Ask an Economist

E.g., Sunday, October 25, 2020
E.g., Sunday, October 25, 2020
Question:
Hello, I'm a 42 year old woman from Los Angeles CA. Due to personal reasons I left the state for about 10 years. Now that I'm back, I noticed that things have changed a lot! For example: when I was a young adult, I used to work as a waitress. I remember that most of my co-workers were about the same age and most of us were attending Junior College. However, now I'm 42 years old, I noticed a completely new group of people. Most are mature, in their mid 30s to mid 40s. A lot of them made careers out of working as servers. How does it affect the economy to have more people pursue careers in minimum wage jobs?
Answer:

First, the characterization of foodservice and restaurant workers as a career track is inaccurate. The median age of restaurant workers is 28.4 years, the second youngest sector of our economy (next to retail shoe stores at 24 years). As shown in...

Question:
Hello, in the article https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-08-07/China-confident-of-meeting-2020-fiscal-targets-Finance-Minister-SKUFJsrke4/index.html , it says China has been implementing tax and fee cuts, and "issued 100 billion yuan (about 14.1 billion U.S. dollars) of special government bonds for COVID-19 control measures in a bid to support local infrastructure construction and epidemic prevention and control." In what ways will implementing tax and fee cuts help China's recovery? And if selling government bonds is a contractionary monetary policy, what will this do, other than fund fiscal objectives, to help a recovering economy? Why sell bonds instead of borrow more?
Answer:

China mainly cuts corporate tax and fees (no tax cut for individuals) during the COVID-19 epidemic period so that firms could have incentive to increase the production compared to the scenario without tax and fee cuts.  

...

Question:
I was watching a documentary about microfinance in developing countries. Many of the loans were 20-100 dollars. What would happen if people living in poverty were just given the money, and not expected to pay it back? How would that effect the economy?
Answer:

The need to pay it back would discipline the actions of the borrower, make them choose more worthwhile projects. This would raise efficiency. 

Question:
I am student and recently have come across 2 equations which explain basically the same thing. It's about the real interest rate. One equation tells us: real interest = nominal interest - inflation The other one says: 1+real interest = ((1+inflation) / (1+nominal interest)) Which one is correct? Which one should we use? Thank you!
Answer:

The nominal interest rate associated with an asset (for example, a deposit in an interest-bearing savings account) is the rate at which the dollar value of the asset increases over time. The corresponding real interest rate is the rate at which...

Question:
Dear Economists,

I recently had an argument in my fantasy football group that I believe an economist can answer. I need to define some terms and give some background before I get to the question.

I am in a 12 team league and we conduct a snake style draft every year to pick our players. A snake style draft is one in which teams are assigned a draft position and the draft is conducted 1-12 in the odd numbered rounds and 12-1 in even numbered rounds. Our rosters consist of 16 players. Every year your roster completely resets and we redraft in reverse order of standings (meaning that the team that finished last picks first and the team that finishes first picks last) with the following exception. You are allowed to keep up to 2 players, one player that you drafted (class B) and one player that went undrafted the previous year (class C). Provided that they are on your roster on Thanksgiving.

Players can be divided as follows:

Class A1 players cannot be kept by definition, and cannot be dropped from your roster.

Class A2 players cannot be kept, but can be dropped from your roster.

Class B players can be kept by giving up a draft pick that is 3 rounds earlier than where they were selected the year prior. i.e. If they were selected in the 5th round you would have to give up a 2nd round pick.

Class C players can be kept by giving up a draft pick that is three rounds later then where they are projected to be picked that year. i.e. If they are projected to be picked in the 5th round you have to give up an 8th round pick to keep them.

Generally speaking, Class A1 players are more talented than Class A2 players, who are more talented than Class B players, who are more talented than Class C players. Also, it is impossible to know how good a player will perform in future years, or what their projected draft position will be because those projections are not released until July of the following year.

As a result of these rules I adopted the following strategy after I was eliminated from this year's playoffs. I dropped all Class A2 and B players from my roster and picked up 16 Class C players using the following logic. Class A players are worthless for future years because I will lose them for nothing when the rosters reset. Class B players require me to pay a premium to keep them, and because they would need to vastly overperform expectations they are not worth the investment. Class C players are the least talented of the bunch, but I will have 16 chances to pick one that is in a good position to perform well, and I will get that player at a discount because I will be able to draft them later than when the market says they should be drafted. The other teams do not acknowledge this as a legitimate strategy. I believe that this illustrates relative value (valuable players that have no value considering my circumstance), opportunity costs (roster spaces that have worthless players but could have players with some value), and expected value (players who are worth very little now, but may have value later and can be drafted at a discount).

