Cost-Benefit Analysis of Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio Partner Agencies

I had the honor to speak yesterday at the Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio Annual Summit on the results of a study I did with Eddie Molina on the net benefits or return on investment that this network of out-of-school time agencies contribute to the local community. In short, for every dollar invested in these programs, the valuable services they provide to the youth of San Antonio returns $3.66 in benefits to the community.

These agencies serve 55,000 youth, which is a staggering number in and of itself, and they make a profound impact on many of these kids’ lives. Additionally, while this study did not look directly at their potential impact on economic development, these programs are vital to the future development of San Antonio’s economy, since they are playing such a big role in developing the future workforce and enhancing the quality of life of the community.

The slides I used for my speech can be found here, and the full report can be found here.



Economic Scholars Program

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Economic Scholars Program at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas a couple of weeks ago. It was such a wonderful conference that I felt compelled to post something on the blog about it.

The really cool thing about the conference is that it is run entirely by undergraduate students. This means that the students review the papers for acceptance into the conference, present their research in the sessions, serve as discussants of the papers, and chair each of the sessions. Of course, there are faculty in attendance, but we were there as much for moral support as anything (and also because of the small detail that our universities and colleges required a faculty member to attend with their respective students). The faculty would ask some questions, but probably 95% or more of the questions came from students. And the questions they asked were outstanding, as were the responses to their questions.

Since coming back to St. Mary’s University where I teach, I have told my students that this was the best academic conference I have attended. I have certainly been to professional conferences where the quality of some of the papers was not nearly as high, the discussants were not nearly as prepared, and it was not run as well as this one was.

I should also mention that there was also a poster session that was very highly attended. They served food during the session, so when I walked into the room, I expected to see most of the students hovering around the food because what college students doesn’t want to indulge in good food (and the food at the Fed is always exceptional). However, I saw just the opposite. The students surely ate well, but they were all engaged around the various posters talking about the research that was being presented. They were very, very engaged.  As a professor, it was awesome to observe.

It was such a great experience for the students, and if you are a college professor in economics or other social sciences, I would highly encourage you to consider taking your students to this conference.

The conference is co-hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and Austin College – my alma mater (he states with great pride). The hospitality provided by the Fed staff was amazing. I greatly appreciate all of the effort that the Fed staff and faculty at Austin College put forth to organize and host this conference.

On a personal note, the faculty member from Austin College who was responsible for their part of the organization effort, Danny Nuckols, was my mentor and main economics professor when I was at AC. It was his passion, keen insights, and encouragement, along with being one of the best professors I have ever had, that lead me to follow in his footsteps and become an economics professor.

As always, it was great to see him, but to add to that, I also got to meet two more of his former students who also went onto to become economics professors. One is at the University of Texas at Arlington and the other one is at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It is common for great coaches to develop a coaching “tree” as their assistant coaches branch off to assume head coaching positions at other teams. I guess the same is true with great professors like Danny Nuckols.

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Danny Nuckols, (second from left) and three branches of his professor tree. 

Economic Growth by Presidential Administration

A couple of weeks ago I gave a speech in which I anticipated that the audience would like to have some discussion about the potential economic effects of the upcoming presidential election in the U.S.

To support the discussion, I worked with one of our economics students at St. Mary’s  University to create a chart showing the growth in gross domestic product for the U.S. by presidential administration.


As shown in the graph, GDP growth during Democratic administrations averaged 4.13% and during the Republican administrations, growth averaged 1.77% if you include the Great Depression and 2.72% if you do not include the Great Depression. Without going into more in-depth analysis, it is difficult to make too much of these numbers. I do not think it is correct to just attribute strong or weak growth only to the policies passed during any of these administrations. They can certainly have effects on the economy during their times in office, but the strength or weakness of the economy during most presidential administrations is often due to some extent to the policies implemented well before a president takes office.

For example, some of President Hoover’s policies certainly made the Great Depression worse, but I do not think one can attribute the entire Depression to him. President Roosevelt was the beneficiary of the growth after the Great Depression, the massive amount of spending during World War II, and the fact that he was in office for twelve years. President Obama took office as the economy was at or near the depths of the Great Recession, the cause of which I would attribute to policies implemented by Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43.

There are other studies that go into more depth on growth during the presidential administrations that I may write about in future blog posts. As previously mentioned, while it is difficult to say much about growth during specific presidential administrations based only on the data presented in this chart, there is one fact worth noting. I hear quite a bit that the economy slows or even goes into recession during Democratic administrations, but as shown in the graph, that is clearly not the case.

In fact, it is just the opposite.


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Growth Slowing in Texas and Its Major Metropolitan Economies

I recently gave a speech to the Rotary Club of Seguin titled, “Past, Present, and Future of the Central Texas Economy,” in which I discussed the current economic situation in Texas and across the major metropolitan economies in the state. Growth across the state and in these metropolitan economies has been slowing this year, as expected, but over the past few months, the rates of growth have dipped below long-term trends for San Antonio and below growth rates for the U.S. and even below 1% growth year-over-year in some of the other areas (See chart below). With employment growth of 2.55% in August, Dallas leads the way.


