Economics

Credit is Not a Right [REVISED]

Credit is Not a Right [REVISED]
Forthcoming in volume edited by Tom Sorell and Luis Cabrera: Microfinance, Rights, and Global Justice. Cambridge University Press.

Gershman, John and Jonathan Morduch
09/15/2014

Muhammad Yunus, the microcredit pioneer, has proposed that access to credit should be a human right. We approach the question by drawing on fieldwork and empirical scholarship in political science and economics. Evidence shows that access to credit may be powerful for some people some of the time, but it is not powerful for everyone all of the time, and in some cases it can do damage. Yunus’s claim for the power of credit access has yet to be widely verified, and most rigorous studies find microcredit impacts that fall far short of the kinds of empirical assertions on which his proposal rests. We discuss ways that expanding the domain of rights can diminish the power of existing rights, and we argue for a right to non-discrimination in credit access, rather than a right to credit access itself.

 

Do Tax Credits Stimulate R&D Spending? The Effect of the R&D Tax Credit in its First Decade

Do Tax Credits Stimulate R&D Spending? The Effect of the R&D Tax Credit in its First Decade

Rao, Nirupama S.
03/08/2014

This paper examines the impact of the R&D tax credit between 1981-1991 using confidential IRS data from corporate tax returns. The key advances on previous work are an instrumental variables strategy based on tax law changes that addresses the simultaneity between R&D spending and its user cost and the use of new confidential data. Estimates imply that a ten percent reduction in the user cost of R&D leads the average firm to increase its research intensity—the ratio of R&D spending to sales—by 11 percent in the short-run. Long-run estimates imply that firms do face adjustment costs and further increase spending over the longer-run. Analysis of the components of qualified research shows that wages and supplies account for the bulk of the increase in research spending. Comparisons of the elasticity across firms of different sizes, industries, tax status, multi-national status and credit history are also made. Neither small nor young firms appear more responsive in the static analysis but the dynamic model reveals stronger short-run responses, suggesting that they may face lower adjustment costs or liquidity constraints in financing R&D. Long-run and retiming analyses show no evidence that firms allocate their qualified research spending over time to maximize their R&D tax credits. Elasticities of qualified and total research intensities from a smaller sample suggest firms respond to user cost changes largely by increasing their qualified spending, meaning that what R&D the federal credit deems qualified research is an important margin on which the credit affects firm behavior.

The Foreclosure Crisis and Community Development: Exploring the Foreclosed Stock in Hard-Hit Neighborhoods

The Foreclosure Crisis and Community Development: Exploring the Foreclosed Stock in Hard-Hit Neighborhoods
Housing Studies, forthcoming

Ingrid Gould Ellen, Josiah Madar, and Max Weselcouch
03/06/2014

As the foreclosure crisis continues, many communities are faced with a glut of properties that have completed the foreclosure process and are now owned by banks or other mortgage lenders. These properties, referred to as “real estate owned (REO),” often sit vacant for extended periods and, recent studies suggest, depress neighboring property values. They also impose significant costs on local governments, which must try to address the risk of crime, fire, and blight that vacant buildings pose. In addition, many worry that REO properties sold to unscrupulous short-term investors hasten neighborhood decline.

In this article we shed new light on the “REO problem” by studying the stock of REO properties at the neighborhood level in three urban areas: Fulton County, Georgia (which includes Atlanta), Miami-Dade County, Florida, and New York City. Using a combination of longitudinal administrative data sets on foreclosure filings, auction sales, and property transactions provided by local government sources, we identify every property transfer into REO ownership in recent years and all subsequent transfers of these properties. To explore the ongoing neighborhood and community development challenges, we divide census tracts into four groups based on their concentrations of REO properties as of the end of 2011. We then compare these neighborhood types across several dimensions. Because we use a uniform methodology for all three areas, we are also able to compare neighborhood groups across jurisdictions with the metrics we calculate.

