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New NBER Papers - 12/19/2016

For access to gated papers, make a request on /Scholar. Most papers can also be found, ungated, on their author's website.
Feel free to discuss any of these papers in the comments section below. Please refrain from reposting any of these papers to this sub.
Learning, Confidence, and Business Cycles Cosmin L. Ilut Hikaru Saijo
We build a tractable heterogeneous-firm business cycle model where firms face Knightian uncertainty about their profitability and learn it through production. The cross-sectional mean of firm-level uncertainty is high in recessions because firms invest and hire less. The higher uncertainty reduces agents' confidence and further discourages economic activity. We characterize this feedback mechanism in linear, workhorse macroeconomic models and find that it endogenously generates empirically desirable cross-equation restrictions such as: amplified and hump-shaped dynamics, co-movement driven by demand shocks and countercyclical correlated wedges in the equilibrium conditions for labor, risk-free and risky assets. In a rich model estimated on US macroeconomic and financial data, the information friction changes inference and significantly reduces the empirical need for standard real and nominal rigidities. Furthermore, endogenous idiosyncratic uncertainty propagates shocks to financial conditions, disciplined by observed spreads, as key drivers of fluctuations, and magnifies the aggregate activity's response to monetary and fiscal policies.
Estimating market power Evidence from the US Brewing Industry Jan De Loecker Paul T. Scott
While inferring markups from demand data is common practice, estimation relies on difficult-to-test assumptions, including a specific model of how firms compete. Alternatively, markups can be inferred from production data, again relying on a set of difficult-to-test assumptions, but a wholly different set, including the assumption that firms minimize costs using a variable input. Relying on data from the US brewing industry, we directly compare markup estimates from the two approaches. After implementing each approach for a broad set of assumptions and specifications, we find that both approaches provide similar and plausible markup estimates in most cases. The results illustrate how using the two strategies together can allow researchers to evaluate structural models and identify problematic assumptions.
Energy Efficiency Standards Are More Regressive Than Energy Taxes: Theory and Evidence Arik Levinson
Economists promote energy taxes as cost-effective. But policymakers raise concerns about their regressivity, or disproportional burden on poorer families, preferring to set energy efficiency standards instead. I first show that in theory, regulations targeting energy efficiency are more regressive than energy taxes, not less. I then provide an example in the context of automotive fuel consumption in the United States: taxing gas would be less regressive than regulating the fuel economy of cars if the two policies are compared on a revenue-equivalent basis.
Agricultural Fires and Infant Health Marcos A. Rangel Tom Vogl
Fire has long served as a tool in agriculture, but this practice's human capital consequences have proved difficult to study. Drawing on data from satellites, air monitors, and vital records, we study how smoke from sugarcane harvest fires affects infant health in the Brazilian state that produces one-fifth of the world's sugarcane. Because fires track economic activity, we exploit wind for identification, finding that late-pregnancy exposure to upwind fires decreases birth weight, gestational length, and in utero survival, but not early neonatal survival. Other fires positively predict health, highlighting the importance of disentangling pollution from economic activities that drive it.
A Behavioral New Keynesian Model Xavier Gabaix
This paper presents a framework for analyzing how bounded rationality affects monetary and fiscal policy. The model is a tractable and parsimonious enrichment of the widely-used New Keynesian model – with one main new parameter, which quantifies how poorly agents understand future policy and its impact. That myopia parameter, in turn, affects the power of monetary and fiscal policy in a microfounded general equilibrium.
How Destructive is Innovation? Daniel Garcia-Macia Chang-Tai Hsieh Peter J. Klenow
Entrants and incumbents can create new products and displace the products of competitors. Incumbents can also improve their existing products. How much of aggregate productivity growth occurs through each of these channels? Using data from the U.S. Longitudinal Business Database on all non-farm private businesses from 1976–1986 and 2003–2013, we arrive at three main conclusions: First, most growth appears to come from incumbents. We infer this from the modest employment share of entering firms (defined as those less than 5 years old). Second, most growth seems to occur through improvements of existing varieties rather than creation of brand new varieties. Third, own-product improvements by incumbents appear to be more important than creative destruction. We infer this because the distribution of job creation and destruction has thinner tails than implied by a model with a dominant role for creative destruction.
