Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The costs of everything... a continuing series.

The real cost of fiscal externalities running through the health system isn't the transfer from relatively healthy taxpayers to those choosing unhealthy lifestyles (and the otherwise sick), it's the cost we bear when we put too much priority on reducing that total health bill relative to other goals.

Recall that a fiscal externality is an effect I have on you by virtue of the tax system. If my behaviours affect my health, and even if I would have made exactly the same choices if I bore all of the costs of my own healthcare, I nevertheless impose a cost on you through the tax system. But as just about every choice you make has some effect on your health, the scope for individual autonomy is awfully limited in a world where we tried setting policy to minimise those behaviour-related costs. @LibertarianView provides a short list of things you might be doing that cost the UK's NHS money.

I fielded an email from the producer over at Freakonomics Radio who wondered if I knew of any studies of the aggregate cost of sex; Stephen Dubner had a pretty tongue-in-cheek proposal around it a while back. I didn't know of any. I hope that nobody took Dubner's proposal too seriously as I'm rather sure he didn't. But I suppose a study tallying the costs of sex, under an assumption that there'd be no loss of consumer surplus were it abolished, could be just the thing to make the whole "Costs of X" industry finally die of shame.

5 comments:

  1. "I suppose a study tallying the costs of sex, under an assumption that there'd be no loss of consumer surplus were it abolished, could be just the thing to make the whole "Costs of X" industry finally die of shame."

    I suppose you've just given yourself an excellent idea for your next paper. It could be amusing and make a serious point at the same time, in the tradition of "The economics of brushing teeth" and that medical paper on the absence of randomized controlled trials of the use of parachutes. They get cited quite a bit, too.

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  2. There was zero risk that calls for RCT trials on parachutes would yield a control group. A big number on the social cost of sex has some low risk of bad outcomes though, even if its author explicitly says the number is smelly.

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  3. Oh, you think it might end up in the hands of people who don't get it, or don't want to get it? Maybe some funny drawings ("firgures") might help.

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  4. I probably am more looking for excuses not to do it... it would take a bit of work.

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  5. It would be fun to come up with some lowball figure on the maximum amount of sex that could be consistent with rationality and quote Comic Book Guy's citing of the Vulcans.... All sex in excess of once per seven years is irrational and without benefit. And earnest descriptions of the irrational spending on implements to assist with this irrational sexual activity...

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