Daniel Altman

Everything You Need to Know to Talk About Inequality

Why Thomas Piketty's capital gulf gets a bit complicated when you look at the numbers.

Inequality in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere has become a hot topic since the global economic downturn highlighted the stark differences between rich and poor. Thomas Piketty's widely-reviewed (and, to hear him tell it, widely misunderstood) best-selling book has illustrated just how wide the disparities are in income and wealth. His data show that the gaps are at their widest since the waning days of the Gilded Age, which was not capitalism's finest hour. But how much these gaps really matter in practice is a bit more complicated.  

Continue Reading

You Can't Beat Putin, Because He's Already Won

A game theory guide to understanding the cynical genius of Russia’s president.

Ah, Vladimir Putin. He's the icy-eyed former KGB colonel that everyone loves to hate. Does his ambition have no bounds? Why can't he just be a nice guy? Can't he be reasoned with? This handwringing misses the point. In fact, reasoning is his strong suit -- and the West could learn a lot from him.

Continue Reading

Why Upping the Minimum Wage Requires Immigration Reform

Is Obama pushing a new living wage to try and force the issue of undocumented workers?

Immigration reform is dead in the Congress, or so says almost everyone. It was the iceberg that caused Marco Rubio's presidential ambitions to founder and just one more crunching disappointment of Barack Obama's second term. But another change in economic policy may give immigration reform new life: raising the minimum wage.

Continue Reading

The 2 Percent Doctrine

Is the European Central Bank ready to start tackling the continent’s inflation problem?

Is the European Central Bank finally going to act? Despite 12 straight months of inflation readings below the supposed target for the Eurozone, the folks in Frankfurt haven't changed interest rates since November or brought in any new measures to juice the world's second-biggest economy. But this week, a member of the European Central Bank's (ECB) governing council hinted that it might finally emulate the Federal Reserve's tireless and unconventional fight against deflation. Here are some possible reasons why the ECB has been sitting on its hands -- and may continue to do so at next week's policy meeting.

Continue Reading

China's Empty Cities and the Law of Supply and Demand

Why Beijing needs to keep on building, snarky bloggers be damned.

An old friend of my mother had a saying about cooking for guests: "If there isn't too much food, then there isn't enough." Most mathematically inclined people would agree that the chance of guessing exactly the right amount of food to leave everyone at a dinner party full and happy -- that is, on a continuous spectrum ranging from no food to infinite food -- is virtually zero. But the analysis of economic growth, and China's urban planning in particular, has not always heeded this simple insight.

Continue Reading