Wednesday, November 4, 2015
MAXIMILIAN D. SCHMEISER, Federal Reserve Board
CHRISTIANA STODDARD, Montana State University - Bozeman
CARLY URBAN, Montana State University - Bozeman - Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics
While rising student loan debt can plague college students future finances, few federal programs have been instituted to educate college students on the mechanics of student loan borrowing. This paper exploits a natural experiment in which some students received "Know Your Debt" letters with incentivized offers for one-on-one financial counseling. Montana State University students who reached a specific debt threshold received these letters; University of Montana students did not. We use a difference-in-difference-in-differences strategy to compare students above and below the thresholds across campuses and before and after the intervention to determine how the letters affect student behavior. Employing a rich administrative dataset on individual-level academic records and financial aid packages, we find that students receiving the letters borrow an average of $1,360, less in the subsequent semester -- a reduction of one-third. This does not adversely affect their academic performance. In fact, those who receive the intervention take more credits and have higher GPAs in the subsequent semester.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
"Social Closure, Surnames and Crime"
Quaderni - Working Paper DSE N° 1032
This paper studies the effect of social closure on crime and tax evasion rates using disaggregated data for Italian municipalities. It measures the degree of social openness of a community by the diversity of its surname distribution, which reflects the history of migration and inbreeding. It shows that, all else equal, communities with a history of social closure have lower crime rates and higher tax evasion rates than more open communities. The effect of social closure is likely to be causal, it is relevant in magnitude, statistically significant, and robust to changes in the set of included controls, in the specific measures of dependent and independent variables, in the specification of the regression equation, and in the possible sample splits. Our findings are consistent with the idea that social closure strengthens social sanctions and social control, thus leading to more cooperative outcomes in local interactions, but it reduces cooperation on a larger scale.
[Ed.: Another fun, if not 100% convincing, identification strategy.]
Sunday, September 27, 2015
MICHAEL L. ANDERSON, U.C. Berkeley - Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
FANGWEN LU, University of California, Berkeley; YIRAN ZHANG, Renmin University of China
JUN YANG, Beijing Transportation Research Center; PING QIN, Renmin University of China
Congestion plays a central role in urban and transportation economics. Existing estimates of congestion costs rely on stated or revealed preferences studies. We explore a complementary measure of congestion costs based on self-reported happiness. Exploiting quasi-random variation in daily congestion in Beijing that arises because of superstitions about the number four, we estimate a strong effect of daily congestion on self-reported happiness. When benchmarking this effect against the relationship between income and self-reported happiness we compute implied congestion costs that are several times larger than conventional estimates. Several factors, including the value of reliability and externalities on non-travelers, can reconcile our alternative estimates with the existing literature.
[Ed.: A fun and clever new identification strategy.]
Friday, September 25, 2015
Bar scores for new lawyers dropped last year. This lead the administrators of the nationwide portion of the state tests to declare that us law professors were either admitting weaker students, or failing to prepare them adequately (too much "practice ready" and not enough doctrine, maybe?). It could be true that scores were lower because the test-takers were not as able, but then I could also be a Martian or a Soviet spy. There's really no evidence of any of those.
What about those lower scores? Well, the administrators served up a different test, adding a new section (civil procedure) to the prior six subjects. A basic statistics quiz: you have two populations, A and B, and two treatments, gamma and delta. You apply treatment gamma to A and delta to B, and observe different results. What can you infer about the differences between A and B?
So, yeah, I will start paying attention to this story right after I get back from my meeting with Kruschev.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
The Fed left interest rates alone, and not everyone is happy about that. As Matt Yglesias argues, leaving rates low indefinitely is at least defensible, as long as inflation stays as low as it is (fuel prices are creating a lot of deflationary pressure here and elsewhere). So who are the people clamoring for higher rates, and why are they clamoring?
Maybe some of the clamor is related to compensation structures. Lots of fund managers get paid based on their clients' returns -- most famously, private equity managers get 2 & 20, where the 20 is a slice of the nominal gain in asset value. In an environment where the fed funds rate is so low, returns to all assets are lower. The manager gets paid the same 20% regardless of whether the client could have earned almost the same money investing in treasuries. So, from the manager's perspective, why not push that rate up?
On the other hand, fund managers also win if Yglesias is wrong and the current loose money policy creates inflation. The 20 percent is typically based on nominal, not real, returns. So the client bears most inflation risk. (This is, of course, quite different from the usual arrangement for salaried workers -- why is this allocation of inflation risk optimal for fund managers but not CFOs?)
