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Still a Happy Tax Day

April 18th, 2011 . by economistmom

I wrote the largest check I’ve ever written to the IRS this weekend (I can’t even say how much–it’s so painful), but it was understandable given it was related to my withdrawal of my retirement savings to pay my legal and medical bills over the past year.  So I was devastated to see my bank account wiped out, but on the other hand still believe that my taxes pay for good things–and that what goes around, comes around.

I still believe in the vision of government that President Obama suggested in his speech the other day.  I have been pretty darn lucky in my lifetime so far, even as hard as the past couple years have been as I’ve gone through a divorce.  I got a good, public-school education and went all the way to getting my Ph.D., and I’ve never had a hard time finding work.  I have four beautiful kids who have also benefited from public schools and government-subsidized, employer-provided health care and who are very smart and healthy as a result.  And I know that most families struggle much, much more than I do, and that (as President Obama reminded us) “there but for the grace of God go I.”  I don’t consider the taxes I pay to be none of the government’s business.  I know that I’m paying my dues for government being there for me.  I know that if it turns out I am not so blessed in the future, there will be a safety net there for me and my kids.

So I still feel the way about taxes as I did five years ago when I wrote this piece for the Boston Globe.  There are still lots of good reasons for taxes and why we shouldn’t begrudge paying them today.

Headed to “Admitted Students Day” for Kid #2

April 17th, 2011 . by economistmom

My daughter, Emily, has been accepted into Sarah Lawrence College with a very nice merit scholarship of theirs–their “Presidential Scholarship.” We are headed up there today to check out the campus and the people. I am also going up there with a mission of getting us some need-based aid, because even a scholarship that would cover all the costs at an in-state, public university doesn’t even cover half of the costs of a Sarah Lawrence education. And yes, I really am “needy” now–having been through a divorce that has taken two years and depleted my entire retirement savings with the legal and medical (therapy) bills alone.

But back to the positive focus. My older daughter, Allie, is finishing her first year at Princeton, so my two older daughters’ college paths are likely to be as different as they are from each other. (Look them up in the U.S. News rankings and you’ll see part of what I mean–but don’t jump to simplistic conclusions just yet.)  It’s really wonderful that there are places seemingly “just right” for each of them. I recently wrote a column for the Christian Science Monitor related to these different types of students and the different kind of “human capital accumulation” that best brings out their talents–and how broad the definition of what makes us “valuable humans” really is. I’ll write more on this in a week or so, when I can share my CSM column and more on the David Brooks book that inspired it (as well as my kids who inspired it).

Why Are There No “Excellent Women” Among Economist Bloggers?

March 30th, 2011 . by economistmom

A friend of mine sent me a link to Matthew Kahn’s latest guest blog post on the Christian Science Monitor website; she sent it along with an “I believe in you” sort of note, because as Matthew was implicitly pointing out, I am not on the list of top economists to which he refers–while he is (as he explicitly points out).  He ponders (emphasis added):

REPEC provides an objective measure of who is “Royalty” in the economics profession. The current list of the top 5% is here. I am ranked #681 out of 27,365 economists so that’s not bad (and my 3 books aren’t counted here). But, here is the interesting part. There are 52 women who rank in the top 1000 and 0 of them blog. Contrast that with the men. Consider the top 100 men. In this elite subset; at least 8 of them blog. Consider the men ranked between 101 and 200. At least, six of them blog. So, this isn’t very scientific but we see a 7% participation rate for excellent male economists and a 0% participation rate for excellent women. This differential looks statistically significant to me. I have searched for Nancy Folbre among the top 1369 economists (the 5% cutoff) and she is not counted in the elite subset.

Not being a female economist himself, Matthew then theorizes–as men love to do–about why we women aren’t as able to be both “excellent” economists and blogging economists.

I find it ironic that Matthew’s blog post would appear on the Christian Science Monitor site in the same area that my guest blog posts do, and that the photo that goes with the CSM post is of…an Asian woman!  (Ok, a much younger Asian woman, but Asian nonetheless.)  Huh!  There’s a female economist blogger blogging right “next” to Matthew, right under his nose!

Oh, but I’m not an “excellent” female economist.

I think we female economists have our own empirical (not just theoretical) reasons why those of us who blog aren’t the same people as those of us who are at the top of the REPEC list.  In my case, it’s also closely related to why those of us (even non-excellent female economists) who blog don’t typically blog at the same frequency as the (even most excellent) male economists who blog.  It’s called we have and care about other things and people in our lives, not just our own individual, introspective views about how the supposed world around us supposedly works (in our own opinion)!  And that’s even things and people other than what Matthew counts so endearingly as the “home production” sort of things–you know, “cooking and rearing children.”

