Department of Numbers

Monday November 28, 2011

Mobility by state — being stuck.

A smaller share of Americans moved last year that at any time on record... Nearly six in ten Americans live in the state where they were born, according to the U.S. Census bureau.

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Wednesday November 16, 2011

John Lanchester on Michael Lewis' Boomerang in the New York Review of Books. Sadly, the article is not online.

It is east to diagnose a basic failure of responsibility as one of the causes of the debt crisis; and there's no denying that such failures took place on the widest imaginable scale, from individuals up to governments.

I think, though, that the failure of responsibility was linked to a failure of agency — the individual's ability to affect the course of events. An enourmous number of people today feel as if they have very little economic agency in their own lives; often, they are right to feel that. The decisions that affect their fates are taken far above their heads, and often aren't conscious decisions at all, so much as they are the operation of large economic forces over which they have no control — impersonal forces whose effects are felt in directly personal ways.

It is difficult to feel responsible when you have no agency. Many of the people who did stupid things ... did so because everyone around them was doing them too, and because loud voices were telling them to carry on.

Too much debt exacerbated job losses during the recession. That's probably obvious to most, but now there's some empirical evidence for the effect.

We classified jobs into those that depend on the local economy — such as retail employees, waiters and barbers — and those that cater to the national or even the global economy, such as those involved in producing manufactured goods. (We labeled the local category "non-tradable" industries and the national or global category "tradable.")

If weak household balance sheets are responsible for a large share of job cuts, we expected losses in non-tradable industries to be much larger in U.S. counties with weak household balance sheets. That is exactly what we found. In counties in the top 10 percent of the 2006 household-debt distribution, employment in non-tradable industries declined 5.1 percent from 2007 to 2009. In the counties in the bottom 10 percent, the losses were only 0.3 percent.

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Monday November 7, 2011

Hard drive prices are rising due to the flooding in Thailand.

Clearly, rising prices are the far less important story given the flooding's toll on individuals, but it's been interesting to see people using Camelcamelcamel (a site I help run) to track consumer price changes in real-time as it becomes clear that production will significantly slow.

Wednesday November 2, 2011

We could use more scientists and engineers.

Over the past 25 years the total number of students in college has increased by about 50 percent. But the number of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields) has remained more or less constant. Moreover, many of today's STEM graduates are foreign born and are taking their knowledge and skills back to their native countries.