Bleg: The role of unions

I see that Bloomberg is stating that Economists are changing their minds about unions – moving from seeing them negatively to seeing them positively.

Unions are an interesting topic, but are also inseparable from a discussion about the relative welfare state and competition policy embedded in a nation.  Nordic and German trade unions are quite different from the trade unions of the US, UK, and Australiasia – and any evaluation of an institution in this way requires a model that allows us to represent the institution relative to other institutions in the economy, the way individuals behaviour relates to that, and how the outcomes for individuals will vary.

So does anyone want to do some of that in the comments below?  I will hopefully be writing up some things on these issues over time – but as a starting point for discussion I will put up this oversimplification.  Unions help to correct issues of insufficient bargaining power for labour, but like any monopoly their existence leads to deadweight losses which hurt those outside of the unionised industry, and are unfair to capital owners in competitive markets.  Evaluating whether more unionisation is good relies on comparing the costs and benefits given in this oversimplification.

Off we go …

A bad econ model is better than the alternative

Let us talk about this.

https://twitter.com/Noahpinion/status/1041714463060049920

I will be using this model myself next week to talk about migration (opps post timing changed and that was already up), so lets have some fun talking about this.

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Migration and wages: A model that is wrong but useful

The link between migration and wages is complex and confusing – especially when it is often communicated about in different ways (eg are we talking about wage growth now with regards to monetary policy, wages in specific industries due to the changing make-up of the economy, or long-run real wages?).  And I can’t be much help here.

However, I think this is one place where carefully using the macroeconomic model taught in ECON101 can help us to think about the issues a little bit – especially if we are narrowing the question to only “what is the monetary policy consequences of changes in migration flows“.  Now this model is wrong, assumptions in it are wrong, the outcomes it describes aren’t forecasts – but it clearly articulates tendencies we observe following a change in economic circumstances which will hold in more realistic models, and clarifies assumptions that may make these tendencies false.  We have pointed at this before for monetary policy – but lets outline a bit more now.

It is a model for thinking about the potential consequences of something in a critical way – not something that we accept uncritically as truth.  To me this is pretty damned useful as a way to start thinking about something, so let’s do it!

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Are real wages lower than 40 years ago

While rolling around the internet I found the following:

Lets have a look shall we.

Interesting!  But something seems a bit off – surely this can’t be true!?  Let us investigate.

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Can we blame universities for inequality in educational attainment?

I can see where this article is coming from.  Inequality in educational attainment can translate into inequality in incomes.  If people from poor households have lower educational attainment then we have a generational link between low incomes, which implies lower income mobility.  This is something that we may find unjust.

Why do I say “may”, well this depends on the cause doesn’t it – why does this inequality exist.

Now I don’t disagree that educational attainment is associated with income inequality, and the narrowing of gaps in educational attainment has been associated with lower income inequality.  I also don’t disagree that, looking at a person in isolation, lower mobility can be associated with lower opportunity.

But I am from a low income area and I am not sure we can blame universities for the fact that they primarily have students from higher deciles.

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Bleg: Is this due to capitalism?

I hear this sort of thing a lot – and want to hear your views.  I will give a view in the future.

Also we used to just play Sim City 2000 in economics class at high school and I thought it would be cool if the individuals in the city followed rules – something they talked about for the latest Sim City but didn’t really do.  So remember any model we build to explain this is sort of like that, just maybe less entertaining with a dearth of colourful sounds.