The question: What causes unemployment?
The answer: Over the fold, taken from a textbook currently used for O-level (roughly grade 11) social studies in Pakistan.
The question: What causes unemployment?
The answer: Over the fold, taken from a textbook currently used for O-level (roughly grade 11) social studies in Pakistan.
I have never worked at these desks. They're useless for computing, as they're the wrong height. They're useless for explaining things to students, because they aren't designed for two or more people to sit side-by-side. All they're useful for is looking imposing, serving as a place to dump stuff, and creating a barrier between myself and any visitors to the office.
So this summer I decided to replace my wooden desk with a meeting table. (I bought the table a few years ago, back when I had a really large office; the chairs are rejects from the economics department's computing lab). To make room for the table, I'm using a minimalist computer desk.
I love my table. It's a friendly but professional place to meet with colleagues and students. There is enough room for students to get out their papers and laptops. I can sit beside a student and explain a diagram, or a group of students can sit down and have a mini-seminar. And I've got a big, clear space for writing, working on my laptop.
Now that I've got this new office arrangement, I've been thinking, "Why doesn't everyone do this?"
Whole academic publishing industries have been built around Big Questions. There's the Big Trust Question: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?” There's the Big Satisfaction Question: "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?" Then there are the Big Questions about labour force participation, unemployment, and so on - questions so big that they are the subject of international conventions.
Last week I was asked "what is the big question about time use?" My first thought was to look at the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). The Family and Gender Roles cycle contains a candidate for The Big Time Use Question:
Q16a On average, how many hours a week do you personally spend on household work, not including childcare and leisure time activities?
It's not a perfect question. I worry that respondents would recall stereotypically female tasks, such as cleaning, in response to a question about "household work", and not think of, say, car repairs, home maintenance or yard work. This would tend to lead to an underestimate of the total amount of unpaid work done within the household, especially the work done by men (to see the question in context, click here). But it's a simple, straightforward question, and it produces nice, clean easy-to-analyze responses - which are both good things.
It's been reported on NPR: Americans are shrinking, while Chinese and Koreans sprout up. In the New York Times: Adults have become shorter in many countries. In the Guardian: Women and men have grown taller over last century. On Global News: Canadians don't stack up in height quite like they used to. In the Daily Telegraph: British overtake Americans after growing 11 cm in 100 years. By Quartz India: India's women are gaining height faster than India's men, but Indians are still very short.
The study is called "A century of trends in adult human height". It's attributed to a research team called the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, and the corresponding author is Majid Ezzati, a Professor at Imperial College’s School of Public Health. The research team did a meta-analysis of 1472 studies, all of which were based on direct (not self-reported) measures of height. The aim of the project was to estimate the height, at age 18, of people born each year between 1896 and 1996. When the population sampled was older or younger than 18, the authors used a growth model to estimate height at 18 years of age. When no data on a particular birth cohort was available, they projected observed trends forwards or backwards to get some estimate of the heights of the missing cohorts.
My reaction, upon reading the study, was: “wow, they’ve done a lot of work, and they’ve got some cool data, but I’m not sure I trust the results”.
Canada is in an abundant TP equilibrium. Washrooms in restaurants, shopping malls, museums, universities, and other public places are, generally speaking, well stocked with toilet paper (TP).
Inner Mongolia is in a scarce TP equilibrium. With the exception of elite venues such as four star hotels and airports, toilet paper is absent from public places. The trendy place that serves serious coffee, the one that looks like it was transplanted from Bloor and Bathurst in Toronto, has no TP. Neither does Hohhot's shiny new dinosaur museum. Inner Mongolia University has smart, dynamic, internationally-trained, research-active faculty, new buildings, and fast wifi - but no toilet paper that I could see. [Updated].
Yet each equilibrium is self-sustaining. An abundant TP equilibrium is maintained through competition. Any firm that deviates from the norm, and fails to provide toilet paper in its washrooms, will be shunned by customers, who don't like unexpectedly finding themselves in an uncomfortable position and, furthermore, interpret the lack of toilet paper as a signal of deficient management and poor quality service.
The way women and men spend their time has changed profoundly over the past century. Women in the developed and, to some extent, the developing world are spending much less time in unpaid household work, especially in tasks like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and much more time in paid work. Men are doing a little bit less paid work, and perhaps a little bit more household work (Aguiar, Hurst and Karabarbounis).
Being in the paid workforce is not intrinsically superior to, or of greater moral worth than, being a housewife or a stay-at-home parent. But there is one salient difference between unpaid work within the home and paid work: cash. Money can be withdrawn from the household budget and used for one's own personal pleasure. Unpaid work is much harder to convert into the latest phone or an evening out with friends or a new coat.
Airbnb undermines the distinction between short-term, "hotel", accommodation and and long-term, "apartment" accommodation. Some people seem to figure this is a bad thing. New York State legislators, for example, have passed legislation imposing heavy fines on anyone listing their entire apartment on Airbnb or a similar service. But what – if anything – is wrong with what Airbnb is doing?
