Maximising happiness does not maximise welfare
Edward Glaeser, Joshua Gottlieb, Oren Ziv 15 October 2014
Governments are now measuring happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and some have begun trying to maximise it. This column discusses recent research showing that happiness is not the same thing as utility. The choices people make suggest that they have desires and objectives other than happiness. It is therefore possible to make people worse off while increasing their reported subjective wellbeing.
Recent interest in the psychology and economics of happiness has had pronounced influence on public policy. The high-profile report by Stiglitz et al. (2009) epitomises a push for policies to explicitly promote increases in survey measures of wellbeing as a major social objective. Places ranging from the country of Bhutan to the city of Somerville, Massachusetts explicitly measure happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and strive for improvements over time in such measures.
Frontiers of economic research
happiness, welfare, cities, Rust Belt, US
Americans work too long (and too often at strange times)
Daniel S. Hamermesh, Elena Stancanelli 29 September 2014
American employees put in longer workweeks than Europeans. They are also more likely to work at undesirable times, such as nights and weekends. This column argues that the phenomena of long hours and strange hours are related. One possibility for this is cultural – Americans simply enjoy working at strange times. Another, more probable explanation, is the greater inequality of earnings of low-skilled workers in the US, compared to Europeans.
The facts on work hours and timing
The average US workweek is 41 hours, 3 hours longer than Britain’s and even longer than in Germany, France, Spain, or the Netherlands (see the Table below).
work hours, night work, weekend work, US, Europe
Cross-country differences in perceptions of inequality
Judith Niehues 28 September 2014
Income inequality is high in the US, but the support of social welfare programmes is low. In Europe, income inequality is low and the welfare states are generous. This column argues that this paradox is largely due to perceived inequality. Many Europeans believe that there is high inequality in their countries, justifying the need for redistributive policies. Americans, however, are less concerned with income differences and with respective redistributive state intervention.
The well-known and frequently tested median voter theorem predicts a positive relationship between income inequality and state redistribution; if the decisive median voter’s income is below the social average, he votes for more welfare redistribution because he expects to benefit from progressively financed welfare programmes. However, this theory does not perform very well when confronted with data. Although income inequality is high in the US, support for welfare state programmes is relatively low. In contrast, income differences in European countries are substantially lower.
Poverty and income inequality Welfare state and social Europe
income inequality, perceived income inequality, Europe, US
The rise of China and the future of US manufacturing
Daron Acemoglu, David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, Brendan Price 28 September 2014
Manufacturing in the US has rebounded after the Great Recession, but employment levels have not recovered from their steep decline in the decade before the recession. This column examines to what extent the sector’s fall is a result of the rise of China. The authors estimate direct effects of import competition from China, as well as labour market and buyer-seller indirect effects that operate at the local level. China’s impact has been strong, and employment in US manufacturing is unlikely to recover.
The end of the Great Recession has rekindled optimism about the future of US manufacturing. In the second quarter of 2010 the number of US workers employed in manufacturing registered positive growth – its first increase since 2006 – and subsequently recorded ten consecutive quarters of job gains, the longest expansion since the 1970s.
manufacturing, US, China, value added
Outsourcing and the shift from manufacturing to services
Giuseppe Berlingieri 25 September 2014
Advanced nations are shedding manufacturing jobs and gaining service jobs – a trend that has been in place for decades. Some of the shift, however, is a reclassification effect. Corporate outsourcing of tasks like marketing means workers doing the same task as before now show up as working for a firm in the service sector. Using US data from the past 60 years, this column shows that the evolution of the input-output structure – which is mostly due to professional and business services outsourcing – accounts for 36% of the increase in services and 25% of the fall in manufacturing.
How much of the structural transformation of modern economies from manufacturing to services is a shift in organisational boundaries, in which work that was previously done within manufacturing firms is now outsourced to specialised service providers? This column looks at changes in the US economy over the past 60 years, and shows that the evolution of the input-output structure – which is mostly due to professional and business services outsourcing – accounts for 36% of the increase in services and 25% of the fall in manufacturing.
Global economy Labour markets
outsourcing, manufacturing, services, marketing, US, professional and business services
Skill gaps, skill shortages, and skill mismatches: Evidence for the US
Peter Cappelli 21 September 2014
Many high-paying jobs in the US cannot be filled, raising concerns about an existing skills gap. However, this column does not find evidence in support of serious skills gap or shortages in the US labour force. Similarly to other developed economies, the prevailing situation in the US is due to skill mismatches. This could have implications for students and their tuition-paying families.
