Taggert Brooks Economics Consulting
Taggert Brooks - Economic Consulting

News for 2008

The Entrepreneurship Myth

The Entrepreneurship Myth an interview with Scott Shane about his book The Illusions of Entrepreneurship.

Some things that aren’t surprising.

Describe the typical startup that you found.
The median startup is a business that’s capitalized with about $25,000. The financing of that business comes from the entrepreneur’s savings. The business is a retail or personal service business, a hair salon or a clothing store, that kind of thing. The founder doesn’t have expectations of a very high growth business, in fact [the entrepreneur is] probably thinking a goal of $100,000 a year of revenue is a good goal.

And it’s most likely to be organized as a sole proprietorship and to have no employees besides the owner—is that correct?

That’s right. And in fact we’re getting close to half, very close to the median would even be home-based.
Why do you think the myth of entrepreneurship, the image that you’re debunking, is so popular?
Part of it is we have a belief that entrepreneurship is good because it’s associated with things that we like to believe about Americans: being independent, doing your own thing, going your own way. The other part of it is that paradoxically, there is one really, really good thing about entrepreneurship that people don’t talk about, which is dominant and we have lots of evidence to support: People who run their own businesses have greater job satisfaction than people who don’t. I think part of it is that we’re trying to make sense of this paradox—that we really like it, but financially it isn’t so great. So we create a myth that says because we like it and it makes us happy, it must also make financial sense, because otherwise there’s a kind of conflict we can’t resolve.

Some things that are surprising are the conclusion the author makes. Rather inappropriately from my perspective. I think the government’s track record of picking winners and losers is pretty poor. The best strategy is always one that lowers costs for everyone, rather than favoring one group over another.

You write that “encouraging startups is lousy public policy,” based on the data you’ve examined. What would you propose as policy alternatives?
The part that’s lousy public policy is the idea that entrepreneurs, regardless of what kind, are good, and if we just have more of them, it’s better. But what’s a good public policy is if we picked certain kinds of startups, and we emphasized the increase in those. But the way the policies are set up, they don’t encourage the specific high-potential startups. Most of the policies are: More entrepreneurs—just let’s get volume. It’s a very volume-oriented strategy. That’s bad public policy.
You collect a lot of data in your book and come to some counterintuitive conclusions about entrepreneurship. What would you say is the biggest illusion?
I think the biggest myth entrepreneurs have is that the growth and performance of their startups depends more on their entrepreneurial talent than on the businesses they choose. I hate to deflate egos, but on the other hand I want people to have a realistic understanding of things. The industry a person picks to start a business has a huge effect on the odds that it will grow. If you go back 20 years or so, about 4% of all the startups in the computer and office equipment industry made the Inc. 500, 0.005% of startups in the hotel and motel industries made that list, and 0.007% of startups in eating and drinking establishments. So that means the odds that you make the Inc. 500 are 840 times higher if you start a computer company than if you start a hotel or motel.

Posted: December 7th, 2008
Categories: Entrepreneurship
Comments: No Comments.

Wealth Effect

I seldom agree with Dean Baker, but here he has a good point.

This is truly incredible. Homeowners have lost more than $5 trillion in housing wealth. There is a very well established wealth effect whereby $1 of housing wealth is estimated as leading to 5 to 6 cents of annual consumption. This implies that the loss of wealth to date would cause consumption to fall by $250 billion to $300 billion annually (1.7 percent to 2.0 percent of GDP). If you add in the loss of around $6 trillion in stock wealth, with an estimated wealth effect of 3-4 cents on the dollar, then you get an additional decline of $180 billion to $240 billion in annual consumption (1.2 percent to 1.6 percent of GDP).

These are huge falls in consumption that would lead to a very serious recession, like the one we are seeing. This would be predicted even if all our banks were fully solvent and in top flight financial shape. Even the soundest bank does not make loans to borrowers who it does not think can pay the loans back (except during times of irrational exuberance).

Posted: November 12th, 2008
Categories: wealth effects
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Visualizing the Election

CNN and other news outlets would have you believe this is still a divided country with red states and blue states.

