Social Sciences and Economics

What If President Monson Endorsed Mitt Romney?

July 19, 2011 | 37 comments
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What If President Monson Endorsed Mitt Romney?

In his talk at the close of the April 2008 General Conference, President Monson talked about the blessing we had received, both as members of the Church and, specifically, over the course of the conference. He ended his talk with counsel: parents are to love and cherish their children, youth are to keep the commandments, those who can attend the temple should, and we should all be aware of each other’s needs. But what if, in closing his remarks, President Monson had said, “My dear brothers and sisters, I feel strongly that Mitt Romney is the best person to... Read more »

The Parable of the Talented Endowment Tax

July 14, 2011 | 51 comments
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Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services. In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax. But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my... Read more »

Faith frames the pie, and other reasons to be grateful

November 24, 2010 | 2 comments
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Faith frames the pie, and other reasons to be grateful

Today I, with millions of other home cooks around the country, will be getting frisky in the kitchen with all manner of saturated fats and simple carbohydrates as I beget a table full of gorgeous harvest pies. I make pie once a year, the day before Thanksgiving; the rest of the year I prefer my saturated fats and simple carbohydrates in other forms. But at about 4:00 on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by a riot of dirty dishes and family, there’s nothing in this world or out of it that tastes better. Social scientists would call my Thanksgiving palate a... Read more »

Zion and the Limits of Intellectual Agrarianism

June 7, 2010 | 38 comments
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Zion and the Limits of Intellectual Agrarianism

There is a strand of progressive Mormon thinking that associates Zion with an exaltation of agrarian virtues.  I am thinking here of folks like Hugh Nibley or Arthur Henry King or my friend Russell Arben Fox who argue that small scale, local economies, ideally based in large part on agriculture provide the best possible model for building Zion.  At least one way of understanding this line of thinking is to see it as a kind of Mormonization of agrarian thinkers like Wendell Berry.  It is striking in this regard that Leonard Arrington, whose works on nineteenth-century Mormon communitarianism provide... Read more »

The Tebows and Other Good Omens

February 3, 2010 | 92 comments
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The Tebows and Other Good Omens

I never expected to see the day that Kate Michelman, past president of NARAL, would write, “all sorts of well-educated and progressive people are comfortable calling themselves pro-life.” Michelman’s opinion piece in the Washington Post is fascinating not only for her openly acknowledging the eroding support for her movement (she says recent polls shows 51% of Americans identify with the label “pro-life” and only 44% with “pro-choice”; the pro-life number would be a historical high), but by how hamstrung she feels defending abortion. She attributes the shift in public opinion primarily to technological progress: “cience played a big role,... Read more »

Charity Free Riding

December 15, 2009 | 17 comments
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Charity Free Riding

As we all know, the gospel is overrun with economic doctrine.  On that note, I noticed a quote about free riding from President Monson (which I just saw at Mormon Times): “I am confident it is the intention of each member of the church to serve and to help those in need,” he said. “At baptism we covenanted to ‘bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.’ How many times has your heart been touched as you have witnessed the need of another? How often have you intended to be the one to help? And yet how often... Read more »

Explaining the Puzzle of Cross-State Differences in Bankruptcy Rates

June 30, 2009 | 39 comments
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Bankruptcy rates vary alot across states.  With a fairly simple statistical model, Lars Lefgren and I explain about 70% of these differences in a paper just published in the Journal of Law and Economics.   For cross sectional work using survey data, where you are looking across states at a point in time, explaining 70% is pretty darn impressive. Read more »

Morality Polling

June 29, 2009 | 11 comments
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Suppose you take a “wisdom of the crowds” approach to morality (not that you should). Well then what could be more informative than a poll telling you what actions are morally wrong and what aren’t? Enter Gallup’s recent poll… Tip: Adultery is still wrong. Polygamy also out. Read more »

Commuter trains in Utah

June 12, 2009 | 147 comments
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I just returned from a short presentation by Mike Ransom on the Utah commuter Frontrunner rail line.  It is a lesson in how to not spend money. Read more »

