The price of everything is everything

Donald J. Boudreaux: Economists’ insights can be mundane & surprising

At first glance, the core insights of economics seem mundane. As something’s cost rises, consumers buy less of it. Producing more clothing requires transferring more resources to textile factories and, hence, away from other uses. When Jen buys a pear from Al for a dollar, she does so because she values the pear more than whatever she otherwise would have purchased with that dollar — and Al values what he will buy with that dollar more than he values the pear.

Pretty straightforward. But what economists do with such “obvious” observations is often mind-blowing.

An important counterintuitive insight was vividly conveyed long ago by my late colleague Gordon Tullock. Asked in the 1960s what government should do to maximize reduction in traffic fatalities, he replied, “Mandate that the steering column of each car be mounted with a steel dagger pointed directly at each driver’s heart.” Initially, that sounds crazy. Yet when you think about it, you realize such daggers would cause drivers to dramatically increase the care they exercise behind the wheel.

Instead of really wanting government to mandate mounted daggers, Gordon was warning government against going too far in mandating safety features such as airbags, seat belts and collapsible steering columns. Just as mandated daggers would lead to more-careful driving, mandated safety features lead to less -careful driving. Safety features truly might reduce highway deaths, but keep in mind the possibility that mandated safety features might have surprising opposite effects.

David Friedman explains another counterintuitive insight: “Economists are often accused of believing that everything — health, happiness, life itself — can be measured in money. What we actually believe is even odder. We believe that everything can be measured in anything.”

What Friedman means is that each of us routinely makes trade-offs among things that seemingly can’t be compared. Consider your enjoyment from going to a concert. Getting there conveniently requires driving. Yet by doing that instead of staying home, you raise your chance of being killed in an auto accident. If you nevertheless drive there, you conclude that the added enjoyment you expect from the concert is worth more than the added safety you’d experience by staying home. That is, you compare the experience of a concert to the risks of driving. Obviously, if the risk of being killed while driving there were high enough, you’d decide to stay home.

Another example: You buy a jacket, telling friends it “cost” you $100. But your statement is inaccurate. When you gave, say, five $20 bills to the clerk, what you really gave up wasn’t five pieces of paper engraved with Andrew Jackson’s portrait. What you really gave up is whatever you otherwise would have bought with those five pieces of paper.

Suppose that, had you not bought the jacket, you would have bought a meal at a nice restaurant for you and a friend. In this case, you compared a jacket to that restaurant meal.

We humans constantly compare apples to oranges — and choose sensibly between them.

Teen Unemployment and Minimum Wage

From the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

The labor force participation and employment rates of young adults in the United States have declined sharply in recent years, especially among teenagers. The overall decline in the rate of labor force participation since the Great Recession has received a great deal of attention from researchers and policymakers, who focus in large part on trying to gauge whether this decline is permanent and what it implies about how tight the labor market is. However, the decline in labor force participation of young adults has been going on for much longer and does not coincide with swings in economic activity.

David Neumark and Cortnie Shupe consider three possible explanations for the decline in teen employment in the United States since 2000, with a particular focus on those age 16–17: (1) a rising minimum wage that could reduce employment opportunities for teens and potentially also increase the value of investing in schooling; (2) rising returns to schooling; and (3) increasing competition from immigrants. The higher minimum wage is the predominant factor explaining changes in the behavior of teens age 16–17 since 2000. Additionally, no evidence was found to suggest that higher minimum wages for teens leads to higher future earnings; if anything, the evidence points to the opposite effect.

  • Prior literature shows that teen employment has declined much more than the employment rates of those age 20–24 since 2000. These changes were larger for teens age 16–17 than for those age 18–19. The percentage of teens not in the labor force who reported wanting a job fell by almost half between 1994 and 2009, from 24 percent to 13.2 percent.
  • The decline in the number of teenagers in the workforce was owing to increases in teens being exclusively in school, rather than combining school and work.
  • In new results presented in this paper, the authors find that higher minimum wages are associated with a lower share of teens age 16–17 both in school and employed, and a higher share in school and not employed.
  • There is some evidence that changes in the return to schooling and an increase in the share of immigrants employed in the workforce may have contributed to the observed changes in employment and enrollment of teens age 16–17, although these effects are considerably smaller than the estimated minimum wage effects.
  • The study found no positive relationship between higher minimum wages for teens and higher future earnings. The evidence, if anything, says that teens exposed to higher minimum wages since 2000 had acquired fewer skills in adulthood. Thus, it is more likely that the principal effect of higher minimum wages since 2000, in terms of human capital, was to reduce employment opportunities that could enhance labor market experience.

