Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mankiw on gold investing

Greg Mankiw gives us a great primer in the NYT about investing in gold that is full of new insights. Probably every economics professor gets asked about this at some point, and here's a great treatment.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

History of families and a Crown Heights building

Here's a fun article about the impending sale of a house in Crown Heights that was built in 1888. The author recounts some interesting details about previous occupants that go beyond what one could find in census records, but the exercise could be broadly repeated using publicly available data from censuses in 1940 and earlier.

Inequality measures

A recent NYT blog article discusses recent work by Richard Burkhauser and coauthors on measuring trends in inequality in income net of taxes, transfers, health insurance, capital gains, and kitchen sinks. What a job that must be, I'm glad I haven't waded into that pool! The blog article contains some great quotes from leading economists in the field, and for me the biggest issue is raised by Gary Burtless: to figure out what happens to assets, Burkhauser et al. assume everyone gets the same market returns, and we know that's not true. It's hard to draw any definite conclusions before peer review hopefully exposes any kinks in methodology or lays concerns to rest.

We want to know what's happening to income inequality now, year-to-year, but my two cents is that "completed" or "cohort" inequality, what people have ended up with over their lifetimes after all the dust settles, is the outcome we're more concerned with, and not so much the year-to-year fluctuations unless those appreciably affect long-run outcomes.  Do we know whether they do?  Ah, the challenges of social science when, for very good reasons, it's very difficult to observe every vicissitude for an individual over many periods.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Inflation ups and downs

Like most Americans, the only price I've been keeping track of this summer is of a gallon of gas. But a recent headline led me to an Atlantic article last month with some nifty graphs showing the dip in core PCE inflation. I remember the first worrying dip in fall 2010 because I mentioned it to undergrads. Crazy. I wonder if inflation expectations show a similar set of dips; the article seems to suggest they don't reflect the recent dip.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Civil War soldiers

David Brooks provides another thoughtful column today, on the perspectives of Civil War soldiers toward their role in the conflict, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. He cites James McPherson and others who report patterns of civic mindedness in letters written by soldiers, and he contrasts them with the post-WWI "Hemingway" version of war perspectives that is considerably less rosy.

Two thoughts occurred to me. I wondered whether the written record during the Civil War was much representative of enlisted men as opposed to officers, during a period when literacy was not widespread. But it is also plausible that a fight to preserve the unity of the country, as opposed to the foreign wars fought since then, which have arguably never been existential, might well be perceived very differently by those involved.