Governments have long used taxation to correct for the socially costly overconsumption of alcohol, but as the external cost of overconsumption varies across drinkers, a single tax rate is not optimal. This column argues that variation in preferences for different products and in price responsiveness across heavy and light drinkers provides scope to improve welfare by varying tax rates across alcohol products. The proposed framework is well suited to addressing other sources of external costs, such as obesity.
Rachel Griffith, Martin O'Connell, Kate Smith, 21 March 2017
Christopher Boone, Arindrajit Dube, Lucas Goodman, Ethan Kaplan, 08 January 2017
The Unemployment Insurance programme in the US was significantly expanded during between 2008 and 2014. This column examines the effect of unemployment insurance duration on aggregate employment during the Great Recession using state-level expansions and contractions in insurance generosity. It finds a positive but not statistically significant employment impact of expanding the insurance. This suggests that the substantial insurance value of the extensions during the Great Recession was not offset in any meaningful way by any costs from weaker job growth.
Pierre Cahuc, Olivier Charlot, Franck Malherbet, Hélène Benghalem, Emeline Limon, 05 January 2017
Temporary job contracts account for a substantial proportion of the workforce in countries such as France and Spain, but they can result in high job turnover and instability. This column assesses the impact of government policies that impose taxes on temporary contracts to induce employers to lengthen job durations. Such policies a negative impact on the labour market, reducing the mean duration of jobs and decreasing job creation. The introduction of open-ended contracts with no termination cost for separations occurring at short tenure may be more effective.
Mevlude Akbulut-Yuksel, Adriana Kugler, 17 October 2016
Upward social mobility is widely sought but often elusive in highly mobile societies like the US. While previous work has focused on intergenerational transmission of income levels and social prosperity among natives and immigrants, this column studies the intergenerational transmission of health. There is substantial persistence in health status for both natives and immigrants. However, as immigrant families remain in the US for more generations, their children’s health tends to resemble more the health of native children and less the health of their mothers.
Stephen Redding, David Weinstein, 03 October 2016
Big data stands to transform economic measurement in substantial ways. The volume and precision of data available allows economists to revisit the foundational assumptions underpinning common indexes. This column presents a new empirical methodology that leverages big data to translate nominal numbers into real output or welfare. ‘The unified approach’ nests major price indexes and addresses implicit biases in these measures. An examination with barcode data suggests that standard methods of measuring welfare overstate cost of living increases by ignoring new products and demand shifts.
George Wehby, Dhaval Dave, Robert Kaestner, 26 September 2016
Despite ample research on the effects of minimum wage increases on employment, there has been little consensus on the effects of such increases on workers’ broader welfare, and in particular on their health and that of their families. This column analyses comprehensive data from the US on the effects of minimum wage increases on the health of children born to low-income workers. It finds that the increases have a significant positive impact on birth weights. This has important policy implications, with infant health acting as a reliable indicator of future health.
Katherine Ho, Robin Lee, 16 September 2016
The US health insurance market is becoming less competitive due to mergers and withdrawal of services from certain states. This column examines how this affects consumers through insurance premiums and hospital reimbursement rates. Using employer-sponsored insurance data from California, it finds that the relationship between insurer competition and health care spending depends on institutional and market structure. If premiums can be constrained through effective regulation or negotiation, then reduced competition might lead to lower costs. Absent such constraints, consumers will likely be harmed.
Florin Bilbiie, Fabio Ghironi, Marc Melitz, 13 September 2016
Structural reform and deregulation are often promoted as ways to lower barriers to market entry. The Dixit-Stiglitz model provides an important benchmark – given specific preferences, there is a constrained-optimal amount of producer entry and product variety. This column reconsiders optimality of product creation, differentiating between consumer-producer and intertemporal inefficiencies and quantifying the welfare costs of inefficient entry. Monopoly profits should be preserved when product variety is endogenously determined by firm entry, as they play a crucial role in generating the welfare-maximising level of product variety in equilibrium.
Brian Nolan, Max Roser, Stefan Thewissen, 27 August 2016
With inequality rising and household incomes across developed countries stagnating, accurate monitoring of living standards cannot be achieved by relying on GDP per capita alone. This column analyses the path of divergence between household income and GDP per capita for 27 OECD countries. It finds several reasons why GDP per capita has outpaced median incomes, and recommends assigning median income a central place in official monitoring and assessment of living standards over time.
Wolfgang Frimmel, Martin Halla, Rudolf Winter-Ebmer, 18 August 2016
It has been widely demonstrated that parental divorce is associated with negative outcomes for affected children. However, the degree of causality in this relationship is not as clear. This column tackles this problem by using the level of gender integration in fathers’ workplaces as an instrument for divorce. The results suggest a causal link between divorce and worse economic outcomes that persists into early adulthood.
