Sunday, July 15, 2018

WS on Hot States and Cold States (V)

Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, 
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man:
The expedition my violent love 
Outrun the pauser, reason. Here lay Duncan, 
His silver skin laced with his golden blood; 
And his gash'd stabs look'd like a breach in nature  
For ruin's wasteful entrance: there, the murderers,  
Steep'd in the colours of their trade, their daggers 
Unmannerly breech'd with gore: who could refrain, 
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make's love known?

(Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3, lines 896-906)

See also:

WS on Hot States and Cold States (I)

WS on Hot States and Cold States (II)

WS on Hot States and Cold States (III)

WS on Hot States and Cold States (IV)

Flèche and Layard (2017) on Misery

Sarah Flèche and Richard Layard, “Do More of Those in Misery Suffer from Poverty, Unemployment or Mental Illness?” KYKLOS 70(1): 27-41, February 2017 [prior version here].

• The authors define the miserable to be those whose self-report of life satisfaction is among the lowest in their nation -- (slightly) more specifically, in about the lowest ten percent (it varies by country).

 Their main measure of mental illness is an objective one: the person is in treatment or has received a mental health diagnosis.

 The data are drawn from the US, Australia, Britain, and Germany.

 There are many “causes” of misery, but poor mental health is a leading one, more important than poverty or unemployment or poor physical health. In the US, for instance, 27% of the miserable are poor, but 61% have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

 Mental illness might be harder to adapt to than physical illness. 

 Therapy appears to be able to help people alleviate their misery: perhaps 1 in 3 people who receive cognitive behavioral therapy for their depression/anxiety recover (who without treatment would not recover). In terms of life-satisfaction, there seems to be a huge payoff (many multiples of the cost) to making cognitive behavioral therapy more available. 

• Nonetheless, the vast majority of health care spending is aimed at physical health, not mental health.

Chin, Markey, Bhargava, et al. (2017) on Boredom

Alycia Chin, Amanda Markey, Saurabh Bhargava, Karim S. Kassam, and George Loewenstein, “Bored in the USA: Experience Sampling and Boredom in Everyday Life.” Emotion 17(2): 359-368, 2017 [pdf].

• This article is based on experience sampling: more than 3000 adults offer half-hour updates for 7-to-10 days, yielding more than one million observations; about 2.8% of these updates include a claim of boredom. (More than one-third pf participants, however, never report feeling bored.) "[S]ubjects additionally report details about their time-use, including what they were doing, who they were with, and their location, as well as their experience of 16 other emotions [page 360]."

• The data is collected via a custom-made iPhone app; participants without iPhones are loaned a phone dedicated to the app.

• Boredom is much more likely to be accompanied by a negative emotion (such as sadness) than by a positive emotion (such as happiness).

• Men are more likely (one-third more likely) than women to be bored; unmarried people and younger people are more likely to feel bored. High-school drop-outs suffer boredom at higher rates than the more educated.

• Studying and work seem to go along with boredom (and as locations, schools and workplaces are boring); boredom peaks around 2PM. (Neither napping nor exercise is associated with boredom!) Co-workers tend to be boring, but friends and spouses aren't boring. Dining or drinking out is not boring.

• Most of the variation in boredom is due to circumstances, not to the individuals involved.

• The authors cite Kierkegaard on boredom; they don't mention Bertrand Russell, who had lots of non-boring things to say about boredom.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Knabe, Schöb, and Weimann (2017) on the Well-Being of Workfare Participants

Andreas Knabe, Ronnie Schöb, and Joachim Weimann, “The Subjective Well-Being of Workfare Participants: Insights from a Day Reconstruction Survey.” Applied Economics 49(13), 2017.

• Workfare involves connecting unemployment benefits to participation in (public) employment.

• Unemployment is very bad for subjective well-being; the authors want to know if workfare is, too.

The sample (usable n=1055) is drawn from German labor force participants, some working full-time (n=366), and some in long-term unemployment. Of the long-term unemployed, some (n=341) were participating in low-paid workfare jobs.

• The authors find through interviews (conducted in 2008) using the Day Reconstruction Method that self-reported life satisfaction of the workfare population is better than that of unemployed people, but not as high as that of employed people. This life-satisfaction boost is enjoyed both by those who were coerced into workfare jobs by the threat of losing benefits and those who voluntarily entered the workfare scheme.

• The affect (day-to-day happiness) of those on workfare is more positive than that of either the unemployed or the employed: workfare participants enjoy their hours working more than "regular" employees do.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Silver et al. (2017) on the Berkeley Soda Tax

Lynn D. Silver, Shu Wen Ng, Suzanne Ryan-Ibarra, et al., “Changes in prices, sales, consumer spending, and beverage consumption one year after a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley, California, US: A before-and-after study.” PLoS Med 14(4), April 18, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002283.

• Berkeley imposed a 1-cent per ounce tax for sugar-sweetened beverages starting in January, 2015; even before the tax, Berkeley per-capita soda consumption was quite low by US standards. 

• The study compares the before-and-after situation in Berkeley stores with comparable stores outside of Berkeley. 

• The tax led to higher soda prices in chain-stores, and to a significant fall in soda purchases, as well as a rise in water purchases. Consumers don’t seem to spend more on beverages after the tax is imposed. The overall effect on calories consumed is uncertain.

Popkin and Hawkes (2016) on Sweetening of Diets

Barry M. Popkin and Corinna Hawkes, “Sweetening of the Global Diet, Particularly Beverages: Patterns, Trends, and Policy Responses.The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology 4(2): 174–186, February 2016.

• Added caloric sweeteners in beverages seem to involve special health risks, such as diabetes. (The jury is still out on low-calorie sweeteners and 100% fruit juices.) Chile, Mexico, and the US lead the league table.

• Most food and most beverage calories consumed in the US come from items with added sweeteners. In recent years, the US has seen some movement away from beverages with added caloric sweeteners. 
 
• As incomes rise, much of the rest of the world is adopting US-style added-caloric-sweetener habits. 

• Early studies of sweet taxes suggest that they do dissuade consumption, and possibly even lead to changes in the composition of food items. 

• Sustained public information campaigns employing multiple channels of dissemination can dissuade unhealthy behaviors. The precise right approach (or approaches) to label information and warnings remains unresolved.

• Many jurisdictions have imposed restrictions on sugar marketing and in-school availability, as well as promoting public awareness and requiring nutritional information and warnings on packaging.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Downs and Loewenstein (2011) on Obesity

Julie S. Downs and George Loewenstein, “Behavioral Economics and Obesity.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Social Science of Obesity, John Cawley, editor, 2011.

• The rise in obesity is hard to explain via rational choice: think of the huge expenditures on failed diets and exercise programs, for instance. “Informational” interventions, such as better calorie information, might be fairly limited in terms of combatting obesity, then. 

• One cannot take a zero tolerance approach towards food; also, people have a habit of understating their consumption, or simply forgetting about snacks. 

• It doesn’t seem as if an increase in discount rates spurred the obesity rise, because discount rates have not risen, even though obesity is concentrated among those with higher discount rates. And present bias seems more applicable to food than it does to other types of decisions. 

• The future health costs of a bad diet are intangible, and for a single meal, negligible. Any one dietary indiscretion is (metaphorically) peanuts, but routinely neglecting these indiscretions – the “peanuts effect” – can lead to obesity and serious harm. 

• Field studies don’t show much improvement in calorie reduction from posting calorie counts. A decrease in consumption in one meal can be offset by later meals. 

• The rise in obesity tracks the rise in restaurant serving sizes fairly closely.