Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Survivorship probabilities

Is that low or high? Some time ago, a family friend attended a 50th high school reunion and remarked to me that a little over 100 or 10% of the graduating class of 1,000 had passed away. In formal demography terms, that's a survivorship probability ratio for that cohort of ℓ(72) /ℓ(22) = 1 - 0.1 = 0.9 or so. What do you think, low or high?

Being well versed in dissembling, I said I thought that sounded about right. I think the family friend thought it was too low, that the Grim Reaper had claimed more than the usual number of victims in this cohort.

There are a number of elements that certainly matter here: the sex ratio, the racial and ethnic composition, and so on, all the covariates that we know affect mortality and tend to vary across geographic regions.

But a broad look can be retrieved from cohort life tables published by Social Security. There, these survivorship ratios for the 1940 and 1950 male and female birth cohorts are 0.73 (1940 men) and 0.83 (1940 women), and 0.76 (1950 men) and 0.84 (1950 women).

So the survivorship ratio was pretty high for that birth cohort. Part of it is surely the protective effect of the high school degree, but one can also infer something about the socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic composition of this cohort.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Those fancy macroeconomists!

For a fun read with insight into the challenges confronting policymakers (and the economics profession), here's the latest from the WSJ's Stephen Moore. My favorite part was the pseudo Cain and Abel story about his lazy and hardworking sons!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Another NYC accents article

This one from the Wall St. Journal, whose reporter managed to locate a (self-described) childhood friend of De Niro and Scorsese.

Wolfers on the Fed's two-year promise

Justin Wolfers provides a very helpful interpretation of the Fed's announcement of a two-year commitment to a near-zero federal funds rate. It's a nice, teachable application of the term structure of interest rates, a common topic in introductory money and banking and probably finance courses. If the Fed wants long-term rates to fall, it can commit to keeping short-term rates low for a while, since the former depend on the latter (and on other things).

There's plenty of other helpful commentary on the Fed's move. This NPR article quotes Alan Blinder as stating that the average car loan has a maturity of 3 years, or only 50% longer than the Fed's commitment to low interest rates. I did a double-take, wondering whether I was an outlier in having a 5-year auto loan. But according to Fed survey data, the average maturity is actually above 60 months and has been fairly continuously since early in the new millennium.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Credit rating transparency

It's a shame when a credit rating agency's actions, which in theory are meant to increase transparency between borrowers and lenders, seem to reduce transparency about its own methodologies. The U.S. Treasury details the $2 trillion error in S&P's penultimate statistical analysis of the U.S. debt position and states that in response, S&P simply changed its principal rationale for the downgrade. The case for S&P's primary, or only, rationale the whole time being the political stalemate the whole time seems rather convincing in this light, if one believes that an additional $2 trillion in committed deficit reduction would have avoided the downgrade, as was widely reported. It would be nice if S&P made clear the rationales for its judgments rather than listing one that seems kind of bogus.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hispanic wealth off a cliff

Princeton's Doug Massey opines about the reasons underlying the 66% decline in Hispanic households' wealth (as measured in the SIPP), compared with 53% for blacks and 16% for whites reported by the Pew Hispanic Center in The Toll of the Great Recession.

Massey argues that stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws probably kept a sizable number of undocumented Hispanic immigrants from leaving the U.S. and caught in a underworld with reduced options for legal recourse. Hispanic homeowners may have been particularly susceptible to predatory lending if they were undocumented. He also mentions that many Hispanics had construction jobs, which have taken a huge hit during the recession.

I'm a little skeptical whether legal status really explains that much of the statistic. If all 12 million undocumented immigrants were Hispanic, they'd represent about one quarter of the roughly 50 million Hispanics in the U.S. Assuming the SIPP captures undocumented immigrants (researchers seem to think they're underrepresented in the panel but still there), I think the experiences of legal Hispanics must be responsible for a substantial amount of the reported results.

It's very plausible that tendencies to hold wealth in the form of housing rather than financial investments might be cultural; it's also possible that the lower average socioeconomic status of Hispanics might explain some. And lower SES surely correlates with employment in heavily hit industries such as construction.

Viewed this way, I'm not sure the Toll of the Great Recession is a good argument for immigration reform, but I think there are others.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rogoff on crisis policy

Thanks to Greg Mankiw for posting a link to Ken Rogoff's piece on proper financial crisis macro policy. Rogoff makes the case for targeting debt and overleveraged borrowers rather than traditional aggregate demand stimulus.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

More on plagiarism in China

The latest from NPR on plagiarism in Chinese academic circles. I think awareness may be an issue in a developing country, especially one where imitation isn't only flattery but perhaps a route to an "A." But it occurs to me that the result of plagiarism detection software run on many U.S. academic journals might reveal some uncomfortable patterns too.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mankiw on Bernanke and price-level targeting

In an op-ed with a great title, Greg Mankiw reviews the Bernanke years at the helm of the Fed thus far. He mentions the Fed's focus on the core rate of consumer inflation, excluding food and energy, which might be one of the more inscrutable tenets of central banks.

Here's a look at some recent inflation history, with the top chart showing the levels of the core Consumer Price Index (CPI) alongside the energy and food indexes, and the bottom chart showing a 12-month moving average of the monthly inflation rate in each. Energy prices really steal the show, but food prices are also a bit more volatile than the core rate. Inflation in food and in energy prices both peaked in the summer of 2008 and turned around rather sharply, leading to disinflation and even (slight) deflation in both while trends in the core rate were much more subdued.