Saturday, December 11, 2010

Toxic Homes

Have you ever heard of the Beveridge Curve? Me neither. But it has nothing to do with drinks.

I was just reading the Modeled Behavior blog and there's an interesting post about friction in the job market being caused by "underwater" mortgages.

Basically, the Beveridge curve has job vacancy rate on the y-axis and unemployment rate on the x-axis.

When unemployment is high, job vacancies should be low. But that hasn't been true in recent years! Why?

Apparently, people end up being stuck in their underwater homes and can't move to places where their skills are needed. 

This American Life had a great episode about toxic assets that were bought on purpose by reporters of Planet Money. They interview people with underwater mortgages and discover elaborate schemes of those who made bank (sort of) from the subprime mortgage crisis.

Sigh. Housing is stressing me out. Still looking for a place to live in SF. Looking through Craigslist postings is always entertaining.

There was a post that said, "Home is shared by 2 guys and 2 girls. We like to cook dinner together, sometimes at 4:20 PM." I thought, "What? 4:20 PM is so early for dinner! I'll never get to bond with my housemates because I get out of work so much later!" And then it hit the strong smell of pot when I take the bus home sometimes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Yoram Bauman, Standup Economist. New Video!

His older video, which I love:

And finally, his book, which will make a great holiday gift for anyone!

You would think that I work as this guy's publicist, but I've only ever spoken to him once. On this very blog! See his comment on my blog here!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Day In the Life Of...

My team is insane, in the best possible way.

One guy flew in from China for the UN MDG summit and is now flying over to India. Yeah...that's right. China --> NY --> India in a span of like 5 days. INSANE.

Two guys got invited to Leonardo DiCaprio's house for dinner tomorrow night. One had to decline because he's just THAT busy. INSANE.

One guy managed to get everyone ground passes (pretty much unlimited access to all of the UN). INSANE.

Two guys made time to have dinner and watch Promises, Promises with me! INSANE given how busy these guys are.

I couldn't catch a cab after the MDG summit so I took a pedicab for the first time and it was THE MOST FUN THING EVER. And we ended up taking one after the Broadway show. Two pedicab rides in one night?! INSANE!

NYC is adding tax on clothing and shoes soon. INSANE. That has nothing to do with work, but I felt the need to add it. WTF NY?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Going here tomorrow.

I am contemplating a 6 month shopping hiatus. Not as ambitious as the MDGs...I know.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ugly Names and Ugly Situations

The Economist had an article about the proposed Cordoba Centre in New York (at ground zero).
I completely agree that by treating Muslims in America as "outsiders" or as "terrorists," we are providing actual terrorists with new recruits.
I also completely agree that Americans should be the "bigger person" and say, "This is America. We are intelligent enough to recognize the difference between Muslims and al Qaeda. We not only accept, but embrace having a mosque at ground-zero."

However, having been so close to ground-zero on 9/11 (saw the 2nd plane hit from bio class at Stuy), I can understand the emotional response to the Cordoba Centre proposal. I am lucky enough to have had a diverse group of friends and know for a fact that none of my Muslim friends would EVER condone such horrific acts of terrorism. But let's face it. Most Americans are from boring, homogeneous cities in the middle of nowhere. I can easily see myself being one of those Americans...and if I had lost a loved one on 9/11, I can see my anger being horribly misdirected.
In fact, even though I'm Catholic, if an extreme sect of Christianity murdered one of my family members, I can see myself turning against my own religion.

I get that Imam Feiisal Abdul Rauf has good intentions, and that he wants to promote interfaith understanding. He hopes that his mosque will "heal some of the wounds opened by the felling of the twin towers and all that followed." But it's hard to get Americans to realize that diversity is a good thing when you have shameless idiots like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich running around.

Shame on you, Sarah and Newt, for blatantly using the emotions of those who have already been so hurt in the past to promote your own political agendas. As my friend Dan says, "[you] are so hellbent on making another party look bad that [you] will hop on the bandwagon to resonate with an issue [which] is clearly against the foundational underpinnings of our government."

I am thoroughly disgusted.

And Newt, you have a problem with the name "Cordoba" but're not one to talk with a name like Newt. Newt Gingrich has got to be the ugliest name I have ever heard in all 22 years of my life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sponge-worthy Men

I was on the elevator with two guys and pressed the 12 button, but they didn't notice initially.

Guy #1 to Guy #2: Did you press 12?
Me: Oh, that's my floor.
Guy #2 to Guy #1: But I would rather be going with her than with you.

Awkward...but then!

Guy #1: That's not funny.
Guy #2: You're right. That's not funny. I'm sorry, miss.

I have had encounters with sketchy people before, but at least this guy had the decency to apologize. And it's not like he was absurdly inappropriate. I wish boys were more chivalrous nowadays...

I wish they were more spongeworthy - an economist at Princeton, Avinash Dixit, wrote a paper on the option value problem of Seinfeld. "The paper uses option pricing theory to deconstruct Elaine’s decisions in the “Seinfeld” episode number 119 “ The Sponge.” In it, Elaine’s preferred contraceptive sponge goes off the market, sparking an ultimately fruitless hunt for a greater supply. Her limited supply of contraceptive sponges forces her to reassess their usage, and decide whether a potential partner is “sponge-worthy” or not." [See full WSJ article here]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Buying Happiness

More on buying happiness.