 

Seven principles about immigration

I imagine people will hate these principles taken from a Donald Trump speech.

…seven principles is taken verbatim from his speech:

  1. Illegal immigration is wrong. A primary goal of comprehensive immigration reform must be to dramatically curtail future illegal immigration.
  2. Operational control of our borders, through significant additional increases in infrastructure, technology and border personnel must be achieved within a year of enactment.
  3. A biometric-based employment verification system with tough enforcement and auditing is necessary to significantly diminish the job magnet that attracts illegal aliens to the United States and to provide certainty and simplicity for employers.
  4. All illegal aliens present in the United States on the date of enactment of our bill must quickly register their presence with the United States government and submit to a rigorous process of converting to legal status and earning the path to citizenship, or face imminent deportation.
  5. Family immigration is a cornerstone value of our immigration system. By dramatically reducing illegal immigration, we we can create more room for family immigration and employer-based immigration.
  6. We must encourage the world’s best and brightest individuals to come to the United States and create the new technologies and businesses that will employ countless American workers. But we must discourage businesses from using our immigration laws as a means to obtain temporary and less expensive foreign labor to replace capable American workers.
  7. We must create a system that converts the current flow of primarily low skill illegal immigrants into the United States into a more manageable and controlled flow of legal immigrants who can be absorbed by our economy.

Did I say Trump?
Well, it was actually someone else.
My bad…

How to lie with gun statistics

Failure to disaggregate appropriately…

Justifiable Homicides are Counted as Murder under the Felony Murder Rule

The Felony Murder Rule is a law where a person who is involved in a felony can be charged with murder if someone dies as a result of the felony.

….

The felony murder rule is often applied when an armed victim kills one of the criminal suspects attempting to victimize them. If there is a surviving accomplice, the accomplice may be charged under the felony murder rule.

….

If someone is charged with murder under the felony murder rule, the homicide will be coded as a murder in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, not as a justified homicide. Examples of this practice are easily found online.

….

The effect of this is to aggregate homicides committed in self-defense with murders. This under-estimates the number of justifiable homicides recorded to about a fifth of its real value, which dilutes the number of cases where a lawful gun owner stopped a crime.

Listen to the hypocritical Evangelicals while you’re at it

Why was support for Trump so high among Evangelicals? Do they not care about [name the scandal the media was hyping]?

Maybe, but they care about other things a lot more.

…Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told Politico, “We kind of gave him — ‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.’ ” Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, told CNN that Trump is a “changed person.” He rationalized, “These alleged affairs, they’re alleged with Trump, didn’t happen while he was in office.”

There are two ways to view this: Either evangelicals like Perkins are rank hypocrites or, in the spirit of their faith, are simply very, very forgiving.

Many lean toward the former interpretation, and I get the temptation.

But it willfully leaves out a lot of recent history. As the left and liberal media try to “figure out” Christian America during this latest, complicated moment, it’s instructive to understand where they’ve recently been.

Two years into Barack Obama’s first term, I wrote a book on the liberal war on Christianity. When “Losing Our Religion” came out, folks on the right got it immediately. “Of course the left is attacking Christians,” was the general refrain.

Many on the left, however, were incredulous. One far-left radio host had me on to tell me he had no plans to read the book, but that my premise was absurd on its face. Christianity’s the biggest religion in the country; it can’t possibly be an oppressed class, they insisted.

OK, ask one — just one — evangelical Christian why they voted for Trump.

