- Published on Monday, January 19, 2015
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Ismael Cid, discusses how the decline in employer-sponsored retirement plans has forced a growing number of Americans to postpone retirement.
In his 1930 essay, "Economics Possibilities for Our Grandchildren," economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a future of increased living standards and 15-hour workweeks. He envisioned a rise in living standards - equivalent to what we have experienced over the last 85 years – that would allow us to devote our energies to non-economic purposes. In his words, "the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin."
A future of longer and healthier lives proved right. Unfortunately, however, reality does not bear out Keynes' vision of security and leisure. In fact, it is the opposite. Increased life expectancies and the challenges of a graying population have encouraged some economists to champion a retirement policy described as "work until you drop."
SCEPA Director and retirement expert Teresa Ghilarducci recently described the growing problem of retirement insecurity behind this new reality. Rather than a savings problem, SCEPA research documents the underlying structural problem: employer sponsorship of retirement plans for prime-aged (25-64) workers declined from 61% to 53% from 2002 to 2012.
- Published on Monday, January 05, 2015
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Raphaele Chappe, questions the inequality in investor returns.
As discussed at great length in prior posts, Piketty has argued that inequality is directly linked to the return on capital r exceeding the growth rate of the economy g. Yet a fascinating (perhaps controversial, and less discussed) claim is that the average rate of return on capital is not the same for all investors depending on the size of the portfolio – in short, contrary to the efficient market hypothesis, some investors do earn higher returns in the long run.
Piketty points to the fact that the wealthiest individuals in the world have earned annual returns of 6.8% per year since 1987, compared to the world average of 2.1%. Using university endowments as a case study, he also points to higher endowments earning higher returns in the long run (see Tables 12.1 and 12.2 in Piketty, 2013). Other research confirms that rich universities are getting better returns and do seem to benefit from better asset selection abilities.
Finance tells us that higher returns for wealthier investors could be achieved in two ways. First, by taking on more "risk" and investing in stocks with higher "beta," or products with embedded leverage (such as derivatives). Second, by getting a higher return per unit of risk than what should be expected given the beta. This second component is known as the "alpha," measuring the return above the risk-adjusted performance of a benchmark index and (supposedly) a measure of the skill of the active asset manager. We can imagine that factors such as better information (or even insider information), arbitrage opportunities, or advanced tax planning can generate considerable alpha. Piketty points to significant economies of scale associated with the size of the portfolio.
Do higher returns to high net-worth individuals or institutions come from an ability to take more risk or from higher alphas?
- Published on Friday, December 05, 2014
by Rick McGahey, SCEPA Faculty Fellow
This morning's release of the November employment report is one of the strongest we have seen for some time. But a closer look at the underlying numbers, especially in historic context, shows a continuing weak labor market, with the labor share still playing second fiddle to profits and corporate dominance.
Total payroll employment grew by a very robust 321,000 jobs, with gains in virtually every major sector of the economy. The "diffusion index" which measures how growth is spread across sectors was 69.7 percent (50 percent would show half of all industries gaining jobs, and half declining). And the September and October jobs numbers were revised upwards by a total of 44,000, so we now have a three-month average jobs increase of 278,000 per month.
Average hourly earnings also rose, by nine cents per hour, to $24.66, the biggest monthly increase since June 2013. In the past twelve months, hourly earnings have risen by 2.1 percent. The only lagging jobs indicator is average hours worked, which at 34.6 hours per week is essentially unchanged from a year ago.
The unemployment data, based on household surveys, is less exciting. The unemployment rate (5.8 percent), labor force participation (62.8), and employment-to-population ratio (59.2 percent) were all essentially flat. In the next few months, if job and wage growth continues, we should see improvements in all three of those ratios.
Is it time to declare victory?
- Published on Monday, December 08, 2014
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Kyle Moore, exposes the disproportionate burden raising the retirement age would put on Black Americans.
Recent years have seen a spike in both traditional and social media coverage of violence against black youths. The creation of the viral hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, most recently associated with the Ferguson, MO police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, captures this shift in public attention towards the long prevalent issue.
There is another segment of the black population whose lives are being undervalued in 2014. Elderly blacks' lives are not properly accounted for as changes to retirement policy are considered in Washington. Policymakers are using the fact that the "average" American's life span is increasing to justify raising the retirement age to 70, in spite of black Americans not sharing equally in this increase in life span. If black lives do indeed matter for the old as well as the young, then policymakers will have to grapple with the persistent and growing disparities in life span and sickness between the elderly black and white populations.
