Ice Cream Buybacks

by on January 2, 2013 at 7:31 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

NYTines: Mayor Blomberg announced today a new program to help reduce obesity and heart disease, ice cream buybacks. Any ice cream that citizens wish to turn in will be bought for up to $5 a pint. No questions asked.  ”Heart disease is the number one killer in the nation,” said Mayor Blomberg, “and we must do everything we can to get Ben and Jerry and these other killers off our streets.”

Critics argue that consumers are likely to reach into the back of their freezer to sell ice cream that is half-eaten, iced-over, and past its sell-by date, with little effect on heart disease. In previous buybacks, enterprising individuals have even bought cheap ice cream at Walmart and sold it back to the city at a profit. Economists have pointed out that local ice cream buybacks don’t make a lot of sense when ice cream remains widely available for sale. The National Academy of Sciences reported that the theory underling “buyback programs is badly flawed and the empirical evidence demonstrates the ineffectiveness of these programs.” Nevertheless, ice cream buybacks remain popular with voters.

More here, here and here on similar programs and here is my earlier op op-ed on a closely related topic.

Picture from Story Draw.

Marc Roston January 2, 2013 at 8:42 am

New business plan: Rent u-Haul truck. Fill with on-sale or outdated Ben and Jerry’s in New Jersey. Bring across GWB. Sell to Bloomberg. Heading to Kickstarter now…

dead serious January 2, 2013 at 8:50 am

Ew. Bridge and tunnel ice cream.

libert January 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I’ve crunched the numbers and with cost of gas, tolls, and truck rental fees, you can’t get it to work out. However, with a postal truck, you can do it.

anon January 2, 2013 at 8:45 am

Humorous mockery is the best revenge.

Glad Alex is posting more.

Rahul January 2, 2013 at 8:59 am

Isn’t it too early for April 1st?

Alexei Sadeski January 2, 2013 at 9:19 am

Bloomberg is everything bad about politics personified.

KLO January 2, 2013 at 9:29 am

Last time I went to my local range, the thought occurred to me that gun ownership may be fattening. The men that I saw — and it was all men that day — looked like they could stand to lose thousands of pounds collectively. Not sure what the connection actually is, but it appears to be there. I guess the same could probably be said of any predominantly prior male activity.

Ronald Brak January 2, 2013 at 9:44 am

When the 15 year old kid across the street lost his pistol due to stricter gun laws, he lost a lot of weight as he took up martial arts instead of shooting. So maybe there’d be widespread weight loss in the US if gun controls were tighter?

Rahul January 2, 2013 at 9:47 am

Well, shooting at a range isn’t very high on the list of calorie consuming activities.

Also if you are not in shape, a gun might be a good way to even the battlefield.

bob January 2, 2013 at 11:41 am

“Observation: 90% of men who ride Harleys could not complete a 50 yard dash.” -Michael Ian Black

Saturos January 2, 2013 at 9:58 am

We’re sure this is not the Onion? Some elaborate web prank?

Carlos Carmona January 2, 2013 at 9:58 am

Great post alex, I love the way you wrote this.!

Bill January 2, 2013 at 10:18 am

This is an ice cream manufacturers subsidy.

Take a stock of old ice cream in consumer hands, destroy it, and wait for people to break their New Years resolution. Removing ice cream that could have been consumed from the market makes space in my freezer for some new Ice Cream.

Thank you Mayor Bloomberg.

Didn’t you read the article in the NYT that there is a lower death rate for the overweight?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/health/study-suggests-lower-death-risk-for-the-overweight.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0

Bill January 2, 2013 at 10:20 am

I am, however, in favor of a tenured faculty buy out program because some of the product will not be able to get back on the market.

Urso January 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm

A doctor told me this a few years back – the healthiest people are at the high end of “normal” or the low end of “overweight” on the BMI scale. Being “underweight,” even by a little bit, is a bad sign and is correlated with all sorts of health problems.

But all this means is that they’ve failed to appropriately define “normal.”

Becky Hargrove January 2, 2013 at 10:43 am

Every time I open the freezer, the image of that “nasty” ice cream cone will still be with me!

Seth January 2, 2013 at 10:50 am

Similar buybacks to this have been used for guns for quite a while in many countries. Austrailia is one example. I wonder if there are behavioral effects that the simple micro understanding may miss?

Rahul January 2, 2013 at 10:56 am

Using economic reasoning, are there certain situations where a buyback might indeed be a valid policy tool?

If so what are the conditions necessary for a buyback to make sense?

Seth January 2, 2013 at 11:18 am

They did buy backs in austrailia, they have less gun violence in austrailia. QED. It is a valid policy tool.