Perkins spelled it out. Evangelical Christians, he says, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

It wasn’t just Obama’s condescension toward the faithful, who he famously said “cling to guns and religion” when angry or scared. It was eight years of policies that trampled on their religious values, from expanded abortion rights and decreased regulation, even in the face of horrific cases like Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s, to continued efforts to chip away at religious employers’ rights.

It was a smugness from the liberal media, which talked about Christian America as if it were a vestigial organ of some extinct, diseased dinosaur.

Liberal television hosts mocked Sarah Palin for banal things like praying, and reporters wrote that her faith — Pentecostalism — was fanatical, kooky and bigoted. Liberal networks and newsrooms were windowless cocoons of secularism that only deigned to cover Christianity to dismiss its relevance or spotlight its perceived backwardness.

And it was decades of concerted cultural elitism that marginalized Christians as not cool enough to cater to. Movies like “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” were blockbuster hits in spite of dismissive Hollywood film critics who refused to believe there were enough Christians to go see them. Celebrities called them fanatics; comedians made fun of them.

Many evangelicals I talk to say they grew tired of turning the other cheek. In Trump, they finally found someone who was willing to voice the anger and resentment they had been holding in.

They could overlook his personal foibles — after all, let he who is without sin cast the first stone — and his evangelical illiteracy, in exchange for getting someone who would tell off all their past tormentors.

It’s worth noting, there’s also Trump’s record. From tapping Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court to acknowledging Jerusalem is the capital of Israel to following through on his pro-life rhetoric, the President has delivered on a number of promises he made to evangelicals. But that’s not why they voted for him.

So while the willingness to forgive and even defend Trump’s alleged sins seems anathema to many, the fact is evangelicals, like many Trump voters, had good reason to pull the lever for him — and now to stand by him.

Harassment at an Anime Convention – some thoughts

The Journey of Fandom Facebook group has a post about the woes and rumors of woes surrounding Anime Matsuri. It sounds like the convention could use, at least, some help organizing things.

The first comment on the Facebook post is:

[Ron Newman] should it surprise me that the ‘Lolita community’ (whose existence I was unaware of until today) might attract sexual harassers?

This seems to be one of the things you’re not allowed to say. The immediate response (well, 3 minutes later) is:

[Marc Brunco] I hope you’re not trying to imply that wearing Lolita fashion is to blame for being sexually harassed?

Which causes Ron Newman to back down, tail between his legs. He rallies a bit with:

[Ron Newman] it does strike me as a community whose events should be run entirely by women, though.

No, you’re not allowed to say that, either:

[Evan Reeves] See, but even that is sexist. Do not attach gender to behavior. There is nothing wrong with men enjoying and participating in Gothic Lolita fashion. There is a BIG problem with anyone harassing others, especially sexual harassment.

Well, I guess it’s cool that we can no longer label men as harassers, or even likely harassers, since that, too, attaching gender to behavior and is therefore sexist.

Phooey.

Guys, there is a concept in the law called “an attractive nuisance”. This is defined as any feature which would tend to lure people into a dangerous situation. The classic examples include a swimming pool. It is attractive because people like to swim and play in the water. It’s a nuisance because sometimes people drown in said water.

So the swimming pool analog of Marc Brunco’s comment is, “I hope you’re not trying to imply that wearing Lolita fashion wanting to go swimming is to blame for being sexually harassed drowning?”

Um…. no.

For the Lost In Space fans, that’s not what he’s saying. The presence of a “Lolita community” can very easily be seen as an attractive nuisance. (Perhaps even in the sense Jubal Harshaw uses the term.)  It’s not the fault of members of this community if and when they are harassed.

It is, however, the fault of people who have the job of recognizing possible problems at an event. They should be aware that they are maintaining an attractive nuisance, and should take steps to anticipate and prevent problems, and to deal with them quickly and effectively if and when they occur anyway. But if social mores prevent us from recognizing when an attractive nuisance exists, we can’t take steps to anticipate and prevent problems.

So in the modern sensibilities, convention organizers are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. They’re not allowed to recognize the possibility of trouble that might be drawn to particular groups, but Campbell help them if said trouble happens anyway.