There are several factors that play into this. Houston has seen its economy fall into recession since the decline in oil prices, and as the state’s largest metropolitan economy, this downturn ripples through other local economies. Another big factor is that labor markets in these economies are very tight, and there just might not be enough labor to fuel the continued growth we have seen over the past few years. I believe this is especially acute in Austin but could also be playing an important role in San Antonio and other areas.

Additionally, slowing growth around the globe and the continued strength of the dollar have certainly negatively impacted exports, and I can’t help but wonder if uncertainty around the U.S. presidential election has caused at least a bit of the slowdown. I still need to assess the prospects for 2017, but I want to see the results of the presidential election. Regardless of that result, though, it seems likely that some of these headwinds will continue into next year.

If you’d like to see the presentation, it can be downloaded here.


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San Antonio Economic Forecast Update

I recently presented an update to my 2016 forecast for the San Antonio economy.

Please find the full presentation slides here.

In short, the growth in the San Antonio economy has slowed this year as anticipated. As shown in the following two graphs, through July, employment had grown 2.15% compared to July of 2015 and unemployment was at 2.8% (seasonally adjusted). My forecast for San Antonio this year was for employment growth between 2.25-2.75% and an unemployment rate in the range of 3.5-3.7%. While the July figures are slightly outside these ranges, I am leaving my forecast as is with the recognition that employment growth may end the year a bit lower than 2.25% and unemployment may come in at a rate slightly above 3.7%.

Unemployment rate as of July 2016Employment growth through July 2016

Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding the report.


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Blind Pursuit of the Free Market Does not Lead to Prosperity

While I think the perfectly competitive model as it is presented in economics has some uses in helping us understand economic behavior, I believe the way it is presented in economics classes has lead to a vast misunderstanding of the workings of the economy. The presentation typically gives the impression that government intervention in the economy is only bad, except for instances where market failures exist. The problem, in my opinion, is that very little attention is given to the assumptions necessary to make the model work. Sure, these are most often covered quickly at the beginning of the presentation of the model, but the rest of the course or discussion of this model is spent showing who this leads to equilibrium in the markets and how government intervention pulls the market away from this equilibrium and leads to a loss of welfare. However, if one stops and thinks about it, the assumptions of the model (e.g., economic agents act rationally, perfect information, perfectly mobile resources) mean that the free market really never exists. By its very inherent nature, market failure is always present, and because of this and the fact that markets and the economy are huge complex systems, not the isolated static mechanisms of the perfectly competitive model, they are rarely, if ever, in equilibrium.

I want to stress again that there are still some valuable lessons that can be taken from the perfectly competitive model. It is an elegant model that lead to some intoxicating conclusions, but because of this and the lack of emphasis of the assumptions underlying the model, it has lead to a lot of misguided economic policy. This is especially the case with respect to macroeconomic policy, which has been misguided by the absurd dynamic stochastic general equilibrium model. This has lead to the belief by many that all regulations and government intervention are bad and that if we would only get rid of almost all regulations, cut taxes, and minimize the size of government, markets would be able to operate freely leading to more prosperity and a better society.

To be clear, I am not arguing that government is the answer to everything, nor am I arguing that we should raise taxes to exorbitant levels. But, this blind pursuit of the free market based on the misapplication of economic theory or just bad economic theory does not lead to prosperity either. There has to be a balance between the two. Even Adam Smith (one of the greatest, if not the greatest, political economists, to have ever lived), whose Wealth of Nations is the standard bearer for all those in blind pursuit of the free market, recognized the need for balance, as he thoroughly discussed in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.

This has lead to the belief that the ideas of cutting taxes (mostly for those in the upper income strata and the wealthy) and shrinking the government will lead to prosperity and improved social outcomes. Two articles recently published in the New York Times provide even more evidence that this is not the case. One of the articles was written by two political science professors, Jacob S. Hacker of Yale University and Paul Pierson at the University of California, Berkeley. The article, “The Path to Prosperity Is Blue,” is a brief summary of their book, American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America ProsperI think the following quote from the article summarizes their argument.

Mr. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are united by the conviction that cutting taxes – especially on corporations and the wealthy – is what drives growth.

A look at the states, however, suggests that they’re wrong. Red states dominated by Republicans embrace cut and extract. Blue states dominated by Democrats do much more to maintain their investments in education, infrastructure, urban quality of life and human services – investments typically financed through more progressive state and local taxes. And despite what you have heard, blue states are generally doing better.

Work by Jon Bakija, Lane Kenworthy, Peter Lindert, and Jeff Madrick in their book, How Big Should Our Government Be?provides some evidence against the argument that small government facilitates economic growth. They show evidence that there is a direct relationship between the growth of government and economic growth. Over the past fifty years, those countries where governments have grown the largest over the  past fifty years have also experienced some of the fastest economic growth (see the chart here).