We find several neighborhoods in Fulton County and Miami-Dade County with extremely high concentrations of REO properties as of the end of 2011, including some tracts with more than 100 REO properties. In New York City, however, REO concentrations are generally much lower, and no census tract had more than 12 REO properties. In all three jurisdictions, the neighborhoods with relatively high concentrations of REO properties are generally not the most distressed areas of their regions in terms of poverty and unemployment, but are still high-poverty and potentially vulnerable. Moreover, they are disproportionately black, highlighting the uneven impact the foreclosure crisis may be having on communities. Importantly, we find that that the number of REO properties in the hardest-hit neighborhoods of each area was declining as of the end of 2012 (or 2011, our latest year of data in Miami-Dade County), generally in line with the countywide or citywide trend in REO inventories, and that investors did not account for an appreciably higher proportion of purchasers of REO properties in the hardest-hit neighborhoods. Furthermore, few of the properties that were purchased by investors appear to have been “flipped” within a short period. On the other hand, we also find that those REO properties that remained in these cities as of the end of 2012 or 2011 (including those in hard-hit neighborhoods) had been in REO for a longer duration than was typical one year earlier, so the composition of the REO stock may shifting towards more problematic properties. Additionally, in Fulton County’s hardest-hit tracts REO properties made up about 40 percent of all sales in 2012, so were likely still exerting significant downward pressure on housing prices. Finally while the National Stabilization Program (NSP) may be improving neighborhoods in other ways, we find that only a negligible share of the REO sales in the hardest-hit tracts of Fulton and Miami-Dade Counties in 2010 and 2011 were to non-profit entities and developers using NSP funds.

The Price of Liquor is Too Damn High: State Facilitated Collusion and the Implications for Taxes

The Price of Liquor is Too Damn High: State Facilitated Collusion and the Implications for Taxes

Rao, Nirupama S. (with Chris Conlon)
12/02/2013

Alcohol markets are subject to both heavy regulation as well as excise taxes at the federal and state level. We examine the impact of particular state regulations on the structure of the alcohol market. We show that post and hold and meet but not beat pricing regulations at the wholesale level eliminate competitive incentives among whole-sellers and minimum retail markup rules at the retailer level e ectively allow whole-sellers to set retail price floors. Our model suggests that without any competitive incentives at the wholesale level, firms will set prices as if they were a single monopolist. Wholesalers will tend to mark up premium brands relative to call or well products. Regression results indicate that states featuring post and hold regulations consume 4% to 10% less alcohol than other states, suggesting that the regulations may over-restrict quantity. Tabulations suggest that premium products comprise a smaller share of consumption in post and hold states. This output gap due to collusive pricing leads any taxes levied on the liquor market to entail greater deadweight loss relative to a competitive wholesale market. We conduct an empirical analysis, where instead of providing wholesalers with market power, the state increases taxes to keep the overall level of alcohol consumption fixed. We also compute the deadweight loss of increasing taxation under both the existing scheme, and one with a competitive wholesale market. We find that the state of Connecticut could substantially increase taxes and tax revenues without affecting aggregate quantities if it repealed post and hold. Back of the envelope estimates suggest that Connecticut is forgoing over $300M in potential revenue from alcohol taxes in a competitive wholesale market.

Race and neighborhoods in the 21st century: What does segregation mean today?

Race and neighborhoods in the 21st century: What does segregation mean today?
Regional Science and Urban Economics (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.regsciurbeco.2013.09.006

De la Roca, Jorge, Ingrid Gould Ellen and Katherine M. O'Regan.
09/14/2013

Noting the decline in segregation between blacks and whites over the past several decades, some recent work argues that racial segregation is no longer a concern in the 21st century. In response, this paper revisits some of the concerns that John Quigley raised about racial segregation and neighborhoods to assess their relevance today. We note that while segregation levels between blacks and whites have certainly declined, they remain quite high; Hispanic and Asian segregation have meanwhile remained unchanged. Further, our analysis shows that the neighborhood environments of minorities continue to be highly unequal to those enjoyed by whites. Blacks and Hispanics continue to live among more disadvantaged neighbors, to have access to lower performing schools, and to be exposed to more violent crime. Further, these differences are amplified in more segregated metropolitan areas.

