I have been the Managing Editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives since the first issue in Summer 1987. The JEP is published by the American Economic Association, which decided a little more than a decade ago–to my delight–that the journal would be freely available online, from the current issue all the way back to the first issue. You can download individual articles or entire issues, and it is available in various e-reader formats, too. Here, I’ll start with the Table of Contents for the just-released Fall 2023 issue, which in the Taylor household is known as issue #146. Below that are abstracts and direct links for all of the papers. I will probably blog more specifically about some of the papers in the few weeks, as well.
Symposium on After the Pandemic
“Why Did the Best Prepared Country in the World Fare So Poorly during COVID?” by Jennifer B. Nuzzo and Jorge R. Ledesma
Though all countries struggled to respond to COVID-19, the United States’ poor performance during the pandemic was unexpected. Despite having more pandemic preparedness capacities than other countries, the United States experienced more than one million COVID-19 deaths, which has contributed to historic declines in national life expectancy. Though some have raised questions as to whether preparedness capacities matter, data that appropriately address cross-country differences in age structure and surveillance approaches show that higher levels of national preparedness was associated with reduced mortality during the pandemic. The United States, however, stands out as a clear outlier in COVID-19 mortality comparisons with other highly prepared countries. We subsequently discuss and summarize the specific gaps in US pandemic preparedness that may have hampered COVID-19 responses in the country. Additional data and research are urgently needed to more accurately understand why the US did not make better use of its prepandemic advantages.
“The Evolution of Work from Home,” by José María Barrero, Nicholas Bloom and Steven J. Davis
Full days worked at home account for 28 percent of paid workdays among Americans 20–64 years old, as of mid-2023. That’s about four times the 2019 rate and ten times the rate in the mid-1990s. We first explain why the big shift to work from home has endured rather than reverting to prepandemic levels. We then consider how work-from-home rates vary by worker age, sex, education, parental status, industry and local population density, and why it is higher in the United States than other countries. We also discuss some implications for pay, productivity, and the pace of innovation. Over the next five years, US business executives anticipate modest increases in work-from-home rates at their own companies. Other factors that portend an enduring shift to work from home include the ongoing adaptation of managerial practices and further advances in technologies, products, and tools that support remote work.
“COVID-19, School Closures, and Outcomes,” by Rebecca Jack and Emily Oster
This article discusses the question of data and our perspective on the importance of public, accessible, and contemporaneous data in the face of public crisis. Then, we present data on the extent of school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, both globally and within the United States. We describe the available data on the degree of these closures, which will provide a set of resources for studying longer-term consequences as they emerge. We also highlight what we know about the demographic patterns of school closures. We then discuss the emerging estimates of the short-term impacts of school closures. A central finding throughout our discussion is that school closures during the pandemic tended to increase inequality, both within and across countries, but that fully understanding the long-run impact of COVID-related school closures on students will take time and will surely be influenced by events and policies in the next few years.
Symposium on Wealth
“Changes in the Distribution of Black and White Wealth since the US Civil War,” by Ellora Derenoncourt, Chi Hyun Kim, Moritz Kuhn and Moritz Schularick
The difference in the average wealth of Black and white Americans narrowed in the first century after the Civil War, but remained large and even widened again after 1980. Given high levels of wealth concentration both historically and today, dynamics at the average may not capture important heterogeneity in racial wealth gaps across the distribution. This paper looks into the historical evolution of the Black and white wealth distributions since Emancipation. The picture that emerges is an even starker one than racial wealth inequality at the mean. Tracing, for the first time, the evolution of wealth of the median Black household and the gap between the typical Black and white household over time, we estimate that the majority of Black households only began to dispose of measurable wealth around World War II. While the civil rights era brought substantial wealth gains for the median Black household, the gap between Black and white wealth at the median has not changed much since the 1970s. The top and the bottom of the wealth distribution show even greater persistence, with Black households consistently over-represented in the bottom half of the wealth distribution and under-represented in the top-10 percent over the past seven decades.
“Why Do Retired Households Draw Down Their Wealth So Slowly?” by Eric French, John Bailey Jones and Rory McGee
Retired households, especially those with high lifetime income, decumulate their wealth very slowly, and many die leaving large estates. The three leading explanations for the “retirement savings puzzle” are the desire to insure against uncertain lifespans and medical expenses, the desire to leave bequests to one’s heirs, and the desire to remain in one’s own home. We discuss the empirical strategies used to differentiate these motivations, most of which go beyond wealth to exploit additional features of the data. The literature suggests that all the motivations are present, but has yet to reach a consensus about their relative importance.
