Drink heavily tonight

Because it makes you smarter:

(Source Marginal Revolution)

Note: I am joking, this is not causality.  For one we don’t have a quantity measure of drinking, and the impact of drinking on intelligence is no doubt non-linear.  In fact, you could make the argument that “smarter” people know how control their own alcohol consumption, and so do not face the severe negative impacts of drinking – in a way smart people are more likely to find ways to control, or are not subject to, time inconsistency problems in liqour.

However, I think we should also use this as a reminder that it the link between the consumption of a drug and the drugs impact can be very poorly estimated if we aren’t very careful to control for these sorts of issues – hence why I do not trust a lot of studies out there, especially the ones made by interest groups where all they do is draw lines (95% of studies according to my casual observation).

Update:  CPW sent me the link to the full set of graphs with alcohol involved – it is beautiful.

Universal healthcare and superannuation, and the cost of thinking ahead

If doing actions that reward a future self is perceived as costly could we justify these actions.  If thinking about our wealth, human capital, or ability to live in 10 years time is inconceivable, will me over consume now?

In essence this sort of discussion is saying that we discount our future selves TOO steeply (compared to whatever the underlying presumption of a “fair discount factor” is).  Is this a fair value judgment to make in policy?  It is not one I would make, but it appears to be the basis of some overaching policies such as universal healthcare and superannuation.

In this case, we don’t need to worry about a “moral hazard problem” even though (empirically) the actions of moral hazard will appear.  Why?  Because the actors aren’t thinking about the future selves and so these “inefficient” outcomes would have occurred in the first place!  Policy helps to correct this by transfering resources to our future selves to improve outcomes relative to the REAL counterfactual (rather than the idealized one where agents choose on the basis of our subjectively fair discount rate).

I think it is important to keep this issue in mind, because it is a closet behavioural assumption behind most policy.  If we buy this value judgment, then we will believe in a larger role for government then if we didn’t.

GST and food. Why I’m against exempting the tax

Via Dim Post, No Right Turn mentions an article from Werewolf.co.nz by Gordon Campbell.  The article supports the idea of exempting GST on food. There were a number of interesting facts, I definitely enjoyed the articles.

However, even if all the premises are correct and even given significant social justice goals, I think we have to be clear regarding why we think an exemption is the way to go – and in the end I still disagree regarding any exemption.

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Fat is normal, but it still involves choice.

I was impressed by the title of a NZ Herald article today “Fat is normal“.  I was like, yes it is perfectly rational for an individual to put on weight, contrary to what we are often told.  I began to think that if policy wonks would treat the idea of putting on weight sensibly we could avoid weird “anti-fat” policies.

However, then inside the article I saw it was written by a nutritionist – the worst of the prescriptive disciplines in my opinion.  Furthermore, they decided to take an entirely holistic approach to weight gain, removing any individual responsibility and blame the environment.  Namely:

Professor James said that in countries such as Britain and New Zealand, the reason for many people’s obesity was a genetic predisposition in an environment which allowed it to happen with an “out-of-control” food industry and the constant use of cars

What is this.

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Health Legislation: a carbon emitter?

As speculated by some over the weekend, and confirmed today by the Economist, Copenhagen currently appears to be nothing more than a venue for which policy makers will agree to consider a future agreement on Carbon Emissions.

Undoubtedly there exist links between the U.S.’ relaxed approach to the summit and the Obama administrations efforts to pass universal healthcare; for the latter to pass the support of those contributing to the former is required. This is nothing new. What is interesting to note, however, is that such an attitude to favor health over emissions has been indirectly present within the U.S. for some time.

Earlier this year Boston became the second city (following San Francisco) to pass legislation banning the sale of cigarettes in ‘drug’ stores.  Within this legislation there exists a further directive restricting the sale of cigarettes on college campuses. This is where things become interesting. Consider a representative smoker. The impact upon this agent from said legislation results in further effort (i.e.; distance traveled) to obtain cigarettes. As such, the ‘carbon footprint’ of each cigarette has increased within the city of Boston; not too mention the shadow price of the cigarettes themselves.

The question is now posed; are carbon emissions an indirect consequence of health legislation?

Optimal health spending

Greg Mankiw isn’t impressed by Obama’s comments on health spending. Obama thinks that increasing health spending without limit is a bad thing. Mankiw points to a QJE article that suggests increasing health spending is optimal:

As people get richer and consumption rises, the marginal utility of consumption falls rapidly. Spending on health to extend life allows individuals to purchase additional periods of utility. The marginal utility of life extension does not decline. As a result, the optimal composition of total spending shifts toward health, and the health share grows along with income. In projections based on the quantitative analysis of our model, the optimal health share of spending seems likely to exceed 30 percent by the middle of the century.

What I find interesting is the choice of assumptions in this article. Read more