But sometimes people can't handle the choices. SF is considering banning Happy Meals b/c parents are complaining that the toys cause their children to become...pigs. Right. And I grew up in a bubble where McDonald's did not exist. Therefore, I am 42.5 kg/94 lbs.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Deja vu

On August 18, 1976, two US Army officials in the JSA of the DMZ (between North and South Korea) were brutally murdered by axe wielding North Koreans. This event has been called the axe murder incident and the poplar tree incident because it happened while South Korean soldiers were trying to cut down a poplar tree (on South Korean land). See the full story here.

On August 3, 2010, two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist, and an Israeli officer were killed because an Israeli maintenance crew was using a cherry-picker to prune a tree. See the full story here.

WTF is wrong with people. The world is a f-ing mess.

I will drown myself in retail therapy, despite the NYT's advice on happiness...

I found an Alice + Olivia dress on, and they only had one left in my size. But I'm at my aunt's house in Incheon and left my wallet in Seoul. Almost had a fashion emergency b/c I couldn't remember the 3 security digits on the back of my debit card. They came back to me eventually.

Alice + Olivia dress, you are so much lovelier than this world.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010



That's a pretty significant number.

If I were to lose 40% of my body weight, I would be 25 kg, or 55 lbs. Basically, I'd be dead.

So how can we flippantly dismiss this fact:
Phytoplankton, the basis of the entire marine food chain, and an important player in the global carbon cycle, have declined by 40% since 1950. (probably in response to ocean warming)
The average global phytoplankton concentration in the upper ocean currently declines by around 1% per year and this rate is increasing. [Boris Worm]

Why should you care?

Phytoplankton, through photosynthesis, produce around half of the oxygen in Earth's atmosphere and drive the 'biological pump' that fixes 100 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide a day into organic material. 
Open-ocean fish will also be severely affected by the drastic decline in phytoplankton.

The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite movies and I want us to be able to tell our future children that Flounder (Ariel's best friend) is a real animal and not just a figment of my imagination, or a thing of the past. OKAY? 

Friday, July 9, 2010


3GI's ad will be in the Executive Focus section of the Economist this week! Even more exciting - I got to draft it!

I personally think my original draft is better than the one that's being published, but I suppose I'm biased...haha.

Anyway, remnants of my original draft still survived the harsh world of politics, so check it out!

We also placed an online ad that will be posted for a month.

I feel like I've come pretty close to my life goal (or death goal?) of having my obituary appear in the Economist. Yay!

UPDATE (July 11th)
Here it is!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4th

I firmly believe that NYC is better than Boston at everything, EXCEPT 4th of July fireworks.

I miss you, fatkids.

I wish I were in either NYC or Boston today. Maybe I'll run into some rowdy expats here in Seoul.  =)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Life Lessons

  1. Comparative Advantage: Learn it, love it, live it 
  2. Be entrepreneurial and work in small teams. "Jesus Chris tried 12, and that proved one too many." ~Norman Macrae
  3. There is a high correlation between success and e-mail volume. At least, that's what I will tell myself when I wake up to a bajillion e-mails from Seoul, SF, and London.
  4. Before you send an e-mail, always save a draft and go back to it later
  5. You will never be as happy and optimistic as you were in college.
  6. I'm a sensitive soul, though I seem thick-skinned. ~Pumba, from the Lion King

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Toy Story.

I've had this Tweety doll for nearly 22 years now (I'm almost 23) and I bring it with me whenever I travel for long periods of time. A few weeks ago, I left it on my bed and housekeeping accidentally took it to the laundry room along with my sheets and blankets. I called the front desk and reported the missing doll. A few days later, I get a phone call from the front desk:

"Hi. Did you call few days ago about missing doll?"
"Is it a duck?"
"Uh, it's a bird. A yellow bird."
"Yes, duck! We found it. We will bring it now to your room."


Since then, I have carefully moved Tweety from my bed to my living room sofa every morning, but yesterday morning I forgot to do so and Tweety is missing yet again!

Parag offered to send me a new Tweety doll (thanks, friend!), but it's not really Tweety that I'm attached to. In fact, I'm afraid of birds because of a traumatic chicken experience that I had while living in the sticks of Korea as a kid.

I'm attached to the fact that Tweety is so old that my mom has to handwash it because it would probably fall apart in the washing machine. I'm attached to the fact that I still have no idea whether I should call Tweety a "he" or "she." I'm attached to the fact that Tweety is the same as always, minus the drool that it was covered in once upon a time.

On that note, I really want to watch Toy Story 3 in 3D.  Too bad I can't find a theater in Seoul that is playing it...

July 1, 2010:
Tweety has been found!

Monday, June 28, 2010

More Pictures!

Click photos to enlarge.

On June 15th, we got to ring this giant bell in the middle of Seoul at noon. They usually ring it on New Year's Eve, and only ~2% of people in Korea have had the opportunity to ring this bell. Pretty awesome! The guide told us to make a wish while ringing the bell. I made four.

My happy team - Andreas, Chris and Mattia.

Words of wisdom from Andreas - "May you break many bells in your life."  He's sticking his tongue out in this picture! Haha. He totally wants to break that bell.

My turn! My turn!

President Lee Myung Bak

Yvo de Boer

Professor Heller - Okay, so Tom's speech came with a powerpoint that was controlled by someone in the back of the room. However, Tom decided to skip around a bit...
The Korean guy in the back had no idea that he was on the wrong slide for a while, so I ran to the back to help him. Unfortunately, Tom had skipped like 6 slides and when I kept going back and forth searching for the correct slide, (which everyone in the room could see me doing) the tech guy yelled at me and was like, "do you have any idea what you're doing?!"
Mattia came and saved me. Just reaffirms my love for economists. Haha.

