying economic reality. In such cases, the argument goes, math is used as a way of pretending that an argument about the real-world economy has been definitely made, or settled, when in reality only an equation of limited application has been solved.

2 months

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.

2 months

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.

2 months

Where in the World? Hunting for Value in the Bond Market

Few government bond markets offer a positive real return. Those that do tend to have high associated currency risk. Active management of fixed income portfolios is the only real solution. Italy is the only G7 country offering a real-yield greater than 1.5%.

2 months

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.

2 months

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?

2 months

Why Has US Regional Convergence Declined?

In the decades after World War II and up into the 1980s, the US economy experienced regional convergence: that is, the economies and incomes in poorer regions (like the US South) tended to grow more quickly than the economies of richer regions (like the US North). But in the 1980s, this pattern of regional convergence slowed down.