What do the economists think of my strategy?

As a post script, I tried to trade Class A players for Class C players before dropping them, but no team would trade with me because they thought I was giving up too much value for nothing.
Answer:

Thanks for your ‘Ask an Economist’ question.  I will provide some thoughts, but may not be able to answer it completely to your satisfaction given I do not fully understand how your fantasy league operates.  For example, you do not...

Question:
News commentators appear to universally deride Donald Trump's suggestion that the National Debt be renegotiated, whatever that means. What would really happen if the US decided to cancel its outstanding debt, or at least selective portions based on who's holding it, e.g. hostile governments, unfair trading partners, etc. Assume that the Washington will enact whatever legislation to avoid or minimize the economic and political shocks, at least in the US, e.g. issue new currency, start massive infrastructure spending program.
Answer:

US government debt is considered the safest asset in the world. The US borrows at a low interest rate while it lends at a higher interest rate, an “exorbitant privilege” sometimes resented by the foreigners. Over the past two decades, a higher...

Question:
Is the oil surplus caused by the economic slowdown in China?
Answer:

No. The world consumes about 100 million barrels of oil per day. US consumes 20 million, while China consumes 10 million barrels per day. Thus, whether China is in a recession or not, its economy will not have a significant effect on the world...

Question:
I think the treatment of Blacks in the south, by restricting Blacks' jobs, low pay, restrictions of where to spend their money, and other negative economic measures, had to negatively affect the southern economy by -30 percent or more during the 100 years after the civil war. What would economists say?
Answer:

Economists and economic historians in particular have been quite interested in the economic impacts of slavery and its aftermath, including the effects of race-based discrimination. There is by now an extremely large and extensive literature of...

Question:
What are the best reasons one should buy a new car instead of a used one with low mileage and an in tact warranty. I ask, because my wife wants to purchase a new car, while I would prefer to purchase a slightly used car at a lower price. (letting someone else take the depreciation hit)
Answer:

There are many things to consider in making the choice between purchasing a new or used car, including a comparison of sticker prices.  As you suggest, new car values depreciate significantly in the first few months of ownership, often...

Question:
I am trying to get an estimate for 2014 arc-co corn and soybean payments for Monona and Harrison counties.
Answer:

ISU Extension has created tools to explore the potential benefits/payments from the programs in the 2014 Farm Bill. These tools are available from www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/...

Question:
I was reading a paper on authoritarianism in Brazil, and was puzzled by some things the authors had to say regarding the country's fiscal/monetary policy. According to the paper, the policies of the ruling PT party were largely neoliberal throughout the growth of the 2000s, and high interest rates were a component of such policies. Generally, the paper describes Brazil's neoliberal policies as "contractionary."

This is very confusing to me, as coming of age in a post-GFC United States I've always associated neoliberalism with things such as low interest rates. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.
Answer:

Thank you for your question! These ideological "definitions" and distinctions can be quite confusing and arbitrary. In the Latin American context, usually neoliberal is associated with policies that are orthodox, that is, based on notions of free...

Question:
I have read a few recent articles in the Wall Street Journal recently regarding farmers going out of business, prices for fertilizer inputs, and how well farmers have been doing producing crops. They were titled "The Next American Farm Bust Is Upon Us", "Here’s One Industry Where the U.S. Is Already Catching China—Fertilizers".

Regarding the first article, why are American farmers still incurring such high costs for production inputs and why do they really have no where to sell their grain and product to make any money? Secondly why are fertilizer inputs in particular so expensive when the second article talks about how our supply is expanding and we are producing more fertilizer than any other country? Shouldn't these input costs go down or be down because of such a high supply?

Lastly it seems that farm production has been peaking and they are doing extremely well in regards of yield and product output, consequently having no place to sell their grain. My question is where do Ag Economists forecast job growth will be greatest in the Agriculture Sector in the next five years? Which particular majors in certain sectors of the Ag industry will do the best and be in high demand?

Thank you for your time
Answer:

While it is true that, in general, farmers are still facing high production costs.  They have also seen some of those costs fall over the past couple of years.  And it is not true that they have nowhere to sell their products. ...