Lord Nicholas Stern

Professor Ekins

Secretary Kim Sang Hyup - so funny! I'm pretty sure he's pretending to be a pimp in this picture.

Andreas (behind me) is 6'4".  How silly of me to think that I would have to bend my knees a bit in order to not cover his face!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

East Asia Climate Forum/GGGI Launch!

East Asia Climate Forum was pretty cool. Keynote speakers included President Lee, former Prime Minister Han Seung Soo, Ban Ki Moon, Lord Nicholas Stern, Thomas Heller, and Yvo de Boer.

Secretary Kim Sang Hyup, Andreas Merkl and Thomas Heller get ready to break the bell!

Mattia Romani, our economist, and (half of) Chris Stori, my Jedi Master.

Andreas enjoying some wine.

The man who escaped death, Eric Beinhocker! (His plane to Seoul had to make an emergency landing and all the tires blew off! He still managed to make it to the Board Meeting on time, of course.)

Younghoon Kang, our liaison to the Blue House, is soon to be married and leaving for MIT Sloan. "Esther, the only way you can escape is if you get married, or die."  TRUTH.

From left to right: Yoo Yeon Chul, Chris Stori, Jang Won, Jung Tae Yong. Chris looks super happy!

Prime Minister Han Seung Soo on far right. (I see Chris in the background. Hehe.)
One of the highlights of my week: PM Han told my team that I was "very small, but very good." Haha. YEAH, POWER TO THE LITTLE PEOPLE!

Soy exhausted from all of the preparation and events, but it was a good week.


Monday, May 24, 2010


From Thomas Friedman's Op-ed:
"Winston Churchill famously observed that, “You can always trust the Americans. In the end, they will do the right thing, after they have eliminated all the other possibilities.” Is that still true for our generation? We’re going to find out. The time for bluffing ourselves is over. Are we going to do what it takes to fix our country, or are we going to be remembered as the generation that received more poker chips from their parents than any other and then had to turn around and toss a single chip to their kids and tell them to put it on “Lucky 21” — and hope for the best."

Want to see the countryside? Go to Paris!
[Farmers Bring the Country to Paris]

North Korea, if you ruin my stay in the ROK, I will take it personally.
[The Economist]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Making the Simple Complicated (Climate change economics)
Sigh. Story of my life...

Koreans WORK! (Not that this is a surprise...)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ben Bernanke Quotes

Ben Bernanke in the NYTimes

[And yes, Ben Bernanke is also married to a Wellesley alum. =P]

Ben Bernanke quotes:

“The world has a great deal more to offer than money.” [Damn straight]

“Because I appreciate the role of chance and contingency in human events, I try to be appropriately realistic about my own capabilities. I know there is much that I don’t know.” [I'm screwed]

"Keep a ‘gratitude journal,’ in which you routinely list experiences and circumstances for which you are grateful.” [Great idea!]

Monday, May 3, 2010

I want to live here.

Went to the U.S. Ambassador's residence. It was beautiful.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Krugman - This reminds me of Alan Blinder's "Hard Head, Soft Hearts"

San Francisco in Shanghai

Esther is badass

A Walk Through Insadong

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Increased temperatures --> increased migration

Looks like Senator Graham has had enough. He is frustrated that climate change is taking a backseat to immigration...
I feel ya, Graham.

Colbert's take on immigration reform in Arizona.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - No Problemo
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Recently added to my Google Reader: Green Blog!
Watch the 18 minute video chronicling the life of the plastic bag!

Weekend was fun. Hung out with the babycakes. Played hide and seek for the first time in like 15 years.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Esther goes to Seoul/SF!

Dear friends,

As of April 19th, I will be working in Seoul and San Francisco with California Environmental Associates, ClimateWorks, McKinsey and the Korean government to help start an international economic think-tank, Seoul's Global Green Growth Institute. (3GI)

3GI's mission is to provide low carbon economic development plans for developing countries. I am excited to witness first-hand the birth of an international economic think tank and to study the intricate details of the public-private partnership model which I expect will become increasingly prevalent. I don't want to give away all the juicy details (partly because I don't know them myself, and also b/c some of it may be confidential) so you'll just have to wait until 3GI is officially launched! Keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, you can check this out - Stern Review Summary. Another interesting read is Alan Blinder's "Hard Heads, Soft Hearts" which we read for Prof. Johnson's Econ&Politics class. Chapter 5 is called "Cleaning Up the Environment: Sometimes Cheaper is Better."

I'll be moving to Seoul on April 15th and staying at the Somerset Palace. (I'm not gonna lie, I'm really excited to live in a hotel) I'll be working in SF the weeks of May 3 and May 10.

I am really sad to leave my friends at Georgetown Law, but my professor and co-workers have been wonderfully supportive of my decision. I am blessed to have always been surrounded by people who genuinely care about my intellectual and professional growth. 

I don't know if I'll have much time to blog, but I will try to post exciting stories about life in Seoul and work if it's not confidential. I hope I don't have too many epic fail that time one of the diplomats at the Embassy caught me singing Taylor Swift in the kitchen. (fail!)

I'm so excited about working on 3GI that I woke up yesterday and just started giggling in my bed. I can't remember being this excited about anything ever! (except maybe that scene in Lord of the Rings II where Smeagol is arguing with himself/Golem and finally gets rid of Golem, do you guys remember that? When he's like "go away and never come back!" And then he jumps around and shouts, "Smeagol is free!!!!" That scene made me so happy that I almost cried b/c I actually think Smeagol is really cute with his big bald head.)

