Why Initiative 77 Does Not Mean the End of Tipping

Recently voters in Washington D.C. voted for Initiative 77.  The vote was not particularly close: 55% voted for the initiative and 45% voted against it.  The initiative changes minimum wage laws in the District two ways.  First, it increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 and then boosts the minimum wage by inflation after that.  Second, the initiative slowly increases the minimum wage for tipped employees so that by 2026 they receive the same minimum wage as any other worker. Continue reading

What Percent of the World is in Poverty?

Is poverty growing or shrinking around the world?  The World Bank a few months ago released new data to answer this question.  The picture from the new data is very heartening.  The number of poor people around the globe is rapidly shrinking. Continue reading

How big will the market be for betting on sports?

The Supreme Court on May 14 struck down a 25-year federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada.  The big question on many minds – particular state officials and companies like MGM Resorts and DraftKings looking to cash in – is how much money is at stake. Many of the articles on the decision cite the same eye-popping figure: Americans wager an estimated US$150 billion in illegal sports bets every year. Continue reading

Is the USA at full employment now?

The latest jobs report has gotten a lot of analysts, policymakers and talking heads once again asking whether the U.S. is at full employment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on May 4 that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent, which is the lowest level since December 2000. The unemployment rate includes anyone 16 or older who is actively searching for work in its calculation, which means students, retirees and others not in the labor force are excluded. Continue reading

Should you insure that trip or TV? Here’s what an economist would do

You can buy insurance for practically anything these days.  Planning a vacation to France? Your airline, travel agent or even hotel will likely offer trip insurance in case you need to change your dates or cancel. Going to the casino? You can insure your blackjack hand in case it’s not your lucky day.

Recently, I was even asked if I wanted to pay US$20 to insure a pair of $80 ice skates beyond the three-month warranty or $12 to protect a $40 television cable for a “lifetime” of protection – a quarter of each product’s price in exchange for extra “peace of mind.” But is it really worth paying the extra money? Here’s how an economist like me would answer that question. Continue reading

Wow, high end restaurants have changed what they serve over time!


My investigation on changes in the price of going to the prom in the Wall Street Jorurnal (see here) got a number of comments and emails.  The most interesting email came from Marie Concannon.  She is one of the head librarians at the University of Missouri.  Ms. Concannon created a web site called “Prices and Wages by Decade” (click here).  It contains links to the retail prices for all sorts of things that people buy like food, clothing, transportation, housing and education. Continue reading

The Prom and the Wall Street Journal

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article discussing my Prom Price Index (article is here).  For those of you who are new readers, I have been creating an index that tracks the change in the price of going to the Prom since 2014.  The updated 2018 index is found on this blog under the “Data Files” heading or by clicking here. Continue reading

Should NBA Teams Really Shoot More 3s?

The NBA playoffs are about to begin.  Sports announcers and writers again will hype the game, especially long shots from outside the three point arc.  The common refrain I hear is that teams should take more 3 pointers because they are worth 50% more than 2 pointers.

This statement while factually correct is just plain wrong. Continue reading

How to deal with life’s risks more rationally

The world is an uncertain and risky place. The news constantly bombards us with scary situations from school shootings to gruesome murders.  Risk is everywhere and associated with everything. For example, the Center for Disease Control a decade ago estimated over 20 million people a year ended up in emergency rooms because of bathroom injuries. Continue reading

OSU Alumni Magazine

The current issue (Spring 2018) of Ohio State’s alumni magazine has a two page interview with me (click here for the online version).  Alumni were asked to send in any kind of question about the economy.  My favorite question was by Kamilah King class of 2011, who asked “What are some of the basic economics concepts or principles that you wish students were taught before attending college?”

Continue reading

Should We Get Rid of the Penny?

Today’s Wall Street Journal (March. 19, 2017, page R1; online version is here) printed  an article I wrote.  They asked me to be part of a debate on “Should the U.S. Retire the Penny and Nickel?”  I took the “no” side.  This is a follow on article from the piece I wrote for TheConversation back in August 2017 (see the original piece here) that advocated the same idea.  Because of space limits the Wall Street Journal edited down my piece.  Below is the unedited version: Continue reading

What is March Madness – and the nonprofit that manages the mayhem?

The annual college basketball spectacle known as March Madness has arrived.  Millions of people will tune in to the three-week tournament to see who’s the best team in the U.S. And millions more will wager a few bucks to take part in an office pool in which they try to pick the winner. Even presidents have been known to take part in the madness.  But behind the hype is a lot of cash. Just as journalists are trained to follow the money, so are economists like me. So let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Does college turn people into liberals?

Does going to college make students into political liberals?  Conservative activists have claimed that universities brainwash students and indoctrinate them into believing a liberal ideology. The line of reasoning goes like this: Liberal college professors tell students “what to think,” and “what to think” is that conservatives and their positions are to be dismissed. A state lawmaker in Iowa has even suggested universities consider political affiliation in connection with hiring practices in order to balance out the distribution of political representation on the faculty. Continue reading

Macron’s pledge to wipe out coal is just as meaningless as Trump’s plan to revive it

In a speech at the 2018 World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, French President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to “make France a model in the fight against climate change” and promised to shut all coal-fired power plants by 2021 – two years earlier than the timetable put forward by his predecessor.

