Ask an Economist

E.g., Sunday, October 25, 2020
E.g., Sunday, October 25, 2020
Question:
I've read articles recently which conclude that--adjusted for inflation--paychecks have roughly the same purchasing power that they had 40 years ago. As a layman, this suggests to me that although the average American standard of living hasn't improved in several decades, it hasn't worsened either. I am trying to reconcile this statistic with the "shrinking middle class" and the need for people to work multiple jobs to get by, trends which have emerged gradually over the same 40-year period. I suspect that the answer lies in the rising costs of housing, education, and healthcare, but aren't these variables included in the inflation adjustment calculation?
Answer:

The challenge in describing a large economy with more than 300 million people in it is in finding helpful ways to simplify the data.  Economists often measure economic performance by using one very simple statistic: income per capita, which...

Question:
There has been a lot of talk about how millennial college graduates have had difficulty finding work. As a millennial I find this topic very interesting. I have heard explanations such as the lack of job growth in the 21st century, or the fact that most kids do not graduate college with practical skills. Although the second reason makes sense, statistically college graduates used to have a much easier time finding jobs. That being said, what kind of jobs did people with liberal arts degrees get 20 years ago?
Answer:

In a recent study of U.S. Census data on individual earnings for those with a wide range of degrees for 2010-2011, liberal arts majors who have completed a baccalaureate degree (only) have the lowest median salaries early after graduation ($22,...

Question:
In corporate finance, operating expenses and capital expenses are tracked separately. Total opex within a fiscal calendar goes against revenues to net at EBITDA. Capex is recorded as fixed assets and amortized over x years to net at net earnings. (I know I'm simplifying things.) Importantly, the company's treasury function provides funding for Capex through a mix of cash flow and issuing debt. This seems clean.

My confusion is how this is reported (at least in public spheres) with governments. When we talk about a government's deficit, we seem to be including operating shortfalls (Opex or where existing programs spending is greater than revenues) plus Capex.

Say my government is running a $10B deficit and no change occurs in revenues and in program spending in the next fiscal year. If they propose a new infrastructure project (say railway) that will cost $$20B starting that year, what would be the deficit? I expect the $20B (assuming it actually stays at that level) would eventually be added to the accumulated debt but only the amortized allocation of it would be recorded as a part of the deficit.

Is that how it's supposed to be? Is that what they actually do? It seems the press never makes a distinction between these, which only confuses the public and obfuscates debate about spending.
Answer:

In your example, the infrastructure investment of $20B will be included in the next fiscal year expenditures in the full amount. Thus, the deficit during the next fiscal year will be $10B + $20B = $30B. Also, the debt level at the end of the next...

Question:
Hello, I am a Clemson student in Biosystems Engineering of all subjects and I was working on a side project that had me consider how inefficient ubran development is. I suppose this has two parts: Why are there no private toll roads being constructed by the developers who are turning places like Greenville, Columbia and Charleston SC into parking lots? Is there a legal restriction on the use of toll roads considering South Carolina has two of the only private toll roads I know of?

A shorter way to ask this would be is if there is a true economic incentive to build roads when the government says that they will pay for it anyway.

Answer when you can. Thank you!
Answer:

Private developers will identify profitable opportunities from constructing toll roads; the current road system may be too congested or outdated, or an undeveloped route may have potential to be lucrative. Typically, proposals made by individual...

Question:
I'm writing a story about the impacts of incrementally raising the minimum wage each year, until it reaches $13/hour. Washington just passed the law and it goes into effect Jan. 1.

In my research I was surprised not to discover that not a single economic impact study had been done. Sure the state Office of Financial Management did theirs, and the restaurant/lodging lobbies did theirs. But there is no INDEPENDENT THIRD PARTY study out there ... that I could find.

The question is: Is that a kind of breach of sound fiscal management? Meaning, Washington citizens are sitting back and saying, "Well, let's just vote for it and see what happens?"
Answer:

Alas, your concern about lack of sound fiscal management is not only justified in this case but is justified far more broadly. Many policy changes are initiated without third party studies to back them up. One assumes the government agencies do a...