Happy Easter Weekend!


P.S. - Special thanks to Nams who recommended me for the position!
Can't wait to see you in SF!!!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy World Water Day!

A message from friends at Replyforall here!

Target 7c of the Millenium Development Goals reads:
"Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation."

Let's focus on the "safe drinking water" bit.

Some statistics:
Only about 2.5% of the Earth's water is fresh water (for ~6 billion people)
An average American uses 150 gallons of water each day, while a person in the developing world struggles to find 5 gallons.
Over one billion people still use unsafe water sources.
The highest numbers of people without access to clean water are in Asia.
Unsafe water kills more people than all forms of violence combined, including war.
[factoids from WHO, unicef - read more to see why water's so important]

My friend, Nami, who has guestblogged before, wrote a great blog post for 1Sky a few summers ago.  I remember it well not only because it was a great post, but because some a-hole left a nasty comment (to which I posted a nasty response in return).

Anyway, one effect of climate change is that it will make people thirstier.  As if to slap us all in the face, another effect of climate change is that fresh water supplies will decrease as sea levels rise. Fresh water will more likely fall as rain rather than snow making it harder to collect (spring snowmelt won't be a reliable source if there's not enough snow). Fresh water levels will also decrease as evapotranspiration losses increase.

So, how can we avoid disaster?!
Obviously, we all need to conserve. 100 ways to conserve here.
Becker and Posner had a blogpost about economic responses here.
And of course, a blog that I've mentioned in the past: Aguanomics!

Anyway, that's all for tonight kids. I am amazed by those who can blog so often. I don't have the discipline. I'm always getting caught up in real life...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Obama's Speech (Healthcare)

From last night.

A History of Overhauling Health Care. (NYT)

A Piece of Land's Only a Piece of Land...

I hope everyone had a great St. Patrick's Day.  (I know, this is like a week late) I somehow remembered Pi Day (3.14) but forgot about St. Patrick's Day this year...must be because I'm no longer in Boston.

I was listening to this song on David Ford's new album and it seemed appropriate.  It's about Stephen Carroll, the Irish policeman who was murdered by dissident republicans.  "A piece of land's only a piece of land" is from an interview of his sad.

by: David Ford

Stephen, the flag's at half-mast at the station
There's a cloud hanging over this town
The wind blows apologies; the sun looks ashamed
As it hides out behind Portadown

And out there are children still raised on old anger
Who believe there's reason to fight
A piece of land's only a piece of land
And you will not come home tonight

Stephen, the uniformed visitors came,
Unexpectedly, late yesterday
I opened the door to a man and a woman
And I knew what they's come here to say

Oh, I've never seen any darkness so deep
As the moment when I clicked off the light
And a piece of land's only a piece of land
But you will not come home tonight

Stephen, the news has been filled with your picture
It seems the whole world knows your name
And would you believe there was Martin McGuinness
Out condemning these bastards to blame?

Oh, I've never seen so much orange and green
Come together on a thin strip of white
Still, a piece of land's only a piece of land
And you will not come home tonight
Yes, a piece of land's only a piece of land
And you will not come home tonight... 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Identity. Crisis.

John Oliver (from the Daily Show) interviews b-school students about the MBA Ethics Oath. SO funny!

Feb. 25th's FT had an article by George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton about Identity Economics. Akerlof and Kranton argue that people are not simply motivated by huge bonuses.  Rather, they are motivated when their personal goals are aligned with those of the organization for which they work.  In identity economics, performance pay demonstrates bad faith (employers don't believe that employees will do a good job unless there are obscene monetary incentives...)
Our current financial system gives employees an incentive to manipulate the system rather than to live up to their responsibilities.

Another concern is regulatory capture.  The Warwick Commission has proposed host country rules as opposed to home country rules to preclude regulatory capture (b/c host country rules tend to enhance the link between a financial system and national welfare objectives.  But what about arbitrage?)  Host country rules can also better empower national regulators.  Len Seabrooke and Eleni Tsingou (on Warwick Commission) suggested that we empower the Financial Stability Board as the key coordinator to allow countries to share information on products.  They think that the FSB is a better choice than the IMF or World Bank which lack legitimacy as institutions trusted by developing countries.

Simon Johnson is more pessimistic.  He says, "hoping that we can constrain banks through some form of international governmental cooperation is a complete illusion.  The IMF and the WTO have no mandate on this issue.  The Financial Stability Board is a paper tiger – really just a talking shop between regulators (and the same goes for the Bank for International Settlements more generally)."

The Institute of International Finance says that all of these uncertainties about regulatory reform are slowing economic recovery.  Boo.

Currently reading: The Wages of Failure (working paper by Lucian A. Bebchuk, Alma Cohen, and Holger Spamann)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Paul Krugman Loves Politics...and Costumes!

Paul Krugman's profile in the New Yorker!

Also, since Evelyne pointed out the part about how Paul Krugman loves costumes...
my Halloween costume two years ago was capital flight!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mamma Mia!

I don't care what's going on in Greece.  Someone take me.  We can do Greece a favor by spending lots of money while we're will be completely selfless!

My mom is in Turkiye right now.  I'm so jealz.

Simon Johnson talks about why Greece might go to the IMF for help and why things are not as simple as when Greece had its own currency.  He also talks about how politics may (as always) get in the way of things...
In another piece, Johnson talks about Goldman's role.  Felix Salmon thinks that Goldman is just a scapegoat.