Some Simple Economics of the Blockchain Christian Catalini Joshua S. Gans
We rely on economic theory to discuss how blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies will influence the rate and direction of innovation. We identify two key costs that are affected by distributed ledger technology: 1) the cost of verification; and 2) the cost of networking. Markets facilitate the voluntary exchange of goods and services between buyers and sellers. For an exchange to be executed, key attributes of a transaction need to be verified by the parties involved at multiple points in time. Blockchain technology, by allowing market participants to perform costless verification, lowers the costs of auditing transaction information, and allows new marketplaces to emerge. Furthermore, when a distributed ledger is combined with a native cryptographic token (as in Bitcoin), marketplaces can be bootstrapped without the need of traditional trusted intermediaries, lowering the cost of networking. This challenges existing revenue models and incumbents's market power, and opens opportunities for novel approaches to regulation, auctions and the provision of public goods, software, identity and reputation systems.
Interfirm Relationships and Business Performance Jing Cai Adam Szeidl
We organized business associations for the owner-managers of randomly selected young Chinese firms to study the effect of business networks on firm performance. We randomized 2,800 firms into small groups whose managers held monthly meetings for one year, and into a “no- meetings” control group. We find that: (1) The meetings increased firm revenue by 8.1 percent, and also significantly increased profit, factors, inputs, the number of partners, borrowing, and a management score; (2) These effects persisted one year after the conclusion of the meetings; and (3) Firms randomized to have better peers exhibited higher growth. We exploit additional interventions to document concrete channels. (4) Managers shared exogenous business-relevant information, particularly when they were not competitors, showing that the meetings facilitated learning from peers. (5) Managers created more business partnerships in the regular than in other one-time meetings, showing that the meetings improved supplier-client matching. (6) Firms whose managers discussed management, partners, or finance improved more in the associated domain, suggesting that the content of conversations shaped the nature of gains.
Targeting Policies: Multiple Testing and Distributional Treatment Effects Steven F. Lehrer R. Vincent Pohl Kyungchul Song
Economic theory often predicts that treatment responses may depend on individuals’ characteristics and location on the outcome distribution. Policymakers need to account for such treatment effect heterogeneity in order to efficiently allocate resources to subgroups that can successfully be targeted by a policy. However, when interpreting treatment effects across subgroups and the outcome distribution, inference has to be adjusted for multiple hypothesis testing to avoid an overestimation of positive treatment effects. We propose six new tests for treatment effect heterogeneity that make corrections for the family-wise error rate and that identify subgroups and ranges of the outcome distribution exhibiting economically and statistically significant treatment effects. We apply these tests to individual responses to welfare reform and show that welfare recipients benefit from the reform in a smaller range of the earnings distribution than previously estimated. Our results shed new light on effectiveness of welfare reform and demonstrate the importance of correcting for multiple testing.
Leveling the Playing Field: How Campaign Advertising Can Help Non-Dominant Parties Horacio A. Larreguy John Marshall James M. Snyder, Jr.
Voters are often uncertain about and biased against non-dominant political parties. By reducing the information gap with dominant parties, political advertising may thus disproportionately benefit non-dominant parties electorally. We test this argument in Mexico, where three main parties dominate many localities. To identify the effects of exposure to partisan advertising, we exploit differences across neighboring precincts in campaign ad distributions arising from cross-state media coverage spillovers induced by a 2007 reform that equalized access to ad slots across all broadcast media. Our results show that ads on AM radio increase the vote shares of the PAN and PRD, but not the previously-hegemonic PRI. Consistent with our model, campaign advertising is most effective in poorly informed and politically uncompetitive electoral precincts, and against locally dominant parties of intermediate strength.
Understanding Inflation in India Laurence Ball Anusha Chari Prachi Mishra
This paper examines the behavior of quarterly inflation in India since 1994, both headline inflation and core inflation as measured by the weighted median of price changes across industries. We explain core inflation with a Phillips curve in which the inflation rate depends on a slow-moving average of past inflation and on the deviation of output from trend. Headline inflation is more volatile than core: it fluctuates due to large changes in the relative prices of certain industries, which are largely but not exclusively industries that produce food and energy. There is some evidence that changes in headline inflation feed into expected inflation and future core inflation. Several aspects of India’s inflation process are similar to inflation in advanced economies in the 1970s and 80s.
