Ask an Economist

E.g., Thursday, August 6, 2020
E.g., Thursday, August 6, 2020
Question:
If you have a large amount (lets say 50%) of your wealth tied up in a single foreign currency and your home currency depreciated what would be the effects? Would you be better off or worse off than someone with all their wealth in their home currency? What are the variables that would determine if you are better or worse off?
Answer:

Your wealth in terms of home currency will increase whereas in terms of foreign currency it will decrease. If your home country prices remain the same, it means your real wealth has also increased. So, broadly, it depends on when and where, home...

Question:
What would the impact of a Congressional or Presidential order for a “financial time out” until the virus is brought under control? This would be a closure of the stock market and suspension of all debt and rent. This would be far cheaper than throwing trillions of borrowed dollars at everyone and everything! I believe we are working on the wrong part of the “equation.” People would only have to worry about food, water, and utilities. This is a much smaller problem to solve! When the virus is brought under control, the “time out” can be canceled and the economy can be brought back to life. People will have confidence, in the meantime, that their life savings isn’t going to melt down. It is absurd to allow this virus to destroy our economy! It doesn’t have to!
Answer:

When banks lend out money, they do so expecting repayment.  If banks are not repaid, the value of the loan decreases.  By law, banks are obligated to value their loans at the fair market value.  Mandating that all repayment stop...

Question:
A few of my friends believe that the cure for cancer already exists, but the pharmaceutical companies won't release it because they make more money treating the disease rather than curing it. In my head, the company that had the cure would end up making the most because they would have a better product. My questions is which model would be the most profitable?
Answer:

You have put your finger on an important topic that economists have been arguing about since Kenneth Arrow’s analysis of the incentives to innovate in “Economic Welfare and the Allocation of Resources for Inventions” in _The Rate and...

Question:
I do not fully understand how Open Market Operations of US Treasury Bonds by the Fed increases the money supply, i.e. reserves. Treasury issues a $1000 bond which is given to a primary dealer to auction off. The NY Fed buys that particular bond by crediting the dealer's bank account with $1,000 the Fed just created. But doesn't the dealer now have to remit that $1,000 to Treasury? The dealer is at net $0.00 (ignoring commissions or other minor amounts). So when the Fed buys bonds, the new money actually ends up at Treasury. That doesn't seem to agree at all with my reading that the new money is held as reserves at commercial banks. Can you please clarify?
Answer:

Money supply increases when the FED (say NY FED) buys T-bonds from other banks (say Wells Fargo) or non-bank public (say a household or a dealer) in a secondary market, NOT a primary market. The Treasury does not get anything if its assets are...

Question:
Would the implementation of Land Value Tax be reasonable in a small country with a tourism based economy? For example, a country such as The Bahamas has low levels of industrial output and exports. The Bahamas is a country that relies heavily on tourism (specifically the hotel industry), foreign investment and the banking industry to generate revenue. Also, there is a growing sentiment that the low levels of innovation and productivity in the private sector are due to various taxes on imports needed to start and grow a private business. Therefore, would a single tax (the land value tax proposed by Henry George) be beneficial? (Also may the reply possibly contain some details pertaining to an ideal tax rate for the land value tax and may some arguments be included in regards to providing certain methods to properly implement the land value tax in the case of a nation such as The Bahamas?)
Answer:

Economists generally agree with Henry George that land value taxes promote efficient use of land.  A small country with a tourism-based economy seems like an excellent case for the efficiency of a land value tax.  The bigger issues...

Question:
I've worked with, or had my kids, in many organizations that rely on (and demand) contributions. They claim that 100% participation (even a single dollar) is important because other donors look at the participation levels when making their decisions. It seems plausible, but is there any ACTUAL evidence that (a) that is a wide-spread practice, and (b) that such institutions actually raise more money?
Answer:

This question is in two parts: 1) How prevalent is the requirement for 100% giving of any amount; and 2) Do organizations raise more money if there is a 100% giving expectation?

Let me begin by stating that I’m not aware of any research...

Question:
How many families would be helped by raising the minimum wage?

This week the Congressional Budget Office analyzed the effects of raising the minimum wage to $10.10. They say (Table 4) that it will raise the average income for families in poverty by $300, but also (Table 1) that it will raise the total income for families in poverty by $5 bn.

These two numbers would make sense if there were 17 million families in poverty, but the census says there are only 9.5 million families in poverty. The numbers about families at other income levels have the same issue. Somewhere a number or an interpretation is wrong -- but where?