Martin Feldstein suggests a holiday from the eurozone for Greece - Greece could devalue the drachma to reduce imports and boost exports (reducing trade deficit and maybe increasing GDP and employment)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Roses are red, violets are blue, Hank Paulson loves Wellesley women too!

I hope everyone had a happy lunar new year and valentine's day!
My aloe vera plant, Henry, now has a friend named Zach.  Yay!

I bought myself Hank Paulson's new book, On the Brink, yesterday.  A funny comment was made about Paulson the other day, I can't remember where...but someone said, "Here is a man who is too big to fail."  Ha.
Anyway, I really like Paulson's book so far.  But maybe I'm biased because Hank Paulson is clearly a fan of Wellesley women.  He writes:
"I come from a line of strong women -- smart independent, plain-spoken women[...]My mother inherited her grit and determination from her own mother, Kathrun Schmidt, who graduated from Wellesley College in 1914 and supported her family through the Depression[...]My mom, Marianna Gallauer, followed her to Wellesley, graduating in 1944."
"In my senior year, several weeks before graduation, I met Wendy Judge, a junior at Wellesley, on a blind date set up by a friend.  I was immature and behaved badly."  (Hrm...sounds sooo familiar!  Haha.)  "We went to a Boston Pops concert, and she was not impressed when I folded my program into a paper airplane and sailed it off the balcony at Arthur Fiedler, the conductor.  Wendy asked to be taken home early, and I thought I'd never hear from her again.  But she called me up later and invited my roommate and me to come down for Tree Day, a Wellesley celebration of spring.  So I had reason to think there was hope."

So cute.

Anyway, his book is not all about his love for Wellesley women.  (Who doesn't love Wellesley women, seriously...)
He talks about what it was like to tell Fannie and Freddie that they would be placed under a conservatorship.  He shares embarrassing moments and first impressions of certain politicians (Sarah Palin, of course)

I can't wait to devour this book.  I'm only four chapters in, but I highly recommend it.

[Confession: I wish I were in H.S. again when I could stay up all night reading books and not worry about having to sleep because I knew I could just sleep during classes the next day.  I'm pretty sure sleeping at work is frowned upon...]

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Ode by Wellesley's Chip Case!

Reflections on the Housing Market - in verse form
Karl Case

For the last few years, we have shed many tears
Living through a recession.
The economy's broke and it's not a joke,
When we talk of another depression.
Fifteen million without a job,
Foreclosures and banks that fail,
401K's became 201K's,
And everything's up for sale.

How can it be? What didn't we see
That led to all of this trouble?
There is little doubt that the proximal cause
Was a bursting housing bubble.
But other than that, who can we blame?
And what do they lament?
Millions of people contributed to
This hundred-year event.

For me, it began in '76
With a house on Cleveland Road.
At fifty-four thousand, I thought it a lot
For a small three-bedroom abode.
But ten years later, that very same house
Would sell for four times the price.
I was glad that I bought...I remember the thought,
"This may not be fair, but it's nice."

In Boston alone, that boom created
$100 billion in wealth.
We spent more, saved less, and I have to confess,
It was good for our mental health.
We had to know that it couldn't go on.
Someday prices would fall.
We knew there were risks -- to ourselves and our fiscs
If those prices were ever to stall.

It all began in 2001,
9/11, the bubble.
The Fed had to act because of the fact
A recession would mean big trouble.
So the Fed funds rate, sitting just below eight,
Was cut to under two.
And you had to know, with rates so low,
That a refi boom would ensue.

The volume of mortgages written back then
Stunned imaginations.
In a single quarter in 2003,
A trillion in originations!
But something happened late that year
That caused long rates to rise.
And that was the end of the refi boom.
It came as quite a surprise.

With refi's gone, so were big fees,
But banks still had money to lend.
And the search for buyers to fill the gap
Seemingly had no end.
The Fed kept pumping through 2005
To keep short rates very low.
And Greenspan gets a share of the blame;
His halo has less glow.

Of course the key for all to see
Was a robust housing market.
Buyers could borrow lots of cash
And a house was a good place to park it.
A summer home...a new big house,
No one seemed to care.
Homes were made of bricks and land,
The value would always be there.

It didn't matter what rate you paid
Or what you made in a year.
For a while liquidity led to stupidity,
"Just sign and see the cashier."
High LTV's and Option ARMs
Negative AM's and more,
2-28's with teaser rates
And ridiculous Fico scores.

Competition was the force
That made the music play.
As long as prices didn't fall
Everything was OK.
People could always sell their house
For more than they had paid.
Defaults and foreclosures stayed quite low
And lots of money was made.

Fannie and Fred were always ahead,
Then Countrywide got in the fray.
Then Lehman and Merrill and Goldman Sachs
Couldn't be kept away.
You can guess that MBS
Helped make the trading brisk.
Investors thought that the paper they bought
Was traunched with well-measured risk.

To that, add leverage and default swaps,
And then when house prices fell,
"Smart guys" got hosed as the risks were exposed,
And that was the closing bell.
Now where do we go? We really don't know.
We've never been here before.
Only time will tell when the markets will clear
And prices will fall no more.

Some of the data suggest a bottom,
While other data conflicts.
Houses are selling at rates not seen
Since back in 2006.
The inventory of unsold homes
Is down, it no longer grows.
And we're not building any new homes.
Starts are at 50-year lows.

A number of problems remain as risks
As the market begins to turn:
The number of loans that still need to be marked
Is making stomachs churn.
Fifteen million who want to work
Don't have jobs today.
And slow is the pipeline of loans in default
Since no one wants to pay.

