As of today, the blog is officially five years old – judging by the first post that was put up. This was a post by James on banning smoking in public places. His justification for it boiled down to:
The fact that we’re currently co-ordinated on an equilibrium where people go to smoking pubs rather than non-smoking pubs is an artifact of the historical norm in favour of smoking. Thus, the lack of non-smoking pubs shows that nobody individually has an incentive to deviate. What it doesn’t show is that this outcome is best or even that it is preferred by everybody.
This is where the government comes in: they must decide whether it is welfare improving to pass laws that re-organise society around a non-smoking norm. Certainly the non-smokers will be better off, but what about the smokers? They may well be worse off, but not by as much as they would like you to think.
He even starts his commentary on time-inconsistency towards the end of the post.
I even commented on the post, showing a complete disregard for the idea of norms:
Surely, if individuals hated being in bars with smokers so much, non-smoking bars would have appeared. After all if non-smokers value not having smoke around, they would be willing to pay a premium, and the bar would sell a differentiated good. If the non-smoker had a smoking friend they would negotiate. If not smoking was so important, the smoker would sacrifice smoking indoors (and maybe choose a worse alternative for smoking outside) for some compensation (e.g. a drink). As this transaction didn’t take place (which would have been a version of the Coase theorem) I doubt the externality was severe enough to require a solution.
What is amazing is that the sort of things we are talking about, and the justifications, haven’t changed at all. I’m not sure what that means.
Note: In truth we are a little over 5 -there was a prior post about a week beforehand that was about the “purpose of the blog” – but it was accidentally deleted as we tried to figure out what we were doing . I also remember it taking a full week before any of us would start posting, because no-one wanted to be the first – so thank you James for breaking the seal.