CBO link: www.cbo.gov/publication/44995

Census link: www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032013/pov/pov04_000.htm
Answer:

That’s an astute observation. As you say, $5 billion divided by $300 per family in poverty suggests there are about 17 million families in poverty. But the Census data cited in the CBO report indicate far fewer families in poverty. Updating your...

Question:
My bank wants to reorganize from a mutual savings bank to a mutual holding company. They have sent me a number of promotional items urging me to vote in favor of this reorganization, but I can’t figure out why I would or wouldn’t vote for this. What’s the difference? What are the pros and cons?
Answer:

A mutual savings bank (MSB) is a chartered financial intermediary that operates as an association of individuals who are depositors, also known as members.  MSBs are owned by their depositors, not stockholders, and this means that an MSB’s...

Question:
Given the increasing population migration to more urban centers - and maybe the possible validation of Richard Florida's 'creative cities' theory - what viable economic models are we seeing for smaller, rural Iowa communities, most of which are really struggling to maintain population and economic viability? In other words, is there any hope for these once thriving rural towns and, if so, what does that look like?
Answer:

It is useful to begin by noting that Nebraska has a higher proportion of its population living in urban areas (73%) than Iowa (64%). The reason is that Nebraska has only 4 metropolitan areas (Lincoln, Grand Island, Sioux City, Omaha), all of...

Question:
Hi, I am studying an introduction module for Economics on a business degree course. I have recently covered the theory of Comparative Advantage within International Trade. While the theory makes perfect sense to me, and I can see why it would benefit different countries to trade together and import/export different goods to maximize profitability and production costs etc., I am struggling a little to ever find real world examples. For instance, every example I ever see for this model, shows two different countries and two different products. For example USA and China, both producing Planes and Electronics. Usually the answer works out that it would be best for USA to export the planes and import Electronics and vice versa for China etc. However, I am sure International Trade does not involve the bartering of goods. All trade is carried out with normal currency transactions right? What about if USA produces 10 million products, and China produces 30 million products. Is the Comparative Advantage now worked out between all of these products or is it still maybe one or two products compared? This seems in the examples of books really easy, but then practically impossible if all products are compared?

Also, who carries out these imports/exports or who decides it's better to import/export certain products? Is it private sector industries or is it government influenced.

So back in the previous examples of USA producing planes and China producing Electronics both with comparative advantages over each other. We know in real world examples Boeing in the USA produces planes and Huawei in China (along with many others) produces Electronics.
Does this mean Boeing should export planes to China, but what has this got to do with the Huawei company in China? They don't necessarily care about planes at all? Their business is electronics?
Does it also mean Boeing should use Chinese electronics on their planes (which I'm sure they don't)? This is where I am struggling to see the real world examples of it all, and understand WHO works out what products should be Imported/Exported from specific countries etc.?
Also who works out what country would be best to import goods from and what countries are best to export goods to?

I live in Ireland, and obviously dairy farming and beef are big exports here. But is it down to the individual farmers to understand these economics, or would the government figure a lot of this out?
Answer:

Prices will drive the system. For example Ireland has a comparative advantage in cheese and butter due to climate and a large amount of land suitable for dairy cows.  China has a comparative advantage in electronics because it has an...

Question:
If banks create credit from thin air, when they issue loans, and make astonishing interest in doing so, why would it not be beneficial to have their government create the credit? Then the interest collected on those loans could be used to fund goodies for the people, instead of super-yachts for crooks! Cheap loans for the poorest, expensive loans for the richest. Narrow the wealth gap a smidge. I cannot see a down side. Was this not how it once was, to our great prosperity? Is access to credit not the true essence of opportunity. Only people create value, thus, credit can only be created by the people. When did private banks capture our credit? And whom is responsible?
Answer:

There are government owned corporations or government backed corporations that directly lend to households or foster lending to households in other ways, for specific purposes. For example in the US, GNMA (Ginnie Mae), FNMA (Fannie Mae) and FHLMC...

Question:
Hi, quick question: can a tariff be counted as a fiscal policy measure? Currently studying the great depression and curious to know if the Smoot-Hawley act which raised US tariff on 20,000 imports counts as a contractionary Policy fiscal policy. My thinking behind this is it did involve the raising of taxes on imported goods,and increasing taxes are usually considered a contractionary fiscal policy measure. Please help. Thanks.
Answer:

In discussing the impact of economic policy on aggregate demand and the balance of trade in open economies, international economists often talk about two types of (non-monetary) policies: “expenditure reduction policies” and “expenditure...

Question:
In the world of vintage car collecting, a frequent topic of discussion is whether prices for a particular model or type are rising or falling. Answering this question is made more difficult by the fact that very few transactions are documented. We know that a given car was listed for price X, but we don't know what price it actually sold for, or to whom.

