Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Socially defective economists

From time to time economists like to analyse human relationships through whatever economic model is occupying them at the time, thinking they're offering some insights. Like this from the EconLog ("insights in economics") blog:
One of the examples [of the idea that a lot of human behaviour can be explained as an attempt to signal something about onesself to others] concerns dating. If the point is to signal to the person that you are healthy, wealthy, and intelligent, why not just bring your health records, your bank statement, and your SAT scores?

One hypothesis... is that you would not want to date someone who went for those sorts of signals. Somebody who will hook up with you based on such simple information could just as easily cheat on you or dump you when someone else comes along and provides similar information. We want to go out with people who are "discerning," which in this context means that they signal a habit of processing other people's expensive signals. That in turn makes it more likely that they will be loyal...

So you have what I might call co-operative signaling. You signal to me that you are looking for "deep" signs of my health, intelligence, or whatever. I take that as a signal that you are into long-term relationships. So I then go through the rituals of dating and signaling.

Huh?? If I might offer an alternative hypothesis, perhaps you just don't want to signal that you're a socially defective economist.

Fortunately for such economists, they ultimately decide to leave their CVs at home before heading out on dates, apparently after doing a cost-benefit analysis that suggests that the obvious efficiency benefits of a first date spent going through each other's personal files may be outweighed by the cost that presenting your first-date portfolio introduces a selection bias for partners with a higher than average inclination for infidelity.

What the otherwise fairly interesting folks at the EconLog blog are signalling to me is that they don't understand human behaviour. Which makes me question the extent to which they really understand market behaviour either.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Liveblogging the budget

Can't wait until tonight's budget? No worries, Zoe at CrazyBrave has already blogged the best bits, in advance:
7.37... We’re going to investigate the tax system - root and branch. We’re going to get the head of Treasury to tell us what bits are rooted and then we’ll get the maths whizzes who organised our branch stacking in NSW and Victoria to fix it all up.

7.38 There will be downward pressure on interest rates. There will be downward pressure on inflation. There will be downward pressure on prices, particularly at the supermarket and the service station. In fact Labor will ensure that downward pressure is so omnipresent it is a matter of some doubt whether the daffodils will manage to raise their sunny little heads next spring.

Well I'll be watching tonight anyway, taking a drink each time Swan mentions Working Families and checking out what's in there for the environment if I'm still sober.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Lessons from Europe's emissions trading scheme

The Pew Center on Climate Change has released a new report examining what went wrong and what has been going right with the EU emissions trading scheme.

The report finds that the scheme has achieved much of what was intended: establishing a European-wide carbon price; causing businesses to incorporate the price into their decision-making; and creating the infrastructure for a multi-national trading program. As for actually achieving a reduction in emissions - it's been modest but improving.

Some of the key lessons:
  • Good information is critical. You need accurate data on baseline emissions.
  • Suppliers quickly factor the price of emissions allowances into their business decisions under a cap-and-trade program.
  • Price volatility can be reduced by including banking and limited borrowing of emissions allowances.
  • The relationship between permit allocation, permit markets, and the electricity market must be understood and addressed to avoid unintended consequences.
  • The linkage of 28 separate trading programs in the EU scheme provides a valuable prototype for a globally linked carbon market.