So, long story short, two points. One, as always, is that it's good to be a fund manager. Another is that, before heeding the money-tightening whispers, it's worth considering what the financial interests of the whisperers might be.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
JEFFREY MANNS, George Washington University Law School
Sovereign ratings are designed to mitigate investors’ risk exposure by highlighting the fiscal condition of governments. The problem is that sovereign ratings entail reciprocal oversight of rating agencies and sovereign governments — which raises conflicts of interest and, ironically, creates incentives for distorted risk assessments. Private rating agencies hold sovereign governments accountable by assessing their risk exposure, while sovereign governments hold rating agencies accountable through regulation. Both sovereign governments and rating agencies have incentives to leverage their mutual oversight to obscure risk taking and minimize accountability. During booms, governments and rating agencies have convergent interests in understating risks until market bubbles are on the cusp of bursting because bubbles produce higher tax revenue and profits. During busts, both sides blame one another for failing to accurately gauge risks, which fosters regulatory stalemates that perpetuate the absence of public and private accountability. [...]
Overseeing rating agencies is difficult for sovereign governments because they face the temptation to abuse regulatory powers to neutralize rating agencies’ ability to push back and expose the fiscal overstretch of governments. [...] [T]his Article advocates an intermediation strategy of integrating a broader array of ratings stakeholders into a stakeholder regulatory organization to oversee the industry. A range of stakeholders rely on the accuracy and integrity of ratings and would have an interest in ensuring that rating-agency regulation balances the need for greater procedural and substantive accountability with the need for rating-agency independence from the government. [...] [T]he logic is that integrating end users of ratings into deliberative processes will mitigate industry biases and produce rules that preempt the need for government regulation.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
DAVID I. WALKER, Boston University School of Law
Over the last ten years, performance-based equity pay, and particularly performance shares, have displaced stock options as the primary instrument for compensating executives of large, public companies in the U.S. This article examines that transformation, analyzing the structure and incentive properties of these newly important instruments and evaluating the benefits and risks from an investor’s perspective. Notable observations include the following: Although technically “stock” instruments, performance shares mimic the incentive characteristics of options. But performance shares avoid the tax, accounting, and other constraints that have led to uniform grants of non-indexed, at the money options. Performance share plans can be designed to be effectively in, at, or out of the money and these plans often employ relative performance measurement that makes them analogous to rarely observed indexed stock options. But the opacity of performance share plans creates risks for investors, and the two accounting approaches applicable to these instruments both result in systematic undervaluation for executive pay disclosure and financial reporting purposes. Given the growing dominance of these instruments, this article advocates the adoption of a mark-to-market accounting regime for all equity compensation
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
We exploit a change in lending laws to estimate the causal effect of restricting access to payday loans on liquor sales. Leveraging lender- and liquor store-level data, we find that the changes reduce sales, with the largest decreases at stores located nearest to lenders. By focusing on states with state-run liquor monopolies, we account for supply side variables that are typically unobserved. Our results are the first to quantify how credit constraints affect spending on liquor, and suggest mechanisms underlying some loan usage. These results illustrate that the benefits of lending restrictions extend beyond personal finance and may be large.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Professor Daniel Shaviro of NYU has a good blog post on September 2, "Arnold Harberger's famous 1962 article on corporate tax incidence."
The simplest way to tink about the corporate income tax is to think that it is borne by capital, because corporations are more capital-intensive than non-corporate businesses (an assumption that might not be true, actually, but let's suppose it is). But Harberger makes a point I hadn't understood before reading Professor Shaviro.
Harberger's insight is that all this changes when only some capital income is being taxed--- from the capital in corporations--- and the capital-labor ratio in a business is flexible. Suppose, as in his particular model, that non-corporate businesses are less able than corporations to substitute between capital and labor. Then when corporations switch away from capital to labor, pushing capital into the non-corporate sector, the demand for labor increases more in corporations than it falls in non-corporations. Wages rise, so workers win and capital-owners lose. But that's only because of the assumption that corporations have more flexible production, which Harberger himself later came to think was false, and which is certainly debatable.
The Incidence of the Corporation Income Tax. Arnold C. Harberger. The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 70, No. 3. (Jun., 1962), pp. 215-240.
Harberger is my perennial choice for the Econ Nobel Prize. He's 91 now, still alive!