Does economics provide any model by which one can infer anything about actual selling prices for something, based only on data obtained from published asking prices? For example, if we had a data set of ~3000 sales over 20 years, and we knew that asking prices in real dollars were basically flat, would that tell us anything about the selling prices? Would they also be flat? Or maybe instead would they be gradually approaching the asking price? I have no idea.

Thank you.
Answer:

The question you are asking is about the bid-ask spread.  The bid is what a buyer wants to pay for an item. The ask is what the seller wishes to receive.  You know the ask, you want to know the bid.  The bid would be demand, the...

Question:
What are the fringe benefits of being an economist?
Answer:

Taken literally, fringe benefits are extra, non-monetary compensation, such as health insurance, etc. provided you by your employer.  I suspect, however, that the person who submitted this question is not interested in the package of...

Question:
What is the impact of production being directed towards what appears to be endless product differentiation, for example multiple flavours of toothpaste or shampoo variations which ultimately do nothing to improve individual well being? Does this form of market operation generate employment or is it a waste of productive capacity that might be better directed towards activity that genuinely increases well being. For example, creating products that delivers a real benefit.
Answer:

Does the market provide too many or too few products, relative to some social optimum benchmark? It turns out that this question does not have a simple answer. It depends on whether or not consumers are well (perfectly) informed about products'...

Question:
With this global and U. S. crisis because of the coronavirus what is the possibility of the catastrophic devaluation of the dollar so that my buying power is greatly reduced?
Answer:

1) The coronavirus is everywhere.  It is not obvious it would affect the U.S. dollar differently than the Euro or Yen or Yuan.  All the governments and economies are stressed, and so relative values will be unaffected.

2)...

Question:
Hi. I studied economics at undergraduate level and have encountered the profit maximising rule of MR = MC; with the standard premise for such calculations involving the production of goods with a fixed price per unit. I currently work in the construction sector (demolition) where each of our projects have a different cost and revenue from other projects. As such, I would like to know if/how the above measure could be applied to the service sector? My current thinking is that the data must be manipulated to achieve the cost per square foot of a site. However, this will involve significant data manipulation just to run the calculations. Could you tell me if I am on the right track with this direction or whether there is an alternative way that I could calculate the profit-maximising output? My goal in answering this question is to determine the appropriate mark-up for our business when submitting a quote to a client. At present, we are charging a 10% mark-up which I currently believe to be too low to be sustainable. Any assistance on this would be greatly appreciated.
Answer:

Hello:

Suppose you have N projects, each of them with possibly different but constant marginal costs (MC). Since the marginal cost for each project is constant, the average variable cost is also constant, and your profits can be expressed...

Question:
When health care spending (or military spending or education) is tallied as a "percentage of GDP," doesn't that GDP figure include that same health spending? If you remove all that double-dipping, what would those percentages look like?
Answer:

Thank you for your question. Indeed, part of the expenditure in health expenditure and defense will count towards total GDP. The reason why the total GDP (including health expenditure or defense expenditure themselves) is used as a denominator to...

Question:
I apologize, as this will seem to be a very, very vague question. I don't know that it is so very vague as much as it is nuanced and not so easily answered without a tremendous amount of effort and time information gathering.

I'm very, very, very curious what an economist thinks about the automotive repair trade. We aren't really a professional industry as there are no requirements or licenses to become a professional repair technician or work in a professional repair facility. Auto repair has become extremely high tech and sophisticated, in many areas, but also retained many of the same procedures from decades and decades ago with maybe a few changes. So, we have the need for two distinct types of individuals. The thinkers, and the doers. Thinkers for the analyzing of systems and data for diagnostic decisions and dealing with technology (computers both on the car and to be used in the shop for scan tools, oscilloscopes, programming, coding, etc, etc), doers to take it apart and put it back together efficiently and properly.

Most repair facilities are operated by former technicians. They are not businessmen/women. Like, at all. It is often discussed how with the commoditization of our services we are in a race to the bottom by greatly undervaluing ourselves and each other. Many are in this race and unwittingly standing on the gas.

This sounds like a rant and perhaps at some level it is. But I'm seriously interested in the opinions of those that are businessmen/women, who understand economics and game theory (most shops seem to operate on a zero-sum game principle, whether they know it or not).

Automobiles are getting more and more complex, the skillset required to service them is growing and becoming much, much more difficult to find and retain (many, many other industries are looking for the skillsets, or a small fraction of the skillsets that many automotive technicians possess, that have far greater means to compensate for those skill than the auto repair trade currently has; a problem they've created for themselves with the constant undervaluing of their skills, knowledge, and services).

