Margarine sales: investors can’t believe they’re not better

Demand for natural fats is rising


THE debate over fats is larded with controversy. For years doctors argued that they should be expunged from diets entirely. Saturated fats, they reckoned, were especially harmful. As a result, consumers increasingly turned to margarine and demand for butter melted away. The vegetable-based spread remained dominant for decades. But two trends have since eaten away at its market share.

First, the crusade against fats is waning. Nowadays, doctors are much more sanguine about eating fat in general. Instead they have set their si....



Six Feet of Mortgage Regulations Explain Slower Housing Market in U.S.

Thanks to FutureofCapitalism for this post:

More than 14,000 pages of new rules and regulations governing home mortgages have slowed America’s economy by half a percent a year over the past five years, one of America’s most prominent bankers says.

The banker, James Dimon, has been CEO of JPMorgan Chase for more than a decade. He makes the complaint in his annual letter to shareholders.

Dimon acknowledges that the financial crisis “was caused in part by poor mortgage lending practices.” But he says the post-crisis changes have gone too far. That has made mortgages more expensive for consumers and made it nearly impossible for lots of people to qualify.

“It’s noteworthy....



The Paradox of Choice

The modern entertainment industry is a nirvana for consumers

For America’s bloated pay-TV providers, not so much

From The Economist Feb 11th 2017 edition

FOR couch potatoes and bookworms, filmgoers and music-lovers, this is a golden age. The internet provides an almost endlessly long menu of options to meet the almost infinitely quirky tastes of humanity. Smartphones have put all kinds of entertainment—from classic rock to pres....



The New Old Thing

Conformity, nostalgia and 5G at the Mobile World Congress

More black rectangles made their debut in Barcelona


“A SEA of sameness.” A veteran of the Mobile World Congress (MWC), Ben Wood of CCS Insight, a consultancy, was not expecting much from the mobile industry’s main trade show this week in Barcelona. As one product launch followed another, it was easy to lose track. Whether it was LG, Huawei or Wiko, they all showed off yet more black rectangles with slightly varying specifications.

Another reminder of the smartphone busi....



Reducing the alcohol purchase age

Reducing the alcohol purchase age from 20 to 18 did not increase the number of road accidents. If anything, risky driving dropped for a while.
Stefan Boes and Steve Stillman have updated their earlier work on New Zealand’s alcohol purchase age to bring in some more recent accident data to allow for longer term trends.
They make an important methodological point – one that applies to a lot of work on minimum legal drinking ages. It is really easy to set up a regression discontinuity design using the birthday as the point of the discontinuity. The 17 year old, before the birthday, is the same person a week later, except with access to alcohol. Sure. But the RDD me....



Is Corporate Short-termism a distraction

Firms are increasingly accused of failing to look ahead. That is a misdiagnosis according to The Economist


AS AMERICA’S economy has misfired over the past decade, several grand theories have emerged about what went wrong. Economists fret about secular stagnation, debt hangovers and whether demography explains sluggish growth. In American boardrooms, meanwhile, a widely held view is that a dangerous short-termism has taken hold. This theory contends that investors and executives have become myopic, leading firms to invest too little. Like many....
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Where Rashid and Juliet can’t wed

Many countries make it hard to marry someone from another religion – change is needed

Around two dozen countries have no provision for civil marriage


ARMAN DHANI, an Indonesian journalist who is Muslim, broke up with his Catholic girlfriend of five years when he reached the heartbreaking conclusion that they would never be able to marry. Indonesian officials refuse to register inter-faith marriages because the law does not mention them. “My mother said: ‘If you want to marry her she must convert to Islam,’” he says. “But I didn....
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Foreign Drivers and Driver Testing

Is the number of accidents caused by foreign drivers increasing? No. It has been fairly constant at around 6% of all accidents for the last decade.

In that time tourism numbers have increased 30%.

So would requiring tourists who are here more than three months to undertake a driving test make much of an impact. The data suggests next to nothing.

In 2016 there were 1,817,136 tourists here and only 40,336 stayed for more than three months. That’s 2.2%.

So this measure would impact just 2.2% of tourists in NZ. If tourists cause 6% of all accidents then you might expect a 0.13% reduction in the road toll.

And that is only if you make the generous assumption that having them....