Black Americans Live Shorter Lives than White Americans—For Men, the Gap is Growing
Even though the "average" American is living longer at age 65, there are still significant gaps in life span between elderly black and white American men and women. In a policy note on racial disparities in longevity (life span) and mortality (risk of death), I look at the creation of a gap in expected years of life between black and white men at age 65. Starting in 1950, this gap in longevity has grown steadily to almost two years in 2010. For women the changes have been more mixed, with a gap in life span growing between 1950 and 1980, and shrinking between 1980 and 2010 to a one year difference.
Black Americans Don't Make it to Retirement Without Activity Limitations
In a follow-up note on racial disparities in morbidity (sickness), I look at black and white Americans' expected years free from activity limitations in relation to the current full retirement age. While Whites can expect to live 67 years without being somehow debilitated by sickness, just barely reaching the current full retirement age, Blacks can only expect about 61 years. This means elderly Blacks face the reality of having to either work while physically impaired, or applying for often stigmatized disability benefits.
If #BlackLivesMatter to Policymakers, Retirement Policy Should Account for Racial Disparities
Throughout the two policy briefs mentioned and a longer white paper on the subject, I discuss what researchers consider to be the major causes for these trends, and potential ways to reverse them. Differences in socioeconomic status account for over two-thirds of the gap in life span and for a significant portion of the differences in activity limitations as well. That being said, measures to address gaps in income and education level could go a long way towards increasing black American life spans and decreasing their rates of sickness.
The creation of the viral hashtag #BlackLivesMatter provides an opportunity to hold our government responsible for ensuring that black American life is adequately valued, no matter the age. Just as both traditional and social media have brought attention to young black life being cut short through direct violence, we should also direct our attention to the conditions leading to elderly black life being cut short indirectly. These conditions, as well as the realities faced by elderly black Americans, need to inform policymakers' decisions as they consider changes to retirement policy.
- Published on Tuesday, December 02, 2014
It is a fact that the "average" American is living longer. Unfortunately, it is also a fact that white women and men have longer life expectancies at birth than black women and men. However, in 1950, the United States could claim racial equity in one important respect – should they reach age 65, both black and white men could expect to live twelve additional years to age 77.
Sixty years later, this racial equity is now a racial gap. In 2010, white men at age 65 were projected to live almost 2 years longer than black men, while white women could expect to live one year longer than black women.
SCEPA's new Policy Note, "The Racial Longevity Gap Past Age 65: Implications for Raising the Retirement Age," documents this new racial gap in post-65 life expectancy. The research warns of the potential to disportionately burden black Americans under proposals to raise the retirement age and offers policy proposals to address the income gaps that decrease life expectancy.
- Published on Thursday, November 20, 2014
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Anthony Bonen, discusses the need for and possibilities of opening the field of economics to a diversity of approaches.
Last month, the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted an eclectic group of New Schoolers at the 11th Annual Economics Graduate Student Workshop. As in past years, the discussions were engaging and, dare I say, inspiring. Representing as we do, marginal groups in the economics discipline, the engagement of UMass-Amherst and The New School's economics departments strengthens our ability to commit to economic pluralism. Although pluralistic and interdisciplinary approaches are desperately needed, their pursuit is not (*ahem*) optimal for the academic-career-minded graduate student. It is therefore essential that we be exposed to regular reminders that we – both our department and university – are not alone.
This year, the topics ranged from field studies of collective action in community-driven development in Brazil to critiques of Marxian models of technical change and an empirical analysis of how capital controls affect the real exchange rate.
Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth's field study in Brazil evaluated eight cases of participatory development projects that supported income and infrastructure, such as fence building, irrigation and bee raising. Through a survey and interviews with project participants, she showed that strong links to extant social movements and community institutions helped avoid elite capture and free riding. Jangho Yang's Marxian critique argued that capital and labor are qualitatively different entities. Taking this incompatibility seriously shows that structural changes in the economy are not predetermined. Such changes are, instead, evolutionary. Finally, Juan Montecino's econometric analysis of exchange rate regimes posited that capital controls could be used to maintain under- or over-valuated currencies. He demonstrated that, by controlling (to some extent) the flow of capital into and out of an economy, policymakers could effect soft – if blunt – industrial policy.
