Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gender Pay Inequality

This is for the US, but the pay gaps are similar though smaller in Malaysia (excerpt):

Gender Wage Gap in Eight Charts

Most women will never earn as much as men in their lifetimes.

In Wyoming, it will take 144 years for equal pay, according to a recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that looked at trends in women’s employment and earnings. Other states with particularly high disparities included Louisiana, North Dakota and Utah. The state with the shortest wage gap, Florida, was still 23 years. And Washington, D.C. marks the best place for women’s employment and earnings, the report found, perhaps because it is small and urban. Still, the pay imbalance won’t close until 2055.

Tuesday marks national Equal Pay Day, an event from the National Committee on Pay Equity, a nonprofit advocacy group. The date represents how long into 2015 it would take a woman to earn what a man did in 2014.

Government Debt and FX Reserves

From Bloomberg via The Edge (excerpt):

Malaysia raising $2 billion as worst Asia currency saps reserves

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR (Apr 14): Malaysia is tapping the U.S. dollar bond market for the first time in four years as it burns through foreign-exchange reserves defending Asia’s worst currency.

The government is poised to sell as much as $2 billion of Islamic notes this week, one month after state-owned Petroliam Nasional Bhd. issued a record $5 billion of sukuk and conventional debt in the U.S. currency. Malaysia’s foreign currency holdings fell 9.4 percent this year, the steepest first-quarter loss since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The ringgit dropped 5.4 percent, compared with a 4.6 percent slump in the Indonesian rupiah.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Health and Inequality

From Bloomberg (excerpt):

More Proof That the Richer You Are, the Healthier You'll Be
At every step along the income ladder, higher income means lower prevalence of disease

No matter how much you earn, people who earn more than you are likelier to be healthier and live longer. That's the takeaway from a new report by researchers at the Urban Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University examining the complex links between health, wealth, and income.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that poverty is often associated with poor health. Less obvious: Health and income improve together all the way up the economic pyramid. The wealthiest have fewer illnesses than the upper-middle class, who are in better shape than the lower-middle class, and so on.

The Urban report analyzed a dozen health problems for which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recorded prevalence by family income. In every case, the rich are better off. With just a few exceptions, there's a steady improvement in health as you climb the income scale...

Just sayin'

Monday, April 6, 2015

More On The Role Of Parenting In Inequality

From The Economist magazine (excerpt):

Minding the nurture gap
Social mobility depends on what happens in the first years of life

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. By Robert Putnam. Simon & Schuster; 386 pages; $28 and £18.99.

THE most important divide in America today is class, not race, and the place where it matters most is in the home. Conservatives have been banging on about family breakdown for decades. Now one of the nation’s most prominent liberal scholars has joined the chorus.

Robert Putnam is a former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the author of “Bowling Alone” (2000), an influential work that lamented the decline of social capital in America. In his new book, “Our Kids”, he describes the growing gulf between how the rich and the poor raise their children….

Living Beyond One’s Means

Overspending is fairly straightforward when it comes to households. It’s a little more nuanced with corporates, but its a lot more convoluted when it comes to governments and nation states.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb, when it comes to governments:

  1. A country is living beyond its means when its running a current account deficit
  2. A country is living within its means when its running a current account surplus

How does this relate to governments? It doesn’t.

A country can be running a surplus or a deficit irrespective of whether the government is running a surplus or deficit. It’s really about the balance in the flow of funds between the different sectors in an economy – governments, households and corporations. Just because a government runs a deficit says nothing about whether the country as a whole is living beyond its means.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

First Day Of GST

…and the world hasn’t ended. Car prices have even come down, as predicted (so will furniture, and quite a few imported manufactured goods). There will no doubt be teething troubles along the way, but Malaysia’s most significant tax reform in a generation is now established.

But confusion abounds. Take this article from yesterday:

Students claim GST in university fees and services despite exemption

KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 — University students have complained that they will be charged the goods and services tax (GST) on their fees despite Putrajaya insisting that education is exempted from the tax.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Comparing Malaysia With Singapore

I probably shouldn’t bother, but from TMI (excerpt):

When the success of one nation casts shadows on the failures of another

...That Malaysia, with her bounty of natural and human resources, has failed miserably to keep up with Singapore is a sad reflection of the policies we’ve undertaken in the last 50 years. Where one has chosen unwavering pragmatism and a merit-based administrative policy to push its nation forward, the other is still proclaiming the supposed inherent superiority of one race over others.

Singapore is able now to move beyond focusing entirely on economic policy, to addressing problems such as social mobility and a rapidly ageing society to further better the quality of life of its citizens. Malaysia seems to be obsessed with proposing-debating-and-proposing-again the implementation of hudud, instead of fighting the deeply-rooted disease of corruption and inefficiency which leads to the billions of ringgit that slip out of our country’s coffers every year.

I hate repeating myself, but:

The Paradox Of Plenty

There’s this somewhat understandable idea that because Malaysia is rich in natural resources, we are…well, rich. Or at least we should be, if the government had handled things properly....

