Eric Crampton

Dr Eric Crampton joined the New Zealand Initiative as Head of Research in August, 2014. He served as Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Economics at the Department of Economics & Finance at the University of Canterbury from November 2003 until July 2014. The Dismal Science syndicates some of his blog posts from Offsetting Behaviour. Eric is on Twitter @ericcrampton

NZ Health Survey drinking statistics - The Dismal Science

Nov 20, 2017

The Press reports that the new NZ Health Survey data is up. Smoking rates are down; obesity’s up. Here’s how they describe the drinking stats: Meanwhile, 748,000 people, or 19.5 per cent of the adult population are considered “hazardous drinkers”, according to a World Health Organisation definition, which takes into account a combination of factors including binge drinking, dependency, and the impact alcohol has on people’s lives. Another indicator headed in the wrong direction is one which measures mental health. This survey found that 7.6 per cent of people suffered from “psychological distress”, and a high or very high probability of anxiety or a depressive disorder. You could be forgiven for thinking that meant the drinking stats were worsening. Here’s what the data says instead for adults aged 15+: There are more abstainers. Past-year drinking has dropped by just … Read More

‘Junk’ science: Children and advertising study - The Dismal Science

Oct 12, 2017

It is difficult to see what good purpose was served by this study. The Otago people (in conjunction with Auckland’s public health group) put cameras on kids that would take snapshots every six seconds. Then they poured through the footage to see how often the cameras, and presumably the kids, saw things that Otago people have long wanted to have restricted, like ads for food they don’t like or alcohol. They counted the number of times things were seen. And then published the numbers in (at least) two separate studies expressing horror at the number and calling for bans on the things that they counted. Is there any number that would have been low enough? Almost certainly not. Is there any context for the number that might assist in anyone telling whether a number is low or high? Heck no. Read More

Every Noise at Once: Big data beats - The Dismal Science

Oct 05, 2017

This site Every Noise at Once is amazing. Big data identification of all the musical genres and where they sit relative to each other. Here’s the project description: This is an ongoing attempt at an algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analyzed for 1536 genres by Spotify. The calibration is fuzzy, but in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier. Click anything to hear an example of what it sounds like. Click the » on a genre to see a map of its artists. Be calmly aware that this may periodically expand, contract or combust.     Just hit the link to see what it means. It also has an associated Spotify playlist. Just look at … Read More

For a teal coalition - The Dismal Science

Sep 27, 2017

So. All of Left-Twitter figures that anyone wanting a blue-green coalition are either shills for National who want to destroy the Greens, because coalition would destroy the Greens, or useful idiots for those shills. Count me as one of the idiots then, because some of the objections just aren’t making sense to me – or if they are right, they perhaps don’t work in the way that’s being suggested. Received Wisdom from Twitter-Left is that if James Shaw were to bring a substantive environmental policy offer to his party’s members for approval, the act of doing so would destroy the Greens by bringing to the fore an internal schism between the Greens’ social and economic left, and the Greens’ environmentalists. The differences between those groups can be papered over in opposition, but cannot be in any coalition other than one … Read More

Quality matters: alcohol edition - The Dismal Science

Aug 23, 2017

I’ve noted John Gibson’s work showing that standard demand estimation techniques overestimate the price elasticity of demand for sugary drinks, and consequently overestimate the effects of soda taxes. Gibson shows that, because most empirical work uses household expenditure on the product category divided by some measure of average price, that work bunches together consumer shifts along both quality and quantity dimensions. If people mostly respond to price hikes by shifting to cheaper brands or cheaper packaging (big bottles versus cans, for example), then the demand estimates will mistake quality shifts for quantity shifts. Gibson uses Vietnamese data where there is both household expenditure data, and actual consumption data, to show the extent of the bias. Turns out that the effect is pretty pervasive. John presented on some of this at the NZAE meetings; the paper with Bonggeun Kim is … Read More