But yes, we female economists who happen to have families do typically end up doing most of the home production, as our typical husbands who are typically other economists typically are oblivious to what needs to get done.  You know, because the guys are so busy thinking their own deep, important thoughts about how the world swirling around them works, while in theory the guys are convincing themselves that they are the better, more successful, more “excellent” economists (or whatever they are professionally which they confuse with what defines them personally).

Which is why it should not be too hugely shocking that this particular non-excellent female economist who used to be married to an “excellent” male economist (top 5%, like Matthew!), is no longer married to that economist.

Objective, standardized statistics don’t always very accurately or comprehensively measure the quality (or “human capital”) of an economist–or a college applicant, or an economy as a whole, for that matter.  (I am working on a new column on this point for the Christian Science Monitor right now, actually.)  It’s actually part of a broader question and answer about why there aren’t more women in economics more generally (leaving aside whether they blog or not), or in other very quantitative fields for that matter.  It’s not just because we’re worse at math, by the way, because we’re not.  (Let me mention that my oldest daughter, now at Princeton, got a perfect math SAT score.)  It could be because we women often find disciplines that assume everything can be objectively, precisely, formulaically valued, very limiting at best and maybe downright wrong at worst.

And as to why this particular non-excellent female economist blogs, I’ve written about that before in a newsletter of the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP).  But perhaps this very blog post might make for more entertaining reading for CSWEP members than that column did.  ;)

To all you other “non-excellent” female economist bloggers, let me hear from you here!  Are we really not as “excellent” as our male counterparts?  Really?!

One Month’s Rent for One Night at the Vet Hospital

January 10th, 2011 . by economistmom

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My dog, Taco, a (speculated) chihuahua-dachshund-miniature pinscher mix dog I adopted in the fall of 2009 (as an estimated 8-month-old pup), came violently ill late last week from something that was delicious to him but ended up effectively “poisoning” him.  (The circumstances under which he got himself into that situation were beyond my control and will not be elaborated on here.)  I rushed him to the emergency vet late Friday night after he had very uncharacteristically refused food for over a day and couldn’t even hold down any water.

The emergency facility I took him to was incredible.  State-of-the-art technology, the best of trained veterinarians–and even a coffee bar in the waiting room(!).  Taco stayed overnight hooked up on IVs to rehydrate and medicate him, and was subjected to a battery of tests to rule out more serious conditions.  I received regular, comprehensive updates over the phone and also by email.  By Saturday afternoon, I was able to visit him (that’s when the photo above was taken), and by Saturday night–a bit less than 24 hours after his admission–he was able to come home with me.

The bill was a real shocker for me.  Nearly exactly equivalent to one month’s rent (which in the DC area isn’t very cheap).  And I don’t carry “pet health insurance.”  Was it worth it?  Of course.

I’ve explained how the health care market when it comes to demand for the care of one’s loved ones does not exactly follow economic theory, where one is supposed to compare marginal benefits with marginal cost.  In the case of health care for our loved ones, we ask what is the marginal cost?  And then, can I come up with that money?  I suppose that implicitly, we are saying the marginal benefits to us are infinite or at least priceless.

And as long as there are rich enough people around who willingly pay for these health services–even pet health services–out of their own pockets, then reforming health care even in the most efficient ways will not necessarily reduce overall health care costs as much as we might hope.  Health care is not like any other market.  There will always be a ton of demand for health care even when the out-of-pocket prices aren’t held artificially low by subsidized health insurance.

At Least My Dog Didn’t Die This Weekend

December 19th, 2010 . by economistmom

So the first time the Bush tax cuts were signed into law (by President George W. Bush), my beloved golden retriever “Sunny” (short for “Sunshine”) unexpectedly and very suddenly died in my backyard under her favorite tree.  This was on a rainy Saturday over Memorial Day weekend, 2001–making it a miserable, tragic weekend all around.

I’m relieved to report that at least my dog didn’t die this time around, now that President Obama has signed them into law and turned them into the “Obama tax cuts.”

From the signing ceremony (video above), there’s a lot of happy talk about “bipartisanship” and “compromise.”  But it’s easy to “compromise” when you don’t have to give up anything–when instead you just have to stop resisting what the other side wants.  As Vice President Biden explains (emphasis added):

The famed 18th century British statesman, Edmund Burke, once said, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”  Today, we have a crystal clear example of what he meant.

This package — this package is a result of leaders from both sides coming together to act on behalf of the American people at a time they need it most…

It means accepting some things we don’t like in order to get the job done for Americans as needs to be done.

