Saturday 26 September 2009

Counting the cost

In an even-handed article for the New Zealand Drug Foundation, freelance journalist David Young assesses the Hurly-BERLy.
Palmer concluded, “We have sufficient evidence to consider whether some of the costs isolated in the BERL report should be internalised to the liquor industry. I doubt that such a proposition will be met by great enthusiasm, but it does seem to me that the taxpayer should not be asked to shoulder as much of the burden as is currently being met from public funds.”

It appears this comment in particular attracted the attention of Crampton, who says he was surprised to see Palmer using the BERL report. From his first look, Crampton had concluded, “It couldn’t really be used for policy analysis.”

Crampton began criticising the BERL report and its use by the Law Commission on his popular economics blog, Offsetting Behaviour. He wrote a commentary on the matter in The Press, and eventually, with fellow economist Matt Burgess (Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation), published a 42-page referenced review of it. This effort was not funded by any outside organisation, but was enough to attract attention from reporters, bloggers and pundits.

What is the BERL report, and why has it become so controversial?
I like that Offsetting Behaviour counts as popular. 17th among NZ blogs for number of RSS feed subscribers through Google Reader (my preferred ranking, since it's the one on which I fare best).

The article includes one bit from Slack I hadn't previously seen:
Lead author Adrian Slack has commented: “In terms of forming policy… it gives you some direction on where are the biggest problems, where should we focus” and has noted that the report was not prepared for the Law Commission.
Actually, their report doesn't give very good direction on where the biggest problems are. Before separating out internal costs, it was manifestly unclear that crime costs were the single largest component of policy-relevant external costs, followed in distant second by health care costs and subsequently by road crash costs.

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