Federal and State governments in the US are giving serious consideration to the idea that the there are important problems with the overall quality of labour in the US.
skill gap, Labour Markets, US, skill mismatches
Quantifying the macroeconomic effects of large-scale asset purchases
Karl Walentin 11 September 2014
Central banks have resorted to various unconventional monetary policy tools since the onset of the Global Crisis. This column focuses on the macroeconomic effects of the Federal Reserve’s large-scale purchases of mortgage-backed securities – in particular, through reducing the ‘mortgage spread’ between interest rates on mortgages and government bonds at a given maturity. Although large-scale asset purchases are found to have substantial macroeconomic effects, they may not necessarily be the best policy tool at the zero lower bound.
Central banks have used various unconventional monetary policy tools since the onset of the financial crisis yet the debate continues regarding their efficiency. This column attempts to shed light on the ‘bang for the buck’, or the macroeconomic effects, of one such unconventional monetary policy – the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchases of mortgage-backed securities employed during the Fed’s QE1 and QE3 programs.
Global crisis Monetary policy
monetary policy, unconventional monetary policy, large-scale asset purchases, central banking, financial crisis, Federal Reserve, quantitative easing, mortgage-backed securities, term premia, zero lower bound, interest rates, US, UK, Sweden, mortgages, global crisis
To exit the Great Recession, central banks must adapt their policies and models
Marcus Miller, Lei Zhang 10 September 2014
During the Great Moderation, inflation targeting with some form of Taylor rule became the norm at central banks. This column argues that the Global Crisis called for a new approach, and that the divergence in macroeconomic performance since then between the US and the UK on the one hand, and the Eurozone on the other, is partly attributable to monetary policy differences. The ECB’s model of the economy worked well during the Great Moderation, but is ill suited to understanding the Great Recession.
“Practical men…are usually the slaves…[of] some academic scribbler of a few years back” – John Maynard Keynes.
For monetary policy to be most effective, Michael Woodford emphasised the crucial importance of managing expectations. For this purpose, he advocated that central banks adopt explicit rules for setting interest rates to check inflation and recession, and went on to note that:
Global crisis Macroeconomic policy Monetary policy
Taylor rule, forward guidance, great moderation, global crisis, Great Recession, quantitative easing, DSGE models, expectations, tapering, US, UK, Europe, eurozone, ECB, Bank of England, central banking, IMF, unconventional monetary policy
The US economy performs better under Democratic presidents. Why?
Alan S. Blinder, Mark Watson 04 September 2014
Since World War II, economic growth has been faster in the US under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones. This column documents that which party controls Congress does not matter for growth, that the Democratic growth advantage is concentrated in the first two years of a presidency, and that presidential party affiliation Granger-causes growth. Neither fiscal nor monetary policy can account for this gap. Instead, the factors that have explanatory promise are: shocks to oil prices, total factor productivity, European growth, and consumer expectations of future economic conditions.
Economists and political scientists – not to mention the political commentariat – have devoted a huge amount of attention to the well-established fact that faster economic growth helps re-elect the incumbent party (see, for example, Fair 2011 for the US). But what about causation in the opposite direction – from election outcomes to economic performance? It turns out that the US economy grows faster – indeed, performs better by almost every metric – when a Democratic president occupies the White House.
Politics and economics
US, politics, Democrats, Republicans, growth, macroeconomics, self-fulfilling prophecies
Migration states and welfare states: Why is America different from Europe?
Assaf Razin, Efraim Sadka 01 September 2014
European migration exhibits a bias towards low-skilled workers, whereas the US attracts the majority of the world’s skilled migrants. At the same time, the welfare system in Europe is more generous than the one in the US. This column describes an analytical framework that can explain the existence of these differences. Whether a group (union) of member states competes or coordinates its policies has an impact on the skill composition of its migrants and the generosity of the welfare system.
European welfare and migration policies are strikingly different from states within the US. Over the last half century, Europe ended up with 85% of all unskilled migrants to developed countries, whereas the US retains its innovative edge by attracting 55% of the world-educated migrants.
Migration Welfare state and social Europe
migration, welfare generosity, EU, US, skilled migrants