If you would like the system to be ecomomically justified in a sense: It should alter tastes and preferences such that the (socially borne) costs of medical treatment decline more than the costs of emplementing the buyback system.

Alex Tabarrok January 2, 2013 at 11:29 am

The Australian buyback was completely different. Australia *banned* a wide variety of rifles and later handguns. The buyback was a compensation program to make the ban go down easier and to satisfy a takings law. The buyback was national and large (some 600,000 weapons). The programs in the United States do not involve bans, so more guns are being produced even as the police buyback some weapons, and the US programs are local or otherwise very small relative to the total stock of weapons.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 11:44 am

Considering the recent paper, despite surface pro-control overtones, that Tyler linked that showed that basically it really is the bad people, a buyback (and resell) may not be as dumb as banning 100+ year old spring technology.

prior_approval January 2, 2013 at 11:57 am

Which would seem to be an argument for the U.S. to follow the Australian model to reduce gun deaths, based on actual results, as compared to the currently ineffective U.S. laws and programs.

Here is just one of several insightful articles from the Guardian concerning what happened in Australia after a mass murder involving firearms –

‘The massacre provoked an immediate national debate over gun control. Strict laws were quickly put in place, banning semiautomatic weapons and placing serious controls on gun ownership. Since that time, there has not been one mass shooting in Australia.

Rebecca Peters took part in that debate. She is now an international arms control advocate, and led the campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre. Days after the Newtown massacre, I asked Peters to explain how the gun laws changed in Australia in 1996:

“The new law banned semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, assault weapons, and not only new sales … we banned importation sales, we banned ownership, so currently owned weapons were prohibited. The government bought those guns back at a rate of about the retail price plus about 10%. You couldn’t get them repaired. You couldn’t sell them. It was a very comprehensive ban.

“The buyback ended up buying back and destroying more than about 650,000 of these weapons, which is the largest buyback and destruction program for guns anywhere in the world.”

Like the United States, Australia’s gun laws were a patchwork of state laws. Prime Minister John Howard, from the center-right Liberal party, took leadership to put strong, national uniform standards into place. Howard wrote a reflection on the gun laws last August, immediately after the Aurora, Colorado, massacre. In his piece, titled “Brothers in arms, yes, but the US needs to get rid of its guns”, Howard writes of a talk given at the George HW Bush presidential library in 2008:

“There was an audible gasp of amazement at my expressing pride in what Australia had done to limit the use of guns. I had been given a sharp reminder that, despite the many things we have in common with our American friends, there is a huge cultural divide when it comes to the free availability of firearms.”

Likewise, in Britain, after the March 1996 school massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, which left 16 children aged 5 and 6 dead, along with two teachers, handguns were quickly banned. Statistics show that in both countries, gun violence, murders and successful suicides all are down.’

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/20/gun-control-america-urgency

But why use facts from other societies to discuss such an issue – after all, America is an exceptional place, where it is reasonable to assume that 20,000 people die from pulling the trigger of the weapon they possess, being almost certainly remaining the leading cause of firearm deaths within the U.S. at this time.

That’s right – the leading cause of firearm fatalities in the U.S. is suicide, something so banal in the U.S that researchers use it simply to calibrate gun ownership, without even factoring it into the social cost of gun ownership – if this blog is to be trusted, that is.

Seth January 2, 2013 at 12:10 pm

So we agree there are conditions under which a buy back can reduce costs. I didn’t get that from your post. Thanks for the clarification.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 12:33 pm

“Which would seem to be an argument for the U.S. to follow the Australian model to reduce gun deaths,”

Only if your only priority is reducing near-term gun deaths, which would be rather unenlightened.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm

‘The massacre provoked an immediate national debate over gun control. Strict laws were quickly put in place, banning semiautomatic weapons and placing serious controls on gun ownership. Since that time, there has not been one mass shooting in Australia.

And all our airport security and ‘fighting them over there so we don’t need to fight them over here’ has also been a smashing success!

I like this new simplistic way of looking at the world, it’s fun.

prior_approval January 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm

‘Only if your only priority is reducing near-term gun deaths, which would be rather unenlightened.’

Why? Again, seriously, why should death be celebrated when caused by a firearm?

I have no interest in other people killing themselves without reason, and truly do not understand anyone who would think supporting death is somehow an enlightened position.

And yes, I am speaking as someone who fully supports the right for those who have decided to end their lives to end them – just as my mother did, when she had her ventilator turned off in a hospice.

Which is not the same situation as a 19 year old blowing their brains out with a firearm after the end of their first relationship, by the way.

prior_approval January 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm

‘I like this new simplistic way of looking at the world, it’s fun.’

Facts – who needs them?

