Morning roundup

By Eric Crampton 28/01/2013

Today’s morning news roundup.

Item the first: NZ’s organ donor rate remains low; the kidney waiting list in particular remains long. Andy Tookey again suggests compensating cadaveric organ donors with subsidised funerals to encourage donation. I agree.

Item the second: if you’re a small country, and the US ignores a WTO ruling in your favour, your options are pretty limited. Antigua gets points for creativity. HT: Susan.

Item the third: the National Business Review reprinted a couple of my posts this past weekend; here’s cost-benefit analysis and banning cats. Their comment pool is a bit different from the one we have here. I talked with Jim Mora and Radio New Zealand’s The Panel on the topic around 4:15 yesterday afternoon.

Item the fourth: American crime rates seem more sensitive to number of police on the streets rather than number of people in jail; the policy recommendation is to spend less on imprisoning people and spend more instead on community policing. A small portion of this effect is may be due to that crimes committed by police may be less likely to show up in the crime rates. The Bridgeport, Ct. police officers filmed stomping on the head of an immobilized and tazered individual are on desk duty rather than under arrest, at least so far. At least the guy who filmed them is unlikely to be arrested; had it happened in another state results could have been different. But I do agree with the overall policy recommendation – so much the more so if it could be done by diverting police resources away from victimless crimes.

Item the fifth: SciBlogs is running a survey on scientific literacy. I got a perfect score on it, but only because I lied a little bit about one of my answers. One question asks what makes a scientific result most credible: peer review, reputation of the research team, or a couple of other options. I knew the right answer was peer review. But I often put a lot more weight on researcher reputation. Things are so infrequently replicated, and results so often fragile when replicated, that I far more typically weigh a bundle of researcher reputation, publication, and topic. A new working paper from somebody who’s credible is just worth more to me than a published piece from somebody who has a bit of a reputation for results that are fragile to specification search.

Item the sixth: +Jeet Sheth rightly wonders whether this is inconsistent with our usual assumptions around transitional gains traps. I’d think of it more in terms of a Peltzman regulatory model. In New Zealand, older used cars must undergo a basic safety inspection every six months while newer ones only need it every year – the Warrant of Fitness. They don’t seem to be a profit centre for most garages except inasmuch as they give garages the opportunity to sell other (hopefully needed) services to those getting inspected; some garages specialise in only doing WoF checks on a quick while-you-wait basis. The national government proposed moving to annual inspections for vehicles first registered in 2000 or later. Recall that in the Peltzman model, regulation always balances the public interest with that of the regulated party; that balance changes as technology changes. The mechanics’ trade association lobbied against the change, painting it as a road safety issue; the Automobile Association lobbied in favour of it despite also providing WoF checks. While dedicated WoF stations could have been earning some rents from the regulations, free entry into providing WoFs would have meant those rents would not have been huge. It’s better viewed in a Peltzman model where deregulation (or a loosening of regulations) can emerge when a technological shock makes the regulation less beneficial to the regulated and to customers. Here, mechanics who weren’t WoF specialists would have been seeing less benefit from the regulation as car manufacturing standards improved over time (and so potential gains from on-selling other services were smaller); the regulation’s incidence was also pretty obvious to car owners.

Item the seventh: having this particular lotto number selection strategy isn’t clever, it’s just a way of increasing your winnings if your main numbers happen to come up. It’s a bit nuts to purport that any number selection strategy is more clever than any other. It’s a random draw guys. Random. And this strategy has a lower expected value than others.

Item the eighth: Andrea Marchesetti points to a nice little story perhaps illustrating Caplan’s rational irrationality model. Recall that in Caplan’s model, when beliefs are of low cost, you’d indulge your bliss belief; when beliefs contrary to truth become expensive, you scale back demand for them. The Wall Street Journal reports that “haunted” homes in Hong Kong no longer trade at much of a discount; the property boom has pushed prices up. Entrepreneur Ng Goon Lau buys up at discount houses where an unnatural death has occurred, rents them out to expats who don’t believe in ghosts, then later sells them – presumably with reports from the renters showing there to be no ghosts. It’s unclear from the story whether the Hong Kong boom has brought in sufficient expats that haunted houses were bid up to standard prices without locals changing their beliefs, or whether the absolute increase in housing costs induced locals to put up with spooky ghost problems.

So concludeth the closing of the browser tabs.