...But there’s a slight problem with this mindset – the empirical evidence suggests that natural resources alone do not beget wealth or prosperity, that focusing on developing such assets actually undermines the foundation of long term growth and prosperity. In fact, in development circles, it’s more common to speak of natural resources as a “curse”, not a blessing....

…In Malaysia’s case, it’s probably more pertinent – and accurate – to wonder not why we aren’t rich when we have abundant natural resources, but rather how Malaysia has managed to grow so far and so fast despite the handicap of having abundant natural resources.

In addition, three links on my series on corruption and growth (here, here and here), or if you want the whole series, you can start from here. From Part III of the series (excerpt):

The idea that corruption has a dampening effect on income levels and/or growth is intuitively appealing, yet the data doesn’t appear to support any causal relationship of any kind. In fact, the conclusion appears to be that the relationship is technically spurious – corruption affects neither the level or growth of income, nor does income affect the level or rate of corruption (or should I say, the perception of corruption).

The difference in growth between Singapore and Malaysia really boils down to volatile commodity prices before Malaysia’s economy was fully diversified beginning in the 1990s. There are a few other things, which I won’t get into right now.

Natural resources are not a blessing. Anybody who watched oil prices plunge last year can certainly attest to that. Long term, any country relying on natural resources is not on a path to prosperity.

The statement that Malaysia is “…staggering behind most of her Asian peers,” is sheer hyperbole. Since 1965, the only countries to have overtaken Malaysia in real GDP per capita in East Asia is Korea and Taiwan – despite the fact that both had had institutionalised corruption during their highest growth phases. This also ignores that we have been making steady gains on both, as well as against developed country standards, in the last decade.

Lastly, on the (de)merits of pure meritocracy, try here, here and here.

Thinking Like An Economist: GST Edition

[UPDATE: Changed comment on petrol prices]

I was at Giant supermarket this weekend, doing my usual grocery shopping. Of course, there was a massive crowd stocking up on everything from flour to diapers, as this article aptly describes.

Some of the purchases are warranted; some are not. Personally, I only bought what my family needed this week and no more. It wasn’t worth the time and effort for me to get more. The point I want to make here today is that calculating the cost-benefit of stocking up isn’t as simple as calculating the money savings one might have relative to after GST comes in.

For high-ticket items, the logic is pretty clear – it’s worth the trouble…mostly. Buying a new smartphone now for instance – say one costing RM1k – one would save about RM60. For the vast majority of the population, such savings are worth it.

The cost-benefit for groceries is not nearly as simple.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wages and The CE/GDP Ratio

I’ve come across the same dilemma myself, but a box article in BNM’s 2014 Annual Report outlines the latest data (excerpt; emphasis added):

Trends in Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product by Income

…In terms of share, capital income forms the largest component of GDPI (Chart 3). However, with the growth of labour income outpacing the growth of capital income, the share of labour income to GDP has risen steadily from 29.5% in 2005 to 33.6% in 2013. By definition, however, the labour income component in GDPI excludes income earned by self-employed individuals…With such adjustments, the share of labour income for Malaysia is higher, on average, by 8.0 ppt. throughout the period (Chart 4)….

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tears For Singapore

Condolences to the people of Singapore, for the passing of Lee Kuan Yew. Love him or hate him, nobody can deny his achievements or what he has meant for Singaporeans.

The sad thing is that Singapore is now at an economic crossroads, and probably needs LKY’s brand of pragmatism more than ever. Whether this next generation of leaders will be able to steer the country through the challenges it faces now remains to be seen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Economic Efficiency and GST

We’re less than two weeks away from GST going live, so it might be appropriate to look at the economic arguments in favour of it.

On the WCI blog, Frances Woolley reviews the textbook arguments (excerpt):

The case for taxing basic groceries

Economists frequently argue that taxing basic groceries is a good idea - for example, see these papers/posts making the case for taxing food in the US, Canada, and New Zealand.

The equity argument for taxing groceries is straightforward. Suppose everyone spends $500 a month on groceries. If groceries were taxed at 10 percent, everyone would pay about $50 in tax (or slightly less, if people cut back on their food expenditures when the tax is introduced). If part of the revenue raised by taxing groceries was used to give every low income individual a $60 tax credit, the tax on groceries would actually increase the well-being of the worst off members of society. Any additional revenues raised could be used either to decrease other taxes, leading to greater economic efficiency, or to provide needed social or infrastructure programs, further enhancing efficiency and/or equity.

Income Traps: It’s All About Convergence

A couple of recent papers have come out on “middle income traps”. First up from the World Bank (abstract):

Transitioning from low-income growth to high-income growth : is there a middle income trap?

Is there a "middle income trap"? Theory suggests that the determinants of growth at low and high income levels may be different. If countries struggle to transition from growth strategies that are effective at low income levels to growth strategies that are effective at high income levels, they may stagnate at some middle income level; this phenomenon can be thought of as a "middle income trap." This paper does not find evidence for (unusual) stagnation at any particular middle income level. However, it does find evidence that the determinants of growth at low and high income levels differ. These findings suggest a mixed conclusion: middle-income countries may need to change growth strategies to transition smoothly to high-income growth strategies, but this can be done smoothly and does not imply the existence of a middle income trap.

Translation: No, there’s no such thing as a middle income trap.