And the Australians being proud of the results of their attempt to prevent mass slaughter? – clearly another one of those delusions the U.S. is far too exceptional to actually indulge in.

Bill January 2, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Whether or not there is a ban, what some of this ignores is peer effects, suicide, and family disputes with easy access to weapons by persons who, had they been given an incentive, would have turned in the weapon for cash and not repurchased. Peer effects–if I see others having weapons, I need to have one–is damped if the community norm is not to have weapons, to disprove of them, and to treat the turn in as a positive community good. The NRA relies on peer effects and creating social approval to promote gun purchase, even for volunteers standing in kindergartens. Funny that people do not look at the NRA’s logic on peer effect and social approval as stimulants.

Statistician January 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309091241

Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review is required reading for this subject. Gun control does not control homicide rates.

Chip January 2, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Gun crime doubled in the ten years after the UK gun law and increased in Australia as well. They have both declined in recent years only in line with a demographically induced fall in crime, while crime in the gun crazy US has fallen even more dramatically.

So Much For Subtlety January 3, 2013 at 1:22 am

prior_approval

I have no interest in other people killing themselves without reason, and truly do not understand anyone who would think supporting death is somehow an enlightened position. And yes, I am speaking as someone who fully supports the right for those who have decided to end their lives to end them – just as my mother did, when she had her ventilator turned off in a hospice.

Sorry but you’re not in favor of people killing themselves except when you are? Can you please expand on that logic a little?

Which is not the same situation as a 19 year old blowing their brains out with a firearm after the end of their first relationship, by the way.

So is the bit I am missing where you say you are in favor of people killing themselves for reasons you think are valid, but not for reasons you think are not? Not that they get to decide, but you do.

Or is it just the means they choose?

prior_approval January 3, 2013 at 5:20 am

‘Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review is required reading for this subject. Gun control does not control homicide rates.’

But since the leading cause of fatalities involving firearms in the U.S. is suicide, it is interesting to compare how controlling access to firearms reduces those fatalities. And empirical evidence, with the accompanying caveats, both inside the U.S. and outside of the U.S. demonstrate a correlation between successful suicide involving a firearm and how strictly firearms are controlled.

Never forget – the primary use of a weapon in the U.S. involving death is a person with a firearm pulling the trigger to kill themselves. Homicide is a secondary concern.

Statistician January 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm

But *overall* suicide is not causally linked – which is what we care about. Read what I linked. Or at least the executive summary.

JWatts January 2, 2013 at 11:40 am

“They did buy backs in austrailia, they have less gun violence in austrailia. QED. It is a valid policy tool. ”

You seem to be assuming that the buy backs were the cause of less gun violence.

Some gun buy back programs might remove some small amount of useful guns from the marketplace. However, from what I’ve read, what usually gets turned in is a lot of low value junk, most of which isn’t actually operable. Some programs require a functioning gun, but since no one actually tests them, that merely stops people from bringing parts of disassembled guns.

It would seem more reasonable to design a gun buy back program that purchases guns that are banned from retails sales on the open market. That would actually reduce the amount of useful guns. Any program that’s based on voluntary turn ins will accumulate a lot of harmless junk.

Seth January 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm

What I am saying is that buyback programs work in ways we don’t completely understand. They change the way a society feels towards guns/ice cream. And the cost of the buyback can potentially be smaller than the net social costs of the harm done by the guns/ice cream. (A recent study had the annual net social cost of a gun to be between 200 and 1800 dollars.) There is nothing mysterious here. I love guns too. really love em. But as gun lovers we must admit that the mean effect of all guns owned by the private sector add to the violence in this country. I am sure you all are much more safe than average. It is also likely the mean ice cream consumer has net negative effects on the costs we all pay for healthcare. If there are cheap ways of moving consumer preferences away from guns and ice cream, especially moving the dangerous gun owners and the expensive ice cream consumers away from costlty behavior I think ice cream and gun owners would be for it. maybe not.

Bill January 2, 2013 at 10:57 am

In looking at the ice cream buy back and the gun buy back, what links them together is the use of the common term “buy back”,

And not logic.

There is a difference, of course, between both programs: with one you could go back and buy more ice cream, with the other, if we had an assault weapons ban, or you did not have a gun permit, you could not buy an assault weapon.

Small difference, so I can understand why Alex missed it.

Yancey Ward January 2, 2013 at 11:36 am

No, Bill he didn’t miss it. He actually looked at gun buy backs in the US.

DocMerlin January 2, 2013 at 11:37 am

” if we had an assault weapons ban, or you did not have a gun permit, you could not buy an assault weapon.”
Really? bans make it impossible to buy things that are banned?

