Thursday, February 26, 2015

It is hard to feel urban form sometimes.

I have spent a fair amount of time in Sao Paulo over the past 3-4 years, and always thought it sprawled more than LA, because it takes forever to get from one side of the place to the other.  So was I surprised when I went to Google Earth and looked at both of them from the same elevation.

Here is LA:

Now here is SP:

It is far more compact.  Metro LA has about 18 million people; SP has about 20 million. But it takes about 2 hours to get from Santa Clarita in the west to San Bernardino in the east--the distance between the two is 85 miles; it can take four hours to go just 30 kilometers in SP.  Sao Paulo feels much larger to me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Should Finance Departments Pay Pigou Taxes?

The purpose of this paper is to examine why financial sector growth harms real growth. We begin by constructing a model in which financial and real growth interact, and then turn to empirical evidence. In our model, we first show how an exogenous increase in financial sector growth can reduce total factor productivity growth.2 This is a consequence of the fact that financial sector growth benefits disproportionately high collateral/low productivity projects. This mechanism reflects the fact that periods of high financial sector growth often coincide with the strong development in sectors like construction, where returns on projects are relatively easy to pledge as collateral but productivity (growth) is relatively low.  
 Next, we introduce skilled workers who can be hired either by financiers to improve their ability to lend, increasing financial sector growth, or by entrepreneurs to improve their returns (albeit at the cost of lower pledgeability). We then show that when skilled workers work in one sector it generates a negative externality on the other sector. The externality works as follows: financiers who hire skilled workers can lend more to entrepreneurs than those who do not. With more abundant and cheaper funding, entrepreneurs have an incentive to invest in projects with higher pledgeability but lower productivity, reducing their demand for skilled labour. Conversely, entrepreneurs who hire skilled workers invest in high return/low pledgeability projects. As a result, financiers have no incentive to hire skilled workers because the benefit in terms of increased ability to lend is limited since entrepreneurs’ projects feature low pledgeability. This negative externality can lead to multiple equilibria. In the equilibrium where financiers employ the skilled workers, so that the financial sector grows more rapidly, total factor productivity growth is lower than it would be had agents coordinated on the equilibrium where entrepreneurs attract the skilled labour. Looking at welfare, we are able to show that, relative to the social optimum, financial booms in which skilled labour work for the financial sector, are sub-optimal when the bargaining power of financiers is sufficiently large. 
Maybe the lesson is that finance departments should subsidize physics/chemistry/engineering departments.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

One reason to worry about US is really bad for our babies.

My colleague Alice Chen, along with Emily Oster and Heidi Williams, have a new paper that explains differences in the infant mortality rate in the United States and other OECD countries. Despite its affluence, the US ranks 51st in the world in infant mortality, which puts it at the same level as Croatia.

One reason the US performs poorly on the infant mortality measure actually reflects differences in measurement between it and other countries--babies born very prematurely in the United States are recorded as live births, but in other countries might be reported as miscarriages.  Because extremely premature babies have higher mortality rates, their inclusion in the US birth and mortality rate makes the US look relatively worse.

Nevertheless, when Chen, Oster and Williams control for reporting differences, and focus on microdata from the US, Austria and Finland, they find that the US continues to lag the others in terms of first year survival.  What is particularly interesting is that the difference between the US and other countries accelerates over the course of the first year of life--as neonatal threats recede, the position of the US worsened relative to Austria and Finland.

Here is where inequality comes in--if when Chen and co-authors look at children born to advantaged individuals (meaning married, college-educated and white) in the US, they survive at the same rates as their counterparts in Austria and Finland.  But the trio find that children of disadvantaged parents in the US have much lower survival rates than children of disadvantaged parents in the other countries.  This may well be because Europe's safety nets make the disadvantaged less disadvantaged.

(Dylan Matthews blogs on this paper also).