Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Let's Write About the Great Depression!

I'm trying to churn out some working papers this summer, and it seems obligatory for aspiring economists to write at least something about the Great Depression. (Or is that just a Berkeley thing?)

So here is my shot at it. Even more than my previously posted papers, this one is very, very preliminary. I had the idea for it the day before yesterday, to give you a sense of just how preliminary it is. It is a little infant paper, born in the surge of sustained productivity brought about by yesterday's rainy weather. It needs your comments.

Abstract: Economic historians have noted how the memory of the Great Depression has shaped economic decision making in subsequent eras. This paper discusses history as metaphor, focusing on metaphorical thinking tying the Great Recession to the Great Depression. The theoretical foundations of this paper come from economic history and behavioral economics, while the empirical
strategy combines quantitative and narrative approaches drawing on new technology: Google Insights for Search, the news database Dow Jones Factiva, and language processing code. Google Insights for Search is a tool that provides access to search volume data in weekly time series format from 2004 to the present. Searches related to the Great Depression display strong seasonality, which may be interpreted in terms of the academic calendar. Search volume increases significantly at the onset of the financial and economic crisis. In 2008 and 2009, people begin searching for
the Great Depression in conjunction with searches for Recession, Another Great Depression, New Great Depression, etc. Searches for Another Great Depression or Next Great Depression were most prevalent in states hit harder by mass layoff events, foreclosures, and unemployment insurance claims. Factiva and language processing code for content analysis are used to analyze trends in news coverage related to the Great Depression/Recession and the focus of the metaphor.

[Edited to update to more recent draft]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Insights on the Seasonality of Moving

Here's a link to my latest working paper: "Insights on the Seasonality of Moving."

The "Insights" in the title refers to Google Insights for Search, a really cool tool that lets you access normalized weekly search volume data from 2004 to the present.

Abstract: Census surveys have documented the seasonality of geographic mobility in the United States. Google Insights for Search is a tool that provides access to search volume data in weekly time series format from 2004 to the present. Google search data for moving-related terms is analyzed with regressions and a Hodrick-Prescott Filter and is found to display seasonality very similar to Census results. The alignment of search results and survey results is a useful finding since search data has the advantages of weekly granularity and nearly real-time updates.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Guide for the Perplexed

In the first semester of our macro sequence, Professor Obstfeld assigned a paper titled "Dynamic Optimization in Continuous-Time Economic Models" and very aptly subtitled "A Guide for the Perplexed." Of course, the perplexities of first year economics courses did not end there. At the end of first semester, I wrote my own guide for the perplexed. Here's the link:

Risk Aversion and Intertemporal Substitution: A Guide for the Perplexed

I had basically forgotten about it until today. Maybe some incoming first years, at Berkeley or elsewhere, can find it helpful. It ties together elements from our macro, micro, and metrics classes--it took me most of a semester to get an idea of how certain ideas fit together. Now second year is approaching and I'm more perplexed than ever!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Link to my History Paper

I described working on my economic history paper a few posts ago. I thought I would share the not-so-final product. Here's a link to Measuring Public Economic Informedness, my term paper for Econ 210A. In brief, I look at how frequently the New York Times mentions the word "unemployment" beginning in 1914, and study how that is related to the actual unemployment rate.

Consider it a working draft. There are ideas that I need to pursue more thoroughly, other ideas I probably need to leave out, and empirical techniques I need to learn. If you do get a chance to look at it, I would welcome comments here or by email.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I meant to spend the summer reading a lot of economic papers, but so far I've only been reading a lot of novels. I am a crazy person for fiction, a total glutton for prose. I often go through several books per week.

I would like to believe that, somehow, my obsession with stories and fiction will be useful for an economics career. I don't mean this in a tongue-in-cheek, "oh, economists make up stories" way. I really think that a deep appreciation for the subtleties of a fine plot corresponds well to desirable qualities for an economist.

There is no explicit formula for a good story, but it must strike a very delicate balance to be neither too predictable nor too unbelievable. Good stories have interesting twists and interconnections without feeling too contrived or resorting to deus ex machina. Good stories don't divulge too much or too little. They are the right blend of introspective and extrospective. They tend to reveal both something specific and something more universal. They cast the world or some part of it in a new lens. They give you satisfaction but deepen your yearning. Is it too far of a stretch to hope that the ability to recognize, admire, and immensely enjoy such features of a story will translate into being a good economist?