Question:
Hi.. I am a writer. I am from India.. I need some help on a story I am writing based on economics.. India is a poor as well as a wealthy country. Therefore, it seems to me that money has a dual purpose - Basic Survival and Human Ambition. The poor I see are busting their asses off just to reach basic survival, while the rich are making millions by the strength of their ambition, intelligence, and passion.. I have always heard the argument that printing money to get rid of poverty will in turn lead to inflation thus in turn leading to even bigger poverty. But one day, I had a different idea... What if, anyone is allowed access to print money.. Every money that is printed can only be accepted by government bodies providing basic necessities like food, basic clothing, water, and modest shelter. These government bodies can later exchange that money for anything they want. But the initial printer cannot exchange the first printed money for anything but only for basic public services. All the money in the market will therefore come from a government source providing one of basic services to people. If people want to then improve, meaning if they want to go to a fancy restaurant rather than a public mess,, they will have to earn that money.. Therefore earning money will be associated with human ambition and passion while money itself will be associated with public basic needs.. With survival out of question,, all people can focus on doing a personal business, taking better jobs, etc. in order to improve their lifestyle; economy will bloom... What I need to know, is, for the sake for my story,, what things can go wrong in this model?? Why is this kind of a system practically impossible because I assume if it was possible it would have been already there.. What are the flaws of this model?? Why does this sound too good to be practical?? I thank you for your time and your patience.. I hope to hear from you soon..
Answer:

I think you don't want everyone to have access to the money-printing press or if you do, then let there be a fixed limit (say, they can print no more than a thousand "basics", the name of this currency). If anyone can print as much basics as they...

Question:
My name is Tracy Bergmann, I am the Chief Examiner for the Iowa Division of Banking. We supervise Iowa state chartered banks in Iowa. We continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the institutions we regulate, their customers, and the customers they serve. Agriculture has been on our radar for sometime now, but we are trying to get more detailed data on how much agricultural debt is in Iowa, specifically what is the breakdown between Ag Operating, Livestock debt, Term debt, and Real Estate debt.

We traditionally get our data from two sources: 1) call report filed by banks quarterly which does not go into enough detail to get the information that we want; and 2) the banks themselves when we conduct an examination. Banks generally have concentration reports that will break down debt on many different levels; however, this doesn't give us aggregated point in time data.

I have been looking at the ISU, Ohio State University, and USDA websites in an attempt to get the data we are looking for, but cannot find it. I find news reports or research that mentions these sources, but I can't get to the raw data we are looking for. When I do find data that is close to what we want, it is a couple years old.

Do you have any suggestions on where we can find this data? We appreciate any assistance you are able to give, as we monitor the impact of COVID-19, particularly in the ag sector. Thank you!

Tracy Bergmann
Answer:

The most relevant reports to track the evolution of the financial situation of well-managed mid-size commercial farms in Iowa are:

  1. “Financial Performance Measures for Iowa Farms” Dec 2019....
Question:
Can you see the number GDP per capita increase in the next year and subsequently cause an increase in commercial boat ownership within the United States?
Answer:

Let me start by saying that I have expertise in the economics of commercial fishing. I cannot speak to whether GDP will increase next year. If GDP does rise, there may be channels by which commercial boat building and therefore boat ownership...

Question:
Why are economists and retailers surprised at the 11 percent lower Black Friday sales given the slight rise in the economy? Seems like just because gas is a bit less expensive and overall unemployment, people have still taken a financial hit that cannot be recovered in bank accounts simply by saving a few dollars at the gas pump. Is there an economic theory behind this surprise? I know I save more than most people but the outcome doesn't surprise me. Thanks for any thoughts and for this service!
Answer:

Black Friday is mostly a marketing gimmick to stimulate shopping during an extended weekend of wide-spread idleness, and the weekend’s performance is not a reliable predictor of total holiday spending or the health of the economy. To understand...

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