Friday, September 4, 2015
BRETT DANAHER, Wellesley College - Department of Economics
MICHAEL D. SMITH, Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management
RAHUL TELANG, Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management
[...] In this paper we seek to study how consumer behavior changes when Internet Service Providers are required to block access to major piracy websites. We do this in the context of two court-ordered events affecting consumers in the UK: The blocking order directed at The Pirate Bay in May 2012, and blocking orders directed at 19 major piracy sites in October and November 2013.
Our results show that blocking The Pirate Bay had little impact on consumption through legal channels — instead, consumers seemed to turn to other piracy sites, Pirate Bay “mirror” sites, or Virtual Private Networks that allowed them to circumvent the block. In contrast, blocking 19 different major piracy sites caused users of those sites to increase their usage of paid legal streaming sites such as Netflix by 12% on average. The lightest users of the blocked sites (and thus the users least affected by the blocks, other than the control group) increased their clicks on paid streaming sites by 3.5% while the heaviest users of the blocked sites increased their paid streaming clicks by 23.6%, strengthening the causal interpretation of the results.
Our results suggest that website blocking requires persistent blocking of a number of piracy sites in order to effectively migrate pirates to legal channels.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
SEWIN CHAN, New York University (NYU) - Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
ANDREW T. HAYASHI, University of Virginia - School of Law
ANDREW HAUGHWOUT, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
WILBERT VAN DER KLAAUW, Federal Reserve Banks - Federal Reserve Bank of New York
The mortgage default decision is part of a complex household credit management problem. We examine how factors affecting mortgage default spill over to other credit markets. As home equity turns negative, homeowners default on mortgages and HELOCs at higher rates, whereas they prioritize repaying credit cards and auto loans. Larger unused credit card limits intensify the preservation of credit cards over housing debt. Although mortgage non-recourse statutes increase default on all types of housing debt, they reduce credit card defaults. Foreclosure delays increase default rates for both housing and non-housing debts. Our analysis highlights the interconnectedness of debt repayment decisions
Monday, August 17, 2015
A new interactive “prison population forecaster,” posted online Tuesday by the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington, aims to help fill that void and yields some sobering conclusions.
The interactive program allows you to assess for yourself the impact of different policy changes. Cut in half the sentences for those convicted of property crimes? Inmates in 2021 are down by 10 percent....
I was startled by these calculations for New Jersey, for example: Cutting in half the number of people sent to prison for drug crimes would reduce the prison population at the end of 2021 by only 3 percent. By contrast, cutting the effective sentences, or time actually served, for violent offenders by just 15 percent would reduce the number of inmates in 2021 by 7 percent — more than twice as much, but still hardly the revolution many reformers seek.
Friday, August 14, 2015
VINH QUANG NGUYEN, Boston College - Carroll School of Management
This paper investigates the effect of the gender of CEOs' offspring on corporate performance. I collect a dataset of the gender of CEOs' children and employ a firm fixed-effect model to estimate a number of positive effects of CEOs having daughters. First, acquisitions, debt and equity offerings made by CEOs with more daughters are better received by the market. Second, CEOs with more daughters are less likely to overpay the targets and better use newly raised capital. Third, CEOs' daughter(s) decrease(s) corporate litigation risk. In sum, the gender of a child is arguably a random and natural experiment, which shows a clear effect on CEOs' behavior.
[Ed.: Note that these three outcomes are all negatively correlated with measures of overconfidence. But how random are daughters? What's the prevalence of IVF and adoption in this demographic?]
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
The Associate Press reports:
Menu prices are up 21 percent and you don't have to tip at Ivar's Salmon House on Seattle's Lake Union after the restaurant decided to institute the city's $15 an hour minimum wage two years ahead of schedule.
It is staff, not diners, who feel the real difference, with wages as much as 60 percent higher than before. One waitress is saving for accounting classes and finding it easier to take weekend vacations, while another server is using the added pay to cover increased rent.
Seattle's law, adopted last year after a strong push from labor and grassroots activists, bumped the city's minimum wage to $11 an hour beginning April 1, above Washington state's highest in the nation $9.47. Scheduled increases that depend on business size and benefits will bring the minimum to $15 within four years for large businesses and seven years for smaller ones.
It sounds like a good business move to me. If every restaurant did it, though, business would suffer.
Monday, August 10, 2015
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Friday, August 7, 2015
I've been begging Expresso, the law review submission service, to share / analyze its data for many years. They did an in-house analysis more than five years ago, and haven't updated it. Happily, the folks at Scholastica have a good post looking at their own numbers.
