Friday, December 19, 2014

Two conferences straddling the holidays

In case anyone is interested, I'll be presenting at an Infometrics Institute workshop today (here). The topic is information theoretic/maximum entropy econometrics and I'll be presenting my work on a generalized maximum entropy version of propensity score matching. It's still a work in progress (it's received some major changes since the Southerns), but I have high hopes for it.

At the end of January I'll be presenting at an INET-YSI workshop on economic history (here). If you click through the link you'll notice something funny. There's a list of a few "senior participants" that includes many actual economic historians (and historians of the economy) whose names you might even recognize and do seem to merit being called "senior participant". Then there's me. I think this is because the organizer had been asking my about my interest and got a commitment early. Very strange/intimidating. Anyway I'm going to be presenting some work on gross job flows in postbellum manufacturing. I was tempted to add a subtitle "a VERY rough estimate" because the imperfections in the data sources worry me, but I suppose this is par for the course for a lot of economic history.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

1920-21 and reasoning from a price change: two recent posts

Two recent posts on monetary policy and 1920-21 by Tom Woods and George Selgin. The thrust of it is some of us (myself included) are, as Scott Sumner would put it, reasoning from a price change. I don't have a strong view of the argument because I haven't had a chance to look at the data. I find Woods's post a little odd - he seems to switch from arguing from a price change to arguing from a quantity change. The other problem here is that even if money were still tight through the recovery, the break in the extremely tight policy still matters. A lot of people think that Bernanke has been tight throughout the recovery, but that is not the same thing as saying that the stark policy changes at the beginning of the crisis didn't prevent a much worse situation. I'm not a monetary economist and I haven't had time to digest all of this, but those are my initial reactions.

I really have to add that Selgin's glib reference to my article (RAE) and note (CJE) on 1920-21* doesn't demonstrate a good grasp of what I've claimed. My point has always been that 1920-21 doesn't disprove Keynesian arguments. I am no critic of the idea that markets can recover on their own, nor am I a critic of the idea that monetary policy can be instrumental in a recovery without fiscal policy.

Anyway - links:
George Selgin
Tom Woods

* - He says I've made "something of a specialty" of this work, which is also odd because most of my research has nothing to do with 1920-21 - it's hardly a specialty of mine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

EJMR post win

As an economist at that transition from PhD to work with an interest in economics of the household and labor economics, and who is also sort of a stay at home dad (much more so last year - though still fairly frequently this year since my schedule is more flexible than Kates'), this EJMR discussion made me smile - particularly the fourth comment down.

If you don't know what EJMR is, don't worry about it. You might be better off.

Cute Caroline pictures from New Mexico

Dissertation proposal and life in the immediate future

Sorry for not updating - a couple people have kindly asked how the proposal went and I fell off the radar a little. It went great - they signed off on it. Somewhat unusually they asked questions as if it were a seminar (i.e., during my presentation rather than afterwards), which threw me at first but it all turned out fine. It felt like a lot of questions and comments, but none of them fundamentally undercut anything I was doing or my approach. Lots of work ahead still of course.

This weekend I'm going to be presenting some work on a generalized maximum entropy version of propensity score matching at the Southern Economic Association conference. I'm chairing a panel on GME. This is work I started last fall and have gotten back to intermittently. I'm still trying to figure out what I think of the simulation results - they're a little mixed (but at least they don't come out completely against the GME set up). It might be worth finishing off as a methods note somewhere. Several of the policy analysis journals have a regular methods note section that I think it could work well for. We'll see.

The week after that I'm presenting work at a National Academy of Engineering workshop on the engineering technician and technologist workforce. I'll be presenting a paper on work-based education and training (internships, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training) to a closed session and a broader paper on the workforce to an open session. Then the following week I'll be presenting my GME work to a methods group seminar here at the Urban Institute.

After those go through I think I'll feel a little less stressed. Of course the Sloan project on the STEM workforce continues, as does the project work I'm picking up at the Urban Institute. The plan is to defend this summer, Sloan will wrap up around then, and then I'm going to be transitioning to full time work at the Urban Institute and hopefully raising some money for projects of my own in short order.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Defending my dissertation proposal today

"Three Essays on Connecting to Work"

Essay 1: The employment and earnings effects of Georgia's job creation tax credit: a regression discontinuity approach.

Essay 2: Educational mismatch and occupational sorting by science and engineering graduates.

Essay 3: Registered apprenticeships and the Great Recession.

Chair: Robert Lerman
Members: Robert Feinberg and Mary Hansen

Essays 1 and 2 are in pretty decent draft form, although some more work to do. Essay 3 is still a little loose. My chair and I have been going through lots of options with it (apprenticeships are his area of expertise). There's simply not a lot of work on apprenticeship in the U.S. - the most important papers, even by American economists, are on European apprenticeship. I have a database of all registered apprentices in the U.S. from 1999 to 2014, so in that sense practically anything I do with it is going to be a contribution. I was at first concerned about thinking of something more methodologically innovative and thinking along those lines, but my chair is really pushing me to do something simple but highly informative. The idea has grown on me. Apprenticeship in the U.S. is heavily concentrated in the construction sector so looking at apprenticeships over the business cycle is particularly interesting right now. I have a job I love - I'm not going on the academic market. My first two essays are methodologically sophisticated (I'm not a superstar, but you know what I mean - thoughtful non-basic methods appropriate to the question that fill a hole in the literature). So I'm digging this approach to the third essay if my chair does.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Some thoughts on Gene Callahan and Francis Fukuyama on job training programs

Gene wanders into some education and training program and federal/local governance tensions stuff in a recent post, and as I'm interested in both issues I thought I'd comment and disagree a little. He writes:
"In a discussion of how the American system of checks-and-balances and federalism produces wildly inefficient legislation, Fukuyama notes that: "Congress created fifty-one separate programs for worker retraining, and eighty-two projects to improve teacher quality." (p. 497)

I have been making this point even before reading this latest work of Fukuyama's. But he has an interesting perspective on why this occurs.


