November 29, 2011

Dairy supply management: Orphans versus yuppies

Yesterday Federal Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz uttered insane lies about dairy supply management:

I would make the argument that I don’t see those inflated prices, certainly, depending on where you buy,” Ritz told a joint news conference with Alberta Agriculture Minister Evan Berger and Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud.

I received a flyer in my mailbox last night when I got back to my apartment and I opened it up and it’s from Canadian Tire. They’ve got four litres of milk for $4.19. That’s completely comparable to the American price that we’re always being beat up over.

Canadian Tire Econometrics aside, consumers are of course harmed by high prices driven by quantity restrictions. Click here to see a graph showing how much higher our prices are than the EU, US, or New Zealand (all of which all of which except New Zealand [*] also have some sort of supply management, Canada’s is just more severe).
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November 25, 2011

UBC undergrads think atheists are less trustworthy than rapists

In this recently published paper, UBC psychologist Will Gervais and his coauthors consider the causes of prejudice against atheists. In one of their studies, the authors tell UBC undergraduate subjects about a jerk called Richard:

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November 24, 2011

Dear Conservatives: You’re doing it wrong (Bill C-10 edition).

Bill C-10, the Conservative Party’s controversial, to put it mildly, crime bill, requires the government to use evidence when making policy decisions. Sadly, though, this evaluation of evidence is to take place five years after the policy is put in place, placing the cart before the horse:

9. (1) Within five years after this section comes into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act, including a cost-benefit analysis of mandatory minimum sentences, shall be undertaken by any committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament that may be designated or established for that purpose.

When asked to cite studies supporting C-10, Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson responded that provisions in the bill are based on “personal observations.”

Canadians should demand a government which bases policy on evidence, not anecdotes and hysteria.

(The full text of the Bill can be found here.)

November 21, 2011

Hamermesh on macro

Interesting interview with Dan Hamermesh. Reading carefully between the lines, it would seem he’s not entirely enthusiastic about macro. Personally, I just wish people—particularly macroeconomists—would stop using the word “economics” when they mean “some of macroeconomics.” I’m looking at you, Paul Krugman, and you, Brad DeLong.

Here is one of the questions I wanted to ask you, with regards to Heilbroner’s book. With the economics profession, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, being somewhat in disrepute…

Stop! Stop, stop, stop. The economics profession is not in disrepute. Macroeconomics is in disrepute. The micro stuff that people like myself and most of us do has contributed tremendously and continues to contribute. Our thoughts have had enormous influence. It just happens that macroeconomics, firstly, has been done terribly and, secondly, in terms of academic macroeconomics, these guys are absolutely useless, most of them. Ask your brother-in-law. I’m sure he thinks, as do 90% of us, that most of what the macro guys do in academia is just worthless rubbish. Worthless, useless, uninteresting rubbish, catering to a very few people in their own little cliques.

I’m not sure most people in the outside world would make a distinction between macro and microeconomists.

I know. It’s up to us to educate them. I got this line from a friend in architecture the other day. He said exactly the same thing. I went through the same litany, trying to disabuse him of this notion. It’s like pushing a stone up a giant hill. It’s not going to get me very far, I agree. But nonetheless it is the case that most of us, and most of what we do, remains tremendously useful, tremendously relevant, and also fun!

November 18, 2011

The patriarchal language of “mathematics”

Pulled from the comments:

Economists merely regurgitate the patriarchal language of “mathematics” and therefore perpetuate the transmogrification of marginalized classes by heteronormative imperialist forces. Any hermaneutical approach worth its salt will nullify the predation of privileged sectors and work to delegitimize the sanctity of “otherness” while subtextually transcending mythopoetical domination by post-capitalist neophytes. Economics fails to do this.

It’s a fair cop.

November 15, 2011

The optimal regulation of vibrators

In Alabama it is illegal to sell “any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for anything of pecuniary value.” You can’t legally sell a vibrator. This is an extreme example of morality legislation, laws against activities some people consider immoral merely because some people consider them immoral. Why are such laws on the books and how can we get rid of them?

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October 27, 2011

Smoking, health care costs, and imprisoning drug users because they cost us money to imprison

Earlier this week I posted an article on the Globe’s Economy Lab blog on lifestyle and health care costs. Here’s a little more exposition on a couple of key points, phrased a little more formally.
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October 24, 2011

Patient knowledge, antibiotic abuse, and impolite physicians

Antibiotic overuse causes great social harm yet is largely absent from public discussion of drug policy. There is a textbook external effect of an antibiotic prescription: the more antibiotics are used, the higher the risk we all face of resistant infections. As a result, there tends to be too much use of antibiotics. There have been ongoing efforts to reduce use of antibiotics, particularly in the context of treating respiratory infections, in part by educating GPs, the supply side of the relationship, on appropriate use.

In “Patient knowledge and antibiotic abuse: Evidence from an audit study in China” Janet Currie, Wanchuan Lin, and Wei Zhang consider the demand side of the relationship: what is the effect of patient knowledge on antibiotic use? Continue reading

October 22, 2011

More anti-intellectualism at the Globe and Mail

Regarding Ira Basen’s incompetent hatchet job in last week’s Globe and Mail, political activist and former history professor Gerald Caplan announces:

Ira Basen’s very crucial point (although he’s not quite this blunt) is that the entire economics profession is something of a fraud and that mainstream economists often have no idea what they are talking about. Except for some shining exceptions like John Maynard Keynes, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, for over 200 years economists – including the “trained economist” who governs us –have operated on the basis of self-evidently ludicrous premises. Not only ludicrous but relentlessly anti-scientific. As even The New York Times said the other day, the destructive trend toward austerity across the Western world – at least austerity for the most vulnerable – is nothing more than political ideology masquerading as economic policy.

Dismissing an entire discipline you know nothing about in three ideologically-motivated sentences is inarguably anti-intellectual. Anti-intellectualism is unacceptable among educated people, except when it comes to economics, in which case it’s considered unacceptable in some circles to fail to approach the subject in precisely the same manner in which young earth creationists approach evolutionary biology. Much like “biologists are all atheists!” is not only factually incorrect but also an intellectually irrelevant attack on biology, “economists are all right-wing!” is a factually incorrect and intellectually irrelevant attack on economics.

If you (1) don’t know anything about economics and (2) nonetheless hold extremely strong opinions on appropriate methodology in modern economic research, you’re doing it wrong.

October 15, 2011

Myths about the political beliefs of economists

This morning’s Globe includes a lengthy, very low quality article by Ira Basen on what’s wrong with modern economic research. It’s yet another repackaging of the same old ideologically-charged and technically incompetent canards, basically reducing all of economic thought to a cartoon version of macroeconomic theory circa 1980, and all economic research to mindless and/or corrupt advocacy of laissez-faire politics.

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