I suppose the easy answer is that is it a total "clusterf^&%" but will either solve itself or crumble altogether, I just really wanted to hear what someone that really knows what they are talking about thinks, and maybe even entice them to look into it and find out more about our trade.

Answer:

Auto repair is an example of a "credence good", which is a type of product or service where an expert knows more about the quality the consumer needs than the consumer themselves. These kinds of markets can work poorly if consumers are unable to...

Question:
Hi
I am trying to calculate GDP for countries and the numbers dont seem to add up.
I am using the formula GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government spending + Imports - exports
I am using the example of France
It has a GDP about 2500 bn dollars per year.
Thus the components of C, I, G and X-Y should equal about 2500 right?
These are the figures that I have found
C = 1360, Investment = 20 per cent of GDP ie around 500, G= 1370
Frances trade balance is negative to about 55 bn per year and government borrowing is 85 bn
So if you calculate 1360 + 500 + 1370 - 55 - 85 you end up with 3090 which is more that 20 per cent more than the published figure.
So where am I going wrong in my calculations?
I was thinking it was something to do with PPP v nominal dollar values but the difference between the two is only 10 per cent whereas my figures differ by more than 20 per cent
Thanks for any help
Mick Cooke
Figures are from
C = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_consumer_markets
I = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_gross_fixed_investment_as_percentage_of_GDP
G = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_government_budget
X-Y = http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/fra/
Answer:

The main problem with your calculation is that you are using as "G" the French government's budgetary expenditure, which most likely includes large transfer payments. Transfer payments are not part of GDP. Another problem is that you are...

Question:
What percent of hog firms use forward contracting or options? Why do hog producers not use futures or options?
Answer:

Unfortunately data are not readily available on the percent of hog firms using forward contracting or options. What is readily available through Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR) data provided by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is the volume...

Question:
Does the ISU Economics Dept. have a position on whether the Federal Reserve Board should manipulate the federal fund rate to fight inflation? When I was at ISU there was a difference of opinion among professors due to the negative impact on employment.

When the Federal Reserve announces to the world that it’s going to slow down the economy to hold back inflation that has always meant that unemployment will eventually take a hit. In the three cycles since 1989 the unemployment rate starts declining 2.59-3.09 years after the Federal Reserve starts dropping the federal fund rate. The monthly unemployment rate has been falling at a predictable rate within 2.31% since January 2012. For some reason whoever is in the White House gets the blame or credit.
Answer:

As noted, when the Federal Reserve changes the amount of “monetary stimulus” in the economy, it tends to push inflation and employment in the same direction. Lowering the level of stimulus (by raising interest rates) puts downward pressure on...

Question:
When the GDP is calculated for a country, is inflation taken into account? What I mean is, if a country has 2% GDP growth, is that before or after inflation is removed from the equation.Because it seems to me that if a country's GDP grows by 2%, and inflation goes up 2% in that time, they may cancel each other out to actually have neutral growth.
Answer:

The difference is between real and nominal growth. The GDP of a country is the $ value of the goods & services produced by that country in a year. Say, the GDP of a country in 2010 is $100 and that in 2011 is $110. The increase could have...

Question:
In his answer to my previous question, Dr. Orazem states that 'Iowa's small towns are surviving' (compared to Nebraska). Are they? A vast majority of Iowa school districts have seen declining enrollments for years/decades, many/most of the small rural main streets that I see appear to be in serious decline, and the towns in general seem to be losing both population and vitality. I travel a lot through rural Iowa and it sure doesn't feel like most of these small towns are surviving. Am I incorrect? If my eyeball test and what I think are accurate demographic data aren't sufficient, how do we determine if rural towns are surviving? Thanks much. Just trying to wrap my head around issues related to small Iowa town vitality and the accompanying implications for schools.
Answer:

I think it is important in establishing policy to work from facts and not perceptions. While rural towns are getting smaller on average, not all are. While schools are consolidating in rural areas, they are also consolidating in cities as like...

Question:
Disinflation describes a lower inflation rate than the previous month, using YoY values. Does it make a different interpretation if the MoM value decreases or increases? I have seen a decrease in the MoM value corresponding to a decrease in the YoY inflation as well as a decrease in a MoM value corresponding to an increase in inflation YoY. Does the MoM value tell you anything about the YoY value? I used to think the MoM value described accelerating or decelerating of the YoY inflation/deflation. Can you please elaborate on the relationship between MoM and YoY values, if any? Thank you.
Answer:

The easiest way to see the connection between Month on Month Inflation and Year on Year inflation is to take a step back and recall where these numbers are coming from.

 

The inflation numbers we see reported are reflecting the...

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