Economics, First Edition.

Economics, First Edition.
McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Karlan, Dean and Jonathan Morduch
09/06/2013

Built from the ground up to focus on what matters to students in today’s high-tech, globalized world, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Morduch’s Economics represents a new generation of products, optimized for digital delivery and available with the best-in-class adaptive study resources in McGraw-Hill’s LearnSmart Advantage Suite. Engagement with real-world problems is built into the very fabric of the learning materials as students are encouraged to think about economics in efficient, innovative, and meaningful ways.

Drawing on the authors’ experiences as academic economists, teachers, and policy advisors, a familiar curriculum is combined with material from new research and applied areas such as finance, behavioral economics, and the political economy, to share with students how what they’re learning really matters. This modern approach is organized around learning objectives and matched with sound assessment tools aimed at enhancing students’ analytical and critical thinking competencies. Students and faculty will find content that breaks down barriers between what goes on in the classroom and what is going on in our nation and broader world.

By teaching the right questions to ask, Karlan and Morduch provide readers with a method for working through decisions they’ll face in life and ultimately show that economics is the common thread that enables us to understand, analyze, and solve problems in our local communities and around the world.

Shifting the Burden: Examining the Undertaxation of Some of the Most Valuable Properties in New York City

Shifting the Burden: Examining the Undertaxation of Some of the Most Valuable Properties in New York City
Furman Center Policy Brief; July 2013

The Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy
07/02/2013

Some of New York City’s most valuable properties in its highest-cost neighborhoods are significantly and persistently undervalued, according to Shifting the Burden. The report identifies 50 individual co-ops in 46 buildings that were sold in 2012 for more than the New York City Department of Finance’s estimate of the market value of the entire building. This undervaluation has significant consequences for the distribution of tax burdens in New York City.

Do Small Schools Improve Performance in Large, Urban Districts? Casual Evidence from New York City

Do Small Schools Improve Performance in Large, Urban Districts? Casual Evidence from New York City
Journal of Urban Economics, 77: 27-40

Schwartz, A. E., Stiefel, L., & Wiswall, M.
04/10/2013

We evaluate the effectivness of small high school reform in the country's largest school district, New York City. Using a rich administrative datasest for multiple cohorts of students and distance between student residence and school to instrument for endogenous school selection, we find substantial heterogeneity in school effects: newly created small schools have positive effects of graduation and some other educational outcomes while older small schools do not. Importantly, we show that ignoring this source of treatment effect heterogeneity by assuming a common small school effect yields a misleading zero effect of small school attendance.

State Unemployment Insurance Trust Solvency and Benefit Generosity

State Unemployment Insurance Trust Solvency and Benefit Generosity
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32(3): 536-53.

Smith, Daniel L., and Jeffrey B. Wenger.
01/01/2013

This paper employs panel estimators with data on the 50 American states for the years 1963 to 2006 to test the relationship between Unemployment Insurance (UI) trust fund solvency and UI benefit generosity. We find that both average and maximum weekly UI benefit amounts, as ratios to the average weekly wage, are higher in states and in years with more highly solvent trust funds. This result holds after controlling for state-level unemployment rate, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), population growth, legislative political ideology, partisan control of the executive and legislative branches, and gubernatorial election year across multiple specifications, including fixed-effects and dynamic panel estimators. We propose a theory of moderate coupling as the causal mechanism, whereby UI program benefits and financing are directly related but are not as tightly linked as in other social insurance programs, such as Medicaid. The findings have important policy implications for the funding of states’ UI systems. As a consequence of moderate coupling, the countercyclicality of the UI program is dampened. 

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