The distinction between hotels and apartments has always been artificial. Even before Airbnb, people turned their homes into bed and breakfasts, and other types of small hotels. Similarly, hotels have been used for long-term accommodation, either by individuals choosing hotels as their long-term residence, or by companies who have converted whole hotels into student residences or assisted living facilities.
The artificial segregation of the rental market into hotels and apartments evolved, and has been maintained, because market segmentation has been both possible and profitable. The hotel market separates itself from the apartment market through the services it offers (providing daily housekeeping instead of a washing machine), the terms on which it makes accommodation available (no background checks on tenants), and the prices it charges.
To: Generation X, Generation Y and Millennials
From: The Baby Boomers
Re: Pension Savings
Date: June 21, 2016
It has come to our attention that you are not saving sufficiently for your retirement. This does not surprise us. We haven't saved sufficiently for our retirement either. Some of us have made enough money in the housing market to be relatively comfortable, and a good number of us have workplace pensions. Low-income Baby Boomers will be protected by Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Pension Plan. But middle-income Baby Boomers without workplace pensions - people making $60,000 or $80,000 a year - are facing a big drop of their standard of living upon retirement.
So we've decided to reform the Canada Pension Plan. You have to understand: we are doing this for you. It's for your benefit, so that you will have a secure retirement. Now we know you might be a little bit sceptical.
Today I was asked by a government policy analyst: "I'm trying to think of an example of a situation when ethnicity or culture matters in regulatory policy. Can you help me out?"
Here's my best attempt. I challenge others to try to come up with a better example.
The regulation: In Canada, Vitamin D must be added to milk.
"Addition of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin D to fluid milk is a legal requirement under Health Canada's Food and Drugs Act (see Appendix 1, Table 1). Vitamin D is added to all forms of milk while Vitamin A is added only to skim and partly (partially) skimmed milks. Evaporated and powdered milks which are sold at retail in Canada have similar requirements for vitamin addition. In addition, Vitamin C is required to be added to evaporated milks. Section B.08.027 of the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) exempts certain dairy products which are used in or sold for the manufacture of other food from the vitamin addition requirements which are specified in the above prescribed food standards" Source: www.inspection.gc.ca
Why does ethnicity and culture matter?
Ethnicity and culture matter, first, because they influence the amount of Vitamin D supplementation a person will need to maintain good health. The people who are most at risk of Vitamin D deficiency are those who are do not absorb sufficient vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. People relatively more skin pigment have a heightened risk for Vitamin D deficiency, because they require up to six times the amount of sun exposure to absorb the same level of Vitamin D as a person with relatively less skin pigment (reference). Since a person's level of skin pigmentation is largely genetically determined, ethnicity influences the risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Culture is a factor, also, because it will affect the extent to which people are willing to expose their skin in public - and thus the amount of vitamin D they will absorb from sunlight.
GBA+ [Gender-Based Analysis plus] is an analytical tool used to assess the potential impacts of policies, programs, services, and other initiatives on diverse groups of women and men, taking into account gender and other identity factors. The "plus" in the name highlights that GBA+ goes beyond gender, and includes the examination of a range of other intersecting identity factors (such as age, education, language, geography, culture and income). [Status of Women Canada]
Over 20 years ago, the Government of Canada committed to implementing Gender-Based Analysis, or GBA, in policies, programs, and legislation. Status of Women Canada was tasked with creating and championing the framework for GBA, although all federal departments and agencies had a shared responsibility for implementation.
I believe understanding how policies may effect men and women differently is a worthwhile goal. I believe achieving gender equity is a worthwhile goal. But I have serious reservations about an overly strong reliance on the current GBA framework - GBA+ - to achieve that goal. The GBA+ framework developed by Status of Women Canada is not readily integrated with prevailing methods of policy analysis. Doing GBA+ properly often requires data that is often either unavailable, or else hard to obtain in a timely fashion. The lofty ambitions embedded in the current GBA+ analysis framework can make doing GBA+ seem overwhelming or impractical. Moreover, the very concept of Gender-Based Analysis locates gender considerations in the analysis phase of policy making. However effective integration of gender in policy formation requires a holistic approach, with gender being considered at every stage and level of the policy process, from data collection to setting of overall government priorities.
If Canada's Employment Insurance program was designed solely to insure workers against the loss of employment, it would look very different.
For one thing, the premiums that employees and employers contribute would go towards paying benefits to people who have lost their jobs. But in 2013/14 - the most recent year for which I can find data - less than half the monies collected in EI premiums went to regular benefits for unemployed workers. The rest went to special benefits such as parental and sickness leave, to fishing benefits, to fund "Part II" benefits (mostly labour market development agreements with the provinces), to cover administrative costs and to run a surplus.