The diversity of approaches represented in this sample is, unfortunately, rare in economics. When the conference comes back to New York City next year, we hope to bring together an even broader array of students from different departments in NSSR and from divisions across The New School. In so doing we would bring the university and the economics discipline closer to the ideals espoused by one of its founders.
- Published on Wednesday, October 15, 2014
On October 3, 2014, SCEPA hosted a discussion with Thomas Piketty, leading economist and best-selling author of "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." This is a brief interview prior to the discussion in which Piketty shares his unique view on economic science and what it means to be an economist.
- Published on Thursday, September 04, 2014
Rethinking Economics is a global movement to create fresh economic narratives that challenge and enrich the predominant narratives in economics. The movement unites all who support new ways of thinking. The Rethinking Economics conference asked students to consider economic schools of thought beyond the mainstream neo-classical approach. The conference focused on the concept of economic pluralism: the belief that economics should be a more interdisciplinary subject that embraces useful ideas from various schools of thought and subject fields. The New York conference brought together students and thinkers from North America in order to engage in student-led workshops and a series of interesting speakers including Deirdre McCloskey, Philip Mirowski, Michael Sandel, Dean Baker, Richard Wolff, Julie Nelson, Paul Krugman, Neva Goodwin, James Galbraith and many more.
- Published on Monday, August 25, 2014
by Rick McGahey, SCEPA Faculty Fellow
In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman confuses issues around internal population migration in the U.S. with issues of job creation and economic growth. He ends up in an unnecessary and defensive argument about whether low-wage and anti-regulation states like Texas are a superior economic model.
First, there just isn't that much net internal migration. The American Community Survey tells us that in 2012, net migration between New York State and Texas was 9,043 in favor of Texas (20,274 New Yorkers to Texas, but 11,231 Texans to New York State). That is less than one-half of one percent of the total population of New York State, hardly a big trend. In fact, researchers are trying to figure out why internal migration is declining, not rising—in 2011, Federal Reserve researchers noted that "by most measures, internal migration in the United States is at a thirty-year low."
Second, outmigration and relocation is driven by a lot of things beyond relative taxation or regulation, including baby boomer retirements (oddly not mentioned in Krugman's column). If you just want to hold down migration, make New York a more attractive retirement location. Texas has had relatively strong job growth since the Great Recession, but analysts attribute much of that to natural gas and oil production, including virtually unregulated fracking.
Krugman's column has produced a predictable set of online complaints about high taxes and repressive regulations in New York relative to the South. New York does need more housing density, although the region has many housing opportunities given our public transportation network. But Krugman's odd use of what in reality are vanishingly very small numbers on migration to Texas inadvertently contributes to a misguided narrative about how attractive Texas and other bottom-feeder states really are.
- Published on Monday, August 18, 2014
The Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) at the New School for Social Research is deeply saddened by the death of Irene Schwartz, best friend and wife of Bernard Schwartz. Bernard and Irene paid special attention to The New School Economics Department's commitment to economic policy and social justice. Together they named a professorship and provided scholarships and other material support to our economics students and faculty. Bernard and Irene, compassionate for the plight of vulnerable elderly and for the aspiration of all workers to retire in dignity, also support SCEPA's Retirement Equity Laboratory.
We are grateful for Irene's love for Bernard that helped he and she be expansive and proactive in solving problems of injustice facing humanity. We send our deepest sympathies to her family and friends, especially to her husband, our mentor and friend Bernard Schwartz.
The Members of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School for Social Research
- Published on Friday, September 26, 2014
On October 3, 2014, SCEPA hosted a discussion with economist and author Thomas Piketty (included in economist Brad DeLong's blog as a "Must Watch"). Piketty's best-selling book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, serves as a watershed example of the dual contradictions of capitalism and proves that the last century was characterized by a sharp divergence between social classes. He warns that the main driver of inequality—the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth—threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values.
Much like Piketty's work, economists at The New School for Social Research strive to analyze the dynamics of capitalism using historical and empirical analysis and, through SCEPA, its policy implications. Following Piketty's remarks, New School Professor Anwar Shaikh and Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth Heather Boushey presented their own comments and joined in a panel discussion to answer the question, where do we go from here?
Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century
Anwar Shaikh, Inequality and Social Structure: Comments on Piketty
- Published on Thursday, July 03, 2014
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Ismael Cid-Martinez, discusses the politics and economics of unemployment insurance.
The debate surrounding unemployment insurance (UI) returns to Capitol Hill. This is not entirely surprising. Amid the good news, today's report confirmed that a large shadow continues to loom over our labor market. Examining monthly changes in each category of unemployment by duration, we observe that long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high when compared to previous recoveries (see graph).
- Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2014
On June 23, 2014, SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci appeared on MSNBC's UP with Steve Kornacki along with Neera Tanden from the Center for American Progress and Paul Sonn with the National Employment Law Project to discuss the bigger economic picture that necessitates raising the minimum wage. The panel discussed the facts that productivity gains have far eclipsed wage gains, that the federal minimum wage has been stagnant since 2009, and that the average hourly pay has declined over the past 12 months. The panel overwhelming agreed the best way to address these structural economic issues is through increased collective bargaining. A recent working paper by Teresa Ghilarducci and Joelle Saad-Lessler find two factors that significantly impact the likelihood of obtaining employer-offered benefits - time spent unemployed and union status. Therefore, attempts to raise wages must address the decline in workers' bargaining power and change the norms relating to benefits and wage provision. The City of Seattle has taken the largest step in addressing the wage gap by elevating their minimum wage to $15 an hour, while Massachusetts offers the highest state level minimum wage at $11 an hour. Teresa Ghilarducci ended the MSNBC panel with a summary of the advantages of unionization for both workers and employers.
- Published on Sunday, July 13, 2014
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Raphaele Chappe, writes on the policy implications of Thomas Piketty's analysis on inequality.
We are in a post-Piketty world. Since my last blog entry, Thomas Piketty has received nothing short of a rock star treatment upon his U.S. visit. What are the policy debates we face if Piketty is right?
As the ratio of capital to income (which Piketty terms "beta") increases, Piketty argues there is no natural mechanism that would lead r (the rate of return on capital) to adjust downwards so as to perfectly compensate the impact on the distribution, placing emphasis on policies that might reduce r.
Taxation is one way to reduce r and Piketty's proposal is a progressive world-wide tax on wealth although many agree that this may prove politically unfeasible, especially in the absence of international legal cooperation. Other tax possibilities for fighting inequality include increasing tax rates on capital gains and dividends (which have been getting favorable treatment in the tax code as compared with labor income1), or simply combating tax evasion for the wealthy (see The Price of Offshore Revisited).2 In my own research, I plan to run simulations to test the effectiveness of such tax proposals, and their impact on the wealth distribution.
We could also consider labor-focused policies designed to increase the share of national income going to labor, such as raising the minimum wage, or giving workers direct participation in management and profit through employee ownership or other means. (For the use of national income and product accounts (NIPA) as a framework for studying how inequality will be affected by fiscal and other initiatives such as raising the minimum wage, see SCEPA working paper 2013-1).
In order to advocate for the best policy solutions, we may wish to understand the drivers for high profit rates in recent decades.
- Published on Sunday, June 22, 2014
This week's Worldly Philosopher, Rishabh Kumar, models the asymmetric distribution of income and examines its effect on the growth of the U.S. economy.
In a previous post, I highlighted some demand side limitations stemming from the asymmetric distribution of income and consumption in the United States. This entry examines the effect of this asymmetry on the future of U.S. economic growth and the possibility of secular stagnation.
- Published on Saturday, June 07, 2014
by Rick McGahey, SCEPA Faculty Fellow
This morning's May employment report continues the trend of slight improvement but subpar overall economic performance. The unemployment rate stayed stuck at 6.3 percent while jobs increased by 217,000. So far in 2014, job creation has averaged 214,000 per month, and if that rate continues for the entire year, it will be the strongest year since 1999.
But it is still not a great number. True, if May’s job performance continues, then the Atlanta Fed predicts we will reach 5.5 percent unemployment in ten months. But any lowering in the unemployment rate is driven in part by weak labor force participation, which remains near its lowest level in over thirty years.
Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute points out how weak our recovery remains, noting that we are six-and-one-half years away from the Great Recession’s start. If you take population growth since then into account, we still are short around 7 million jobs.