Since we're now in the fall submission season, here's the key takeaway for law readers: your odds are probably better if you submit in the spring. Let's compare those graphs of submissions against expedites (the latter of which is probably the best measure of law review offer volume). Note that, while submissions and "decisions" are evenly distributed between spring and fall, expedites are much more heavily concentrated in the spring. Since decisions includes rejections for a full volume, what this tells us is that journals are accepting many more articles in the spring. So the share of acceptances to submissions is much better in the spring season.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
A settlement is an agreement between parties to a dispute [...] in reality virtually every dispute is “partially” settled. The same forces that often lead parties to fully settle — joint value maximization, cost minimization, and risk reduction — will under certain conditions lead them to enter into many other forms of Pareto-improving agreements while continuing to actively litigate against one another. We identify three primary categories of these partial settlements: award-modification agreements, issue-modification agreements, and procedure-modification agreements. We provide real-world examples of each and rigorously link them to the underlying incentives facing litigants. [...] Finally, we study partial settlements and how they interact with each other in real-world adjudication using new and unique data from New York’s summary jury trial program. Patterns in the data are consistent with parties using partial settlement terms both as substitutes and as complements for other terms, depending on the context, and suggest that entering into a partial settlement can reduce the attractiveness of full settlement. We conclude by briefly discussing the distinctive welfare implications of partial settlements.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Post v. Jones (US Supreme Court 1856) – A Protype Early Transfer Pricing Type Case (at SSRN)
University of Oxford - Saint Cross College; Middle Temple; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP; Minerva Chambers
July 12, 2015
However there was a second question considered in detail by the Supreme Court, namely what was the alternative fair remuneration that should be substituted for the salvors? This led to a complex and sophisticated analysis of the business risks and fair returns for both parties. Although the context was admiralty law and commercial salvage rather than international tax, the Supreme Court's analysis is remarkably close modern transfer pricing analysis and Post v Jones can perhaps also be viewed as a prototype early transfer pricing type case.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
GIUSEPPE DARI‐MATTIACCI, University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics (ACLE), Tinbergen Institute
MICHAEL G. FAURE, University of Maastricht - Faculty of Law, Metro, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Law
We distinguish among three types of actions that can be taken to alleviate the consequences of natural disasters: precautionary efforts (made ex ante), relief efforts (made in the immediate aftermath of a disaster), and recovery efforts (made ex post). We argue that recognizing this distinction lessens many of the problems that the literature attributes to government intervention and hence expands the scope of government action following disasters. Relief is less likely than recovery to generate oversupply by the government and overreliance by victims.
[See also the ed.'s views on these issues.]
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
It is often noted that prosecutors allow defendants to plead down from their real offense to a minor one in order to avoid the costs of trial, which has the effect of making crime statistics less reliable. Police do the same thing. This quote from an interview with Jill Leovy, author of the recent Ghettoside: A True Story Of Murder In America, talks about that. Is it efficient? It has the effect of increasing the probability of punishment but reducing the penalty.
"LEOVY: Yes. This is a nuance that doesn't get talked about enough because there's I think a general impression that the police are just arbitrarily hammering, for example, drug crimes, possession crimes, probation and parole violations - petty stuff that doesn't do a lot of harm, and yet there's a lot of penalties built behind them and so they must be racist. They must be just trying to give people a hard time. What you see on the ground is that there's a tremendous amount of violence. There's a tremendous amount of impunity, and it's, as I say, semi-furtive. It's well known to everybody in this small enclave who's doing stuff, who's boasting about it, who's dangerous. The police are part of that enclave. They're part of that community. They hear the street rumors, too. They hear so-and-so's a shooter and so-and-so's a rider, and they're frustrated because they cannot put a case on so-and-so for that assault or that homicide. So they think, well, we can get them on a drug offense. He's in a gang. He's selling drugs. If we can just get him on possession with intent to sell, at least that gets him off the street. And so you see certain amount of enforcement that's shaped by a reaction to the impunity for the serious crimes.
It's almost - when you make the prosecution of some crimes very difficult and very expensive, as we have with homicide, it almost pushes the bubble. It's - the cops naturally gravitate towards places where they have more discretion and where it's easier to do the work and stopping and searching and possession and probation, parole - that is low-hanging fruit. It's easy, cheap stuff to prosecute. And so they are seeing these victims. They are seeing people who are paralyzed or in comas for the rest of their life, and they can't make an arrest. But they know that clique from such-and-such gang has been doing this stuff, and everyone knows it. And the graffiti on the wall says it, and they can't make a case. So if we're going to focus a drug-enforcement project tonight somewhere, why not focus on them? It's a compensatory strategy that I think ends up being counterproductive but is also somewhat understandable."