But that’s not exactly the “barter”–or “give and take”–kind of “compromise.”  It’s the easier “take and take” kind that policymakers have mastered over the past decade that has resulted in such fiscally irresponsible policymaking, where seemingly-free deficit financing becomes the easiest “bipartisan” way out of gridlock.  As I’ve said before, it’s not mutual sacrifice; it’s mutual grabbing.

The President seems to know this was the easy part–”compromising” on a tax cut package that gave him all the deficit-financed tax cuts he wanted in exchange for just accepting a few more the other side wanted, too.  He said (emphasis added):

[W]e’ve got to make some difficult choices ahead when it comes to tackling the deficit. In some ways, this [tax cut deal/"compromise"] was easier than some of the tougher choices we’re going to have to make next year.

Yes, a LOT easier.  We can do this kind of policy making with our eyes closed.

But like I said (optimist that I am), at least my dog didn’t die.

Where Am I?

December 11th, 2010 . by economistmom

Don’t worry, I’m still here– still trying to keep up with the developments on the tax cut deal (and still have my opinions about it all)…. BUT preoccupied with my daughter Grace’s “Nutcracker week” (coming to a close this weekend) and about to leave for far, far away for a few days, very likely with no opportunity to blog.

Will be back next week sometime.  In the meantime, keep up with some of my fiscal policy musings on Concord’s website.

Update on a Couple Major Infrastructure Projects

October 19th, 2010 . by economistmom

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More than two years ago I blogged about a major infrastructure project I witnessed in its early stages while I was vacationing–the Hoover Dam bypass project.  Well, the project has just been completed, as I learned this weekend from the cover story in Parade Magazine.  Impressive story about its design and construction, and great photos–so check it out.

At the same time more than two years ago I likened my family to a major infrastructure project, as my husband and I were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary during that family vacation.  Well, just as one of these “major infrastructure projects” has been completed, the other is nearly finally dismantled.  I guess this is sort of my “coming out” as “Divorced Economist Mom.”  (At least a little more to come in the coming weeks and months, but that’s enough said for now.)

On a Pause This Week

August 24th, 2010 . by economistmom

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I am taking a break this week from my EconomistMom blog while my family life is especially busy–squeezing in what we can for the last two weeks of summer (and the last two weeks of living with my Princeton-bound daughter, Allie–pictured with me above) while I try to work on an issue brief for the Concord Coalition on–guess what?–the Bush/Obama tax cuts!

Because I can’t stand being quiet for so long, I thought I’d post a link to something I wrote earlier this year for a newsletter of the “Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession” (CSWEP)–which is part of the American Economic Association.  It’s an article called “I Blog, Therefore I Am (EconomistMom),” and you can find it here along with articles by Len Burman and Doug Holtz-Eakin.

I may come back a little bit over the next week but mainly to point out some things other people have written rather than provide any of my own original thoughts.

Happy Mother’s Day!

May 9th, 2010 . by economistmom

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there, but especially to my own mother–who has been an inspiration and a source of wisdom and strength for me my whole life!  (Sorry to put this up so late in the day, Mom; I know you’re probably going to bed already!)

Is a Princeton Education Worth the Price? I Hope So.

April 23rd, 2010 . by economistmom

A few weeks ago I posted on my daughter Allie’s college decision, and in particular the debate between going to in-state UVA and Ivy League Dartmouth.  That was before Allie got accepted into Princeton, and before she and her dad decided she would in fact accept her acceptance into Princeton.  It wasn’t exactly the careful weighing of costs versus benefits that I wanted to do with her before she made that decision, but I think it was more in keeping with how I once characterized how parents typically decide how to spend money on “investments” in their kids or how family members decide how to spend money on health care for their loved ones:  two questions, (1) is there any positive expected marginal benefit, and (2) can I come up with the money, somehow?  (not how does that marginal money/cost compare with that marginal benefit).

So for a couple days now I am here at Princeton with Allie for her “Princeton Preview” weekend, hoping to be constantly “WOWed” by everything Princeton has to offer, and hoping that come Sunday I will have decided that yes, the expected marginal benefit is high even relative to the (certain and high) marginal cost.  Oh, and I am also doing a lot of searching and begging for aid and any way to pay for it that we can find.  Because although our family is not considered “needy,” when it comes to the Princeton price tag, I still think we “need” a lot of help.  As the summer comes and the first bill due draws nearer, I’ll keep you posted on how we manage.

Meanwhile, I would love any Princeton alums to tell me all the wonderful ways in which your Princeton education clearly enhanced your lifetime income and any other “values” in your life.  Those who disagree, please keep quiet.  ;)

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