More evidence on alcohol, health and the ‘J-curve’ - The Dismal Science

Aug 18, 2017

Another study out on the alcohol-health J-curve. This one uses 13 linked waves of the US National Health Interview Survey series, 1997 to 2009, to look at all-cause mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) and drinking.* Lifetime abstainers are taken as baseline, so there is no sick-quitter confound. There could be confounding if those with poor health never begin drinking, but the authors run a sensitivity test excluding those with poor medical histories. Here’s the main table. Model 2 has all the covariates; Model 1 just has demographic covariates.   What do we see here? Former drinkers have worse characteristics than abstainers – so there’s something to the sick-quitter hypothesis. But we already knew that. DiCastelnuovo & Donati showed that the J-curve isn’t as deep if you exclude former drinkers. Light (less than 3 drinks per week) and moderate (3-14 … Read More

Chainsaws and aeroplanes - The Dismal Science

Jul 01, 2017

I’m glad that the lumberjack tried this one here instead of in the States: It seems a no-brainer that chainsaws wouldn’t be an acceptable item to take as luggage on a plane, but a man in New Plymouth gave it a go anyway. After getting upset when he was told he couldn’t take the chainsaw on the plane, the man missed the 4.40pm Jetstar flight to Auckland which left and arrived on time. He then boarded a 7.15pm flight which was delayed by 67 minutes after the plane’s captain kicked him off for behaving badly. … New Plymouth police senior sergeant Bruce Irvine said it appeared the man had tried to take the chainsaw onto a Jetstar plane and became upset when flight staff stopped him. The police were called about 5.20pm on Monday as a precaution in … Read More

Alcohol access and harms in the military - The Dismal Science

Jun 29, 2017

A large sample study of American enlisted soldiers, who turned 21 while enlisted, found large increases in alcohol consumption at the birthday but no increase in harms consequent to that consumption: no meaningful effect on suicidal tendencies, depression, tobacco use, physical fitness, psychological health, deployability, smoking, or job-related infractions. Recall too that, following Boes & Stillman, the RDD estimates around the time of the birthday would be larger than the longer term effects one might extrapolate from the RDD (the paper rightly restricts things to the neighbourhood of the birthday and doesn’t extrapolate). From their conclusion: Using data on all soldiers between 2009 and 2015, we observe a large and significant increase in drinking after the 21st birthday overall, and the increases are largest amongst those who were depressed, had a family history of mental health problems, had … Read More

Inside the asylum: food safety edition - The Dismal Science

Jun 26, 2017

Versions of cost-benefit that tally up all of the savings to a public health system from banning people doing things they like, and ignore the costs incurred by people banned from doing things they like, lead to this: We reveal today that new Ministry of Primary Industry guidelines for food outlets require your hamburger to be cooked to fried or grilled to 70C internal temperature. As any home cook can tell you (or indeed, anyone with a copy of the Edmonds Cookbook sitting handy) 70C is, to all intents and purposes, nuking it to high heaven. What is left is a hunk of dried out, grey tyre rubber. …Chefs around the country have no doubt been stewing at the new “guidelines”, but it was executive chef Dan Fraser at the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell who put … Read More

Higher education, big big numbers - The Dismal Science

Jun 19, 2017

I don’t think we can blame the consultants for this one. Normally, big big numbers in economic impact reports are a black mark on the consultancy producing them. They don’t come with enough health warnings, and the misleading big big figures draw headlines too easily. Dave Guerin’s Ed Insider newsletter (essential reading for anybody following tertiary ed in New Zealand) covers the Universities NZ report, produced by NZIER. He writes: Universities NZ released Regional activity of universities (30 pages) on 27 Apr 2017 (UNZ media release). The report had straightforward analysis of the direct university spending and employment in their region, and the contribution to regional GDP. NZIER also estimated the indirect and induced expenditure due to universities, but placed major caveats on those figures, stating that UNZ had specifically asked for them. They … Read More