Thursday, February 28, 2013

What do the numbers say? A cost-benefit analysis of love and sex

by Zosia Bielski

The Globe and Mail

February 28, 2013

How’s your marriage portfolio doing?

In her book Dollars And Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love, University of British Columbia economics professor Marina Adshade suggests that almost every option, decision and outcome in love and sex is better understood when you look at matters through an economic lens.

Adshade reveals how economics trickle down to our most intimate moments, affecting everything from teen pregnancy rates to child care. While people don’t consciously do the “promiscuity math” every time they fall into bed with someone, she reveals how economic factors shift consequences in our lives, and how this shapes the way men and women behave. Adshade spoke to The Globe and Mail from Vancouver.

Is it politically incorrect to view sex and love via economics – unless you’re talking about straight-up prostitution, where value is easily measured? It makes everything people do seem opportunistic.

Somebody said to me the other day that this is a very cold perspective. The value of the economic approach is to offer some clarity on the decisions that we ourselves make. These are decisions that we can measure: how people match on income or education or political beliefs and how long those marriages last and how happy those people are.

Let’s turn to some of your counterintuitive findings: Birth control has actually increased unintended pregnancy rates outside of marriage. How?

The rate planet-wide is surprisingly high, given how much technology we have to control our own fertility. The unintended consequence of access to contraceptives is that you get more unintended pregnancies because social norms have evolved in a way that allow people to more freely express their sexuality. When more people have sex outside of marriage, you’re bound to get more pregnancy and child birth outside of marriage.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Economist Who Made the Science Less Dismal

by David R. Henderson

Wall Street Journal

February 19, 2013

In 1975, I attended a week-long conference in Connecticut at which the star attraction was Friedrich Hayek. Hayek, who had shared the 1974 Nobel Prize in economics with Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, was doing a kind of victory tour of the United States. I told him that I thought Armen Alchian, one of my mentors when I earned a Ph.D. at UCLA, also deserved the Nobel Prize. I asked Hayek what he thought.

Hayek gave his characteristic wince, paused, and said, "There are two economists who deserve the Nobel prize because their work is important but won't get it because they didn't do a lot of work: Ronald Coase and Armen Alchian."

Sixteen years later, in 1991, Ronald Coase did win the Nobel Prize. When I got the news, I called Armen and told him the story. He got a kick out of it and seemed to have a new hope that he would win. He didn't, and now he can't. Armen Alchian died on Tuesday at the fine age of 98.

What was so important about Alchian's work? There were three aspects. First, he was one of the last economists of his generation to communicate mainly in words and not equations. Second, although economists often use the word "unrigorous" to refer to communication in words rather than math, Alchian was profoundly rigorous, writing clearly and carefully and using basic logic to reach sometimes-startling conclusions. As a result, many of Alchian's papers, even those from the 1950s, are still widely cited.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Armen Alchian (April 12, 1914 – February 19, 2013)

Armen A. Alchian
by Robert Higgs

Independent Institute

February 19, 2013

Arline Alchian Hoel reports that her father, Armen Alchian, “passed away peacefully in his sleep early this morning at his home in Los Angeles.” He was 98 years old.

Armen Alchian was a major figure in the economics profession for more than half a century. At UCLA, where he spent his academic career as a faculty member in the department of economics, he was a legend to generations of graduate students, who were required to take the price theory course he taught in the first year of the program. He used the Socratic method: he simply walked into the class each day and asked a student a question. From that point, the discussion went back and forth between teacher and students. Woe to any student who had arrived unprepared—and sometimes to those who had prepared. Public embarrassment was the price such students had to pay. But in the end, the students came away from the course with a healthy measure of their teacher’s mastery of applied price theory.

And master he was. Besides having a knack for making sense of countless aspects of economic and social life by viewing them as relative-price problems, Alchian helped to blaze trails toward extremely valuable improvements in microeconomic analysis by bringing into the analysis careful treatments of information, uncertainty, transaction costs, and property rights. For him, little difference existed between micro and macro; both were to be understood by using the same basic economic analysis of individual choice.