“Where Does Wealth Come From? Measuring Lifetime Resources in Norway,” by Sandra E. Black, Paul J. Devereux, Fanny Landaud and Kjell G. Salvanes
In this paper, we use comprehensive administrative data on the population of Norway to create a measure of lifetime resources, which generates several stylized facts. First, lifetime resources are highly correlated with net wealth, but net wealth is more unequally distributed. Second, labor income is the most important component of lifetime resources, except among the top 1 percent where capital income and capital gains on financial assets become important. Lastly, lifetime resources are a better predictor of child human capital outcomes than net wealth, suggesting that, in some cases, inequality in lifetime resources may be more relevant than inequality in wealth.
“The Importance of Financial Literacy: Opening a New Field,” by Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell
We undertake an assessment of our two decades of research on financial literacy, building on our empirical research and theoretical work casting financial knowledge as a form of investment in human capital. We also draw on recent data to determine who is the most—and least—financially savvy in the United States, and we highlight the similarity of our results in other countries. A number of convincing studies is now available, from which we draw conclusions about the effects and consequences of financial illiteracy, and what can be done to fill these gaps. We conclude by offering our thoughts on implications for teaching, policy, and future research.
Symposium on the Electricity Grid
“Transmission Impossible? Prospects for Decarbonizing the US Grid,” by Lucas W. Davis, Catherine Hausman and Nancy L. Rose
Encouraged by the declining cost of grid-scale renewables, recent analyses conclude that the United States could reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 at relatively low cost using currently available technologies. While the cost of renewable generation has declined dramatically, integrating these renewables would require a large expansion in transmission to deliver that power. Already there is growing evidence that the United States has insufficient transmission capacity, and current levels of annual investment are well below what would be required for a renewables-dominated system. We describe a variety of challenges that make it difficult to build new transmission and potential policy responses to mitigate them, as well as possible substitutes for some new transmission capacity.
“The Economics of Electricity Reliability,” by Severin Borenstein, James Bushnell and Erin Mansur
The physics of an electrical grid requires that the supply injected into the grid is always in balance with the quantity consumed. If that balance is not maintained, cascading outages are likely to disrupt supply to all consumers on the grid. In the past, vertically integrated monopoly utilities have ensured that supply is adequate to meet demand and maintain grid stability, but with deregulation of generation, assuring adequate supply has become much more complex. The unique characteristics of electricity distribution means that there are immense potential externalities among market participants from supply shortfalls. In this paper, we discuss the institutions that US electricity markets have developed to avoid such destabilizing supply shortfalls when there are multiple generators and retailers in the market. Though many of the markets rely on standardized requirements for supplier reserves, we conclude that recent technological progress may steer future evolution towards a system that relies to a greater extent on economic incentives.
Symposium on Economics Career Paths
“The Economics Profession’s Socioeconomic Diversity Problem,” by Anna Stansbury and Robert Schultz
It is well-documented that women and racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the economics profession, relative to both the general population and other academic disciplines. Less is known about the socioeconomic diversity of the economics profession. In this paper, we use data on parental education from the Survey of Earned Doctorates to examine the socioeconomic background of US economics PhD recipients, as compared to other disciplines. We find that economics PhD recipients are substantially more likely to have highly educated parents, and less likely to have parents without a college degree, than PhD recipients in other non-economics disciplines. This is true for both US-born PhD recipients and non-US-born PhD recipients, but is particularly stark for the US-born. The gap in socioeconomic diversity between economics and other PhD disciplines has increased over the last five decades, and particularly over the last two decades.
“Early Career Paths of Economists inside and outside of Academia,” by Lucia Foster, Erika McEntarfer and Danielle H. Sandler
Economics job candidates face considerable professional and financial uncertainties when deciding between academic and nonacademic career paths. Using novel panel data, we provide a broad picture of PhD economists’ early career mobility and earnings growth—both in and outside of academia. We find that academic jobs have fallen to just over half of US placements, with growing shares in tech, consulting, and government. We document considerable early career job mobility and higher earnings growth among job changers, private-sector economists, and men. We also find an earnings premium for graduates of top-ranked PhD programs that grows over early career years in academia while shrinking in the private sector. These different earnings dynamics mean the opportunity cost (in terms of potential earnings) of remaining in academia is generally less for graduates of top-ranked programs, although there is significant dispersion in mid-career earnings among these academics.
“Retrospectives: Margaret Reid, Chicago, and Permanent Income,” by Evelyn L. Forget
Margaret Gilpin Reid (1896–1990) began her career as a home economist and, with Dorothy Brady, Milton and Rose Friedman, played a central role in the development of the permanent income hypothesis at Chicago. Reid was the first woman to be elected Fellow of the American Economic Association, and was a key figure in the empirical tradition at the University of Chicago. This article examines the opportunities and constraints that shaped her career.
“Recommendations for Further Reading,” by Timothy Taylor