JWatts January 2, 2013 at 11:54 am

Yes, that’s what stopped the use of illegal drugs during the 1960′s. The US banned them and drug use plummeted. It’s a good indication of the inherent effectiveness of central planning.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Not only that, we didn’t have to fill up any prisons with people who are otherwise non-violent!

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 12:36 pm

This is why people concede largely irrelevant aesthetic features to them.

Careless January 2, 2013 at 12:33 pm

And if we had an ice cream ban and you turned over your ice cream, you couldn’t go and buy more. “If we had” is rather important here.

Bill January 2, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Careless, Yes, that’s right, for the most part. If we had a ban there would absolutely no, or substantially less, repurchases. So I count on your support for one.

But, there are circumstances where EVEN IF we did not have ban, where the gun would be taken out of circulation and not replaced.

What you might want to do is consider this as a source market with several types of actors. One type has an assault weapon or handgun, is now embarrassed to have it, or it was from a dead spouse, and wants to get rid of it without putting it back in circulation…that person will not repurchase. Another person might know a relative…son, daughter, father…who has a gun illegally, and persuades them to turn it in without retribution. Another person has a gun, wants to get rid of it, and doesn’t want to bother going to a gun show, when it is more convenient to get rid of it with a buy back.

On the other hand, if I turn in my ice cream in January as a New Years resolution, I am fairly confident I will have an ice cream mustache in July.

careless January 4, 2013 at 4:11 am

Just as long as you’re willing to stand up there and declare your anti-gun lunacy.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 11:46 am

And if the Paleo and refined wheat people (and sugar subsidy critics) are right, and if it really is the bad people, then I expect Bloomberg will immediately issue a formal and honest apology.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 11:47 am

Being that he is nothing if not an earnest statesman, of course.

joshua January 2, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Stop giving him ideas.

Ak Mike January 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm

prior’s “facts” are misleading. I think the relevant question is whether violent crime rose or fell in Australia after the 1996 gun ban; not whether the proportion of that crime classified as “gun crime” rose or fell. And violent crime has generally increased in Australia since 1996. http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/violent%20crime.html.

By contrast, violent crime in the United States in the same period, which saw a general easing of restrictions on purchasing and carrying guns, has declined precipitously. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv11.pdf

Bill January 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Ak,

You must have missed this study:

In 1997, Australia implemented a gun buyback program that reduced the stock of
firearms by around one-fifth (and nearly halved the number of gun-owning households).
Using differences across states, we test whether the reduction in firearms
availability affected homicide and suicide rates. We find that the buyback led to a
drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on nonfirearm
death rates. The effect on firearm homicides is of similar magnitude but is
less precise. The results are robust to a variety of specification checks and to instrumenting
the state-level buyback rate. JEL (I12, K14)

http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

prior_approval January 3, 2013 at 5:25 am

Suicide is the leading source of firearm fatalities in the U.S. – this fact is utterly non-controversial, though a surprisingly large number of people seem unaware of it.

To restate – the primary use of a firearm in the U.S. causing a fatality is the person with the werapon pulling the trigger to kill themselves. Most likely, 20,000 times in 2012 – however, that is not a fact, just extrapolation, based on the number of factual suicides by firearm in 2006, and again in 2009, where the increase was from over 16,000 to over 18,000.

Statistician January 3, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Bill, don’t cite a single study. Cite meta-analysis.

prior_approval, both the National Academy of Sciences and the Center for Disease Control disagree. Gun control does not reduce overall suicide rates.

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309091241

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5214a2.htm

Ak Mike January 2, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Bill,

You must have missed this study, which critiqued the Neill/Leigh study you cited:

“Despite the fact that several researchers using the same data have examined the impact of the NFA on firearm deaths, a consensus does not appear to have been reached. In this paper, we re-analyze the same data on firearm deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates.”

Wang-Sheng Lee and Sandy Suardi, The Australian Firearms Buyback
and Its Effect on Gun Deaths, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, Working Paper 17/08, University of Melbourne.
http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/working_paper_series/wp2008n17.pdf

The Other Jim January 2, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Fantastic piece in the Independent, Alex.

It is sure to be ignored by those who use the terms automatic and semi-automatic interchangeably.

And I’m looking at you, NYT writers and readers.

maguro January 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm

They’ll have to pry the Haagen Dazs from my cold, dead hands.

Owen January 2, 2013 at 11:40 pm

After all, if you can force people to buy insurance why can’t you force people to eat broccoli.

Shane M January 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Why would any store in NYC sell a pint of ice cream for less than $5?

TGGP January 5, 2013 at 11:05 pm

For those posting elsewhere on whether this is “possibly a parody”, yes. Search the NYTimes website, and there is no such story.

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