Growth Policy, Agglomeration, and (the Lack of) Competition Wyatt J. Brooks Joseph P. Kaboski Yao Amber Li
Industrial clusters are promoted by policy and generally viewed as good for growth and development, but both clusters and policies may also enable non-competitive behavior. This paper studies the presence of non-competitive pricing in geographic industrial clusters. We develop, validate, and apply a novel test for collusive behavior. We derive the test from the solution to a partial cartel of perfectly colluding firms in an industry. Outside of a cartel, a firm's markup depends on its market share, but in the cartel, markups across firms converge and depend instead on the total market share of the cartel. Empirically, we validate the test using plants with common owners, and then test for collusion using data from Chinese manufacturing firms (1999-2009). We find strong evidence for non-competitive pricing within a subset of industrial clusters, and we find the level of non-competitive pricing is about four times higher in Chinese special economic zones than outside those zones.
How Large Are the Gains from Economic Integration? Theory and Evidence from U.S. Agriculture, 1880-1997 Arnaud Costinot Dave Donaldson
In this paper we develop a new approach to measuring the gains from economic integration based on a generalization of the Ricardian model in which heterogeneous factors of production are allocated to multiple sectors in multiple local markets based on comparative advantage. We implement this approach using data on crop markets in approximately 2,600 U.S. counties from 1880 to 1997. Central to our empirical analysis is the use of a novel agronomic data source on predicted output by crop for small spatial units. Crucially, this dataset contains information about the productivity of all units for all crops, not just those that are actually being grown—an essential input for measuring the gains from trade. Using this new approach we find substantial long-run gains from economic integration among US agricultural markets, benefits that are similar in magnitude to those due to productivity improvements over that same period.
Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States Thomas Piketty Emmanuel Saez Gabriel Zucman
This paper combines tax, survey, and national accounts data to estimate the distribution of national income in the United States since 1913. Our distributional national accounts capture 100% of national income, allowing us to compute growth rates for each quantile of the income distribution consistent with macroeconomic growth. We estimate the distribution of both pre-tax and post-tax income, making it possible to provide a comprehensive view of how government redistribution affects inequality. Average pre-tax national income per adult has increased 60% since 1980, but we find that it has stagnated for the bottom 50% of the distribution at about $16,000 a year. The pre-tax income of the middle class—adults between the median and the 90th percentile—has grown 40% since 1980, faster than what tax and survey data suggest, due in particular to the rise of tax-exempt fringe benefits. Income has boomed at the top: in 1980, top 1% adults earned on average 27 times more than bottom 50% adults, while they earn 81 times more today. The upsurge of top incomes was first a labor income phenomenon but has mostly been a capital income phenomenon since 2000. The government has offset only a small fraction of the increase in inequality. The reduction of the gender gap in earnings has mitigated the increase in inequality among adults. The share of women, however, falls steeply as one moves up the labor income distribution, and is only 11% in the top 0.1% today.
Globalization and Wage Inequality Elhanan Helpman
Globalization has been blamed for rising inequality in rich and poor countries. Yet the views of many protagonists in this debate are not based on evidence. To help form an evidence-based opinion, I review in this paper the theoretical and empirical literature on the relationship between globalization and wage inequality. While the initial analysis that started in the early 1990s focused on a particular mechanism that links trade to wages, subsequent studies have considered several other channels, and the quantitative assessment of the size of these influences has been carried out in multiple studies. Building on this research, I conclude that trade played an appreciable role in increasing wage inequality, but that its cumulative effect has been modest, and that globalization does not explain the preponderance of the rise in wage inequality within countries.
Dominant Currency Paradigm Camila Casas Federico J. Díez Gita Gopinath Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas
Most trade is invoiced in very few currencies. Despite this, the Mundell-Fleming benchmark and its variants focus on pricing in the producer's currency or in local currency. We model instead a ‘dominant currency paradigm’ for small open economies characterized by three features: pricing in a dominant currency; pricing complementarities, and imported input use in production. Under this paradigm: (a) terms of trade are stable; (b) dominant currency exchange rate pass-through into export and import prices is high regardless of destination or origin of goods; (c) exchange rate pass-through of non-dominant currencies is small; (d) expenditure switching occurs mostly via imports and export expansions following depreciations are weak. Using merged firm level and customs data from Colombia we document strong support for the dominant currency paradigm and reject the alternatives of producer currency and local currency pricing.
