Friday, May 6, 2016

Spring 2016 Journal of Economic Perspectives Available Online

For about 30 years now, my actual paid job (as opposed to my blogging hobby) has been Managing Editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The journal is published by the American Economic Association, which back in 2011 made the decision--much to my delight--that the journal would be freely available on-line, from the current issue back to the first issue in 1987. Here, I'll start with Table of Contents for the just-released Spring 2016 issue. Below are abstracts and direct links for all of the papers. I will almost certainly blog about some of the individual papers in the next week or two, as well.


Symposium on Inequality Beyond Income

"Consumption Inequality," by Orazio P. Attanasio and Luigi Pistaferri
In this essay, we discuss the importance of consumption inequality in the debate concerning the measurement of disparities in economic well-being. We summarize the advantages and disadvantages of using consumption as opposed to income for measuring trends in economic well-being. We critically evaluate the available evidence on these trends, and in particular discuss how the literature has evolved in its assessment of whether consumption inequality has grown as much as or less than income inequality. We provide some novel evidence on three relatively unexplored themes: inequality in different spending components, inequality in leisure time, and intergenerational consumption mobility.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"Mortality Inequality: The Good News from a County-Level Approach," by Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt
In this essay, we ask whether the distributions of life expectancy and mortality have become generally more unequal, as many seem to believe, and we report some good news. Focusing on groups of counties ranked by their poverty rates, we show that gains in life expectancy at birth have actually been relatively equally distributed between rich and poor areas. Analysts who have concluded that inequality in life expectancy is increasing have generally focused on life expectancy at age 40 to 50. This observation suggests that it is important to examine trends in mortality for younger and older ages separately. Turning to an analysis of age-specific mortality rates, we show that among adults age 50 and over, mortality has declined more quickly in richer areas than in poorer ones, resulting in increased inequality in mortality. This finding is consistent with previous research on the subject. However, among children, mortality has been falling more quickly in poorer areas with the result that inequality in mortality has fallen substantially over time. We also show that there have been stunning declines in mortality rates for African Americans between 1990 and 2010, especially for black men. Finally we offer some hypotheses about causes for the results we see, including a discussion of differential smoking patterns by age and socioeconomic status.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"Health Insurance and Income Inequality," by Robert Kaestner and Darren Lubotsky
Health insurance and other in-kind forms of compensation and government benefits are typically not included in measures of income and analyses of inequality. This omission is important. Given the large and growing cost of health care in the United States and the presence of large government health insurance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, it is crucial to understand how health insurance and related public policies contribute to measured economic well-being and inequality. Our paper assesses the effect on inequality of the primary government programs that affect health insurance.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"Family Inequality: Diverging Patterns in Marriage, Cohabitation, and Childbearing," by Shelly Lundberg, Robert A. Pollak and Jenna Stearns
Popular discussions of changes in American families over the past 60 years have revolved around the "retreat from marriage." Concern has focused on increasing levels of nonmarital childbearing, as well as falling marriage rates that stem from both increases in the age at first marriage and greater marital instability. Often lost in these discussions is the fact that the decline of marriage has coincided with a rise in cohabitation. Many "single" Americans now live with a domestic partner and a substantial fraction of "single" mothers are cohabiting, often with the child's father. The share of women who have ever cohabited has nearly doubled over the past 25 years, and the majority of nonmarital births now occur to cohabiting rather than to unpartnered mothers at all levels of education. The emergence of cohabitation as an alternative to marriage has been a key feature of the post–World War II transformation of the American family. These changes in the patterns and trajectories of family structure have a strong socioeconomic gradient. The important divide is between college graduates and others: individuals who have attended college but do not have a four-year degree have family patterns and trajectories that are very similar to those of high school graduates.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality," by Magnus Lofstrom and Steven Raphael
Crime rates in the United States have declined to historical lows since the early 1990s. Prison and jail incarceration rates as well as community correctional populations have increased greatly since the mid-1970s. Both of these developments have disproportionately impacted poor and minority communities. In this paper, we document these trends. We then assess whether the crime declines can be attributed to the massive expansion of the US criminal justice system. We argue that the crime rate is certainly lower as a result of this expansion and in the early 1990s was likely a third lower than what it would have been absent changes in sentencing practices in the 1980s. However, there is little evidence that further stiffening of sentences during the 1990s—a period when prison and other correctional populations expanded rapidly—have had an impact. Hence, the growth in criminal justice populations since 1990s has exacerbated socioeconomic inequality in the United States without generating much benefit in terms of lower crime rates.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials


