Wonkblog: Research Desk

Research Desk: Did the top 1 percent inherit its wealth?

Commenter ToddinHB asks:

How many of the 1% inherited their money, made their fortunes with a sizable trust fund, or made their money manipulating the financial system, without adding anything to the general welfare of the state?

New York University economist Edward Wolff has done the best work I’ve seen on the contribution of inheritance to wealth inequality, and his latest paper, coauthored with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Maury Gittleman, is chock full of relevant data on the matter. In 2007, the last year Wolff and Gittleman look at, wealth transfers (mainly inheritances, but also including gifts) made up, on average, 14.7 percent of the total wealth of the 1 percent (more specifically, the top 1 percent in terms of wealth). Interestingly, inheritance’s share has declined over time. In 1992, 27 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent came from wealth transfers.

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Research desk: Under health reform, who is a full time employee?

Commenter davencheez asks:

I see plenty of information saying that the employer mandate for health insurance will apply to “Full Time” employees. In the last few weeks I have begun to see 30 hrs mentioned as the threshold needed to meet the employer mandate. My question is about employees whose hours vary greatly from month to month. A staffing agency for example. These workers often fill short term needs, or are hired through a staffing agency temporarily while a regular employee is out. This can vary from greatly from month to month....How often is the mandate reevaluated? Does the staffing firm have to pay employer mandate for employees who only go into full-time hours temporarily? How does the employer healthcare mandate apply to temporary and varied schedule employees?

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Research Desk: Should investment banks be private?

Commenter fredbrack asks:

Investment banks used to be partnerships. Partners took risks with their own money, not with stockholders’ and taxpayers’ money. That partnership model effectively prevented investment banking from turning Wall Street into a no-lose casino for pinstripers.

Could investment banks be legally forced to again operate under that partnership model? (When it comes to financial-services reform, it’s a question that’s not being asked, but it should be.)

In fairness, a few people have suggested that financial reform should involve forcing investment banks, which are now commonly organized as public corporations, to become partnerships again. Jonathan Berk, a Stanford finance professor, suggested it in late 2008, and both the Financial Times’ Lex column and e21, a conservative think tank, endorsed the idea this past summer.

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Research Desk: Tax cuts as stimulus around the world

Commenter sgwin1 asks:

Have any countries engaged in stimulus via drastically cutting consumption taxes, and if so have they been successful at increasing demand? I am wondering if a consumption tax tied to the unemployment rate would be a decent automatic stabilizer in future recessions.

The most prevalent consumption tax used abroad is the value-added tax (VAT), and what evidence I could find suggests that the stimulative bang-for-the-buck of VAT cuts is, though positive, lower than a number of alternatives. Dániel Baksa, Szilárd Benk and Zoltán M. Jakab estimated the multipliers for various fiscal policy measures in Hungary and found that a permanent decrease in the VAT had a multiplier of 0.45; that is, each dollar spent cutting the VAT grows the economy by 45 cents. The one-year multiplier for a temporary VAT cut, of the type an automatic stabilizer system would produce, is about the same. By contrast, the multiplier for an income tax cut was estimated at 0.8.

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Research desk is still open

Your queries are my queries. Leave them in the comments.

Research Desk: Just How Good Have College Grads Got It?

Commenter holtzeidler asks:

People tell me that the unemployment crisis is just hype, and that if you have a college degree the unemployment rate is 4%. Now, the 4% number is true but is misleading people into thinking that unemployment is only affecting the uneducated. Can you run the cross-section of both age and education combined? My suspicion is that the 4% is misleading because it’s an average ... that most people with college degrees have managed to keep jobs they already have, while new grads are suffering just like everyone else.

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have detailed age/education cross-sections for unemployment data, but we can look separately at their data on age and education to test holtzeidler’s theory. First, it’s very much the case that younger people face higher unemployment rates:

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