Spot day


My introduction to futures markets came in a 1960s TV show called Dobie Gillis, most notable for the ‘beatnik’ character of Maynard G. Krebs, played by Bob Denver, later the eponymous Gilligan of Gilligan’s Island*. In one episode, Dobie’s high school class was assigned to do a fantasy investment exercise, and Dobie along with a cute & smart fellow student chose the egg futures markets. The smart student’s moves always paid off, and Dobie decided to copy them all in real life, building up a huge profit. Finally, the smart student announced she was selling, but Dobie intoxicated with success, decided to keep playing. This went on for a few days of rising prices, but finally when Dobie announced he had held on yet again, the fellow student said, with some horror, “But, Dobie, today is spot day”. The final scene was of the back room of Dobie’s dad’s store, filled to the rafters with the eggs on which Dobie had been forced to take physical delivery.**

Today’s Fin, with a piece by Andrew Leigh*** praising betting markets on events like unemployment rates and so on, brought this episode to mind. It struck me that the case for weak-form market efficiency (the market price incorporates all publicly available information) is much better in a market with a spot date in the near future, as is typical of real betting markets. If you are betting on a race to be run this afternoon at 3, there’s not much point in trying to track movements in the market: you’re better off backing whichever horse is offering the best odds relative to your best estimate of winning probability. More generally, markets with a spot date in the near future ought to be relatively immune to bubbles.

While I’m on the topic, I thought I would repost a piece I wrote before the 2007 elections which, I think, puts a bit of a dent in claims that betting markets really represent the superior wisdom of crowds: in this case, the polls were right long before the pundits and the punters came in last. Of course, one data point doesn’t constitute proof, but supporters of betting markets have made strong claims on the basis of fairly limited data.

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Education and the budget

No group in the community greeted the election of the Rudd government with more enthusiasm and more relief than the higher education and research sector. The Howard government had treated the sector to a decade of ideologically motivated cutbacks combined with a tribal history which reflected, in large measure, the defeats and slights its members had endured as student politicians in the 1970s and 1980s. The number of places for domestic students was effectively frozen for most of the Howard era, reflecting both a desire to pressure the universities into offering full-fee places and a belief that Australia did not really need a more educated workforce.
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Global outlook (Crikey post)

If not for the drastic downward revision of expectations that has taken place since the financial meltdown of September-October 2008, the Budget’s forecasts for global economic conditions would look exceedingly gloomy. As it is, they look to be based on a fairly rosy scenario, in which advanced countries experience a GDP contraction of just under 4 per cent in 2009 before stabilising in 2010 and recovering in 2011.
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Tax and the Budget (Crikey repost)

In the Sherlock Holmes story, Silver Blaze, the crucial clue was that of the dog that did not bark in the night. In the 2009-10 Budget, tax policy is surely the dog that did not bark. Despite the near-unanimous view of the economics profession that the tax cuts promised at the 2007 election, irresponsible even at the time, should now be scaled back or deferred, the government made no move in this direction, preferring to achieve a somewhat similar outcome by tightening means tests for higher income earners.
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Unemployment (reprint from Crikey coverage)

The budget projects that, despite the effects of the stimulus package, unemployment in Australia will reach 8.5 per cent next year. It’s striking then, how little the budget contains in terms of measures specifically directed at improving the lot of the unemployed. Most obviously, unemployment benefits have not been increased, further widening the gap between these benefits and other pensions. In an environment where suggestions that unemployment is partially or wholly voluntary can no longer be sustained, it is hard to avoid a feeling of injustice here.

The direct response to unemployment in the budget amounts to $1.5 billion for the Jobs and Training Compact, much of which has already been announced or foreshadowed. The main focus is on training, which is good long term policy, but may not be all that helpful in a recession.

Most of the timing, training is the best way of making people more employable. A lengthy recession strengthens the case for participation in school, university or TAFE diploma courses.

If the labour market is weak, the option of staying in school, or of going back to university or TAFE to enhance your qualifications is more attractive. It’s safe to predict that demand for tertiary education places is going to be quite a bit higher for the next few years. Even with the expansion of places announced in the budget, it is likely that the number of qualified students unable to find a university place will increase in 20101.

On the other hand, short-term training programs directed at those who are already unemployed are of little use in recessions. When few employers are hiring, those who do so can pick and choose from a pool of experienced and qualified candidates. A training course of a few months is unlikely to move an unemployed person to the front of the queue.

In a sustained recession, there is a strong case for direct job creation, targeted at the unemployed. In addition to existing infrastructure projects the government is offering a $650 million Jobs Fund, designed to ‘support local jobs in areas hardest hit by the downturn’.

While welcome, the government’s measures represent a small fraction of the expenditure allocated to the Keating government’s Working Nation program. As with other responses to the 1989-90 recession, Working Nation was not introduced until high unemployment was firmly entrenched. The Rudd government’s limited steps in this respect contrast unfavorably with its rapid, indeed pre-emptive, adoption of fiscal stimulus policies.