It could also be that the pick-up we see
Is just from government red.
Lower rates and tax rebates
Buying paper from Fannie and Fred.
All have certainly played a role
And only time will tell.
What will happen when they're withdrawn,
Still empty units to sell?

So now we come to the end of this ode
Without much to say for certain.
I hate to say, that's where we are
Not beginning or final curtain.
The truth of the matter at the end of the day
Is that markets will make you humble.
Just when you think that it's time for a drink
They will turn and fortunes will crumble.

That free markets work to provide what we want
Is a notion that is not in dispute.
The problem is that once in awhile,
Markets overshoot.
Of course there is greed and there is a need
For moral hazard and rules.
You are damned if you do and damned if you don't.
To be "pure" is a game for fools.

Politicians, of course, are starting to shout
That they want more retribution.
It's better, I think, if they used their time
Helping to find a solution.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Welcome back, attention span!

So, my personal life jumped off a 20 story building, landed on concrete and exploded all over the f-ing place...I've been frustratingly distrait (widget word of the day!) for the past few weeks but have been regaining my attention span.  I decided to celebrate by reading old issues of The Economist that had been piling up and posts on my Google Reader.  Some things that I particularly liked (even though they're mostly from older issue of The Economist...):

"Ouch: Obama says he doesn't begrudge $17 m bonus on Wall St, quasi-defends bonuses. I begrudge 'em. " [NickKristof tweet]

"The authors say that what is needed is not merely institutional tinkering but a different frame of mind. Governments, they say, should think more in terms of reducing risk and increasing resilience to shocks than about boosting sovereign power. This is because they think power may not be the best way for states to defend themselves against a new kind of threat: the sort that comes not from other states but networks of states and non-state actors, or from the unintended consequences of global flows of finance, technology and so on."
Milton Friedman, who, when monetarism was being mocked in the 1970s, replied "our basic function [is] to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable." [The Economist - "A Needier Era"]

"The Volcker rule may have looked like a reaction to the Democrats' loss of a once-safe Senate seat in Massachusetts.  Insiders insist, however, that Mr. Geithner and Mr. Summers were not suddenly sidelined but gradually persuaded of the merits of limiting banks' activities." [The Economist - "New plan, new people?"]  (I think it's funny to imagine Larry Summers being gradually persuaded of something...or like, coaxed into saying, "Hey, yeah! You're totally right!")

With respect to the unintended consequences of past financial reforms...
", like water, tends to flow around obstacles.  Try to dam its movement at one point, and slowly but remorselessly it will find it's way around." [The Economist (Buttonwood) - "Not what they meant"]

"As many gardeners and farmers know, crossbreeding two wimpy specimens sometimes produces strong offspring - an effect known as hybrid vigour.  Hybrid vigour is common in plants and is found in some animals - though, some speculate, it may be lacking in European royalty." [The Economist - "Shelling Out"]  (Made me crave oysters)

"By separating our sample into boys and girls, our results also show that girls significantly benefit from interactions with very bright peers, whereas boys are negatively affected by a larger proportion of academically outstanding peers at school. We also find that the positive effect stemming from interactions with ”good” peers is more pronounced for female in the bottom part of the ability distribution. On the other hand, while not strongly significant, our results suggest that more able boys suffer from interacting with a larger fraction of outstanding schoolmates."
"At the other extreme, the most talented girls could gain more than 0.20 of a standard deviation from being educated in homogeneous environments." (Wellesley!)  [The good, the bad, and the average: Evidence of ability peer effects in schools]

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Threat of Protectionism - Silly or Systemic?

I went to this lecture in January (by the way, where did January go?!) on rising protectionism in global trade.  The speakers were Simon Evenett and Ed Gresser with whom I have spoken about the KORUS FTA back when I was working at the Embassy. He was also a guest speaker at the WTO Academy here at GULC. (Blogged about him here before too. He's really nice and funny!) He is of the belief that the threat of protectionism is being exaggerated and that it is not systemic as many, including Simon Evenett, would suggest. Here is a brief outline of Simon's arguments and Ed's counterarguments.  After you read them, take the poll at the end!

Simon Evenett [CEPR, Co-Director in International Trade and Regional Economics] - Simon has taken part in initiating a Global Trade Alert which draws research from seven regions of the world.  Its goal is to present an objective view of the rise in protectionism during the economic crisis.  The full report can be found here.
  • A WTO study showed that almost all major trading jurisdictions exceeded the normal four percent increase in tariff lines. Are these increases permanent?
  • The current economic climate has precipitated a new mix of protectionist measures. Always question studies that look at only one form of protectionist measures because in order to truly understand that threat of protectionism, one must look at the entire mix of measures that are being implemented.
  • About 1/7 (46 out of 332) of protectionist measures are tariffs.
  • Ordinarily, in recession, the most popular form of protectionist measures is trade defense. This includes AD, CVD, safeguards, etc.  However, bailouts and subsidies now account for 136 out of 332 protectionist measures making them the most popular.  (Is anyone surprised?)
  • Interestingly, (but maybe not surprisingly) less than half of these bailouts and subsidies apply to the financial sector; most apply to manufacturing. The sectoral incidence of protectionism has not changed. (The sectors that have traditionally been good at receiving protection continue to receive it)
  • Even if the overall impact of new protectionist measures on trade is miniscule now, these measures may be difficult to remove in the long run and affect future trade activity. Congress seems to want to include Buy American provisions in more permanent bills.
Edward Gresser [Democratic Leadership Council, Senior Fellow and Director of Trade and Global Markets Project] - Ed presents a different view on the rise of protectionism in the midst of the economic crisis.  You can read his post about the fall of U.S. imports here.
  • The decrease in imports is roughly parallel to the overall decrease in world trade.  The decrease may not necessarily be a good measure of the impact of protectionist policies.  Rather, it may simply reflect the fall in global demand.
  • Last year, there were 34 cases of protectionism.  This figure is higher than those of 2005, 2006 and 2007 (~10-15), but still coincides with the long term average since 1979.
  • Are bailouts and subsidies necessarily bad for trade?  Allowing the financial sector to fail would have likely been more harmful to trade than any combination of tariffs.
  • People draw many parallels between now and the 1930s, but the mentality then was very different. In the 1930s there was a broad decision to move towards autarky and away from the global economy. That is not the case now. Countries are motivated to become more integrated in the global economy.
  • There are factors outside of policy that work to liberalize trade. (Ex: cost of moving goods and information goes down every year)
Additional things to consider:
  • GTA has not yet studied whether the increase in protectionist measures would be considered normal had there not been a financial crisis. (They still need to see how the financial bailouts/subsidies creates a bias in their results.)
  • It is difficult to substantiate information regarding technical standards and regulatory interventions.
  • How has FDI changed? How does this affect trade?
  • Data on public procurement needs to be improved.  It is difficult to find how much of the decrease in imports was in the private or public sector.
Random Fact: When you google search GTA, you won't immediately find Global Trade Alert. You find Grand Theft Auto. Ha.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Austan Goolsbee on the Daily Show!