An unfree trade

Cracking down on hardworking people – doesn’t help the poor

Cracking down on African street vendors


The Economist Feb 2nd 2017 | KAMPALA AND KIGALI

RUNNING away is part of life, explains Meddy Sserwadda, eyeing the road. Each morning he buys belts from a market in central Kampala, the capital of Uganda, selling them on a downtown street for a small profit. He works without a licence—the city government has stopped issuing them—and flees when enforcement officers approach. “They don’t want us to mak....



Looking at progress humanity has made

· Where 150 years ago it took 25 men a whole day to harvest and thresh a ton of grain, one person with a modern combine harvester can do it in six minutes

· In 1947, 50 per cent of the world’s population was chronically malnourished. Today that’s down to 13 per cent.

· Chlorination of water led to a massive drop in infant mortality. Such benefits have now been extended to the Third World, with the result that 91 per cent of the world’s population (2.6 billion people) have clean water, as opposed to 52 per cent in 1980.

· In the 1830s, in western Europe life expectancy was still only 33. Today, average life expectancy in the world is an amazing 71.

· Homo sapiens evolve....



Why free trade is good and the irrationality of protectionism

This new post by Mark Perry – a post titled “2009 tire tariffs cost US consumers $926K per job saved and led to the loss of 3 retail jobs per factory job saved” – is excellent.  Here’s Mark’s closing paragraph:

To paraphrase Thomas Sowell: The first lesson of international economics is that free trade makes us better off and protectionism makes us worse off. The first lesson of politics when it comes to trade issues is to ignore the first lesson of international economics. And that pretty much s....



Crime, Ink and Tattoos

A statistical analysis of the art on convicts’ bodies. What can be learned from a prisoner’s tattoos – how they affect ability to get work and to stay out of prison.

IN THE mid-1990s a man named Frank, recently released from prison, came to Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles, for help. Frank was having a difficult time finding a job, in part because of his chequered past. It probably wasn’t helping that he had the words “FUCK THE WORLD” inked across his forehead.

Father Boyle hired Frank to work....



Tom Sowell, a Fearless Contrarian, Puts Down the Pen

The 86-year-old economist asked questions others didn’t and wrote the answers in plain English

Thomas Sowell once described Milton Friedman as “one of the very few intellectuals with both genius and common sense,” noting that Friedman “could express himself at the highest analytical levels to his fellow economists in academic publications and still write popular books . . . that could be understood by people who knew nothing about economics.” Mr. Sowell fits that description as well, which is why so many of his readers were saddened by his recent decision to retire his syndicated column.

Mr. Sowell’s first column appeared in 1977. Now 86 years old, he can’t be faulted for....



Not nearly as unequal as you thought

This example is about travel. It applies to numerous other goods and services – electronic goods for one comes to mind. 

Flight Centre NZ has calculated that in 1947 an average return airfare to London from Auckland would have cost approximately $1170, equivalent to more than $110,000 today.

That would equate to 85 weeks’ pay for the average worker. In 2016 the same airfare cost on average $1700 or 1.2 weeks’ pay.

Flight Centre’s general manager product, Sean Berenson, says travel is booming right now and Kiwis are making the most of it.

“Where 10 years ago our average customer might have saved to take one holiday every second year, many are now....



DARE–the anti drug programme that never actually worked

The message is “just because it feels like it should work and it makes you feel good does not mean it is going to work”. What is absolutely for sure is:

1. it will have an opportunity cost. Something will be lost

2. there will be unintended consequences – by definition it is in the future so by definition we cannot know all outcomes

3. it will be very hard to reverse because it will create vested interests that will not give up their new found powers easily

This is the story from Priceconomics:

DARE, the popular drug educat....



The argument against banning child labour

 

Some academics believe the United Nations’ ban on child labour is damaging, Tracy McVeigh writes.

A GROUP of international academics has condemned a United Nations convention which bans child labour as ‘‘ harmful and unnecessary’’, arguing that allowing young children to work can have positive effects which are not being taken into account.

In a letter to The Observer, the researchers, who work in the fields of child development or human rights, say the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has ignored evidence in favour of outdated and ill-informed Western prejudices and policies which can have a negative impact on the ground.

A total of 193 countries have com....