Tuesday 11 February 2014


These were some of my favourite posts of 2013. I've grouped them somewhat. You should read all of them if you haven't already. And read them again if you have.

Fun economics
  • A rather neat field experiment. Want to know whether increased immigration and diversity scares the ex ante population? Run an experiment. 
  • Inequality, crime, and jellybeans. Inequality may be linked to some stuff. But beware the multiple comparisons problem.
  • Don't start by assuming stupidity. Or, why petrol excise beats fuel efficiency mandates.
  • Guaranteed income and living wages. If unemployment makes people pretty unhappy, and it does, then salary subsidies beat wage mandates.
  • Rent extraction: Quebec edition. Why campaign finance rules don't work well.
  • Shirking air traffic controllers. If you want to make flying riskier, just let air traffic controllers use deteriorating performance, as measured by number of breaches of minimum separation guidelines, serve as indicator of stress sufficient for triggering paid stress leave. 
  • It is forbidden except where it is compulsory. On the nonsense of Canada's cartel legislation. Some cartels are illegal. Other cartels are mandatory. 
  • A simple argument in favour of polygamy. The division of labour within the household is limited by the number of spouses. Why not allow more spouses?
  • Coase and dorm-room noises. U Auckland's student dorms considered banning loud sex late at night. A 'fence-out-the-noise' solution is plausibly better. And what if some neighbours actually got utility from the noise?
  • A modest proposal for internet tax parity. Sure, there are some distortions caused by that low-value imports are GST-free. But if we really want a level playing field, it isn't enough simply to put GST on all imports. I have a plan....
  • Hunt it to save it. Tweeting and shaming rich folks who pay exorbitant fees for safari hunts can do harm to conservation.
  • Currency risk: Why do we make international students bear the risk of fluctuating exchange rates? 
  • Tax all the things. Sure, it's a bit distortionary that firms don't pay Fringe-Benefit tax on parking spaces. But don't we need to consider all the distortions? Shouldn't there be tax credits when an employer compensates you with pay for bearing a disamenity?
  • Career lesbians. The lesbian-heterosexual wage gap illustrates what's behind the gender wage gap: having kids, time outside of the workforce, and post-kid shunting towards non-pecuniary benefits. And, employer fears of prospective maternity risk.
Crunchy, crunchy data
  • Trusting secret data: Dunedin edition. The Dunedin longitudinal survey has the country's best longitudinal data set all hidden away due to privacy considerations. But it would be simple to make it open access, if they wanted to. Simply run a GSS-style front end while keeping each individual's data confidential at the back. 
  • Minimum wages and climate change. Why do so many who accept the science on climate change not accept the science on minimum wages, and vice-versa?
  • The price of wool and economic growth. Remember the big Reinhart-Rogoff controversy? Much of it hinged on a single cell in an Excel table. Here's the story of that cell, and the data wonks who understood how the New Zealand waterside lockout mattered.
Health, fiscal externalities, and the nanny state.
  • Tax maximisation, smoking, and the Stalin Gap. In which I explain what happens when we start considering it an externality on the State and other taxpayers that you've not earned what you could have earned had you chosen less leisure. How else can we interpret the "lost productivity" costs of smoking?
  • The Social Costs of Healthy. In which we discuss whether we even have the sign right in all these discussions of the fiscal burden of lifestyle choices.
  • Coroner recommends. New Zealand would be rather different if government implemented all of the daffy coroner recommendations.
  • No, you can't tax your way to happiness. Some parts of the happiness literature suggest that you can be made better off by taking away some choices. But there are problems....
  • DTC prescription drug advertising. Bans on drug advertising don't make much sense, and make even less sense in New Zealand.
  • Blind to others' ends. Paternalistic policy ignores the very legitimate ends sought by those subject to the regulation.
  • Liquor traps. Be careful how you run liquor permits. It's pretty easy to get into transitional gains traps. Wellington City Council needs to pay attention on this one. When Admiral Akbar-Tullock shouts "It's a Transitional-Gains Trap!", you should listen.
  • Our manufactured drinking crisis. In which the Ministry of Health's data pretty clearly shows that there's no increasing problem with problem drinking. 
  • Social costs and HPV. When we start taking fiscal externalities as having policy consequence, well, we might need to start taxing oral sex. And that's just the start.
  • You have got to be freaking kidding me. Mandatory helmets for scooters? How the hell did any of us survive childhood before the nannies came to protect us? A few anecdotes of the things we survived, back in the day....
  • Driving while.... Lots of things impose risk on other drivers that's comparable to the risk that comes with driving in the .05-.08 range. Should we ban driving at 4 am?
  • Keeping it 18. There was no particular increase in bad stuff after New Zealand reduced the alcohol purchase age to 18. Worse, typical RDD methods used in the US to estimate the bad stuff that could happen were they to reduce their drinking age to 18 more likely identify a birthday effect than anything likely to persist long after the birthday.
  • On alcohol, I now have a standard disclaimer.
Earthquakes and policy
  • EQNZ Lesson 1 for Wellington: Fix EQC. EQC has proven utterly unable to handle the Christchurch mess. There's time to change the system before Wellington gets its earthquake. Here's how to start. 
  • One block of Estuary Road. In which I chronicle the wonderful post-EQNZ fun in my neighbourhood.
  • Oh Christchurch. It didn't have to be like this. But post-EQNZ Christchurch does provide a nice illustration of the problems of central planning.  
New Zealand
  • Kiwi Freedom. NZ is the best country in the world over a plausible bundle of economic and personal liberties. 
  • So where the bloody hell are ya? In which I again argue that libertarians should move to New Zealand.
  • Boffin fun. Suppose that you're the official in the Minister of Culture's office who gets the letter from some European heavy metal website asking how heavy metal music is supported in New Zealand. And suppose further that you have some understanding of the difference between Nightwish and Dimmu Borgir. And that you have a sense of humour.
Other good stuff:
Your favourites of 2013, as ranked by pageviews:
And, finally, a few other posts that got a lot of +1s but aren't otherwise here indexed:
  • If it scares, it leads. In which I'm annoyed by anti-GMO reporting.
  • Dairy Stooges. If you put a 245.5% tariff on cheese, but allow low-tariff import of ready-made pizzas, guess what happens? Go on, guess.
  • Living Free. I still expect that the Human Freedom Index provides a better proxy for experienced freedom than the World Values Survey.
  • I'm scared, Dave. Google provided me an involuntary partial lobotomy when they excised Google Reader.
  • McDonald's vs McWorld. What happens when the only ethnic cuisine you can't get anywhere in the world is the country-specific McDonald's offerings?
  • Obesity and mortality revisited. Yes, the morbidly obese die earlier. But those who are merely overweight live longer. So why do we keep hearing obesity numbers that combine the obese with the overweight? To fuel the perception of an obesity crisis demanding action and policies and regulations and, perhaps, sweet sweet research grants for the public health squad.
The National Business Review reprinted many of these posts as part of their online weekend edition this year. Some of those are indexed here, but their tagging isn't comprehensive. I also started The Dismal Science feed at SciBlogs, the blogging forum of the Royal Society's Science Media Centre.

Analytics tells me that about 68,000 unique visitors made 133,000 visits to Offsetting for 193,000 pageviews in 2013; SiteMeter tells me we had 140k visits. Either way, thanks for dropping by!

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