    Austan Goolsbee was on the Daily Show last night!  Full episode here.  Some of you might remember him as the winner of "DC's Funniest Celebrity Contest."  Here!

    He talked about the Volcker Rule.  WSJ has lots of videos on this (Volcker Rule vs. Basel Committee Proposals) Economics of Contempt responded.

    Campus Progress quoted Jon Stewart on Students Over Banks!
    "The idea of taking away the middle man in college loans would get us 46 billion dollars over 10 years- that, stunned me. That gets us more savings than removing subsidies from oil companies which I guess over 10 years is like 40 billion."

    Sorry I haven't blogged in a while...last week was hectic because I was catching up on classwork and work work.  And I now have a roommate and a dog!

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    "Fear the Boom and Bust" a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

    Thanks for forwarding this to me, Professor Lucas!
    My Wellesley Professors continue to enhance my life.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010


    Going to the Bahamas on a cruise with my fams.
    I will return tanner and fatter. (although, I did pack sneakers and gym shorts so I could work out...)

    Peace out, SUCKERS. HA.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    The Economics of Relationships: Your Votes.

    14 of you thought that Yes! Relationships are fun and cost-effective!
    1 of you thought No! I'm not wasting my time on lemons!
    12 of you thought Nams and I are insane.
    2 of you are asexual.

    Thanks for your feedback, and sorry for the delay in posting results!

    Topic suggestions for next debate?

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    The Economics of Relationships: Counterpoint.

    This is Nami, guestblogging in response to Esther's post on the economics of relationships.  Read our blog posts then take the 1 question survey below!  We'll post the results in a week!

    You’re young, fresh out of college, with your entire future ahead of you.  New opportunities and possibilities abound.  No longer strapped to your academic core and concentration requirements, you’re free to pursue almost anything you want – except another boy.  Why?  Because you’re in a “relationship.”  Bah.

    Now, I’m neither an economist nor an expert on relationships.  But, I am a new grad in a new city, with a new life and a new boyfriend (I’ll refer to him as A).  Our relationship has seen its share of ups & downs and the option of splitting has, in times of stress, fatigue, and annoyance (can we say Friday nights?), more than once entered our vocabulary.  I’m sure that the question of “Is this worth it?” has crossed our minds multiple times.

    But, the answer thus far has always been yes.  Once the fights die down and the rage begins to dissipate, a fear settles in.  “What am I doing? I don’t want to break up!”  Panic hits me, a fist to the stomach.  I’ve acted and reacted in such a way many times, but I rarely stopped and thought about the question – Is this worth it?  Am I gaining as much as I should from this boyfriend?  Do the allowances of this relationship really outweigh its limitations?

    As I stated earlier, I’m no economist.  But, Esther is.  She suggested that I research the following terms to better understand my situation, from an economic point of view:
    • ·    Diminishing marginal returns
    • ·    Opportunity cost
    • ·    Sunk cost
    Here’s my understanding of them:

    • ·      Diminishing (marginal) returns: when you get progressively less as you put in more (in contrast to what you would expect).  Relationship example: Before A & I were anything 1st person plural, I would get really happy when he called me.  Over time, he continues to call me – it still pleases me but I derive less and less happiness from each call. 
    • ·      Opportunity cost: value of the next best choice, or basically, what you’re giving up.  Relationship example: One opportunity cost of having a boyfriend is freedom to see other boys.
    • ·      Sunk cost: costs that have already incurred and you can’t get back – what you already gave up. Relationship example: We’ve been through too much; what a waste all our troubles were!  Even if I’m miserable now, I can’t just bail – I’m loss-averse!

    Given her previous post and the terms she'd assigned me, I think we can all agree that she's not only an economist, but a Pessimist!  And it's true, these terms paint a pretty grim picture of love.  But, let’s take a closer look at how these terms can apply.  