Question:
I would like to get your educated opinion on Right to Work, specifically, what will happen if all 50 states in our country become RTW states.

Right now, it is attractive for a corporation to set up or move their business to a RTW state due to lower wages and not having to deal with strong unions. I understand this. But how will a RTW state entice a company to move FROM a RTW state?

Cut corporate taxes? Suppress wages? Reduce services to the tax payers so more money can be given to the corporation? How will states entice business to set up shop once this is a Right to Work country? Thanks for your time.
Answer:

Your question requires that I explain some of the background for Right-to-Work laws, and I took the liberty of adding a more general answer on the effect of Right-to-Work on the economic outcomes for firms and workers.

Union strength in...

Question:
I'm looking for a quick and dirty way to total up the economic costs of Covid-19. Does it make sense to add (1) expected 2020 GDP losses (about $1.6T) to (2) the total cost of the federal Covid-19 response bills (assume for now that it's about $8T??) to get $9.6T at a minimum? In totaling up the cost of the Federal intervention, should we subtract from $8T the additional GDP losses that would have occurred if the stimulus spending had not been made? Also, why can't I find this kind of analysis online? Where should I be looking?
Answer:

In short, there are probably many ways that you could get a rough estimate of this and they are all likely flawed in some way or another which makes this a really tough question to answer. Also, we probably haven't fully realized the impact of...

Question:
How can there be inflation at different rates within the same currency zone? For example, how can there be higher inflation in Greece than in Germany, despite having the same currency?
Answer:

Effectively, you are asking: how can there be different prices across countries within the same currency zone? This may sound surprising because within the Euro common currency, for example, we label regions as countries and there is a price...

Question:
With the debate on whether or not to raise the minimum wage to $15, I think there is another question looming. I previously worked at a large parcel carrier, who paid their new couriers around $15 an hour. The work included:

Lifting boxes up to 150 lbs.
Loading and unloading trucks in a warehouse that can be freezing or sweltering,
Driving a large truck anywhere from 10-150 miles a day,
Customer interaction,
Route planning.

Now if the minimum wage was raised to $15, what would make me choose to work at this parcel company when I could work at a grocery store as a cashier? Wouldn't the new minimum wage increase cascade into other jobs in order to entice people to fill those more difficult positions?

I can see such a large jump in the minimum wage having unforeseen consequences. I would love someone's opinion on this. Thank you for your time!
Answer:

The current federal minimum wage for workers in covered sectors is $7.25 an hour. As you suggest, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would motivate many workers who were already being paid $15 in the old regime to seek employment in less...

Question:
I'm fairly new at farm accounting and need to better understand how we should be booking our haylage, silage and earlage. We track both weight and cost, we weigh each item that goes into the rations. Should we be booking the haylage weight (as is) and adjust the value down based on the moisture percentage? I think I'm answering my own question. So, how do most people track the quantity and value as it flows in and out of their feed inventory?
Answer:

The easiest way to respond to this question is to answer in the context of custom feedyards that are included in the ISU Beef Feedlot Monitor - ...

Question:
I have questions on China soybean import tariff.

1. Because of the tariff on US soybeans, China buy soybeans from other countries. How can other countries increase their production to accommodate this sudden increase of demand? You cannot just grow more soybeans by flipping a switch. Supply and demand suggests there was an equilibrium before. Those buyers who "lose" their orders to China have to find soybeans somewhere else. Does it mean they come back to the US farmers because they are the only producers left in town?

2. China is a big soybean buyer and can move the market. Soybean prices have been fallen since the tariff announcement, factoring in the impact of the tariff. Does it mean it hurts other producers like Brazil? But why there are reports saying Brazilian farmers are happy about increase in export? They don't suddenly produce more to sell at a lower price. According to Business Insider, Brazil is estimated to produce 3.5% more year-to-year. Is it enough to cover the loss in lower prices?

3. What happens to the US unsold China-bound-supposedly soybeans? Are they sold to other nations as mentioned above, or they are left to rot?
Answer:

The policy-driven increase in the import price of U.S. soybeans into China generated a change in relative soybean prices across the globe, making U.S. soybeans relatively more expensive and soybeans of other origins, such as Brazil, relatively...