The Economics of Service and Welfare

May 12, 2009 | 70 comments
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The Economics of Service and Welfare

A friend of mine suggested a few months ago that ward Elder’s Quorums should stop helping members move. Why, he asks, should we be competing with businesses in our area? Read more »

Optimal Tithing

May 11, 2009 | 28 comments
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Suppose that we had a base 8 system instead of base 10, perhaps because, in this hypothetical world, we had 8 fingers rather than 10. Would we pay 1/8 our increase, or do you think it would still be one tenth? Or, to reverse causality, what are the chances we have ten fingers so that we’d develop a base 10 system that would make it easier to count out our tithing? Read more »

Dow 6,000

March 30, 2009 | 14 comments
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One of the things people find odd about Mormons is our claim to be led by a prophet. Read more »

A Short Lesson on Multipliers

February 13, 2009 | 50 comments
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This is just a post about Keynesian mulitpliers with no particular religious content.  You have been warned and forewarned.   Read more »

Expected Value of A Fetus

February 2, 2009 | 39 comments
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A thoughtful reader asked me if there were any economic tools that could be brought to bear in valuing a fetus.  Of course there are!  And in fewer than a 1000 words, no less! Read more »

The Political Uses of Debt and Mormon History

January 30, 2009 | 9 comments
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Yesterday’s discussion got me thinking about debt, in particular the political uses of debt.  Here, I think that the experience of the American Revolution and the failure of the Confederacy may have something to tell us about Mormon history. Read more »

A Nobel calling

October 13, 2008 | 24 comments
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I’m very happy to see this year’s Nobel Prize in economics going to Paul Krugman, whose columns in the New York Times helped me see the importance of the discipline of economics as nothing else ever had. I think Mormon scholarship could use more scholars like Paul Krugman (quite apart from the Nobel and the weekly NYT column) Read more »

Returning to Zion

September 8, 2008 | 11 comments
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Given all that might be said of Mormonism, it should not come as a surprise that a lot of interesting topics sit pretty much neglected. One of these, I would argue, is the Mormon contribution to building settlements in the United States. Read more »

Global Warming, Redefining Marriage, and Risk Aversion

August 15, 2008 | 47 comments
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I think we can all agree that, from a risk analysis perspective, global warming and gay marriage share a lot of characteristics. Read more »

McCain and the Revelatory Economist

June 26, 2008 | 16 comments
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Bloomberg reports the following from McCain about economists who criticized his (lunatic) summer gas plan: Read more »

Moral Hazard in the Scriptures

May 23, 2008 | 16 comments
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For those hoping to find more economics in their scripture study… Read more »

Shortage and storage

May 7, 2008 | 38 comments
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With the recent spike in food prices, a three year old post demands new life. Here it is: Clearly, were there to be a famine, a one year food supply in the basement would look really good. What may be slightly less obvious is that the presence of food storage, even if nobody ever uses any of it for an emergency, can stop a famine from ever actually happening. Read more »

Coase on Abortion

January 23, 2008 | 27 comments
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Estimates suggest that, on average, Americans behave as if they value a year of their life at, more or less, $100,000. This would put an average American life at a “revealed preferred” value of somewhere around $7 million. Read more »

Economics and the Vicious Dating Scene

April 24, 2007 | 13 comments
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Diminishing Returns: Once things start going downhill, bail. Increasing Returns: It can only get better. Read more »

Markets and Consumer Activism

April 11, 2007 | 56 comments
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With fair regularity, one hears someone talking of efforts to buy less of some commercial product, either out of a desire for global conservation or because he doesn’t like how it is produced or whatever. Invariably, he comments that his own effect on the market is small, but he wishes to “send a message” or help along some broader movement. Within a plausible model of markets. there are easily understood conditions under which this small effect is actually zero, and remains zero even if he is joined by many like-minded individuals. At which point one wonders if the “message”... Read more »