While governments are certainly not perfect, and as I have already mentioned, government is not the answer to every issue or problem, but it seems clear to me that government has an important role to play in the proper functioning of an economy and society. Blind pursuit of the neoclassical notion of the free market with the wildly unrealistic assumptions at its foundation can be very appealing, but it leads to bad economic policy in many cases.

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The Emergence of a San Antonio/Austin Metroplex

I gave a speech today to the San Antonio chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Women.

The topic was the potential for the San Antonio and Austin metropolitan areas to merge into a metroplex or mega-region.

The presentation can be found here: The Emergence of a San Antonio/Austin Metroplex.

Thank you to CREW for the invitation to speak.



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The Importance of Arts Education to Economic Development

Many people, including myself, have argued that it is important to include an enhanced focus (or even a focus at all) on the arts within a curriculum that is focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In other words, the focus on STEM should be expanded to be STEAM. Even with these arguments being made, there has been a relatively recent movement to minimize the importance of a liberal arts education across some states. For example, the governors of both Kentucky and North Carolina have made such proposals.

I think this is a grave mistake. To be upfront, I received my bachelor’s degree from a small liberal arts college, and I am currently an associate professor of economics at a liberal arts university. Thus, I admittedly may be biased. But based on my experience, I know that my liberal arts education allowed me to achieve a deeper understanding and view problems from different perspectives. And in my work with artists on various projects and through my teaching of arts students, I know that they see the world from a different perspective that allows them to approach problems from varied angles.

I think J. Bradford Hipps discusses this very eloquently in his New York Times article, “To Write Software, Read Novels,” published in the May 22 paper edition (published May 21 online under the title “To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf“). In the article, he provides examples where liberal arts graduates working within technology companies applied their abilities to “see” things differently to solve problems that the “techies” were finding to be intractable.

This is not arts for arts sake. This is arts for the economy’s sake.

I am confident that if we continue down this path of gutting liberal arts education from Pre-kindergarten through university, our economy is going to suffer because we will severely diminish the productive abilities of our labor force.

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Economic Impact of LiftFund

Along with many other economists, I have long argued that entrepreneurial activity is a key driver of economic development, and recently, I completed an economic impact study of LiftFund that provides a bit more evidence in support of this idea. “For more than 21 years, LiftFund, a 502(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has helped individuals achieve the American Dream by providing small business loans to those who do not have access to capital from typical lending sources, such as traditional banks” (Source: The study analyzed the impacts across their markets in Texas and Louisiana from 2010 through 2015.  Along with the direct effects of the LiftFund lending, the analysis also took into account the multiplier effects, but the impacts for a specific business are only counted in the year in which the new jobs were created (i.e., the impacts were cumulative into the future years).

Here is a summary of the results showing the rather substantial impacts that LiftFund and the small businesses they fund are having on their local economies.

In Texas, LiftFund issued $104 million in loans during this time period, and the loans to these businesses supported 10,758 jobs and earned incomes of $500 million. These businesses produced output valued at $1.4 billion. This means that for each dollar loaned by LiftFund, $13.21 in output was created in the local economy.

In Louisiana, loan volume during this period amounted to $10.6 million. This supported employment of 1,495 earning incomes of $70 million. The businesses impacted by this LiftFund support generated $181 million in output resulting in a return of $17.03 in output per dollar loaned in Louisiana.

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Arts Are Important Even For Top Athletes

Alan Shipnuck recently wrote a fascinating article about Bryson DeChambeau, one of the world’s best amateur golfers, who will soon be taking the PGA Tour by storm.  In my opinion, the article is fascinating for several reasons, but one quote in the article from Mr. DeChambeau really stood out to me.

“‘…Playing is not about swing theory. When you’re on the course, you have to be an artist.’ DeChambeau can sign his name left-handed, in cursive, upside down. On his bedroom wall is a stippling drawing of his hero, Ben Hogan, that took him four months to create. In 2015 he finally brought this same artistic flair between the ropes, winning the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur. Only four other players can claim this double-dip in the same year: Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Ryan Moore.”

I have long argued that it is very important to have the arts as a core part of the educational curriculum at all levels because even if the person is not going to become an artist, the arts teaches us to “see” things differently. It trains us to approach problems and issues from a different perspective. That is why this part of the article stood out to me. Bryson took a very scientific approach to building his swing and his golf clubs. He majored in physics while at SMU and probably understands the physics and mechanics of the golf swing as well as anyone, but it was not until he realized to be an “artist” on the course did he attain the highest levels of amateur golf.  He is now poised for a very successful pro career. Golf constantly presents you with new challenges on the course that you have to address very quickly, so being able to see different ways to address these challenges through the different shots one can make is very important. In other words, art is great training for even some of the top athletes in the world.

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