My own preference would be for worker-retraining and teacher-improvement programs to be implemented at a much more local level (the importance of local knowledge: see Hayek, as well as Catholic social thought on subsidiarity). The federal government should intervene in these issues only to the extent that it redistributes some tax revenues from the richer to the poorest states, to allow the poorer states the resources to implement these goals. But if these things are going to be handled at the federal level, I would much prefer Congress authorized a single agency to deal with each, and empowered that agency to do so.

Fukuyama contends that these legislative Rube Goldberg devices we create arise primarily from the way our system of checks-and-balances and federalism have worked out in practice: multiple branches, agencies, and levels of government are involved with almost every political issue in the United States. Rather than working to limit government, as the founders had intended, this multiplicity of authorities has served to create a byzantine government."
I think federal job training reflect these priorities more than Gene might expect, and the multiplicity of programs is not as pernicious as you might think either (I can't speak for programs to improve teacher quality). There are always things to disagree with, and this has been a process of improvement over time as well, but both of those are only natural.

First, much of the job training that goes on is in fact locally designed and controlled. This happens for at least two reasons. First, the "federal job training programs" we talk about are often better thought of as funding streams rather than programs per se. They'll often be targeted to specific populations (workers displaced by imports, TANF recipients, youth, the unemployed, etc.) and sometimes there may even be restrictions on the spending that goes on (you'll often see requirements that the money be spent on capacity building for the trainer but not tuition, for example). But these are generally existing or newly started training programs at community colleges or other workforce development organizations that are designed locally to meet local needs that then compete for appropriate funding streams from the federal government.

The other major mechanism for local design and control of training programs is good old fashioned devolution. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the new Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA), which provides a lot of the funding for federal job training are both administered by local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), which are composed of employers, educators, and other local stakeholders. WIA/WIOA and many other federal job training efforts have also been pushing sectoral partnerships where employers in important local industry clusters partner with education and training providers to design curricula and programs.

Certainly some training programs are structured at a higher level. I imagine Job Corps is one such program (although I'm not as familiar with its design). But many aren't either by virtue of the funding stream or the structure of the program itself. And the trend is certainly in the direction of decentralization of program design.

The other element of Gene's post is that there are so many different training programs. I think this is a little odd, given his emphasis on local knowledge and local programs. The reason why we have a lot of programs is that workers in different situations have very different needs. Disadvantaged youth need very different training and support services than experienced workers displaced by import competition. I am at a conference right now and I just spoke with a colleague who wants to include me on a proposal to evaluate a training program for older workers, who are going to have different needs and obstacles as well. Needs also vary by industry. Registered apprenticeships are heavily concentrated in construction and to a certain extent manufacturing because those training models work in those fields in a way that might be more difficult for other occupations or industries. The labor market is remarkably diverse, and if you are going to get into the business of job training, as the federal government has, you probably don't want a one-size-fits-all policy. This can lead to headaches too of course, but if we're concerned about Hayek and local knowledge (and if we leave aside Hayek-style libertarianism for a second), there are good reasons to have the sort of system we have.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Caroline's first election

We sat out of the governor's race last year because needless to say things were pretty crazy back then.

She did not get a ballot but she did get a sticker and a stylized explanation of what daddy was doing. Here we're admiring each other's stickers and posing for the camera.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Inflation letter signer James Grant has a new book on the 1920-21 depression and he's talking about it AEI tomorrow


As some of you may recall, two of my first published articles are on the 1920-21 depression, so this is of some interest to me. Can't go tomorrow - I'm at home with a sick kid while mommy is away on business. The book isn't out yet so of course I haven't read it, but I found this claim of from the write up about the AEI event interesting:
"Grant considers 1920–21 to have been “the last governmentally untreated business depression in America,” yet “by late 1921, a powerful jobs-filled recovery was under way.” This history offers a sharp contrast to and skeptical look at the hyperactive central banking and regulation of our own time."
The Fed wasn't active? In fact the Fed was so active during this episode that Marvin Goodfriend (formerly Richmond Fed, now Carnegie Melon) said of the events that "It is no exaggeration to say that the Fed was traumatized by its first use of interest rate policy."

It is nice he doesn't ascribe the recovery to Harding's fiscal stimulus because (1.) that came on the tax side after the recovery was underway, and (2.)... on the spending side the fiscal story is even more confusing to entertain because Wilson reduced spending much more than Harding but the timing is all wrong for people that want to make this an "expansionary austerity" story. That doesn't stop people from talking up Harding of course. I've got nothing against Harding really, I just don't think he has all that much to do with it. It's really a Fed + natural bounce-back story as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Anybody that likes John Papola's new video on Elysium needs to google "colonialism".

I just haven't complained about Papola for a while, that's all.

Do people really walk away from that movie thinking it's a criticism of capitalism and technology?