While Macron’s move is mainly symbolic since France only generates about 2.2 percent of its power from coal, it signals his government is actively trying to wean itself off fossil fuels in sharp contrast to the current policy of his U.S. counterpart. “We have finally ended the war on coal,” pretty much sums up American policy these days, as President Donald Trump declared in a recent speech. Continue reading

Is there a simple way to reduce credit card fraud?

Credit card fraud is a major problem, which costs billions each year.  Banks and credit card issuers have tried a number of ways to reduce the fraud.  Recent examples are the rollout of cards with computer chips.  Cards with chips are more secure for in-person transactions.  Unfortunately, chipped cards are no more secure than older cards without a chip for remote transactions, such as paying for something over the phone or buying something on the Internet. Continue reading

Do Ethical People Finish Financially First or Last?

It is almost Christmas time and the song “Santa Claus is coming to town” keeps playing over and over.  For me the key lines of this ear-worm are “He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.”  The song clearly states doing the right thing leads to more gifts on Christmas day.

I have been puzzling over these lyrics for years and wondered if the lines are true.  Outside of Christmas does being ethical and honest lead a person to riches or poverty?  While the debate has lasted a long time, only recently have actual data been gathered that can answer the question.  My recently published analysis contained results that surprised me; only a few ethical and unethical acts were associated with financial changes. Continue reading

Why does the price of turkeys fall just before Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a great U.S. holiday during which people consume huge quantities of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie.  One of the stranger things about this holiday, however, is that a few days before everyone starts cooking, whole turkeys are suddenly discounted by supermarkets and grocery stores. Continue reading

GOP plan to tax college endowments like Yale’s and Harvard’s would be neither fair nor effective

Tucked away in the recently announced GOP tax bill is a small item you may have missed: a new tax on university endowments. As I have spent decades working in higher education, the proposal immediately piqued my interest.

Colleges create endowments by raising funds from alumni, companies and other donors, invest the money in stocks, bonds and other assets, and use the returns to fund student aid programs, professors’ salaries and any other expenses needed to run a college. Republicans want to slap a 1.4 percent tax on certain endowments’ investment income, also known as their returns. Continue reading

Puerto Rico – you don’t count……to the U.S. government

Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September destroying homes, crops and communications. Many weeks later, less than 20 percent of the electricity has been restored, and no one really knows when the rest of the island will regain power.

How much did the devastation caused by these storms on Puerto Rico impact key U.S. mainland indicators like GDP, unemployment and inflation?  The answer might surprise you; not at all.

How Does The U.S. Government Handle Puerto Rican Numbers?

Branches of the U.S. government that collect statistics generally do not include Puerto Rico in national totals.  For example, the U.S. Census Bureau has calculated Puerto Rico’s population since 1910.  It even lists the island’s almost 4 million people along with the population of the other 50 states.  However, the total population of the U.S. does not include the island’s people unless they move to the mainland.

GDP shows the size of a country’s economic pie.  The U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis tracks U.S. GDP at a very detailed geographic level.  If you want to know the GDP of Oshkosh, Wisconsin ($10 billion in 2016) or Altoona, Pennsylvania ($5 billion), the U.S. government has you covered.

What they don’t track is Puerto Rico.  This is strange since the Bureau does track the GDP of four smaller U.S. territories.  Data are published annually for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Mariana Islands.  The press release discussing territorial GDP does not explain why Puerto Rico isn’t part of the list.

One reason might be that Puerto Rico produces its own numbers.  However, Puerto Rico produces Gross National Product (GNP) figures. The U.S. mainland tracks Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  While the two sound alike, they are not comparable.  GNP measures what Puerto Ricans produce where ever they live.  GDP tracks what is produced within the U.S. borders irrespective of citizenship or immigration status of the worker.

Unemployment and Prices

Other important economic data are information on unemployment and inflation, which are produced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Like population, the unemployment figures for Puerto Rico are calculated and released along with other states.  However, Puerto Rican numbers are not included in the national total, which means Maria’s destruction of jobs and businesses will have no impact on U.S. unemployment.

Just as interesting is the region in which the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies Puerto Rico.  The Caribbean island is part of the New York-New Jersey region.  It is not part of something geographically close like Florida.

Hurricane Maria has raised the price of food and other necessities on the island.  However, the hurricane will not impact U.S. mainland inflation.  U.S. inflation figures are calculated by changes in the Consumer Price Index or CPI.  The U.S. CPI collects prices from 87 cities.  None of those cities is in Puerto Rico.

Conclusion

Does Puerto Rico count at all in U.S. statistics?  The answer seems to be summed up by the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA.  The CIA publishes an amazing statistical resource called the CIA World Factbook.  The Factbook provides a fast and simple method of tracking key statistics needed to understand the political, economic and military capability of any country.  The CIA has a separate entry for Puerto Rico, which they consider “a self-governing commonwealth in political association with the US.”

Overall, there is no impact on the U.S.’s GDP, unemployment or inflation after the extensive devastation of Hurricane Maria since Puerto Rico is not included in the calculation of key economic data.

Is there any silver lining to being ignored by the U.S. government?  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not care about Puerto Rico. Island residents do not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on their earnings.  This means there is at least one upside to being overlooked by Washington.