Older Peoples' Willingness to Delay Social Security Claiming Raimond Maurer Olivia S. Mitchell
We have designed and fielded an experimental module in the 2014 HRS which seeks to measure older persons’ willingness to voluntarily defer claiming of Social Security benefits. In addition, we evaluate the stated willingness of older individuals to work longer, depending on the Social Security incentives offered to delay claiming their benefits. Our project extends previous work by analyzing the results from our HRS module and comparing findings from other data sources which included very much smaller samples of older persons. We show that half of the respondents would delay claiming if no work requirement were in place under the status quo, and only slightly fewer, 46%, with a work requirement. We also asked respondents how large a lump sum they would need with or without a work requirement. In the former case, the average amount needed to induce delayed claiming was about $60,400, while when part-time work was required, the average was $66,700. This implies a low utility value of leisure foregone of only $6,300, or under 20% of average household income.
Business Cycles, Investment Shocks, and the "Barro-King" Curse Guido Ascari Louis Phaneuf Eric Sims
Recent empirical evidence identifies investment shocks as key driving forces behind business cycle fluctuations. However, existing New Keynesian models emphasizing these shocks counterfactually imply a negative unconditional correlation between consumption growth and investment growth, a weak positive unconditional correlation between consumption growth and output growth and anomalous profiles of cross-correlations involving consumption growth. These anomalies arise because of a short-run contractionary effect a positive investment shock on consumption. Such counterfactual co-movements are typical of the "Barro-King curse" (Barro and King 1984), wherein models with a real business cycle core must rely on technology shocks to account for the observed co-movement among output, consumption, investment, and hours. We show that two realistic additions to an otherwise standard medium scale New Keynesian model – namely, roundabout production and real per capita output growth stemming from trend growth in neutral and investment-specific technologies – can break the Barro-King curse and provide a more accurate account of unconditional business cycle comovements more generally. These two features substantially magnify the effects of neutral technology and investment shocks on aggregate fluctuations and generate a rise of consumption on impact of a positive investment shock.
Sanitation, Disease Externalities, and Anemia: Evidence From Nepal Diane Coffey Michael Geruso Dean Spears
Anemia impairs physical and cognitive development in children and reduces human capital accumulation. The prior economics literature has focused on the role of inadequate nutrition in causing anemia. This paper is the first to show that sanitation, a public good, significantly contributes to preventing anemia. We identify effects by exploiting rapid and differential improvement in sanitation across regions of Nepal between 2006 and 2011. Within regions over time, cohorts of children exposed to better community sanitation developed higher hemoglobin levels. Our results highlight a previously undocumented externality of open defecation, which is today practiced by over a billion people worldwide.
Asymmetric Effects of Non-Pecuniary Signals on Search and Purchase Behavior for Energy-Efficient Durable Goods J. Scott Holladay Jacob LaRiviere David M. Novgorodsky Michael Price
We report the results of a field experiment where we exogenously vary the use of social comparisons "nudges" and subsidies for participation in an in-home energy audit program, and follow subjects through to the subsequent purchase of durable goods. We therefore can compare the causal effect of financial incentives and nudges along two margins, audits, which we liken to search, and purchase of durables. Using data on nearly 100,000 households, we document an asymmetry; nudges increase audits, but lead to lower rates of purchase. We find no evidence of a differential response for those offered a financial incentive. These differences suggest heterogeneity in the motives of the marginal consumer induced by nudges versus prices.
Improving the Measurement of Earnings Dynamics Moira Daly Dmytro Hryshko Iourii Manovskii
The stochastic process for earnings is the key element of incomplete markets models in modern quantitative macroeconomics. We show that a simple modification of the canonical process used in the literature leads to a dramatic improvement in the measurement of earnings dynamics in administrative and survey data alike. Empirically, earnings at the start or end of earnings spells are lower and more volatile than the observations in the interior of earnings histories, reflecting the effects of working less than the full year as well as deviations of wages due to e.g. tenure effects. Ignoring these properties of earnings, as is standard in the literature, leads to a substantial mismeasurement of the variances of permanent and transitory shocks and induces the large and widely documented divergence in the estimates of these variances based on fitting the earnings moments in levels or growth rates. Accounting for these effects enables more accurate analysis using quantitative models with permanent and transitory earnings risk, and improves empirical estimates of consumption insurance against permanent earnings shocks.
