Allied Social Science Associations Annual Meeting
David A. Vandenbroucke
The Allied Social Science Associations (ASSA) meetings are the biggest economist convention of the year. The anchor organization is the American Economic Association, the primary professional organization for economists in the United States. Many of the specialist economic societies use the ASSA meetings as their annual professional get-together. This allows economists to exchange views across specialties, as all ASSA registrants may attend sessions sponsored by any participating society. The scale of this year’s meetings, held in Chicago January 5-8, 2012, can be measured in many ways: there were 57 sponsoring societies; 13 official hotels, of which three were used for meetings (the rest for housing only); and a printed program 408 pages long, not counting advertising.
The extent of scholarly output presented at the meetings was impossible for one participant to fully take in. Many sessions focused on the recent housing bubble and its aftermath in a continuing effort to understand what happened, why it happened, and how we can prevent it from happening again. So while much of the talk was about the grim state of the U.S. economy, the prevailing tone was one of conviviality and scholarly enthusiasm. It was good to see and spend time with longtime colleagues and heartening to be made aware of how much interesting research is going on even in these difficult times. What follows represents one economist’s impressions of just a few of the sessions he attended.
One session looked at the prospects for a long-term supply of affordable rental housing— whether the private sector is capable of providing for this market segment and how living in subsidized housing affects children. The primary source of data about rental housing is the American Housing Survey (AHS). Two of the papers took advantage of the fact that the AHS returns to the same housing units every two years, thus providing a picture of the sources and dispositions of affordable rental housing from 1985 to the present.
At the "Federal Government Tax Reform," session, featuring Andrew F. Brimmer, former Federal Reserve governor; Austan D. Goolsbee and Martin Feldstein, both former chiefs of the President's Council of Economic Advisors; Alice Rivlin, founding director of the Congressional Budget Office; and James M. Poterba, president of the National Bureau of Economic Research reflected on the need to make the tax system more equitable and efficient while simultaneously increasing revenue to reduce government deficits. This stellar panel agreed that previous “revenue neutral” approaches, which involved changing tax rules while collecting the same amount of total revenue, would not be adequate for the current situation. Because of the exploding Federal deficit, they noted that we must reform the system while increasing total collections. Some panelists favored instituting a consumption (also called sales or value-added) tax while adjusting income tax rates to reduce the burden that the new tax would impose on low-income earners. Many panelists suggested ways to reduce the high corporate tax rates, while broadening the base of the tax. The result would be that more business would pay corporate taxes, with fewer opportunities for tax avoidance, but the marginal rates would be lower. This would encourage repatriation of profits from foreign subsidiaries—which are now kept overseas to avoid high corporate tax rates in this country.
"Economic Development in a Historical Context" illustrated the application of economic theory and methods to understanding long-run and wide-area phenomena. An interesting example is the paper that examined the role that labor markets played in establishing the pattern of late marriage and reduced childbearing in Europe after the Black Death. The epidemic left smaller populations with access to more land per person. They developed consumption patterns involving more meat and dairy products. This encouraged the employment of young women as milkmaids, shepherds, and the like. These women delayed marriage (and thus, childbearing) in order to accumulate savings—which gave them better prospects when they finally did marry. Another paper tied improved agricultural productivity (particularly potato cultivation) to the reduction of wars in Europe between 1500 and 1800.
The preview papers for the ASSA sessions are available for download by AEA members at: http://www.aeaweb.org/aea/2012conference/program/preliminary.php. Final papers will be published in the May 2012 issue of the American Economic Review.