The ongoing weakness of the job market also can be seen in data on wages and hours worked. Over the last year, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.1 percent, virtually the same as the low two percent growth in overall inflation. And the average hours worked each week hasn’t increased at all in the past year. A tighter labor market should see increasing wages and hours, but we don’t have that, underscoring that many people still lack work, and employers aren’t hiring at a vigorous rate.
This month, we mark the five-year anniversary of the Great Recession’s technical end. Five years is a long time for an expansion; the eleven U.S. business cycle expansions in the post-World War II period have averaged 58.4 months, although more recent expansions have lasted longer. And other data point to macroeconomic weakness. Real GDP growth in the first quarter of 2014 actually fell by one percent, making the relatively consistent job gains this year harder to understand.
But policy makers feel no urgency for further economic stimulus. We are in danger of accepting slow job growth, wage stagnation, and inequality as a “new normal.” The U.S. should be borrowing more with today’s very low interest rates, creating jobs in infrastructure and public services, but instead we drift along with slow growth, low wages, and a lack of shared prosperity.
- Published on Wednesday, June 04, 2014
On May 3rd, the Economics Department of The New School for Social Research honored Professor Edward J. Nell's 39 years of teaching with a conference celebrating his many contributions to the field of economics. Prior to his retirement in 2013, Nell served as the Malcolm B. Smith Professor of Economics since 1969. He published more than twenty books and wrote hundreds of articles for leading journals on macroeconomic theory, monetary analysis and finance, economic methodology and philosophy, and transformational growth and development.
Below is a sample of the working papers contributed to the conference by former students inspired by Professor Nell.
Willi Semmler: "A New Chapter"
Anna Shoysta: "Edward Nell as the Worldly Philosopher: Shaping the Minds of the Future Economists"
David Laibman: "Democratic Planning and Incentives – Coming to Grips with (Yet Another) Impossibility Theorem"
Louis-Phillippe Rochon: "The Monetary Circuit and the State"
Sergio Parrinello: "A Search for Distinctive Features of Demand-led Growth Models"
- Published on Thursday, May 29, 2014
SCEPA economist, Darrick Hamilton recently coauthored the report, "Beyond Broke: Why Closing the Racial Wealth Gap is Priority for National Economic Security" with the Center for Global Policy Solutions, the Carolina Population Center at UNC, the Research Network for Racial and Ethnic Inequality at Duke University, and Milano Graduate School of International Affairs at The New School. The report evaluates wealth disparities across racial and ethnic categories by providing an in-depth analysis of housing and liquid wealth.
The report finds that:
• Between 2005 and 2011, the median net worth of households of color remained near 2009 levels, reflecting a drop of 58 percent for Latinos, 48 percent for Asians, 45 percent for African Americans but only 21 percent for whites.
• For most African Americans and Latinos, checking accounts are their only liquid asset.
• African Americans (38 percent) and Latinos (35 percent) are over twice as likely as whites (13 percent) to hold no financial assets at all and to have no or negative net worth.
This analysis provides new insight into the close interplay between race and place as it relates to America's persistent wealth gap. To address these issues, the report calls for Congress and the Administration to ensure that future mortgage settlements include the collection of racial/ethnic, gender, geographical and other demographic data to ensure that relief programs are transparent, fair, and target the hardest-hit communities. The report also calls for the Federal Housing Finance Agency to allow Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to perform principal reduction and loan modifications for distressed homeowners.
This report is part of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative, which seeks to build awareness and support for efforts to address racial and ethnic wealth inequalities based on structural factors.
- Published on Friday, May 23, 2014
Bernard L. Schwartz - an investor, a retired industrialist, a progressive public policy advocate and a philanthropist - recently published his autobiography, 'JUST SAY YES: What I've Learned About Life, Luck, and the Pursuit of Opportunity.'
JUST SAY YES is a story about a boy raised in Depression-era Brooklyn who grew up to become a giant in the aerospace business, a confidante of U.S. presidents, and a renowned international deal maker. From this lifetime of experience, Schwartz finds himself increasingly concerned about the future of the United States and its citizens due to the ever-increasing gap between the country's have's and have-not's. "Far too much emphasis is put on money and profit, instead of treating clients and customers as human beings. Our political leaders must also come back to the table, and start working together to improve the lives of all citizens." Without this effort, Schwartz fears that our glory days will remain behind us. As an "optimist by nature," Schwartz believes that American politics and business can change for the better.