A Tale of Two Tails: Commuting and the Fuel Price Response in Driving Kenneth Gillingham Anders Munk-Nielsen
The consumer price responsiveness of driving demand is central to the welfare consequences of fuel price changes. This study uses rich data covering the entire population of vehicles and consumers in Denmark to find a medium-run price elasticity of driving of -0.30. We uncover an important feature of driving demand: two small groups of much more responsive households that make up the lower and upper tails of the work distance distribution. The first group lives close to work in urban areas. The second group lives outside of major urban areas and has the longest commutes. Access to public transport appears to be the force behind the existence of the tails, enabling the switch away from driving. We find that a fuel price increase of 1 DKK/liter implies an average deadweight loss of 0.66 DKK/liter, but there is considerable heterogeneity and the tails bear a larger share of the loss.
Commitment vs. Flexibility with Costly Verification Marina Halac Pierre Yared
We introduce costly verification into a general delegation framework. A principal faces an agent who is better informed about the efficient action but biased towards higher actions. An audit verifies the agent’s information, but is costly. The principal chooses a permissible action set as a function of the audit decision and result. We show that if the audit cost is small enough, a threshold with an escape clause (TEC) is optimal: the agent can select any action up to a threshold, or request audit and the efficient action if the threshold is sufficiently binding. For higher audit costs, the principal may instead prefer auditing only intermediate actions. However, if the principal cannot commit to inefficient allocations following the audit decision and result, TEC is always optimal. Our results provide a theoretical foundation for the use of TEC in practice, including in capital budgeting in organizations, fiscal policy, and consumption-savings problems.
Recent Flattening in the Higher Education Wage Premium: Polarization, Skill Downgrading, or Both? Robert G. Valletta
Wage gaps between workers with a college or graduate degree and those with only a high school degree rose rapidly in the United States during the 1980s. Since then, the rate of growth in these wage gaps has progressively slowed, and though the gaps remain large, they were essentially unchanged between 2010 and 2015. I assess this flattening over time in higher education wage premiums with reference to two related explanations for changing U.S. employment patterns: (i) a shift away from middle-skilled occupations driven largely by technological change (“polarization”); and (ii) a general weakening in the demand for advanced cognitive skills (“skill downgrading”). Analyses of wage and employment data from the U.S. Current Population Survey suggest that both factors have contributed to the flattening of higher education wage premiums.
Meet the Oligarchs: Business Legitimacy, State Capacity and Taxation Rafael Di Tella Juan Dubra Alejandro Luis Lagomarsino
We analyze the role of people’s beliefs about the rich in the determination of public policy in the context of a randomized online survey experiment. A question we study is the desirability of government-private sector meetings, a variable we argue is connected to State capacity. Survey respondents primed with negative views about business leaders want fewer meetings, as well as higher taxes to the top 1% and more regulation. We also study how these effects change when subjects are (additionally) primed with positive/negative views about government officials. Distrust in the government increases the preferred tax rate on the top 1% only when business legitimacy is low. A model with multiple equilibria helps interpret these findings. In one of the equilibria, meetings are allowed, business legitimacy is high, and people set a low income tax rate for businesspeople. In the other, meetings are forbidden, business legitimacy is low, and people set high taxes to punish the businesspeople for their corrupt behavior.
Projections and Uncertainties About Climate Change in an Era of Minimal Climate Policies William D. Nordhaus
Climate change remains one of the major international environmental challenges facing nations. Yet nations have to date taken minimal policies to slow climate change. Moreover, there has been no major improvement in emissions trends as of the latest data. The current study uses the updated DICE model to present new projections and the impacts of alternative climate policies. It also presents a new set of estimates of the uncertainties about future climate change and compares the results will those of other integrated assessment models. The study confirms past estimates of likely rapid climate change over the next century if there are not major climate-change policies. It suggests that it will be extremely difficult to achieve the 2°C target of international agreements even if ambitious policies are introduced in the near term. The required carbon price needed to achieve current targets has risen over time as policies have been delayed.
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