Charles Manski, 27 October 2017

In medical treatment, it is assumed that adherence to clinical practice guidelines is always preferable to decentralised clinical decision-making, yet there is no welfare analysis that supports this belief. This column argues that it would be better to treat clinical judgement as a problem of decision-making under uncertainty. In this case there would be no optimal way to make decisions, but there are reasonable ways with well-understood welfare properties.

Tom Krebs, Pravin Krishna, William Maloney, 22 September 2017

Research on economic mobility has failed to disentangle the underlying economic drivers. In particular, opportunities for upward movement represent welfare-enhancing mobility, while risky income shocks represent welfare-reducing mobility. This column presents a framework for differentiating between these factors, and applies the model to Mexican data. Results show that opportunity and risk are equally important drivers of income mobility, with large but opposing welfare effects. This challenges the idea that societies with higher measured income mobility are better.

Martin Ravallion, Shaohua Chen, 15 September 2017

Past studies have measured poverty in either relative terms (mostly in the developed countries) or absolute terms (the developing world). This column presents a new unified approach to global poverty that assumes that people care about both their own income and their income relative to others in their country of residence. The study finds that global poverty has declined more in absolute terms than in relative terms. The vast bulk of the relatively poor now live in the developing world. The advanced countries have seen little progress against poverty, unlike the developing world.

Carol Graham, 28 July 2017

Despite the long-held belief that high levels of inequality in the US signal future opportunity, a number of studies suggest that this is no longer the reality. This column examines trends in inequality from the perspective of well-being and focuses on non-economic aspects of welfare, including hope. The results reveal stark differences across people, races, and places in the US. Poor minorities – and blacks in particular – are much more hopeful than poor whites, while urban places are more hopeful than are rural ones, as are places with higher levels of diversity.

Nezih Guner, Remzi Kaygusuz, Gustavo Ventura, 10 June 2017

Childcare subsidy provision in the US remains substantially lower than in many other developed economies. This column compares the potential effects of expanding three existing subsidy programmes in the US. It also argues, however, that amassing majority support for the expansion of any of the programmes would be difficult given the relatively few number of households the transfers benefit. 

Don Fullerton, Nirupama Rao, 03 May 2017

In the 2012 US presidential election, Mitt Romney famously asserted that 47% of the population were long-term dependents of the government – ‘takers’, not ‘givers’ to the system. This column examines this claim using long-spanning household-level data. Even though many households find themselves not paying tax or receiving public benefits in at least some years, only a small fraction consistently pay no tax or consistently receive public transfers.

Chang-Tai Hsieh, Nicholas Li, Ralph Ossa, Mu-Jeung Yang, 26 March 2017

Trade economists typically believe that in addition to lower prices for imported goods, trade liberalisation also brings import variety and domestic productivity gains. This column accounts for these ‘new’ gains in a careful reconsideration of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. Although the agreement did see improvements in Canadian income associated with import variety and domestic productivity, these were far outweighed by the welfare loss associated with the reduction in domestic variety. Nonetheless, Canadian welfare did improve overall when one takes into account the ‘traditional’ gains associated with lower import prices.

Rachel Griffith, Martin O'Connell, Kate Smith, 21 March 2017

Governments have long used taxation to correct for the socially costly overconsumption of alcohol, but as the external cost of overconsumption varies across drinkers, a single tax rate is not optimal. This column argues that variation in preferences for different products and in price responsiveness across heavy and light drinkers provides scope to improve welfare by varying tax rates across alcohol products. The proposed framework is well suited to addressing other sources of external costs, such as obesity.

Christopher Boone, Arindrajit Dube, Lucas Goodman, Ethan Kaplan, 08 January 2017

The Unemployment Insurance programme in the US was significantly expanded during between 2008 and 2014. This column examines the effect of unemployment insurance duration on aggregate employment during the Great Recession using state-level expansions and contractions in insurance generosity. It finds a positive but not statistically significant employment impact of expanding the insurance. This suggests that the substantial insurance value of the extensions during the Great Recession was not offset in any meaningful way by any costs from weaker job growth.  

Pierre Cahuc, Olivier Charlot, Franck Malherbet, Hélène Benghalem, Emeline Limon, 05 January 2017

Temporary job contracts account for a substantial proportion of the workforce in countries such as France and Spain, but they can result in high job turnover and instability. This column assesses the impact of government policies that impose taxes on temporary contracts to induce employers to lengthen job durations. Such policies a negative impact on the labour market, reducing the mean duration of jobs and decreasing job creation. The introduction of open-ended contracts with no termination cost for separations occurring at short tenure may be more effective.

