Acquisitions, Productivity, and Profitability: Evidence from the Japanese Cotton Spinning Industry

From Serguey Braguinsky, Atsushi Ohyama, Tetsuji Okazaki, Chad Syverson:

We explore how changes in ownership and managerial control affect the productivity and profitability of producers. Using detailed operational, financial, and ownership data from the Japanese cotton spinning industry at the turn of the last century, we find a more nuanced picture than the straightforward “higher productivity buys lower productivity” story commonly appealed to in the literature. Acquired firms’ production facilities were not on average less physically productive than the plants of the acquiring firms before acquisition, conditional on operating. They were much less profitable, however, due to consistently higher inventory levels and lower capacity utilization—differences that reflected problems in managing the uncertainties of demand. When purchased by more profitable firms, these less profitable acquired plants saw drops in inventories and gains in capacity utilization that raised both their productivity and profitability levels, consistent with acquiring owner/managers spreading their better demand management abilities across the acquired capital.

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It’s Where You Work: Increases in Earnings Dispersion across Establishments and Individuals in the U.S.

From Erling Barth, Alex Bryson, James C. Davis, Richard Freeman:

This paper links data on establishments and individuals to analyze the role of establishments in the increase in inequality that has become a central topic in economic analysis and policy debate. It decomposes changes in the variance of ln earnings among individuals into the part due to changes in earnings among establishments and the part due to changes in earnings within-establishments and finds that much of the 1970s-2010s increase in earnings inequality results from increased dispersion of the earnings among the establishments where individuals work. It also shows that the divergence of establishment earnings occurred within and across industries and was associated with increased variance of revenues per worker. Our results direct attention to the fundamental role of establishment-level pay setting and economic adjustments in earnings inequality.

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Does Privatized Health Insurance Benefit Patients or Producers? Evidence from Medicare Advantage

From Marika Cabral, Michael Geruso, and Neale Mahoney:

The debate over privatizing Medicare stems from a fundamental disagreement about whether privatization would primarily generate consumer surplus for individuals or producer surplus for insurance companies and health care providers. This paper investigates this question by studying an existing form of privatized Medicare called Medicare Advantage (MA). Using difference-in-differences variation brought about by payment floors established by the 2000 Benefits Improvement and Protection Act, we find that for each dollar in increased capitation payments, MA insurers reduced premiums to individuals by 45 cents and increased the actuarial value of benefits by 8 cents. Using administrative data on the near-universe of Medicare beneficiaries, we show that advantageous selection into MA cannot explain this incomplete pass-through. Instead, our evidence suggests that insurer market power is an important determinant of the division of surplus, with premium pass-through rates of 13% in the least competitive markets and 74% in the markets with the most competition.

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Beyond Ricardo: Assignment Models in International Trade

From Arnaud Costinot and Jonathan Vogel:

International trade has experienced a Ricardian revival. In this article, we offer a user guide to assignment models that have contributed to this revival, which we will refer to as Ricardo-Roy (R-R) models.

HT: Jonathan Dingel

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Skills, education, and the rise of earnings inequality among the “other 99 percent”

From David Autor:

The singular focus of public debate on the “top 1 percent” of households overlooks the component of earnings inequality that is arguably most consequential for the “other 99 percent” of citizens: the dramatic growth in the wage premium associated with higher education and cognitive ability. This Review documents the central role of both the supply and demand for skills in shaping inequality, discusses why skill demands have persistently risen in industrialized countries, and considers the economic value of inequality alongside its potential social costs. I conclude by highlighting the constructive role for public policy in fostering skills formation and preserving economic mobility.

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Polanyi’s Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth

From David Autor:

In 1966, the philosopher Michael Polanyi observed, “We can know more than we can tell… The skill of a driver cannot be replaced by a thorough schooling in the theory of the motorcar; the knowledge I have of my own body differs altogether from the knowledge of its physiology.” Polanyi’s observation largely predates the computer era, but the paradox he identified—that our tacit knowledge of how the world works often exceeds our explicit understanding— foretells much of the history of computerization over the past five decades. This paper offers a conceptual and empirical overview of this evolution. I begin by sketching the historical thinking about machine displacement of human labor, and then consider the contemporary incarnation of this displacement—labor market polarization, meaning the simultaneous growth of high-­‐‑ education, high-­‐‑wage and low-­‐‑education, low-­‐‑wages jobs—a manifestation of Polanyi’s paradox. I discuss both the explanatory power of the polarization phenomenon and some key puzzles that confront it. I then reflect on how recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics should shape our thinking about the likely trajectory of occupational change and employment growth. A key observation of the paper is that journalists and expert commentators overstate the extent of machine substitution for human labor and ignore the strong complementarities. The challenges to substituting machines for workers in tasks requiring adaptability, common sense, and creativity remain immense. Contemporary computer science seeks to overcome Polanyi’s paradox by building machines that learn from human examples, thus inferring the rules that we tacitly apply but do not explicitly understand.


HT: Marginal Revolution

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How to restart lending in Ukraine despite unfavorable macroeconomic and legal conditions


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