President Obama recently conceded that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. That might be an understatement. According to research published in the medical journal The Lancet, alcohol is a more dangerous drug than crack and heroin when the combined harms to the user and to others are assessed. While the methodology behind the rankings can be credibly challenged—surely, heroin is more addictive and prone to overdose—it nonetheless highlights the arbitrary societal exemption granted to alcohol over other mind-altering substances.
Economic inequality in the United States is growing and people are pissed off. For a while, this anger was channeled at Wall Street—and given the jaw-dropping profits and dubious economic benefits of recent financial "innovation" this seemed like an appropriate target. However, as financial reform advocates lost momentum in Washington, a new target has emerged that can be stymied locally and is not yet politically entrenched—the sharing economy.
There are few examples where obesity is anything but bad for your health. Obesity—as measured by a body mass index (BMI) above 30—is associated with a significantly reduced lifespan and an increased likelihood to suffer from:
- Heart Disease
Given the overwhelming evidence for a causal—rather than just associative—link between obesity and at least some forms of poor health, public policies that promote exercise and healthy eating are likely to be highly beneficial to overweight individuals who pay heed. Less straightforward, could these policies also be cost-effective for healthier (or "thin") individuals through reduced public health spending and lower pooled insurance rates? In other words, do the health costs incurred by the obese create a negative externality borne by the rest of society?
Daniel Kahneman has done as much to change the way we think about economics as anyone—and yet, he is no economist, or at least not as we would traditionally think of one. Kahneman is a psychologist; a psychologist, however, with a Nobel Prize in Economics and the acclamation for having:
"Pretty much created the field of behavioral economics and revolutionized large parts of cognitive psychology and social psychology."
To illustrate how our brain works, Daniel Kahneman devised two systems of thinking. System 1 is the unconscious thought process that effortlessly manages the majority of our behavior (generally, without error). System 2 comprises our active cognitions and requires concentrated effort to apply. System 1, unbeknownst to System 2, automatically makes a number of serial errors that Kahneman has masterfully identified.
Parking tickets are irritating. They are especially irritating in Los Angeles where a failure to properly feed your meter can run you nearly $70—and even more if you forget to pay it on time, as I regrettably learned this summer.
To be fair, parking violations play a necessary role in deterring scofflaws, easing mobility, and creating equitable opportunities for commerce in commercially vibrant urban centers. There is an economic cost for businesses and consumers if parking spaces are not optimally utilized (consumers may waste fuel searching for parking or forgo shopping altogether) and this must be safeguarded against. As we learned from Seinfeld, the scarcity of parking can be the source of considerable agony:
Comedy aside, there must be a point where the cost of a parking ticket transcends from a socially just deterrent to a punitive and regressive gouge—regressively taxing low income residents who lack access to off-street parking and can least afford to pay.
A few weeks ago, I posted on how policymakers are increasingly using a "happiness" indicator to inform public policy. Ironically, while writing that piece, I was very unhappy and not as a result of any of the factors traditionally deemed significant. Rather, my unhappiness was singularly due to my neurotic and perpetual search for updates on a pending federal court case related to the eligibility of my favorite NFL quarterback--who, thankfully, has now been vindicated. Despite my own proclivities, sports and their related scandals were not deemed an important driver of happiness by the United Nations (unless being a rabid sports fan is a form of mental illness).
My own sporting biases aside, this got me thinking. How many others around the world are, far more often than not, made miserable by their favorite sports teams?
From a policy perspective, there will never be just one legacy for the September 11th terrorist attacks. As that day's 14th anniversary came and went this past Friday, it was hard not to see how the fissures of its aftermath continue to color our political discourse.
To the neoconservatives in power at the time, the attacks necessitated a massive expansion of domestic surveillance powers, the adoption of "enhanced" interrogation techniques for intelligence gathering, and a policy of regime change for noncooperative states with links to violent Islamic extremism. Tax cuts, a massive expansion of government (notably the mess that is the Department of Homeland Security), and our country's two longest wars were, in their view, justified by the magnitude of the tragedy.
Until sectarian violence started to choke the dream of a small footprint in Iraq, the Democrats played the role of quiet passengers along for the ride. After awakening to the looming economic and political calamity, their narrative has been that Republicans ignored the necessary war (Afghanistan) while bungling a needless one (Iraq); all the while overstepping their constitutional bounds in Guantanamo and in CIA detention centers around the world—all of which Democratic leaders had been thoroughly supportive of, or at least unquestioning of, while it seemed to be working.
Unlike the empire that first concocted it, the sun will never set on the Gin and Tonic—or the “G n’ T” to its most loyal imbibers. However, before this vaunted alcoholic brew acquired its current state of ubiquitousness, it needed a push from science and historical happenstance.
Every four years we are put through the increasingly prolonged charades that are the Iowa (IA) caucus and New Hampshire (NH) primary. Research across countries has found that campaigns of a sufficient duration allow voters to more accurately assess economic conditions. In the case of the United States, we have by leaps and bounds eclipsed this threshold and in its place constructed a money-sucking circus that benefits the near-pathological who want to endure it.
While the country is surely losing out in the dysfunctional process, NH and IA continue to benefit from political empowerment (otherwise obscure local chieftains can elicit legislative pledges—subsidized farming being paramount), the framing of winners and losers (catapulting obscure candidates or dethroning anointed ones), and a windfall of local economic benefits (In 2000, and it is surely larger now, it was estimated that the NH primary generated $147 million in additional economic activity).
With such obvious and undemocratic advantages afforded NH and IA, why is the process allowed to continue? And how did it begin?
You can be forgiven for not knowing where Bhutan is. It is a small country—its first ever census in 2005 revealed less than one million inhabitants--sandwiched between China and India, governed by a very poor monarchy, that exports little, has no formal diplomatic relations with the United States, and generally embraces reclusion.
Internationally, Bhutan is known for two things. First, they exiled more than 100,000 of their ethnic-Nepalese minority, whose religious and linguistic views made them unfit for citizenship, to live in refugee camps in Nepal--where they were also not wanted and subsequently resettled by third parties (more than 66,000 of them in the United States since the mid-2000s). Second, ironically, is the notion of measuring national success, not by gross domestic product, but by gross national happiness. Measuring wellbeing by contentment rather than income is certainly a noble goal in our gilded age, but how can it be appropriately measured?
Please fill in the contact form below to have new articles emailed to you directly!