Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Richard Florida on Choi, Green and Noh

He writes about what we write about on education, migration and rent.

It’s abundantly clear that in today’s economy, the ability to attract and mobilize highly educated people—so-called human capital—is the key factor in the the wealth of nations as well of that of cities. But the driving force of talent in economic growth also contributes to our worsening divides. While metropolitan areas with more educated people have higher levels of income, they also have higher housing costs. And the burden of those costs falls hardest on the less educated.
working paper by urban economist Richard Green, of the University of Southern California, and Jung Choi, of the Urban Institute takes, a deep dive into this conundrum....

Monday, May 07, 2018

Ten things data have taught me about the world.

(1) Tax cuts do not magically create growth; 

(2) Vaccines are among the best things we have ever invented; 

(3) raising the minimum wage to a point improves living standards for low wage workers (and that point may be somewhere between $11 and $15 per hour), beyond that point, it lowers living standards for low wage workers; 

(4) GMOs are fine; 

(5) the benefits of the Clean Air Act swamp the costs by an order of magnitude or more; 

(6) the mortgage interest deduction has a vanishingly small impact on the homeownership rate; 

(7) trade has raised living standards for hundreds of millions around the world; 

(8) trade has reduced living standards for low skilled workers in the US; 

(9) rent control reduces the stock of rental housing; 

(10) even though I like Lebron better than Jordan, MJ was the better player.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rent Stabilization Fails to Target Those in Need

Rent stabilization is a transfer from those who own rent stabilized units to those who live in such units.  As such, it is not a specific redistribution from high income households to low income households, but rather a random distribution from owners of various income levels (who can range from middle-class owners of one unit to large holders of private equity or REITS) to renters of various income levels.

I know of no good way to recover the incomes of property owners, but we can get a flavor of the distribution of income among beneficiaries of rent stabilized properties in Los Angeles, by looking at the income distribution of those who live in properties built just before rent stabilization and just after.  We can't exactly nail it, because rent stabilization in LA went into effect into effect in October 1978, and the census tells us the decade in when properties were being built.  Still, comparing the incomes of renters living in buildings built in the 1970s with those of the 1980s can tell us something about how well targeted rent stabilization is.

I downloaded American Community Survey data from IPUMS USA.   (See Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 7.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2017. 
https://doi.org/10.18128/D010.V7.0).  I looked at the city of Los Angeles, and stripped out single family detached houses, and, of course, owner houses.  I used the ACS Household Weights.  Here are the income distributions I found for properties built in the 1970s and 1980s.

Note that the median income of those in (largely) rent stabilized units is higher than those in units that are not stabilized.  Also note that the incomes at the 75th percentile are nearly the same.  At the 90th percentile, people in 1970s vintage properties have a lower income than those in 1980s properties, but their income is still rather high (i.e., it is a reasonable question to ask whether households who make $114,000 a year or more should be receiving a housing subsidy).

Taxing people of means (which we can identify) to provide housing subsidies to those without is good policy.  It is the correct way to help those whose income is insufficient to pay for adequate housing.

(p.s., whenever I post something like this, I welcome any and all attempts to reproduce it.  I makes mistakes!).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

A short piece on the GOP Tax Plan

I write for Fox and Hounds Daily:

I am a Keynesian.  By that I mean that John Maynard Keynes’ predictions are generally confirmed by evidence—and that the key to economic vitality is aggregate demand.  While Keynes has been dead for more than 70 years, new evidence suggests that his educated suppositions developed during the great depression were generally correct.....

Saturday, September 09, 2017

How Harvey and Irma might flood Ginnie Mae issuers

I got to spend some time this week at Toni Moss' Americatalyst event with Ted Tozer, President of Ginnie Mae during the Obama years. I always learn stuff when I spend time with Ted, and in this case, what I learned was a little scary--that for FHA to make an insurance payout to a lender, the property that is foreclosed upon must be conveyable.  Which is to say, if an FHA loan is foreclosed upon by a lender, before the lender receives compensation for its losses, it needs to make sure a house can be sold.  A house ruined by a hurricane is not conveyable.

