Krugman’s blog, 1/8 and 1/9/16

There were three posts on 1/8 and one on 1/9.  The first post on 1/8 was “Fitbitten (Personal and Trivial):”

This strikes me as going overboard: Users Are Suing Fitbit Over Inaccurate Heart Monitors. Maybe there’s a legal case, but people should know better. The laser system supposedly works OK for moderate exercise, but it stands to reason that it would have trouble dealing with the sweat and jiggling of hard cardio.

My own experience — yes, I’ve joined the annoying tracker trend — does correspond to the complaints. When doing cardio I also put on a chest strap monitor; the Fitbit does tend to understate heart rate when I’m pushing into the 80+ percent of maximum range.

So why bother with the tracker at all? It’s all about the guilt — even if it’s inaccurate, it pushes me to do a lot more exercise, especially walking and climbing stairs, than I would otherwise. And now that I get senior discounts on New Jersey Transit and letters from Social Security about my benefits, I need all the guilt-tripping I can get.

The second post on 1/8 was “Economists and Inequality:”

I’m a few days late on this characteristically lucid Justin Fox column on why it took so long for economists to focus on income inequality. But as one of the economists who did write about inequality — especially the rise of the one percent — pretty early, I think Fox has missed one important aspect: it’s a hard issue to model.

Let me back up a bit. There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of income distribution analysis you might want to conduct. One involves the factor distribution of income — capital versus labor, and highly educated versus less educated labor. Economists never lost sight of that issue, which is a classic concern — it’s actually a major theme in David Ricardo, and can be modeled in terms of good old marginal productivity theory. In my original home field, trade, debates about the effects of trade on the education premium were a major concern all through the 1990s.

The other involves the personal distribution of income and wealth. Why are investment bankers paid so much? Why did the gap between CEOs and the average worker widen so much after 1980?

And here’s the thing: we really don’t know how to model personal income distribution — at best we have some semi-plausible ad hoc stories. Part of why Piketty made such a big splash was that he offered a sketch of a model of wealth inequality that tied it into broader macro numbers — r-g and all that — which gave all of us something systematic to talk about. But he himself concedes that the big rise in inequality so far has come from a surge in the right tail of earnings, which may have had something to do with norms, but in any case isn’t well explained by any model we have right now.

It’s worth noting that we’re not just talking about a problem of Anglo-Saxon neoclassical types. Nobody has a good handle on personal distribution. Marx is all about factor distribution — his book is titled Capital, not The One Percent — and there’s nothing there that helps make sense of the past 30 years.

But, you may say, shouldn’t you study important issues even if you don’t have neat models? Well, yes, but ability to say something interesting does affect research topics, and that’s even justified up to a point. Remember Raymond Chandler:

Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest.

True, at this point, economists are doing much more on personal income distribution; mainly it’s empirical, part of the data revolution in the field. And that’s a good thing. But they have a better excuse than you might think for not doing more of this earlier.

The last post on 1/8 was “Foot Fetishism:”

The business about Marco Rubio’s boots is, of course, incredibly stupid. But it’s part of a pattern — as David Roberts says,

Cool that one of the major parties in earth’s most powerful country is utterly dominated by sexual insecurities.

I’m surprised that nobody I’ve read has brought up a previous incident, when Rick Perry stopped wearing cowboy boots because of back problems — and the Republican land commissioner got upset:

I lament the fact that our governor could now pass for a West Coast metrosexual and has embarrassed us all with his sartorial change of direction.

One interesting implication for the general: if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, Republicans won’t be able to use their usual tactic of accusing their opponent of effeminacy. They’re surely try the opposite tactic, and accuse her of being unwomanly and more. But it will be very different from the past.

Nah, Paul, Hillary is an evil, librul dyke doncha know…

The one post on 1/9 was “Stephanopoulizing:”

Glenn Hubbard and I will be on This Week tomorrow. I believe that we’re talking about The Force Awakens. Also Marco Rubio’s boots. Possibly some economics.


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