Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Perils of Price Controls

by Richard A. Epstein

Defining Ideas

August 30, 2011

Last week in the New York Times, veteran health correspondent Gardiner Harris wrote of the recent sharp and puzzling shortages of critical drugs used for treating a wide range of life-threatening cancers and bacterial infections. The total number of shortages has increased from 58 vital drugs in 2004 to 211 in 2010. These shortages have prompted some wholesalers to hoard certain scarce drugs, which has only aggravated the problem.

Harris reports that public officials and policy makers are now anxiously preparing a set of proposals to deal with these shortages. One such proposal calls, not surprisingly, on the federal government to take on a greater role in stockpiling dry ingredients of key drugs, which in times of need could be released to hospitals where pharmacists could then convert them into injectable compounds. A second legislative proposal, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to demand that drug companies give the FDA early warnings when they anticipate a cutback in the quantities of goods they ship to the market. Still a third proposal calls for removing restrictions on importing generic drugs from overseas in order to ease the current shortages.

One of the real difficulties in understanding these shortages is that they appear to stem from multiple causes. Some shortages come from the failure of various suppliers to meet FDA inspection standards for safety. Other shortages appear to stem from the scarcity of drugs in their cheaper generic forms. Harris says that the FDA attributes this shortage to "capacity problems at drug plants or lack of interest because of low profits." Low profits follow inexorably from price caps. These caps in turn interact with safety issues, creating possible synergistic effects, Let’s tackle each cause of the drug shortages separately, starting with the pricing issues.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sylvia Nasar’s Animated Guide to Econ

The Daily Beast
August 23, 2011

Take a surprisingly entertaining stroll through the pages of economic history with Sylvia Nasar, whose new book Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius tells the story of modern economics. Watch this animated short that breaks down the key points that got us to where we are today.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Economic Analysis of Gang Colors

by Christopher Shea

Wall Street Journal

August 2, 2011

Most of us have grown sufficiently used to the idea of gang colors that we don’t bother to ask why they exist. But, if you think about it, they’re paradoxical: Why would people who belong to groups that sell drugs or commit crimes go out of their way to advertise their membership in those groups? A new paper, by Andrew Mell, an economist at Nuffield College, Oxford, attacks that conceptual problem.

He does so by drawing on evolutionary theory and the related issue of coordination between agents. If you’re a criminal, one of your principal challenges involves knowing whom it’s safe to do business with. You don’t want to sell to an undercover cop, obviously, but you also don’t want to sell to an eager-but-clueless criminal who may well get caught and drag you down with him.

Like certain ostentatious displays by males in the animal kingdom, gang colors serve as a handicap, Mell argues: Yes, they make it more likely that the person wearing them will be caught. Yet they semaphore the following message: If I’m still willing to commit crimes when I have this handicap, I must be pretty good at evading the police. Incompetent criminals couldn’t get away with wearing gang colors.


Read the Paper

See also

Monday, August 1, 2011

Seeking Arrangement: College Students Using 'Sugar Daddies' To Pay Off Loan Debt

by Amanda M. Fairbanks

Huffington Post

July 31, 2011

"I was thinking about going on Match but I needed help financially," says a 25-year-old student at a trade school in New York. When meeting men online, she sometimes goes by the name of Suzanne. "I guess what finally pushed me over the edge was that I needed help to pay off my loans from school."

Earlier this spring, after Suzanne got fired from her job as a waitress at a diner on the Upper East Side, a girlfriend suggested she create a profile on Seeking Arrangement. Suzanne had grown desperate after falling behind on rent. She also needed to come up with $3,000 for a trimester's worth of paralegal classes.

Suzanne already has an associate's degree in elementary education from a community college in New Jersey. Unable to find a job as a teacher's aide, she decided to enroll in paralegal classes at night. But after losing her job, the extra debt proved more than she could afford. She took out $10,000 in loans to pay for a year of school and promptly went on the hunt for a sugar daddy.

Over the past few months, Suzanne says she's gone on more than 40 dates with men from the site. She's not interested in getting wined and dined every single time. At a minimum, she hopes for at least a modicum of attraction. She's already turned down a man who weighed 400 pounds, as well as the advances of countless married men. Though desperate, Suzanne says a homewrecker she is not.

Following numerous emails and chats on the phone, Suzanne generally schedules a first meeting with a man in a public place -- a crowded restaurant, cafe or bar.

After nearly giving up on finding an arrangement, Suzanne recently met a 39-year-old college professor from Dover, N.J. So far, the two have gone on three dates. They typically meet at his house, where he usually cooks her dinner. Afterwards, they have sex.

"After all the assholes I've met, this guy's a real gentleman," says Suzanne, during a break before class. "At the end of the night, he usually gives me $400 or $500 bucks. It's not bad money for a night." While the men typically pay per meeting, Suzanne is hoping to set up an ongoing hookup. Mostly, she doesn't want the men thinking she's only seeing dollar signs, pegged to when her rent or tuition money is due.