Nanny Nudger Strikes Again!

Just a couple months after banishing 32-ounce sodas from select establishments in New York City, the Nanny Nudger – aka Mayor Michael Bloomberg – is at it again. This time the man wants to nudge mothers into breastfeeding their newborns at the hospital by hiding bottles and scolding women who ask for them.

After all, science agrees that breastfeeding is best! Besides, they’re not really banning the bottles for mothers that need or really want them… they’re just making them harder to get. This will make more women breastfeed and lead to healthier children!

Of course, these results will come at a slight cost to personal freedom and responsibility. Mayor Bloomberg seems intent on proving old libertarian rhetoric about health care: the more the government pays your medical bills, the more the government will try to get you to do things to lower those bills. There are three problems with this.

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Global Climate Snapshot: Summer 2012

It’s been three months since my first Global Climate Snapshot, and it’s time for an updated look at the many forms of official data concerning our planet. Many skeptics distrust the official data about some things for one reason or another, but let’s assume it’s real and see what it says. When I analyze data about the earth’s climate, I look for two things to help judge whether or not it points to (man-made) global warming: 1) Are we reaching new records? 2) Are we reaching them as fast as scientists have predicted?

Oceans and Ice

Arctic Sea Ice.


The northern ice cap had its best spring in a decade, but all that extra ice has melted, and the sea ice is currently flirting with the record low years of 2007 and 2011. So far, NO, the cap is not retreating to new records. After the record low of 2007, some predicted the ice might be gone entirely by this summer. But not only will the ice not disappear entirely, it may not even be any smaller at all. It doesn’t look strong, though, and it is very possible we will see a new low this year.

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Perspectives in Gun Shootings and Other Risks

Following last weekend’s Aurora tragedy, liberal columnist Eugene Robinson took a typical stand:

Will we even pretend to do anything to prevent the next mass shooting by a crazed loner? I doubt it. We’ll just add Aurora to the growing list — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson — and wait for the inevitable…

Congress should pass an assault weapons ban this morning and the president should sign it tonight…

Eugene is upset that the risk of a mass shooting in America is high enough that one occurs every few years while there is little will to lower that risk. It’s a reasonable position, but I think the high visibility of these tragedies skews people’s perceptions about risks. I think the risk of this kind of tragedy is already so low that it’s 1) hard to lower the risk even more, and 2) hard to justify lowering this risk relative to many other risks we could be lowering.

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It Doesn’t Matter Where US Olympic Uniforms Are Made

I briefly mocked this controversy a few days ago, but the impacts of outsourcing/offshoring are so misunderstood that I think it deserves a closer look. A couple weeks ago we learned that the US Olympic uniforms produced by Ralph Lauren were manufactured in China. This upset a lot of people, including some Democratic senators like Harry Reid, who thinks they should “burn them and start all over,” and Chuck Schumer, who wants to require Olympic uniforms to be made in America. Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan is also upset.

These reactions are silly. Do we care if the athletes eat fruit from South America or grains from Asia? Does Chuck Schumer care if his clothes are made in America?

You don’t even have to believe widely accepted economic theories about comparative advantage to see that free trade works for everyone, even within the Olympics. Mark Perry points out that “the Brazilian Olympic equestrian team is using saddle pads produced by Wilker’s Custom Horse Products in Cool Springs, Tennessee.” Daniel Ikenson at Cato observes:

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The Paradox of Shrink

Earlier this week Alex Tabarrok highlighted the opposite trends in the numbers of fires and firefighters. Despite the 40% decrease in fires over the past 35 years, the number of career firefighters has increased 40%. With the huge increase in firefighters per fire, a lot of them spend more time tagging along with ambulances or finding other city busywork.

Many commenters denied this was proof that firefighters are oversupplied, but I think they either have to be oversupplied now or very undersupplied 35 years ago. Given the apparent lack of a fire apocalypse in the 80’s, and the increasing non-firefighting work of firefighters today, I think the evidence is pretty strong. Some argued that it’s useful for firefighters to answer medical calls as they often arrive quicker than ambulances, but that doesn’t prove that firefighters need to be the ones doing that, especially if “it costs $3,500 every time a fire truck pulls out of a fire station in Washington, DC.”

If firefighters are oversupplied, who is to blame? It’s easy to pick on pushy unions taking advantage of budgets in good times, but maybe we need to look no farther than ourselves.

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The Economics of Home Alone

Last night I watched Home Alone, the 1990 hit film about a boy who is accidentally left at home and defends himself from a couple of dumb burglars. I couldn’t help thinking about many of the interesting ways life has changed in the last twenty years.

1. VCRs were worth stealing. It’s hilarious that the crooks are excited about breaking into the McCallister home because of its “stereos” and “VCRs.” VCRs had become much cheaper and popular by 1990 (Somewhere around 65-70% of households owned one), and based on multiple anecdotes from highly scientific Google searches it looks like they were available around the $200 range (about $357 in 2012 dollars), though more expensive ones existed. Common, valuable, easy to steal.

Today, of course, you can get VCRs for $20 or less at thrift stores. Almost 80% of households own the newer DVD players, of which numerous models exist for under $50. Blu-Ray DVD players are easily found in the $100 range. So after 20 years, more households have much better technology that is much cheaper to buy, even before factoring inflation. Sometimes capitalism is awesome like that.

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