The Difference Between Kidneys and Babies

29 March, 2010

The most interesting question that I’ve addressed in a debate recently has been whether there should be a market for adoption and surrogacy. Although the concept jars with most people, the real reason to oppose such a market isn’t immediately clearly.

After all, if two individuals can make themselves happier through the exchange of money for services, what business does the state have in prohibiting it? We have markets for everything else, and there’s strong evidence to suggest that organs trade should be legalised. So what is the difference between a kidney and a baby?

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Why Tax Breaks Aren’t Bad

23 March, 2010

The economist Robert H Frank in his book ‘The Return of the Economic Naturalist’ completely dismisses the case in favour of tax breaks for the rich (a policy aggressively pursued by the then Bush administration). As far as boosting employment is concerned, he claims, it doesn’t matter what tax rate business owners are paying.

If the addition of another worker to the company is profitable, the entrepreneur will hire him regardless of what tax rate he is paying. This is the decision criterion of the rational utility-maximising capitalist, he says. Although Frank’s logic is extremely elegant, it is ultimately flawed.

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Fair Trade For Some, Poverty For Others

7 March, 2010

Some of you will know that the past two weeks have been  ‘Fairtrade Fortnight’, and today brings the end to an exhaustive media campaign persuading consumers that they should switch over to Fairtrade products.

It’s all very well-meaning, and certainly makes consumers feel good about themselves. But does Fairtrade actually make life better for the poorest farmers in the world? The more ethical policy would be to embrace free trade and stop keeping prices artificially high.

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Do Old Boys’ Clubs Make The Market More Efficient?

2 March, 2010

Companies operate in a world of uncertainty. Candidates for employment can only communicate so much information to differentiate themselves, with the result that firms search for innovative ways to identify talented graduates.

Whether you call it networking, cronyism or simply the Old Boys’ Club – using contacts and connections to obtain an edge in the job market seems necessary in today’s competitive world. Should proponents of meritocracy really condemn such mechanisms?

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Charity Begins At The Margin

28 January, 2010

A friend of mine is a prominent member of a philanthropic business. The idea behind the organisation is very simple. They sell clothes along with the principle that you should commit an act of random kindness to a stranger each time you wear them. Profits finance charitable projects, large-scale ‘arks’.

Their objective is to enable a positive culture shift towards every-day charity, with the founder and all the employees motivated to join the company by their desire to make the world a better place. So how does charity shape up as an economic motivation?

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What To Give A Homeless Person For Christmas?

18 January, 2010

The festive season has just ended, and it has been a particularly harsh winter this year in Ireland. Although most of us enjoyed the snow, some two thousand homeless people in Dublin must have found it tremendously difficult.

If you’re feeling charitable, what’s the best way of manifesting this desire to help – Should I give a homeless man cash or a coffee? Because if you’re going to try and make a difference, it’s rational to maximise.

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The Economics of €2 Spar Hot Chicken-Fillet Rolls

12 November, 2009

SandwichThe recession has brought down prices throughout the economy, in response to faltering demand. In Dublin, the most poignant example of this is Spar’s much celebrated €2 hot chicken-fillet roll.

But in the same shop, many prices haven’t fallen as much. Why is this? Like the canary in the coal mine, the €2 hot chicken-fillet roll acts as an indicator in case of recovering consumer spending.

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A Different Kind Of Carbon Leakage

3 November, 2009

Red FoxThe Irish Government recently decided to ban fur farming in Ireland. Their justification for this, presumably, stems from concern for animal rights and the cruelty of the practice.

In fact, this measure may end up harming animals – by pushing fur farming out of jurisdictions with responsible and concerned governments, they are forcing fur farming into more permissive and cruel states.

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Economics of the Future

16 August, 2009

Flux CapacitorPaul Krugman has an interesting paper regarding interstellar trade, and the consequences of general relativity for arbitrage. He concludes that interest rates will equalise between planets, and that the opportunity cost of goods in interstellar trade should be measured using the inertial time-frame of the planets in question.

It became a question of perspective. If an individual perceives time passing at a different rate, or has the ability to do so, does this alter the concept of opportunity cost and how?

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Rolling Back the Rules of the Road

1 August, 2009

Traffic ConeThe Christian Science Monitor has a fascinating piece on how traffic laws cause accidents, by diminishing the attention that drivers pay to the roads and reducing their reliance on their own best judgement. Could their complete absence improve matters?

There is clearly a simple trade-off here. Drivers can choose to concentrate on the road, thus making them better equipped to react to unexpected occurrences and more aware of their surroundings. They could alternatively just trust the lights and the signs.

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