Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Interview with Valerie Ramey: Fiscal Policy, Time Use, and More

David A. Price serves as interlocutor in an "Interview with Valerie Ramey On fiscal stimulus, technological lull, and the rug-rat race" (Econ Focus: Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Fall 2020, pp. 20-24). Here are a couple of excepts: 

On looking at news records to measure historical effects of fiscal stimulus
I started looking at news records when I realized that changes in government spending are often announced at least several quarters before the government spending actually occurs. That's really important, because the empirical techniques that researchers were using previously to measure the effect of government spending implicitly assumed that any change in government spending was essentially unanticipated. But our models tell us that individuals and firms are forward-looking and therefore will react as soon as the news arrives about a future event. This means that the previously used techniques had the timing wrong and therefore couldn't accurately estimate the effects of government spending. ...

One historical case was the start of World War II, when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Events happened over the subsequent months that kept changing expectations. Even though the United States was supposedly not going to enter the war, many businesses knew that they would be increasing their production of defense goods and people knew the military draft was coming because FDR was making many speeches on the importance of building up defenses. To assess the effects of spending, it was important to figure out the exact timing of when the news arrived about future increases in government spending rather than when the spending actually occurred.

You may wonder whether individuals and businesses really do change their behavior based on anticipations of future changes. A perfect example is the start of the Korean War in June 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Consumers, who remembered the rationing of consumer durable goods during World War II, and firms, which remembered the price controls, reacted quickly: Consumers immediately went out and bought consumer durables like refrigerators and washing machines, and firms immediately started raising their prices. All of this happened before there were any changes in government spending or any policies on rationing or price controls.
On reasons for rising time spent on child care since the 1990s
[O]ne of the puzzling things I saw was that the amount of time that people, particularly women, spent on domestic work was going down in almost every category — cleaning their houses, cooking, and chores — except for child care. Time spent on child care had been falling in the 1970s and 1980s but then started rising in the 1990s. Trends in time spent on child care were a puzzle because they looked so different from other home production categories. ... 

Since the 1980s, the propensity to go to college has risen, in large part because of the rise in wages of a college graduate relative to a high school graduate. However, the numbers of students applying to college didn't increase much from 1980 to the early 1990s because there had been a baby bust 18 years earlier. In the second half of the 1990s, the number of students applying to college rose significantly because of a previous baby boomlet. Thus, the demand for college slots rose in the mid-1990s.

The result was what John Bound and others have called cohort crowding. They found that the better the college, the less elastic the supply of slots to the size of the cohort trying to be admitted. For instance, Harvard and Yale barely change how many students they admit to their entering class. The flagship public universities are a little bit more elastic, but they're not elastic enough to keep up with the demand to get into those top colleges. ...

Our hypothesis was that during earlier times when you didn't have this cohort crowding, most college-educated parents felt as though their kids could get into a good college. So they were pretty relaxed about it. But then as you started having the cohort crowding, the parents became more competitive and put more effort into polishing their children's resumes because they realized it was harder and harder to get into the top colleges.