But a better visualization would shade the areas based not upon who won the state, but by the degree to which they won the state. And the states themselves shouldn’t be represented as a function of their geographic size, but rather the size of their population. Here we have just such a picture, and its clear, we are all purple now. More can be found here.

Posted: November 10th, 2008
Categories: election
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Kondratieff Cycles?

A regular attendee emails:

Just curious… Do you think that the current economic state is merely a “normal” manifestation of the Kondratieff wave? I was first exposed to the theory in 1989 in a marketing seminar as the economy was ramping up toward the unforeseen, at that time, DOT BOMB in 2001. Just thought it might be something interesting to weave into your next presentation. Any thoughts?

My Response:

I am familiar with Kondratieff waves, but I must say I’m pretty skeptical. That our economy – and capitalism in general – is prone to cycles is pretty clear. That those cycles have a regular periodicity is not so clear. In order for me to find any plausibility in theories which claim to have identified some regularity in the cycle it would have to have good predictive power, with fairly sharp predictions. The Kondratieff cycle hypothesis does haven’t very sharp predictions. What you really have is an ex-post justification for the data that we see, and even those that ascribe to the theory, don’t really agree on their identification of the phases of the cycle, making it a less plausible idea. At the end of the day cycles are a function of the collective, yet often idiosyncratic behavior of individuals. I have a hard time believing there is any mechanism that causes these things to occur with predictable regularity. I think you’ll find that this idea appeals to the econo-physicists much more than to any social scientist-economist.

Posted: October 19th, 2008
Categories: business cycles
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Tax Math

Higher taxes are most likely in our future, regardless of who we elect:

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Director of the Congressional Budget Office and current chief McCain economic advisor, is an honest man–which means he’s something of a liability on the Straight Talk Express. A few months ago, he admitted to my colleague, Michael Scherer, that Barack Obama’s economic plan would reduce taxes for most people. And now, in a forthcoming book by Fortune columnist Matt Miller, he makes it clear that the next President is going to have to raise taxes.

“If you do nothing on the spending side, you’re going to have to raise taxes whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or a Martian,” he tells Miller…and then he immediately makes it clear that the “spending side” part of the argument is nothing more than a political fig-leaf.

And the futures market is also betting on rising taxes according to Mankiw.

The top income tax rate is now 35 percent. According to the betting at Intrade, the probability that the top income tax rate in 2011 will exceed 38 percent is 0.87. Call this P(tax hike).

Barack Obama has made such a tax hike part of his campaign promises, and there is no reason to think the Congress won’t deliver for him. So let’s assume Obama is certain to get the tax hike if he wins. That is, P(tax hike / Obama) = 1.0. (If this assumption is wrong, and this conditional probability is less than one, then my conclusion below would be even stronger.)

According to Intrade, the probability of Obama being the next president is 0.53. Call this P(Obama). And P(McCain) = 0.47.

Now we can calculate the probability of a tax hike conditional on McCain winning. It comes from the formula

P(tax hike)
= P(tax hike/Obama) P(Obama) + P(tax hike/McCain) P(McCain),

and plugging in the above numbers. It tells us that

P(tax hike / McCain) = 0.74.

Posted: September 16th, 2008
Categories: tax
Comments: No Comments.

Foreclosure Filing Rate and The Unemployment Rate

The graph below shows the county’s unemployment rate, and the foreclosure filing rate, with the size of the bubbles proportional to the population of the county. A larger version can be found here.

Posted: August 30th, 2008
Categories: Uncategorized
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Property Taxes

We recently finished the semi-annual consumer sentiment survey for the 7 Rivers Region. The upcoming September meeting concerns the Wisconsin Way initiative. In preparation we asked our participants some of the questions that have been asked around the state. In particular we asked:

When you think about the property taxes you or your landlord pay on the home in which you live and the services you receive for those taxes would you say property taxes in Wisconsin (or your state of residence) are much too high, somewhat too high, about right, somewhat too low or much too low?

I’ve joined the following answers and created a word cloud.
a. Much too high
b. Somewhat too high
c. About right
d. Somewhat too low
e. Much too low
f. Other

The fact that you can not find Much Too Low or Somewhat Too Low in the graphic is not a mistake.

