Month: November 2005

Abortion Access and Risky Sex

Jonathan Klick (a co-author of mine) and Thomas Stratmann (a colleague at GMU) have written an interesting paper on abortion and risky sex among teenagers.  From their conclusion:

Incentives matter. They matter even in activities as primal as sex, and they matter even among teenagers, who are conventionally thought to be relatively myopic. If the expected costs of risky sex are raised, teens will substitute toward less risky activities such as protected sex or abstinence. In addition to modeling the decision making processes of teenagers, this insight is important in other contexts as well. Many public policies can be improved by recognizing the sensitivity of teenage sexual decisions to costs and benefits.

We study one set of policies in this paper. We show that increasing the cost of abortion for teens lowers the insurance value of abortion. This induces teenage girls to avoid risky sex, which will likely have the effect of lowering pregnancy rates, abortion rates, and birth rates among this group of individuals. While these positive effects alone might not justify parental involvement laws, they presumably should not be ignored in the debate. Behavior is not static, and claims based on the assumption of static behavior are flawed.

Sponsor an African Business

Charitable organizations have long made it possible to sponsor a child in a poor country.  Kiva lets you sponsor a business in a poor country.

By choosing a business on our website and then lending money online to
that enterprise, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world’s
working poor make great strides towards economic independence.
Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can
receive monthly email updates that let you know about the progress
being made by the small business you’ve sponsored. These updates
include reports on loan repayment progress, photos of new capital
equipment, narratives on business growth and standard of living
improvements, and more. As loans are repaid, you will get your original
loan money back.

Kiva has recently been discovered by the web and so they are currently out-of-businesses to sponsor (which is a good sign), but it’s a great idea and I intend to sponsor a business as soon as one becomes available.

Thanks to Pablo Halkyard for the pointer.

Amazon purchase circles

Find out what people are buying in a particular area or institution, click here.  Here is the list of bestsellers for George Mason University.  Is it better or worse than the list for Fairfax, Virginia?  Here is the Marine Corps list.  Here is the federal judiciary.  Here is the list for The New York Times.  Dow Jones Co. is less intellectual.  Here are other media listings.

Browse geography.  Try MIT.  Compare it to Brown University.  For self-referentialist reading, try Oracle Corporation.

Thanks to Pablo Halkyard for the pointer.  Comments are open, in case you know more about this.

Why Health Savings Accounts won’t work

Simplicity in action, from Kevin Drum:

…any healthcare proposal that’s designed to appeal more to healthy people than to sick people is fundamentally flawed. After all, the whole point of healthcare is to take care of sick people.

Read more here.  I am eagerly awaiting Arnold Kling’s excellent health care book from Cato; I will let you know when it is out.

New happiness blog

The author is Will Wilkinson, of The Fly Bottle, and his new endeavor is  The mission of the blog is to study the policy implications of "happiness research."  Here is one of my previous posts on the topic.  Here is my (slightly different) more recent opinion.  If you are into the validity of introspection, here is one happy girl.  Here is one happy guy

The “Vanity of the Philosopher”

"What does the price of tea in eighteenth century China have to do with Bishop Berkeley’s theory of vision?"  If you have to ask such a question, you haven’t spent enough time around my colleague David M. Levy.  David combines expertise in Adam Smith, ancient Greek democracy, non-normal distributions, Victorian literature, and advanced Monte Carlo techniques. 

Twenty years ago, David was viewing economics in Quinean rather than Mengerian (Austrian) terms.  An economic model can be matched to the real world in more than one way.  This makes models invulnerable to "realist" criticisms but leaves open the question of what we are doing as economists.   

David promotes "analytic egalitarianism," the view that agents or entities "outside" a model should be treated no differently than agents or entities "inside" a model.  Again, we are left with no unique vantage point for interpreting results.  The "public choice" revolution was only the first step; we must now put researchers into the model as well.  Empirically, scientific integrity is elevated to a major issue.  Theoretically, an economic model becomes a mirror of Borgesian self-references which may or may not converge through a fixed point theorem.

Lately David has rediscovered the Austrians, albeit against his conscious will.  I read his recent work as essentialist and focused on social justice.  Connecting Mises and J.S. Mill, David now views neoclassical economics as realistic in nature.  Its implicit egalitarianism — all people behave according to the same principles — should be taken seriously and for David it provides ontological foundations for a free society.  Economists are the natural liberals, as our science is a mathematical version of Schiller’s "Ode to Joy." 

Smithian sympathy comes first and is prior to the idea of trade, thereby solving das Adam Smith Problem.  Man stands above the animals as the talking being and also as the sympathizing being.  Trade, speech, and symbols are part of a broader picture of how an ultimately monistic reality gives rise to diverse and plural epiphenomena.  Eugenics is the evil on the other side.  It has a pluralistic foundation — people are different in their cores — and empowers one untrustworthy group of elitists to reduce mankind to a monistic outcome.  Don’t trust it.

If citizens deal with symbols, theorists should also.  Why not offer a picture with an economic theory?  Is not a picture, like a poem or a novel, just another form of a model?  The analytical egalitarianism ensures that theorists offer pictures and poems for the same reasons that citizens do.  Man as an imagining being, and not just a simple maximizer, is primary.  Kant joins Smith and Hume in the pantheon, and the differences between aesthetics and economics are blurred.  Proverbs are models too.

Analytical egalitarianism helps us vanquish the Socratic claim to find impartial or trustworthy planners.  All these themes are played out in literary and philosophic works over the ages, and David helps you trace the connections.  The Greek poet Homer offers a precursor of the Tiebout model.  Will the next step be a treatise on Hogarth?  Or a picture of one of Hogarth’s pictures?

David covers the big issues, and he has almost always seen further and more deeply than have others.  Reading David can be a puzzle, but he is on my list of thinkers I would not do without.  Might he be the most consistent monist yet, and the one most willing to confront where monism must lead you?  At the same time, the pluralism of his writings would dazzle Gilles DeLeuze.

His latest book, The "Vanity of the Philosopher" co-authored with AdamSmithLives blogger Sandra Peart, is out, buy it here.  Btw, the above is my account of David, don’t trust it!