1. US Household Finance (and Great Convergence/Corrupted Economy): If you've been paying attention to global news, you have no doubt deduced a pattern that many are remarking on: mass protests in many countries that are linked in more than trivial ways to the cost of living, corrupted economies and frustration with a subverted political process: Chile, Ecuador, Lebanon, Hong Kong are just a few. Here's the New York Times on that pattern with discussion of similar situations in nearly 10 more countries. In the sense that these episodes of mass unrest stem back to "pocketbook" issues the United States is an outlier--not that the cost of living and unequal access to opportunity aren't issues--but that they haven't yet lead to mass uprisings. There are lots of reasons for that of course, including relatively low unemployment and at least some consistent economic growth. But the underlying issues just aren't that different. Here's a new report from the JP Morgan Chase Institute on how much savings US households need to weather the typical ups and downs in their income and spending needs. There's a lot to dig into in the report, and I'm still not convinced we understand volatility enough to offer prescriptions, but this is a big step in the right direction. The report finds that US families need 6 weeks of take-home income to weather a simultaneously income dip and expense spike, and that 65 percent of households don't have that. For a more personal take on how budgets are being squeezed, here's the NYT with a in-depth look at four households' budgets.
2. SMEs: The way I see things there are two research questions at the top of the agenda: 1) What distinguishes SMEs/entrepreneurs that grow, and create net new jobs and long-lived profitable businesses (I honestly care less about high growth because I care more about short- and medium-term income effects), and 2) What are the barriers specifically for women in becoming one of those types of entrepreneurs. There are two new-ish papers I came across this week, one on each of those questions. First, here's a paper that tries to establish some objective criteria for distinguishing between "necessity" and "opportunity" entrepreneurs, using their prior work history as the main data source. Using data from Germany and the US they find that opportunity entrepreneurs start more growing businesses (surprise!) and that 80 to 90% of entrepreneurs are opportunity entrepreneurs. The relevance to places outside of a handful of developed countries with well-functioning and tightly-integrated labor markets notwithstanding, I don't find the approach particularly convincing. I can think of lots of different ways to conceptualize what job history means in terms of "opportunity" vs. "necessity" and it doesn't take into account that a lot of "opportunity" entrepreneurs are likely just wrong about the opportunity (or their necessity). But it's a useful paper for thinking about these issues. The second paper is a new working paper from Seema Jayachandran that I just came across this morning, so I haven't had a chance to really look at it yet. But based on the abstract, it's definitely worth taking a look at. She "reviews the recent literature in economics on small-scale entrepreneurship (microentrepreneurship) in low-income countries" with "special attention to unique issues that arise with female entrepreneurship."
3. Digital Finance: Here are some important stories about digital finance that you may not have noticed. A major German manufacturer is still down more than a week after being hit by a ransomware attack. Seventeen iPhone apps have been removed from the app store after researchers discovered they were using a clever way to hide and deliver malware. Two of the most popular VPN providers in the world were hacked recently. A new information-gathering trojan is rapidly gaining popularity with hackers, in part because it's "malware as a service" where you can rent server space and get technical support all for just $200 a month.