In the 1950s, Vancouver began to feel the pain of traffic congestion. The travel time contour map below, taken from the 1958 study Freeways With Rapid Transit, shows how bad it was. In rush hour it took a 15 minutes or less to get from corner of Georgia and Granville to anywhere in the dark green area - including across the Lion's Gate Bridge into North Vancouver. The line labelled "30" shows that it took 30 minutes to drive from Georgia and Granville to south Richmond, to Deer Lake in Burnaby, or to Deep Cove on the North Shore.
Antibiotics - when they work - are miraculous.
A patient does not have to understand what antibiotics are, or why antibiotics are effective. All that is required is for someone somewhere in the world to create an effective antibiotic and put it into a pill. Then it can be shipped to someone with a bacterial infection, and the patient will be cured.
Economics isn't like that. There are economic pills: Eliminate Barriers to Trade. Cut Government Spending. Target Inflation. Target NGDP. Tax Consumption Not Income. And some countries do take their economic medicine. But swallowing economics pills does not always lead to the hoped for results.
Partly that's because some economic prescriptions are simply bad medicine.
But the point I want to make here is that patient cannot use economic medicine effectively unless they understand how it works. Take, for example, carbon taxes. There is a fairly high degree of consensus among economists carbon taxes are a good idea (see here). Yet it's not possible to simply swallow a carbon tax pill. Designing and implementing a carbon tax requires specific knowledge.
Immigrants to Canada can, after living here for four years as a permanent resident, opt to become naturalized Canadian citizens. Most immigrants opt for naturalization - but some cling to their original citizenship, even after living in this country for thirty, forty, fifty or more years.
The graph below shows the proportion of immigrants choosing to become naturalized Canadians by place of birth and length of time in Canada.
As university employees, professors have a fiduciary obligation to act in their employer's best interests. The number one interest of a university is financial survival, and the key to survival is reputation, because reputation attracts students, faculty, and donors.
A university's reputation, to the extent that it is at all malleable, can be enhanced by serving students well, and by moving up various university rankings. These rankings are, in turn, driven by metrics such as student/faculty ratios, research funding, journal publications, citations of journal articles, and - because this is all somewhat circular - reputation.
University professors, as a rule, work hard. But some of this work aligns more closely with the employer's interests than others.
In "Phishing for Phools", George Akerlof and Robert Shiller suggest that:
...the harms of alcohol could be comparable to the harms of cigarettes, affecting not just 3 or 4 percent of the population, as a chronic life-downer, but, rather, affecting 15 to 30 percent; the higher number especially if we also include the alcoholics' most affected family members.
Akerlof and Shiller liken their position to "burping in public". In fact the only thing radical about their position is the way that they defend it.
The traditional student presentation format - ten minutes of powerpoint, two minutes of questions - rarely works well. After three or four presentations, a good chunk of the audience zones out. Getting a good discussion going is hard - and there isn't time for an extended conversation anyways. Then there are the logistical challenges - loading presentations, allocating the unpopular time slots, dealing with late students and no-shows.
This term, my class did poster presentations instead - and we are never going back to powerpoint.
Today, hundreds of thousands of pumpkin carvers will simply discard their pumpkin's seeds.
I believe tossing out pumpkin seeds is a terrible waste. Pumpkin seeds, roasted with salt and butter, are a delicious and nutritious snack. And they aren't difficult to make: separate out the pumpkin seeds, wash them well with water, dry on paper towels overnight, and then fry in butter (or toast in oven) until golden brown.
But to say "tossing out pumpkin seeds is wasteful" suggests that the person doing the tossing was, in some sense, making a mistake.
Now, it could be that people who throw away pumpkin seeds are simply ignorant - they do not know how to toast the seeds, nor do they know how delicious salted and freshly toasted pumpkin seeds taste. Lack of knowledge is preventing them from achieving a Pareto-efficient allocation of resources:
Faculty Books Recycling is a company that takes the complimentary copies of textbooks that publishers send professors, resells those comp copies to students, and makes a profit on the transaction.
Faculty Books does everything possible to make professors feel that selling - or giving away - comp copies is an ethical thing to do. In their emails soliciting textbooks from faculty (sample below), they remind potential donors of the good that textbook recycling does. It puts textbooks into students' hands at a low price. Those professors who choose to sell rather than give away their comp copies are told, "the money could sponsor a student event, be donated to charity, or spent however you like."
Another day, another article about the gendered impacts of air conditioning.
Here's the story: North American offices are air conditioned to a temperature which is, from a female perspective, too cold. Women shiver at their desks; men are just fine.
It's a serious environmental issue. When women have office space heaters cranked up in July because the air conditioning is unbearably cold, energy is wasted.
The gender gap in temperature attitudes is generally blamed on clothing (women wear light cotton dresses in the summer) or the slower female metabolism (women burn energy more slowly, so feel colder at any given temperature than men do). Another contributing factor is that air conditioning systems are designed for heavy duty cooling, and do not operate well at higher temperatures.