·July 17, 2018
The antitrust efforts to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner are particularly consequential because they represent the first time in decades in which the Department of Justice attempted to block a vertical merger.
- The link between AT&T and Time-Warner is a vertical one combining firms at different levels of the production and distribution chain. Antitrust merger cases usually focus on horizontal mergers where two (or more) firms that directly compete with each other with products that are very similar combine into one company.
- Early in the history of antitrust, vertical combinations were viewed as potentially anticompetitive as horizontal ones. But official concern over vertical mergers has waned over the past several decades and prosecution of such mergers has been virtually non-existent. This reflects the rise of a consensus articulated powerfully by Robert Bork in The Antitrust Paradox, his influential 1978 book.
- However, economic analysis has moved on and there are good reasons to recognize that vertical mergers can pose anticompetitive threats. The rise of game theory and a deeper analysis of imperfectly competitive markets — combined with the experience of real-world business people — have provided new insights into how vertical mergers can impact competition and ultimately affect consumers.
There is no doubt that the AT&T-Time-Warner case is complicated. While there are potential efficiencies and consumer benefits, there are also justifiable concerns that the merger could substantially lessen competition both to the harm of consumers and in violation of the antitrust laws. Hopefully, as this case continues to unfurl and if new ones follow, the legal profession and our courts will begin to recognize that the economics of antitrust has changed; that analysis based on imperfect competition and strategic interaction are most relevant to real world cases; and that only a careful assessment of the facts in each case and not a blanket presumption of good or bad will produce good outcomes.
·July 11, 2018
President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court raises legitimate questions about the future of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. A careful accounting of the potential impact of reversing Roe requires understanding the effects Roe had in the first place. The legalization of abortion reduced births in the U.S., with larger reductions in some regions and demographic groups. As a result, it altered the pattern of living circumstances and subsequent life outcomes of the population of children born after abortion became legal.
- Before the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion had already been legalized three years earlier in New York, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii through legislation, and in California abortions were legal as a result of a state Supreme Court decision.
- My research compared patterns in birth rates across the states that legalized abortion early relative to those that legalized via the Roe decision to estimate the impact of the policy change on births. Differences in birth rates between those two groups of states were relatively stable in the 1960s, when abortion was largely illegal in the entire country (see chart). In 1971, however, birth rates dropped by around 5 percent in those five states that had legalized abortion relative to the other states. In 1974, after the Roe decision was handed down, that difference was reversed -- as birth rates fell in states where abortion had just become legal -- and then it stabilized once again. Based on these calculations, we estimate that roughly 125,000 fewer births occurred annually because of the Roe decision.
- Births to teens and to black women fell by around 12 percent. Births to women between 35 and 44 fell at a rate twice the national average and the impact on unmarried women was twice as great as it was for married women. Births among women living in states near those that offered legal abortions declined much less in response to Roe because, in effect, many of them already had access to legal abortion via travel.
- Evidence shows that those children who were not born as a result of abortion legalization in the early 1970s would have been more likely to die as an infant, grow up in a lower income, single parent household, or receive public assistance. When those children grew up, they would have acquired less education and been more likely to receive welfare and be single parents.
- The world is a different place than it was 45 years ago, and this makes it difficult to draw sharp parallels with past experience. For instance, long-acting contraception did not exist and it is now becoming more popular. Air travel is also much cheaper (after adjusting for inflation) than it was in the era of a regulated airline industry.
Our nation’s experience with the legalization of abortion almost 50 years ago provides insight into what we might expect to happen if Roe v. Wade were reversed and states were allowed to set their own abortion policies. The more states that keep abortion legal, the smaller would be the impact on births. If many states outlaw abortion, previous experience would indicate that, over time, as many as tens of thousands of children might be born who otherwise wouldn’t be. If the patterns that were present in the 1970s when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion at the national level continue to hold, those children are more likely to be born to unmarried women, teens, older women, and black women. They will have different living circumstances in childhood and later life outcomes compared to those children who will be born regardless of the policy change.
Crime and Criminal Justice
Crime and Criminal Justice
·June 29, 2018
Texas A&M University
Two-thirds of those released from prison are arrested again within three years
. Those who are employed are less likely to reoffend, and this correlation has led many to think that increasing access to jobs could be the key to reducing recidivism.
- Studies have found that individuals are less likely to reoffend if they happen to be released at a time when the local low-skilled labor market is strong and when well-paying entry-level jobs are available.
- People with criminal records may need help overcoming obstacles to employment. One approach is through transitional job programs, which provide temporary, subsidized employment that is designed to transition hard-to-employ individuals (including people with criminal records) into private sector employment.