Posted: August 23rd, 2008
Categories: consumer sentiment, tax
Comments: No Comments.

Hollywood Subsidies

La Crosse was initially in the running to become one of the locations for the new Johnny Depp “Public Enemies” movie. Wisconsin was chosen for several reasons, one of which was probably the newly passed tax considerations. Maybe we should look at the evidence and research done by other states. This headline says it all:

Rich stars pocket subsidies, state says
The analysis by the Department of Revenue this week estimated that at least half the film-industry payroll spending will go to out-of-town residents, mainly actors, directors, and producers commanding salaries of more than $1 million each. The Revenue Department assumes they will spend only a fraction of their paychecks in Massachusetts, limiting the benefits to the local economy.

The Revenue Department noted its analysis is consistent with a 2005 report on Louisiana’s film tax subsidies, which estimated 60 percent of spending eligible for tax credits would go out-of-state. And when The Providence Journal reviewed records for a Wesley Snipes film subsidized by Rhode Island, it found just $1.9 million of the $11 million in production expenses went to local residents and vendors – less than the $2.65 million in tax credits issued to support the 2006 movie, “Hard Luck.”

But in this week’s report, the Revenue Department found the subsidies probably wouldn’t generate enough money in income taxes and other revenue to offset the cost of the incentives, forcing the state to cut other government spending. Assuming $100 million a year in incentive spending, the state said it would only be able to recoup $18 million to $23 million in other tax revenue.

Posted: June 23rd, 2008
Categories: subsidies, tax
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The Economist has a good article on the impact of large hospitals on their surroundings. In particular they discuss the impact of Mayo. This is a mixed blessing.

The good:

The size of the health giants ensures that their reach extends far beyond the examination room. Each, for example, has made its city something of a destination for “health tourists” (people who come for operations or check-ups) and conferees. Rochester received 2.5m visitors in 2007; about 70% of these came to visit Mayo. At the last count, Rochester had the same number of hotel rooms as nearby Minneapolis, which is about four times as large.

The not so good:

For all this activity, community relations remain a work in progress. Mayo has dominated Rochester for so long, donating to a host of local programmes, that the mayor—himself a former Mayo employee—calls the clinic “a gorilla, but…a very nice gorilla”. The Cleveland Clinic’s relationship with its city is more complex. Cleveland is much larger than Rochester and much more racially diverse; the city has an industrial hangover and the attendant headaches of poverty and urban decay. The clinic itself sits in a poor neighbourhood where few employees live, preferring to drive in from the suburbs.

Posted: April 13th, 2008
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: No Comments.

Liability and Entrepreneurs

Marginalrevolution has a post on firm size and liability.

I would like to tile my front porch steps and have been shopping. Lowe’s and Home Depot have plenty of tile but although they advertise installation they won’t install it outdoors. The salespeople, however, will surreptitiously recommend small family contractors. Call Jose, they tell me handing me a number. Why won’t the big firms install outdoor tile?

As best as I can figure the answer is liability. A few slips, falls and an enterprising lawyer or two and Lowe’s could be out millions of dollars. The revenues aren’t worth the risk so small firms step into the breach. The key, of course, is that the small firms won’t be sued because they are judgment proof.

Roberta Romano was here yesterday and offered another example. The big auditing firms won’t do SOX audits for small firms because the revenues are low relative to the risks. The smaller firms must turn to judgment proof auditors of less reliable reputation.

In one sense, this is a good workaround for a liability system that seeks out deep pockets. Consumers are better off than they would be if neither Lowe’s nor the judgment proof firms offered services and they are also better off than if Lowe’s was required to offer services, because the price at which Lowe’s would do so voluntarily would be prohibitive (consumers would be forced to buy insurance they didn’t want at the price).

But more deeply the resulting system is inefficient. Consumers don’t get the insurance that the liability law is supposed to provide and they must turn to lower quality, higher cost service providers even when they would prefer larger firms with solid reputations.

So small entrepreneurs appear to be in some part an answer to our often litigious society.

Posted: March 20th, 2008
Categories: Entrepreneurship
Comments: No Comments.

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