Sunday, February 10, 2013

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor and Your Economists, Too

by N. Gregory Mankiw

New York Times

February 9, 2013

All the recent talk in Washington about reforming immigration policy brings to mind Pat Paulsen, the comedian who, every four years, conducted faux campaigns for president.

“All the problems we face in the United States today,” Mr. Paulsen would say, “can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.”

That quip contains a deep truth. Almost all Americans today are beneficiaries of a policy that welcomed our ancestors when they arrived at the border.

As an economist, I am often surprised at the hostility that some segments of the population express toward immigration. Most members of my profession are far more receptive to it, and for three main reasons.

First, many economists, especially conservative ones, have a libertarian streak. Ever since Adam Smith taught us about the wonders of free markets and the magic of the invisible hand, we have been loath to prohibit mutually advantageous trades between consenting adults. If an American farmer wants to hire a worker to pick fruits and vegetables, the fact that the worker happens to have been born in Mexico does not seem a compelling reason to stop the transaction.


Friday, February 8, 2013

The Tyranny of Political Economy

by Dani Rodrik

Project Syndicate

February 8, 2013

There was a time when we economists steered clear of politics. We viewed our job as describing how market economies work, when they fail, and how well-designed policies can enhance efficiency. We analyzed trade-offs between competing objectives (say, equity versus efficiency), and prescribed policies to meet desired economic outcomes, including redistribution. It was up to politicians to take our advice (or not), and to bureaucrats to implement it.

Then some of us became more ambitious. Frustrated by the reality that much of our advice went unheeded (so many free-market solutions still waiting to be taken up!), we turned our analytical toolkit on the behavior of politicians and bureaucrats themselves. We began to examine political behavior using the same conceptual framework that we use for consumer and producer decisions in a market economy. Politicians became income-maximizing suppliers of policy favors; citizens became rent-seeking lobbies and special interests; and political systems became marketplaces in which votes and political influence are traded for economic benefits.

Thus was born the field of rational-choice political economy, and a style of theorizing that many political scientists readily emulated. The apparent payoff was that we could now explain why politicians did so many things that violated economic rationality. Indeed, there was no economic malfunction that the two words “vested interests” could not account for.

Why are so many industries closed off to real competition? Because politicians are in the pockets of the incumbents who reap the rents. Why do governments erect barriers to international trade? Because the beneficiaries of trade protection are concentrated and politically influential, while consumers are diffuse and disorganized. Why do political elites block reforms that would spur economic growth and development? Because growth and development would undermine their hold on political power. Why are there financial crises? Because banks capture the policymaking process so that they can take excessive risks at the expense of the general public.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sandors make major gift to Law School; Coase-Sandor Institute named to honor mentor

University of Chicago News
February 7, 2013

Dean Michael Schill announced today that Dr. Richard Sandor, Chairman and CEO of Environmental Financial Products LLC, and his wife Ellen are the principal donors to a $10 million endowment in law and economics at the University of Chicago Law School. The Sandors made the gift in honor of Richard’s mentor, Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase, Clifton R. Musser Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Law School.

In honor of Coase’s path-breaking work and Sandor’s own extraordinarily important innovations in the world of finance and the environment, the Institute for Law and Economics will be renamed the Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics. Current and future work of the Coase-Sandor Institute will focus on the role of law, private property rights and transaction costs in promoting efficient markets. Scholars at the Institute also will study the appropriate relationship between transactions, government regulation, self-regulation and economically efficient outcomes in such disparate substantive areas as climate change, water, endangered species, health care, education, housing and corporate restructuring.

“Over half a century, Ronald Coase’s pioneering work has exemplified the distinctive and powerful nature of University of Chicago scholarship. By transcending the traditional boundaries of two disciplines, Professor Coase helped shape a new field of thought in law and economics,” said University President Robert J. Zimmer. “It is fitting that the inquiry he helped spark continues in an institute that bears his name, and we are grateful to Richard and Ellen Sandor for making that possible.”