Question:
Iowa’s 2016 current gubernatorial race is starting to heat up. Democratic challengers, as are all politicians, citing "job creation" as a major platform focus of their political campaign. In his 2010 campaign, Terry Branstad set a "job creation" goal for his 5th term as Iowa's governor at 200,000 new jobs. The Governor now claims to have created 130,000 Iowa jobs to date. How many "new" jobs has the Governor actually created and how many "net" jobs have been created in Iowa since January 2011?
Answer:

Governors really do not create jobs. Their departments of economic development, as well as other departments, may provide assistance, subsidies, and other types of aid to industries, but they do not create the jobs. The industries create the jobs...

Question:
Can you please explain the mechanics behind this statement from deutsche bank regarding potential market risks for 2019: "slowing growth in China may trigger substantial US dollar appreciation". Is this essentially saying that since growth will slow in china, American imports will increase and thus the demand for USD will increase causing the currency to appreciate?
Answer:

Fundamentally the change of the exchange rate reflects the difference of productivity growth between China and U.S.. In the past decade, the productivity of China grew faster than U.S. and therefore we see a long-term appreciation of RMB over U.S...

Question:
Is there an economic theory that describes the relative value of money amongst different strata of the population? For example, $100 might seem like a lot to an Economics professor, seem like almost nothing to a pro baller and might seem unimaginable to someone in true poverty. Thanks!
Answer:

I am guessing, by money, you mean income. Yes, the notion that $100 means something very different to people with varying incomes is a basic tenet of economics. The question is, what do people do with that $100. If they consume (buy stuff) it,...

Question:
I have a question about utilities; specifically: How to compare them among competing options for funding.

There is a wonderful new technology that is able to vaporize garbage (also known as "Municipal Solid Waste", or MSW). The output of this process consists of only three things: Synthetic gas, a metal alloy, and a glass-like slag. All three have commercial value. No pollution is created in the course of this transformation.

As you may know, markets for energy and metals are in the doldrums. The falling prices indicate a reduced utility for these commodities, and that creates a headwind for the sale of this new technology.

On the other hand, citizens hate landfills more than ever. No one wants to live near a garbage dump, so doing away with landfills has high utility.

My question, therefore, is this: How do I compare the falling utility of process outputs (the syngas, metal, and slag) with the increasing utility of eliminating landfills altogether? The physical outputs can be priced in the open market, but civic satisfaction is hard to measure.

Many thanks for any guidance you might have.
Answer:

When trying to quantify "civic satisfaction," we need to determine what a community is willing to pay, in dollar terms, to remove the landfill. Typically this is done with randomized surveys, but unfortunately it appears that economists have not...

Question:
Which is better for/has a more positive impact on the American economy:

Purchasing a vehicle from an American car company that is mostly manufactured overseas with foreign parts (list for reference: https://www.motorbiscuit.com/3-american-cars-that-are-barely-made-in-america/)

Or,

Purchasing a vehicle from a foreign car company that is mostly manufactured in the US with US made parts (list for reference: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2018/06/22/american-cars/724724002/)
Answer:

This question addresses an important debate in the current economic climate in which global production network and offshoring are prevalent. Economic research on this topic from both theoretical and empirical aspects is vast and is still ongoing...

Question:
I work for a local government in Kansas and recently discovered FDIC deposit data by county, zip code, institution. I was wondering what an increase or decrease in deposits might indicate about a community? I couldn't find discussion on-line regarding how to interpret this FDIC data. Thanks for you help. -Mike
Answer:

Information on changes in deposits at commercial banks can be useful in gaining a better understanding of a local economy. However, determining whether an increase in deposits is positive, negative, or neutral can be difficult if the reason for...

Question:
I gave an economic presentation the other day and we were talking about how the Chinese devalued their currency to make their exports cheaper to the world, and essentially position themselves better to the American consumer. Someone asked me then why doesn't the U.S. simply follow suit. I answered that every country could not do this because it would end up being a zero sum game and that everybody would eventually lose and that it would not be sustainable. Furthermore, with the U.S. dollar the reserve currency of the world, the amount of volatility in the market place would skyrocket if the U.S. did the same thing. What else could I have said or is there another angle to tackle the question?
Answer:

China’s total trade (exports+imports) as percentage of GDP is about twice that of the US. In this sense, the US is a relatively closed economy and therefore its monetary policy is (and ought to be) more domestically oriented. Second, Chinese...

Pages