    Diminishing returns do indeed exist in dating – the 100th kiss does not rival the 1st.  Thinking about diminishing returns makes it seem as if you’re losing out in the end: I’m putting my love, patience, and time into this relationship…but why am I not getting the same high?  But, first of all, what you have to realize is: hey, you’re still getting some high!  You’re still gaining from the relationship, just not as much as in the beginning.  And this makes perfect sense.  The opposite of diminishing returns is accelerating returns.  For example, once a crush develops, every phone call and e-mail brings more and more excitement and pleasure.  You start dating and every moment you spend together seems better than the last.  OMG, this is perfect, you think, it can’t get any better!  Your returns are accelerating, your happiness is through the roof; 1st kiss and you melt. 

    but Warning: this may not last.  But, that’s not a bad thing!  Your returns start to even out, become constant, normalize.  This is good: people can stop regurgitating.

    Second of all, you lose some, you win some.  While you lose some of the excitement and eustress over time, you gain consistency, reliability, dependability.  Boring?  Maybe.  But, definitely more satisfying in the long run.  The high dissipates but contentment and security take its place.  I now have a companion, a partner-in-crime.  The spectrum of sentiments I express widens – I can be angry, I can be a brat, I can be depressed, I can be annoying, and I know that he’ll understand, and vice versa.  

    Now, with opportunity cost, things get more interesting.  Having a significant other has its perks, but it also has its drags.  Am I still the i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t woman that I was?  Sure, but less so.  What am I giving up by being with A?  Being the center of my own life.  There’s another party to consider now.  What do we both want to eat?  What do we want to do?  Another is romantic freedom: I’m not free to sow my wild oats!  I am not living the care-free, dating-around, everyone’s a potential hook-up kind of lifestyle.  Bound to monogamy: prison!  And last but not least, I may possibly be giving up The Perfect Boy, The One  – somewhere out there, my exact counterpart may be waiting for me, searching for me, but I’m nowhere to be found.  This relationship is a prison!  Free me from my chains, lovely captor!

    But, wait.  We must consider the opportunity costs of being single or breaking up.  I mentioned some before (reliability, companionship, etc.), but there are more.  I lose a best friend, a listener, consistent plans, consistent physical relations, and freedom…from loneliness.  We’ll get into the actual financial costs and gains later.

    Considering the role sunk costs play in all of this makes everything a lot more…serious.  Technically, if you’re a rational player – and I’d like to think of myself as quite practical and reasonable – you shouldn’t take sunk costs into consideration.  The example Wikipedia gives us is about buying tickets to a movie.  Let’s say you Fandango that shit and buy advance tickets to High School Musical 2. Then, you realize there’s no way you want to watch that – the reviews have been terrible and you don’t know what you were thinking.  Should you bail or go? The sunk cost is the price of the movie ticket.  If you stay, you’ve lost $9, your mental well-being, and your time.  If you bail, you still lose $9, but you’re mental state is intact and you can spend your time better elsewhere.  If you look at it that way, of course you should bail!  But more often than not, people stay.

    So, maybe I’m not so rational.  I know I ought not consider sunk costs, but I do.  I order a big meal, it’s expensive, I get full after eating half of it.  But, what do I do?  I truck on and devour the entire dish, which leads to stomach pains, fat goggles, and world of regret.  Why do I do it?  Because I paid for that goddamn meal!

    Right, so back to relationships.  Relationships aren’t easy; they require work and sacrifice.  The road to A & my relationship was rocky – distance and time differences aggravated tensions, resulting in countless arguments and resentment.  We worked through each and every one.  Sunk cost.  I moved to a new city, not for him, but it would be wrong to say he didn’t play a part in my decision-making.  Sunk cost.  How can we break up now?  After all we’ve been through, after all we’ve put into this mess?  Technically, if things are rough with A & me, I should consider only the future, ignore sunk costs, and break it off.  Eff this, A!...right? 

    Not exactly.  Yes, a relationship is an investment, but it’s not a night at the movies.  A sunk cost in making a relationship work is nowhere near the same as $$ paid to watch Zach Efron.  With love, a cost can also be a gain – arguments can make your relationship stronger – and sunk costs are also history, and history is part of what holds relationships (friendships, family, romantic) together!  A shared history with your best friend is invaluable.  Sunk costs need not be the focus, but they should be considered to some extent!

    I’m guessing you have a pretty good idea by now where I stand in terms of my relationship.  But, this wasn’t easy.  Weeks of field research have shaped my conclusions, during which A & I experienced the best and worst of our times together.  So, let’s scrap all this theoretical and romantic nonsense and get down to the numbers.  Is our decision to stay together a financially sound one?

    FOOD & DRINK: Going out every weekend adds up.  When I was single, I usually went out (dinner + drinks) on Fridays and Saturdays.  Dinner was an affair and drinks were expensive.  There was pressure to go out hard and spend the money to do so.  And if you're a guy, you can expect to spend even more -- impressing your dates with fancy dinners at fancier restaurants, buying rounds of drinks for the ladies you're trying to bed.  Once you're in a relationship, standards begin to change.  A fun night can just meet a night in, cooking dinner and watching something on Hulu.  Lame?  Maybe.  Affordable?  Heck yes.  Cruising for potential mates costs money, and by money, I mean alcohol.  People like to loosen up with liquor and unless you limit yourself to happy hours, drinks can get expensive.  BFs and GFs sort of eliminate the need to booze up.  Alcohol doesn't loosen you up, then, it just makes you sleepy.

    Maybe I've just become lamer, more boring.  Maybe I've imprisoned myself, allowing hundreds of potential mates slip past me.  Maybe I'll find myself at age 42, stuck in a loveless marriage full of resentment and discontent.  Perhaps.  But for the meantime?-- at least, I'm saving a shit ton of money.