Heiner Schumacher, Iris Kesternich, Michael Kosfeld, Joachim Winter, 06 July 2016
Evidence shows that individuals often do not act in a completely selfish manner, but rather take into account the welfare of other parties when making decisions. But how decision-makers trade off costs and benefits when the costs are dispersed among many individuals is unclear. This column discusses new experimental evidence showing that a large fraction of individuals are ‘insensitive to group size’, attaching similar weights to small and large groups. These findings provide a new explanation for a number of empirical patterns, including political and medical decision-making, lobbying, tax evasion, and charity donations.
Sagiri agiri Kitao, 15 April 2016
Most countries with a generous pay-as-you-go social security system and ageing demographics will need to implement significant welfare reform, such as a major cut in benefits or a significant increase in distortionary taxation. Individuals’ uncertainty about when such a policy change will occur will cause precautionary saving and changes in factor prices, affecting aggregate welfare. This column uses evidence from Japan to show that delaying welfare reform will benefit the elderly, at a long-lasting cost to the young.
Eli Berman, Mitch Downey, Joe Felter, 15 February 2016
The bloody conflicts in Syria and Iraq have forced the issue of refugees onto the global agenda. However, among the neglected aspects of this discussion are how governance can be restored to conflict regions and the welfare effects that such actions, which are likely to be coercive, will have on local residents. This column examines the impact of a counter-insurgency programme in the Philippines on one development outcome in contested territories – malnutrition of young children. The programme saw a substantial long-term decrease in malnutrition in recaptured areas, but a rise in malnutrition in neighbouring areas. Such efforts may simply displace insurgents and their negative effects, rather than reducing them.
Resul Cesur, Pınar Güneş, Erdal Tekin, Aydogan Ulker, 18 January 2016
The goal of universal health coverage has been pursued by countries in a number of ways, most notably through demand-side policies. In 2005, Turkey extended basic healthcare services to its entire population under a free-of-charge, centrally administered system. This column examines the impact of this supply-side programme on mortality and birth rates. Results show that the program was successful in lowering both mortality and birth rates across provinces, particularly for the most vulnerable populations. These findings provide compelling evidence in favour of providing accessible healthcare services to all citizens.
Patrick Arni, Rafael Lalive, Gerard Van den Berg, 11 January 2016
The standard empirical evaluations of labour market policy only consider the direct effects of single programmes on their participants. This column argues that this fails to capture important aspects of real-world labour market policy – policy regimes and strategies. Using Swiss data, it employs a novel empirical approach that concurrently examines the effects of supportive and punitive policies (‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’). Policy regimes are shown to exert economically relevant effects, and accounting for these effects is crucial when designing labour market policy.
Richard Tol, 17 September 2015
The international climate negotiations have moved away from targets such as keeping warming below 2°C in favour of more realistic goals. This column presents new evidence on the economic impacts of climate change. The initial impacts of climate change on welfare might be positive, but in the long run the negative effects dominate, and will be substantially higher in poor countries. Poverty reduction therefore complements greenhouse gas emissions reduction as a means to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Arash Nekoei, Andrea Weber, 10 July 2015
The generosity of unemployment insurance is often cited as a reason for long spells of joblessness. But this view neglects other important, and potentially positive, economic aspects of such programmes. Using Austrian data, this column presents evidence that unemployment insurance has a positive effect on the quality of jobs that recipients find. This can in turn have a positive effect on future tax revenues, and has implications for the debate on optimal insurance generosity.
Jim Tomlinson, 05 July 2015
In Britain today, a majority of those in poverty live in working, rather than non-working, households. This challenges the long-held notion that paid work offers a route out of poverty. This column argues that structural changes in the labour market have brought about profound changes in the social security system. A failure to acknowledge these underlying changes means that dialogues about the political direction of the British economy can be problematic and potentially misleading.
Martin Ruhs, 12 November 2014
Many low-income countries and development organisations are calling for greater liberalisation of labour immigration policies in high-income countries. At the same time, human rights organisations and migrant rights’ advocates demand more equal rights for migrant workers. This Vox Talk discusses the tensions between human rights and citizenship rights and argues that you cannot always have both.
Edward Glaeser, Joshua Gottlieb, Oren Ziv, 15 October 2014
Governments are now measuring happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and some have begun trying to maximise it. This column discusses recent research showing that happiness is not the same thing as utility. The choices people make suggest that they have desires and objectives other than happiness. It is therefore possible to make people worse off while increasing their reported subjective wellbeing.