- However, a number of large randomized controlled trials have measured the effects of transitional job programs on subsequent employment and recidivism, and the results have been disappointing.
- How do we reconcile these results with the research showing that being released during a strong low-skilled labor market reduces recidivism? A key takeaway of those studies is that access to good jobs — not just any jobs — reduces recidivism.
Strong low-skilled labor markets appear to reduce recidivism, but several studies show that simply giving people a job through a transitional jobs program is ineffective. It appears to be difficult to mimic the power of strong labor demand through targeted interventions. Moving forward, it may be helpful to look beyond employment. Individuals who cycle through the criminal justice system have many needs that limit their work-readiness and drive continued criminal activity. Focusing interventions on those other needs, such as substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, or housing, could be more successful.
·June 27, 2018
House prices in many parts of the United States have recovered from their depths at the time of the financial crisis in 2008. But, has this recovery gone too far?
- Real national house prices were constant between 1980 and 1998, then rose by nearly 50 percent by 2006 and bottomed out in 2012, after an almost 30 percent drop. Since then, prices have recovered at the national level by nearly 25 percent (see chart).
- Several current factors are very different from the conditions that preceded the previous downturn. The rise in national house prices between 1998 and 2006 was accompanied by a commensurate rise in building permits which peaked just prior to the peak in house prices. This is consistent with a housing bubble where prices rise even though new housing supply increases substantially. The crash in prices also witnessed a crash in building permits. Permits have recovered ahead of prices but now are well below their peak in 2005. Current house sales are well below their peak at the height of the housing market cycle in 2005. While many families were struggling to make their mortgage payments just before the Great Recession, debt to income levels and delinquency rates are currently much lower than they were prior to the bust.
- However, national averages mask starkly different house price trends in cities across the country. The changes in house prices experienced by different cities present some marked contrasts. In San Francisco, for instance, house prices in 2018, were more than 230 percent above 1980 values. In contrast, prices in Las Vegas in 2018 were barely above those in 1980, and in Cleveland were nearly 20 percent below 1980 values (see top chart).
Measures of debt burdens and delinquency rates are indicative of a current housing market that is in a stronger position than at the peak of the recent housing boom in the early 2000s. So, while a crash in the near future is probably not likely, it is important to keep tabs on these fundamentals going forward. It is also important to recognize that while many of these statistics are at the national level, there is considerable variation across at the local and city levels across the country, so keeping track of trends for individual housing markets is also essential.
·June 20, 2018
Given the reliance on auto parts and labor from Canada and Mexico, an escalation of trade tensions is raising uncertainty for the U.S auto industry. My recent research finds that commonly held views of supply chain integration in automobile production among the three NAFTA countries understate the true depth of these linkages by a substantial extent. This suggests that imposing protectionist measures that disrupt the tight trade linkages in automobile production among NAFTA countries could cause greater economic disruption than what would be concluded based on traditional, lower estimates of international supply-chain integration.
- Over the last five years, motor vehicles have accounted for around 7 percent of U.S. manufacturing GDP and 13 percent of U.S. merchandise trade. The NAFTA partners play an outsized role with 60 percent of U.S. vehicle exports shipped to Canada and Mexico and 50 percent of U.S. vehicle imports arriving from them. The modern nature of global supply chains implies that a large chunk of this trade represents vehicle parts that are shipped back and forth across borders several times before being delivered to final consumers.
- In the face of global supply chains, the effects of trade restrictions on production-jobs spill over to other countries, often including the one that imposed the tariff or quota.
- The firms exporting vehicles from Mexico to the U.S. have set up very deep supply chains between the two countries — much deeper than previously thought. About 74 percent of all the foreign parts used by vehicle assemblers in Mexico that export to the U.S. are imported from the U.S. itself. In contrast, only 18 percent of the imported parts used by Mexican firms exporting to Germany come from the U.S. (see chart). Because the parts that come from the U.S. also include inputs from other countries, it is important to account for international trade along all stages of the supply chain. I estimate that thirty-eight percent of the value of the average finished vehicle exported from Mexico to the U.S. is American value returning home, more than double the 17 percent figure that had been commonly considered.
Accurate measurement of supply chain linkages is especially important to gauge how changes in trade policy ripple across country borders. The auto industry in North America appears to be much more integrated in terms of supply chains than previously thought. This implies that U.S. protectionism against its NAFTA partners may be the equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot, at least in the short-term, since many American jobs could be lost as consequence of hurting the Canadian and Mexican supply chains on which these jobs depend. In the long term, destroying supply chains will have detrimental effects on the efficiency and competitiveness of the North American economy derived from countries specializing on the production stages on which they are each most fit.