Unlike Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities (which are issued by the two GSEs), Ginnie Maes are issued by hundreds of individual firms.  Quicken is an issuer; so is Wells Fargo.  The loans inside of Ginnie Mae are all explicitly guaranteed by the US Government--they are all FHA, VA, or rural housing loans.

Also unlike FF, Ginnie does not guarantee securities; it guarantees the issuers of securities.  If an issuer fails to meet its obligations to make principal and interest payments, Ginnie Mae takes them over, much like FDIC takes over a failed bank.  When a loan within a security goes into default, the issuer is obligated the pull the loan out of the Ginnie Mae pool and pay the investors the principal balance at the point--from the standpoint of the investors, the default becomes a prepayment event.

So now the issuer has basically fronted a loan to the government: the issuer pays the security holder, and then is reimbursed for that payment when FHA/VA/Rural Housing pay a claim.  Issuers should hold sufficient capital (or have sufficient lines of credit) to float the money to the government.  But an event like Harvey could produce a big problem--lots of houses that go into foreclosure might never become conveyable, and so never get a mortgage insurance claim fulfilled.  For issuers with concentrated business in Texas and Florida, this could create enormous stress.

There are measures government could take to prevent this problem, such as providing zero cost loans to homeowners for reconstruction, particularly outside of designated flood areas.  But the leadership necessary to solve this problem is now, well, nonexistent.  There is no FHA Commissioner and no Ginnie Mae President.  A Deputy Secretary (who is a very good candidate) has been nominated but not confirmed.  There is nobody home now, when we most need somebody.

I hope I am worrying over nothing, but I kind of doubt it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tony Yezer on Tax Avoidance and Incidence

He writes:

"I teach this in urban economics.  However, in this case there is a 4.5% CAP rate (note that is operating revenue net of operating cost including taxes, insurance, etc) and 4% appreciation per year for 8.5% before taxes.  Pretty sweet.  If this asset is so tax-preferred, then how is this possible?  Why don't capital markets arbitrage this away?  Why doesn't the tax expenditure to to the renters.  In urban economics class we learn that the tax expenditure goes to the renters to offset the owner tax expenditure.  So the 8.5% never materializes.  What does happen is that we all (owners and renters) consume more housing space because that is the primary determinant of greenhouse gas emissions by households and we want to maximize those emissions..... Note that the household emissions arise BOTH because the units are larger and contain more stuff AND because commuting distances are longer in less dense cities due to the policy.  I have a JUE paper about all this.    This is not new and it is obvious.  The problem is that no one cares about the incidence of taxes.  I bet that fewer than 2% of the American people know that the corporate income tax falls largely on workers in America.  A society ignorant of the difference between statutory and economic incidence of taxes is likely to make very poor and perverse decisions.  

The most important idea that I include in principles of economics is the difference between statutory and economic incidence.  In the case of GW students, it begins with the idea that taxes on liquor are not paid by the saloon owner or the bartender.  That gets their attention and then we make some progress."

What Tony writes is true, but it also underlines a problem--how do we judge tax fairness based on economic incidence?  That would involve knowing a lot of elasticities that we don't know.  If we think fairness is a critical consideration when making tax policy (and I, for one, do), I don't see how we avoid using statutory incidence, if only as a first approximation to economic incidence.  

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

I think I support a tax cut...

...for below median income households.

Mitt Romney infamously complained during his presidential campaign that 47 percent of Americans paid nothing for their government benefits.  What he really meant is that 47 percent did not pay federal income tax; they still paid lots of property, sales and FICA taxes.

A story by Jordan Weissman in Slate this morning underscored this fact; indeed, the story, in my view, buried its lede by focussing on the fact that the top one percent pay about 1/6 less in taxes as a share of income when compared with the 1950s.  To me, the most interesting thing was demonstrated in this graph by Piketty, Saez and Zucman:

Taxes as a share of income on the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution have risen about 60 percent (from 15 percent of income to 25 percent).  This falls into the category of facts I didn't know that I should have known.