Make sense of economists’ research… if you can!

Since I was 16 years old I have been a student of, and involved in, economics and my involvement with the subject is now 55 years old. My first job after my MA was as the Economics Editor in a large British publishing house. After a few years I got bored with publishing and became a journalist specialising in economics. Economists are usually seen as depressed people who always have a gloomy outlook on life. Oscar Wilde even said that while they knew the price of everything, they knew the value of none. But, actually, they do have a sense of humour. But, sadly, they don’t acknowledge it. They prefer, instead, to be funny in a peculiar sort of way. To see why I say this, let me summarise some very strange research they have done on, of all things, drinking, which leads me to believe that the only thing funnier than an inebriated economist is a sober one.  In fact, if you ask me, these economists seem to be taking revenge on alcohol. American economists, with their publish-and-perish approach to intellect, have taken the lead.

So one research finding says “consumers drink less ethanol (and have fewer alcohol-related problems) when alcohol-beverage prices are increased.” Wow! Who’d have guessed.

Another concludes not just that “blacks (in the US) participate in alcohol less than whites, and their participation cannot be explained with the included variables as well as it can for whites”, but also that “price and advertising effects are generally larger for females.” This probably means two things. What they are I leave to you to figure out.

Consumers drink less ethanol (and have fewer alcohol-related problems) when alcohol-beverage prices are increased.

I really liked the third one. It is about binge drinking by kids and the impact on their chances of finding a job a decade later. The good news here is for females. For them, “adolescent drinking and adult wages are unrelated, and negative employment effects disappear once academic achievement is held constant.” But for males it’s very bad news: “negative employment effects and, more strikingly, positive wage effects persist.” The economists think that “binge drinking conveys unobserved social skills that are rewarded by employers.” Really?

A fourth one is truly fantastic. It explores the possibility “that a reduction in per capita drinking will result in some people drinking ‘too little’ and dying sooner than they otherwise would.” So the authors did the usual things with data and conclude that “the long-term mortality effect of a one per cent reduction in drinking is essentially nil.” Please clap, everyone.

The fifth says that “results from the preferred specifications indicate that higher beer taxes lead to a lower incidence of assault, but not rape or robbery.” The finance ministry should note.

This is not all. A sixth looks at the “relationship between alcohol policies (for instance, beer taxes and statutes pertaining to alcohol sales and drunken driving) and rates of gonorrhea and AIDS among teenagers and young adults.” The conclusion: higher beer taxes lead to lower rates of gonorrhea for males!

The seventh examines the link between drinking and domestic violence, and concludes that “increasing the tax on beer can be an effective policy tool in reducing violence.”

Paper number eight investigates the effect on inebriation on sexual activity. The authors say that, among teenagers and young adults, alcohol use appears to have no causal influence in determining whether or not they have sex. “However, alcohol use may lower contraception use among sexually active.”

I explained all this to my son when he said he wanted to become an economist. Like a good son he ignored me. But going by where he lives now, he actually managed to become quite a good one probably because he has a really good sense of humour and sees how funny what he does really is.

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