Frontiers of economic research

Eli P Fenichel, Matthew Kotchen, Ethan T Addicott, 20 August 2017

How the future is discounted in cost-benefit analyses is a contested issue, with economists disagreeing on whether approaches to discounting should be prescriptive or descriptive. This column presents a new way to model individuals’ discounting based on a demographic approach. The advantages of a purely mortality-based approach are transparency, an empirical basis, and broad data availability.

Christopher Snyder, 12 August 2017

With the press continuing to cast economics in a negative light, it is worth rethinking how our field is described to a lay audience. This column argues that even elementary principles can surprise non-economists with their power to explain a broader set of questions than most would think possible.

Gérard Roland, David Yang, 05 August 2017

Studies have shown that there is strong inertia in culture because values and beliefs are formed through intergenerational transmission. Much less is known about how culture changes, and which aspects of the changes in values and beliefs are permanent or temporary. This column examines the effects of the Cultural Revolution in China on urban elites, and reveals that the lack of access to higher education affected people’s beliefs throughout their life. Also, while the ‘lost generation’ passed down their greater mistrust in the government to their children, their changed beliefs on the roles of effort versus luck were transmitted to a much lesser degree.

Markus Jokela, Tuomas Pekkarinen, Matti Sarvimäki, Marko Terviö, Roope Uusitalo, 11 July 2017

There is strong empirical evidence of a secular rise in intelligence, but a lack of consistently measured data has hampered the identification of a similar increase in non-cognitive skills. Based on an analysis of half a million Finnish males, this column presents evidence that a long-term increase in scores for traits such as self-confidence, sociability, and leadership motivation has taken place. Just as with cognitive abilities, higher test scores for personality traits predict higher earnings.

Michael D. Bauer, James Hamilton, 07 July 2017

Several recent empirical papers have challenged the ‘spanning hypothesis’, which holds that the level, slope, and curvature of bond yield curves are sufficient to forecast returns and estimate bond risk premia This column argues that these studies suffer from a previously unrecognised standard error bias. Controlling for this bias, false positives are found to be between six and twelve times more likely, suggesting that the evidence against the spanning hypothesis is substantially less convincing than would appear from the studies.

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