The visible hand in economics

Author Archive

Ed Prescott has written some pretty brainy stuff in his time. I’m particularly a fan of his work on dynamic inconsistency in economics with Finn Kydland. But, here we see why you should not make heroes of people. Read the rest of this entry »

The Commerce Commission appears to have found an unusual source of anti-competitive behaviour: schools forcing parents to use a monopoly supplier of school uniforms. Apparently schools often accept payments from clothing manufacturers in exchange for exclusive rights to sell the school’s uniform. Then the manufacturers extract large rents from their monopoly position by charging high prices to parents.

The Commerce Commission is concerned about the monopoly position that the manufacturers have but, recognising the convenience of a single contractor, recommends that the schools use a tender process to ensure value for the parents. Read the rest of this entry »


My favourite article of NewScientist’s series is Herman Daly’s. The father of modern ecological economics lashes out at the way economists ignore the source of inputs to production and the capacity of the waste sinks that we have. As he puts it, we should imagine the economy as a system within the world’s ecosystem. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been looking at air fares for overseas travel recently and somethign stood out. When you stop over in a city it costs a whole lot more to stop over for a few days than it does to just transfer flights and pass through. I would have thought that getting to your final destination faster was something people would pay for. Yet, the longer you’re happy to take over your trip, the more you end up paying! Read the rest of this entry »

So we are going to have to cut our consumption and it’s not going to make us better off. How come NewScientist’s authors seem to agree that we won’t necessarily be unhappier? Where evidence is given it tends to be in terms of happiness measures. Kate Soper (London Metropolitan University) points out that wealth doesn’t correlate with happiness over USD15,000 of income, while Andrew Simms (New Economics Foundation) makes much of the fact that people with vastly different living standards report the same level of happiness. The difficulty is that happiness isn’t the kind of measure that works for cross-country comparisons. Read the rest of this entry »

An important question raised by the writers in NewScientist’s feature is whether we will be less happy living sustainably. This is the part of the series I felt was weakest. The general consensus amongst them is that we will actually be happier if we live sustainably because we will live healthier lifestyles. David Suzuki claims that ‘we would go out and walk around because there would be shops, musicians and people out on the street that we’d want to meet’. Kate Soper thinks we’d ‘…enjoy healthier modes of transport such as walking, cycling and boating’.

The authors appear to be projecting their own lifestyle preferences onto others here. It is this element of the environmental rhetoric that bothers me most: the idea that we would all be happier people if only we were more like them because they know what’s best for us better than we do. Read the rest of this entry »

A recent article on VoxEU discusses the link between poverty and violence in Africa. It’s a tricky topic because there are good arguments to be made for causation in both directions and the direction of causation matters hugely for aid policy. Read the rest of this entry »

It looks like National has decided not to continue with the previous government’s plans to introduce a standard for lightbulb efficiency. They say

We want to encourage people to [switch], we think there may be benefits for them to do it, but it should be a choice they make as consumers.

It’s a good point: efficient CFL bulbs are tough to dim, take time to reach full brightness and don’t bring out the sparkle in chandeliers, apparently. So why would we want to force everyone to use them when they’re clearly not suited to some applications? Of course, if people did use them in their homes and offices, where they are suitable, it would be great for reducing our national power consumption. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve recently been browsing old magazines and my attention was grabbed by a feature in the October 18 edition of NewScientist. In it they collate a series of articles under the heading ‘Why the economy is killing the planet and what we can do about it’. At first I was disappointed that a publication puporting to be scientific in nature was resorting to scare journalism and economics bashing; however, there are a number of interesting ideas in the articles that bear discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

I saw the new Bond flick, ‘Quantum of Solace’, over the weekend and I was amazed at how progressive it is. No longer does our alpha-male hero wreak destruction upon villains with moon bases, bent on world domination. His latest homicidal rampage is to prevent a new terror: oligopoly pricing. Read the rest of this entry »

Garth George at The Herald reckons that the root cause of all abuse and domestic violence is abortion. His position seems largely religious in nature so I can’t argue the point on his grounds. However, I was surprised to see reasonable-sounding commentators at Kiwiblog unsure whether George might be correct. This topic isn’t a new one and the most recent stab at it has been by the famous economist Steven Levitt and his co-author, John Donohue. In their paper they use statistical techniques to show that the drop in US crime in the ’90s was correlated with states’ legalisation of abortion. Read the rest of this entry »

Yay, we’re the 15th happiest country in the world! Unsurprisingly, while money makes us happy, it doesn’t really matter once you earn over 15,000 USD/capita. What really matters is trust, tolerance and religion, apparently. Being religious makes you seven percentage points happier on average, which probably explains Saudi Arabia’s unusual happiness in the face of such intolerance.

And now for the big picture(s)! Read the rest of this entry »

TVHE is a bunch of current and former Wellingtonians so, via The Wellingtonista, here is a map of how we voted down here.


Tom at The Wellingtonista has done an amazing job with the data so click the map to see a detailed breakdown by polling booth. Read the rest of this entry »

Federated Farmers’ press release:

…if government increase[s] infrastructure expenditure it should spend money on building dams rather than cycle lanes. …Water storage is critical to New Zealand’s future. It is well known that farming is the backbone of the economy. Current run of river water allocation systems see farmers too vulnerable to drought and floods.

The government’s State of the Environment report 2007:

The increase in total water allocation in New Zealand between 1999 and 2006 can largely be explained by the increase in demand for irrigation. The amount of consented irrigated land in New Zealand increased by 52 per cent over this period…

Water is getting scarcer and scarcer worldwide and it’s only a matter of time before NZ feels the pinch, too. Farmers say they should get the water becasue they’re our ‘backbone’; environmentalists throw up their arms in dismay; the government implements ad hoc water restrictions and gets lobbied by everyone.

Luckily, economics provides a solution to the problem: Read the rest of this entry »

Looks like we narrowly missed by crunched by space debris the other night. Although, in true “tragedy of the commons” style “[a]stronauts routinely trash equipment in space.” So, as the world starts to think about trying to fix the mess we made of the ozone layer, we’re already on our way to trashing another part of the environment that’s common property.

I wonder if it’s actually cheaper to fill it with junk now and fix the problem later. Presumably the marginal cost of the cleanup will be lower when technology improves, and it’s discounted from the current perspective. However, since the problem is not the junk itself but the lack of property rights giving nobody an incentive to do anything, I doubt that calculation is being made by anyone.

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