Mevlude Akbulut-Yuksel, Adriana Kugler, 17 October 2016

Upward social mobility is widely sought but often elusive in highly mobile societies like the US. While previous work has focused on intergenerational transmission of income levels and social prosperity among natives and immigrants, this column studies the intergenerational transmission of health. There is substantial persistence in health status for both natives and immigrants. However, as immigrant families remain in the US for more generations, their children’s health tends to resemble more the health of native children and less the health of their mothers.

Stephen Redding, David Weinstein, 03 October 2016

Big data stands to transform economic measurement in substantial ways. The volume and precision of data available allows economists to revisit the foundational assumptions underpinning common indexes. This column presents a new empirical methodology that leverages big data to translate nominal numbers into real output or welfare. ‘The unified approach’ nests major price indexes and addresses implicit biases in these measures. An examination with barcode data suggests that standard methods of measuring welfare overstate cost of living increases by ignoring new products and demand shifts.

George Wehby, Dhaval Dave, Robert Kaestner, 26 September 2016

Despite ample research on the effects of minimum wage increases on employment, there has been little consensus on the effects of such increases on workers’ broader welfare, and in particular on their health and that of their families. This column analyses comprehensive data from the US on the effects of minimum wage increases on the health of children born to low-income workers. It finds that the increases have a significant positive impact on birth weights. This has important policy implications, with infant health acting as a reliable indicator of future health.

Katherine Ho, Robin Lee, 16 September 2016

The US health insurance market is becoming less competitive due to mergers and withdrawal of services from certain states. This column examines how this affects consumers through insurance premiums and hospital reimbursement rates. Using employer-sponsored insurance data from California, it finds that the relationship between insurer competition and health care spending depends on institutional and market structure.  If premiums can be constrained through effective regulation or negotiation, then reduced competition might lead to lower costs. Absent such constraints, consumers will likely be harmed.

Florin Bilbiie, Fabio Ghironi, Marc Melitz, 13 September 2016

Structural reform and deregulation are often promoted as ways to lower barriers to market entry. The Dixit-Stiglitz model provides an important benchmark – given specific preferences, there is a constrained-optimal amount of producer entry and product variety. This column reconsiders optimality of product creation, differentiating between consumer-producer and intertemporal inefficiencies and quantifying the welfare costs of inefficient entry. Monopoly profits should be preserved when product variety is endogenously determined by firm entry, as they play a crucial role in generating the welfare-maximising level of product variety in equilibrium.

Brian Nolan, Max Roser, Stefan Thewissen, 27 August 2016

With inequality rising and household incomes across developed countries stagnating, accurate monitoring of living standards cannot be achieved by relying on GDP per capita alone. This column analyses the path of divergence between household income and GDP per capita for 27 OECD countries. It finds several reasons why GDP per capita has outpaced median incomes, and recommends assigning median income a central place in official monitoring and assessment of living standards over time.

Wolfgang Frimmel, Martin Halla, Rudolf Winter-Ebmer, 18 August 2016

It has been widely demonstrated that parental divorce is associated with negative outcomes for affected children. However, the degree of causality in this relationship is not as clear. This column tackles this problem by using the level of gender integration in fathers’ workplaces as an instrument for divorce. The results suggest a causal link between divorce and worse economic outcomes that persists into early adulthood. 

Heiner Schumacher, Iris Kesternich, Michael Kosfeld, Joachim Winter, 06 July 2016

Evidence shows that individuals often do not act in a completely selfish manner, but rather take into account the welfare of other parties when making decisions. But how decision-makers trade off costs and benefits when the costs are dispersed among many individuals is unclear. This column discusses new experimental evidence showing that a large fraction of individuals are ‘insensitive to group size’, attaching similar weights to small and large groups. These findings provide a new explanation for a number of empirical patterns, including political and medical decision-making, lobbying, tax evasion, and charity donations.

Sagiri agiri Kitao, 15 April 2016

Most countries with a generous pay-as-you-go social security system and ageing demographics will need to implement significant welfare reform, such as a major cut in benefits or a significant increase in distortionary taxation. Individuals’ uncertainty about when such a policy change will occur will cause precautionary saving and changes in factor prices, affecting aggregate welfare. This column uses evidence from Japan to show that delaying welfare reform will benefit the elderly, at a long-lasting cost to the young.

Eli Berman, Mitch Downey, Joe Felter, 15 February 2016

The bloody conflicts in Syria and Iraq have forced the issue of refugees onto the global agenda. However, among the neglected aspects of this discussion are how governance can be restored to conflict regions and the welfare effects that such actions, which are likely to be coercive, will have on local residents. This column examines the impact of a counter-insurgency programme in the Philippines on one development outcome in contested territories – malnutrition of young children. The programme saw a substantial long-term decrease in malnutrition in recaptured areas, but a rise in malnutrition in neighbouring areas. Such efforts may simply displace insurgents and their negative effects, rather than reducing them.

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