Alan Krueger, natural talentBy Blair Morris
June 18, 2019
FEW ECONOMISTS can claim either to have successfully challenged the bedrock beliefs of their field or to have actually altered how governments pursue policies that affect millions. Alan Krueger, who passed away on March 16 th, handled both. In research with David Card in the early 1990 s, Mr Krueger showed, through careful data analysis, that increases in the base pay did not lead to decreases in work, as basic models suggested they should. The research study, which the authors summed up in a critical book, “Misconception and Measurement”, published in 1995, drew a scathing initial response. Critics attacked their motivations, data and analysis until enabling, finally, that the set had a point. Their work changed economics and politics. It likewise exhibited Mr Krueger’s profession as both scholar and public servant.
Mr Krueger did not discover as the combative type. He was thoughtful and generous in person, and a proficient communicator. That was available in convenient during his time in Washington, as primary financial expert of the Department of Labour when Expense Clinton was president, and in the Treasury and the White House under Barack Obama throughout the most tumultuous financial times considering that the 1930 s. He often composed for the New york city Times and appeared on television. Assisting people understand what financial experts had actually found out was, he believed, part of a financial expert’s task.
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His passion, nevertheless, was the craft of economics. In 1987, as a recently minted PhD, Mr Krueger accepted a position at Princeton University, not far from the New Jersey town where he grew up. From the beginning he had an interest in understanding why employees made what they did. But he recognised that the concern could not be answered satisfactorily without extensive and careful research study of data. Mr Krueger signed up for the New England Journal of Medicine, and admired the method each article started by going over the paper’s research study style. Economics badly dragged medication and the physical sciences in using cautious empirical work, not least due to the fact that of the trouble of running experiments on messy real-world interactions. In the late 1980 s, nevertheless, some economic experts were refining methods to study “natural experiments”, in which a basically random, localised event allowed scientists to compare the experiences of affected and untouched groups, in something of the way that a laboratory researcher might compare treatment and control groups.
Messrs Card and Krueger used the method to studying the impacts of modifications in the minimum wage. At the time most financial experts assumed that labour markets were basically competitive. Employees could easily leave firms that used them too little bit; companies needed to accept dominating market earnings and would just employ as lots of employees as made financial sense. An increase in the base pay, by making labour more costly, ought to hence translate straight into lower work. However did it? Beginning in the early 1980 s, increases in America’s national minimum wage were infrequent and too little to get rid of the effects of inflation. Some states responded by raising their own minimum rates, developing just the natural experiment Messrs Card and Krueger required. They studied the impact of a rise in New Jersey’s base pay in 1992 on employment in fast-food dining establishments, utilizing neighbouring Pennsylvania, which had not enacted an increase, as a comparator. They did not find any unfavorable impact on employment.
Though arguments about this research rumbled on for several years, its impact has been indisputable. It opened the floodgates to a wave of deal with natural experiments. It also stirred debate about competitors in labour markets, to which Mr Krueger would contribute for the rest of his life. Markets may not be extremely competitive at all, some financial experts reckoned, due to the fact that it is expensive for employees to discover and change tasks, or because large firms control markets or collude to reduce pay. In a talk last August, Mr Krueger pointed out a stream of recent research in arguing that stubbornly weak wage development is strong proof that employees have too little bargaining power, and that the economy is suffering as an outcome. It is wrong to label such dynamics “market imperfections”, he mused. As Mr Krueger mentioned, Adam Smith himself believed labour markets worked that way.
A collection loaded with tunes
Mr Krueger’s documents explored how elements from education to race to technology affected workers’ prospects, often rustling up new information sources in the procedure. He drew a link between America’s opioid-addiction crisis and decreasing participation in the labour market, particularly amongst men. He made a routine of attending a festival for twins with Orley Ashenfelter, a mentor and Princeton associate, to look for subjects for studies of the impact of education on incomes, using genetic resemblances to separate the impact. Mr Krueger’s curiosity was insatiable. He released on an amazing variety of subjects. After the attacks of September 11 th 2001, he checked out the factors contributing to the choice to end up being a terrorist. In a book in 2007 he argued that political repression, rather than a lack of financial opportunity, did most to foment terrorism. He studied the home entertainment market, to comprehend how innovation and globalisation are impacting the economics of popular music (another passion): a book is due out in June.
And, often in collaboration with Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate who originated the application of psychology to economics, Mr Krueger dug into the measurement of subjective well-being, intending to find much better methods of catching shifts in what matters most in life (see Graphic detail). The objective of financial progress wants all to help people lead more rewarding lives, and to promote its pursuit, federal governments and scholars require trustworthy information. It was a message he preached throughout his career. His professional example motivated scores of young scholars, whose work is a monument to his memory. Both economics and American public life are much poorer for his death.