Tuesday 21 August 2012

NBER roundup [updated]

The late-night NZ-time twitter feed occasionally brings American morning delights. Tonight, it's the new NBER working papers. In the queue for when I'm back on campus and can read the NBER subscription papers:*
  • Callison and Kaestner find tobacco consumption less price sensitive than previously thought; they reckon it would take a 100% tax increase to get a 5% drop in consumption. This would be estimated around American tax levels, which are rather below NZ ones; I'd need to back that out into price elasticity estimates to translate it into effects of NZ tax increases. From the abstract:
    ...we focus on recent, large tax changes, which provide the best opportunity to empirically observe a response in cigarette consumption, and employ a novel paired difference-in-differences technique to estimate the association between tax increases and cigarette consumption. Estimates indicate that, for adults, the association between cigarette taxes and either smoking participation or smoking intensity is negative, small and not usually statistically significant. Our evidence suggests that increases in cigarette taxes are associated with small decreases in cigarette consumption and that it will take sizable tax increases, on the order of 100%, to decrease adult smoking by as much as 5%.
    If that's right, Turia's tax increases are more regressive than we'd expected.

    Update: Oh wow. Read this bit from the full paper:
    Using this method, we found that for adult smokers ages 18 to 74, a 10% tax increase is associated with between a 0.3% to a 0.6% decrease in smoking participation and a 0.3% to a 0.4% decrease in smoking intensity. More surprisingly, given past research suggesting that youth smoking is more sensitive to taxes and prices, we find very little difference by age in the association between cigarette taxes and cigarette consumption. A 10% increase in state cigarette tax is associated with: between a 0.3% to a 0.7% decrease in smoking participation for those ages 18 to 34; between a 0.2% to a 0.4% decrease in smoking participation for those ages 35 to 54; and between a 0.3% to a 0.6% decrease in smoking participation for those ages 55 to 74. Similarly a 10% increase in state cigarette tax is associated with: between a 0.3% and a 0.5% decrease in smoking intensity for those ages 18 to 34; a 0.3% decrease in smoking intensity for those ages 35 to 54; and between a 0.3% and a 0.4% decrease in smoking intensity for those ages 55 to 74. Finally, standard errors of estimates are of a magnitude that rule out cigarette tax elasticities with respect to smoking participation (intensity) among adults greater (more negative) than -0.12 (-0.13).
    It is notable that estimates in Table 3 provide no evidence to support the hypothesis that smoking behavior is more responsive to taxes (prices) among younger persons than older persons.
    There may be effects in encouraging kids younger than 18 to avoid starting smoking; the analysis here is restricted to adults. But if this is right, it means that whatever benefits come from Turia's Tax will be over a very long time horizon while the costs on low decile households through reduced net-of-smoking disposable income will be very large for a rather long time. I probably ought to pull this up to being its own post. There are rather a few careful controls in here that need more discussion.

  • Reyes gives more evidence that banning leaded gasoline, and other restrictions on environmental lead, was a very good idea. From the abstract:
    The paper finds that elevated levels of blood lead in early childhood adversely impact standardized test performance, even when controlling for community and school characteristics. The results imply that public health policy that reduced childhood lead levels in the 1990s was responsible for modest but statistically significant improvements in test performance in the 2000s, lowering the share of children scoring unsatisfactory on standardized tests by 1 to 2 percentage points. Public health policy targeting lead thus has clear potential to improve academic performance, with particular promise for children in low income communities.
    Reyes previously estimated that reductions in environmental lead can account for a 56% reduction in violent crime in the 1990s.

    Update: The paper gives some nice benchmarking of the effects of lead reduction: the improvement in test scores that came of the reduction in the proportion of low income kids with high blood lead concentrations would be comparable to the improvement in test scores you'd expect if per capita incomes improved by 15% in low income communities - a rather substantial effect.

  • Hastings et al provide more evidence that kids winning lotteries allowing them to attend the school of their choice enjoy better outcomes

  • Fergusson, Robinson, Torvik and Vargas set up a model testing an Orwellian idea: that leaders whose power is augmented by warmaking have little incentive to let the war end. They test against Colombian data. From the abstract:
    We find that after the three largest victories against the FARC rebel group, the government reduced its efforts to eliminate the group and did so differentially in politically salient municipalities. Our results therefore support the notion that such politicians need enemies to maintain their political advantage and act so as to keep the enemy alive.
    War is the health of the state...

  • And, finally, Lacetera et al on compensation for marrow and organ donation. The abstract:
    In an attempt to alleviate the shortfall in organs and bone marrow available for transplants, many U.S. states passed legislation providing leave to organ and bone marrow donors and/or tax benefits for live and deceased organ and bone marrow donations and to employers of donors. We exploit cross-state variation in the timing and passage of such legislation to analyze its impact on organ donations by living and deceased persons, on measures of the quality of the organs transplanted, and on the number of bone marrow donations. We find that these provisions did not have a significant impact on the quantity of organs donated. The leave legislation, however, did have a positive impact on bone marrow donations. We also find some evidence of a positive impact on the quality of organ transplants, measured by post-transplant survival rates. Our results suggest that these types of legislation work for moderately invasive procedures such as bone marrow donation, but may be too low for organ donation, which is riskier and more burdensome to the donor.
    Becker and Elias reckoned it would take about $15k in compensation to encourage kidney donation. If the tax benefits added up to less than that, it would have been surprising if there had been large effects on live donation rates. The data appendices (free access; the article is gated) shows no state provided more than $10k as tax deduction. Note that a $10k tax deduction isn't $10k in hand: it's $10k that you get to remove from your taxable income total. So it's only worth $10k times your marginal tax rate - in other words, very unlikely to motivate donation from the cohorts more likely otherwise there to be price sensitive.

    Update: A few neat bits on seeing the paper rather than just the abstract:
    • Where some worry that paying for organs worsens quality, the authors found instead weak evidence of quality improvement.
    • The authors seem to have reached the same conclusion: the payment levels via tax deductions are likely below the reservation price for live kidney donation.
* I've only caught the abstracts of these thus far; if there are grievous errors in method that aren't obvious from the abstracts, my apologies.

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