"Net Neutrality: A Fast Lane to Understanding the Trade-Offs," by Shane Greenstein, Martin Peitz and Tommaso Valletti
The last decade has seen a strident public debate about the principle of "net neutrality." The economic literature has focused on two definitions of net neutrality. The most basic definition of net neutrality is to prohibit payments from content providers to internet service providers; this situation we refer to as a one-sided pricing model, in contrast with a two-sided pricing model in which such payments are permitted. Net neutrality may also be defined as prohibiting prioritization of traffic, with or without compensation. The research program then is to explore how a net neutrality rule would alter the distribution of rents and the efficiency of outcomes. After describing the features of the modern internet and introducing the key players, (internet service providers, content providers, and customers), we summarize insights from some models of the treatment of internet traffic, framing issues in terms of the positive economic factors at work. Our survey provides little support for the bold and simplistic claims of the most vociferous supporters and detractors of net neutrality. The economic consequences of such policies depend crucially on the precise policy choice and how it is implemented. The consequences further depend on how long-run economic trade-offs play out; for some of them, there is relevant experience in other industries to draw upon, but for others there is no experience and no consensus forecast.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"The Billion Prices Project: Using Online Prices for Measurement and Research," by Alberto Cavallo and Roberto Rigobon
A large and growing share of retail prices all over the world are posted online on the websites of retailers. This is a massive and (until recently) untapped source of retail price information. Our objective with the Billion Prices Project, created at MIT in 2008, is to experiment with these new sources of information to improve the computation of traditional economic indicators, starting with the Consumer Price Index. We also seek to understand whether online prices have distinct dynamics, their advantages and disadvantages, and whether they can serve as reliable source of information for economic research. The word "billion" in Billion Prices Project was simply meant to express our desire to collect a massive amount of prices, though we in fact reached that number of observations in less than two years. By 2010, we were collecting 5 million prices every day from over 300 retailers in 50 countries. We describe the methodology used to compute online price indexes and show how they co-move with consumer price indexes in most countries. We also use our price data to study price stickiness, and to investigate the "law of one price" in international economics. Finally we describe how the Billion Prices Project data are publicly shared and discuss why data collection is an important endeavor that macro- and international economists should pursue more often.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"The Masking of the Decline in Manufacturing Employment by the Housing Bubble," by Kerwin Kofi Charles, Erik Hurst and Matthew J. Notowidigdo
The employment-to-population ratio among prime-aged adults aged 25–54 has fallen substantially since 2000. The explanations proposed for the decline in the employment-to-population ratio have been of two broad types. One set of explanations emphasizes cyclical factors associated with the recession; the second set of explanations focuses on the role of longer-run structural factors. In this paper, we argue that while the decline in manufacturing and the consequent reduction in demand for less-educated workers put downward pressure on their employment rates in the pre-recession 2000–2006 period, the increased demand for less-educated workers because of the housing boom was simultaneously pushing their employment rates upwards. For a few years, the housing boom served to "mask" the labor market effects of manufacturing decline for less-educated workers. When the housing market collapsed in 2007, there was a large, immediate decline in employment among these workers, who faced not only the sudden disappearance of jobs related to the housing boom, but also the fact that manufacturing's steady decline during the early 2000s left them with many fewer opportunities in that sector than had existed at the start of the decade.
Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

"Going for the Gold: The Economics of the Olympics," by Robert A. Baade and Victor A. Matheson
In this paper, we explore the costs and benefits of hosting the Olympic Games. On the cost side, there are three major categories: general infrastructure such as transportation and housing to accommodate athletes and fans; specific sports infrastructure required for competition venues; and operational costs, including general administration as well as the opening and closing ceremony and security. Three major categories of benefits also exist: the short-run benefits of tourist spending during the Games; the long-run benefits or the "Olympic legacy" which might include improvements in infrastructure and increased trade, foreign investment, or tourism after the Games; and intangible benefits such as the "feel-good effect" or civic pride. Each of these costs and benefits will be addressed in turn, but the overwhelming conclusion is that in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities; they result in positive net benefits only under very specific and unusual circumstances. Furthermore, the cost–benefit proposition is worse for cities in developing countries than for those in the industrialized world. In closing, we discuss why what looks like an increasingly poor investment decision on the part of cities still receives significant bidding interest and whether changes in the bidding process of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will improve outcomes for potential hosts.
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"Retrospectives: How Economists Came to Accept Expected Utility Theory: The Case of Samuelson and Savage," by Ivan Moscati
Expected utility theory dominated the economic analysis of individual decision-making under risk from the early 1950s to the 1990. Among the early supporters of the expected utility hypothesis in the von Neumann–Morgenstern version were Milton Friedman and Leonard Jimmie Savage, both based at the University of Chicago, and Jacob Marschak, a leading member of the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics. Paul Samuelson of MIT was initially a severe critic of expected utility theory. Between mid-April and early May 1950, Samuelson composed three papers in which he attacked von Neumann and Morgenstern's axiomatic system. By 1952, however, Samuelson had somewhat unexpectedly become a resolute supporter of the expected utility hypothesis. Why did Samuelson change his mind? Based on the correspondence between Samuelson, Savage, Marschak, and Friedman, this article reconstructs the joint intellectual journey that led Samuelson to accept expected utility theory and Savage to revise his motivations for supporting it.
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"Recommendations for Further Reading," by Timothy Taylor
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"Correspondence: Scoring Social Security Proposals," by  Peter Diamond, Kashin Konstantin, Gary King and Samir Soneji
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