Eric Crampton takes an excellent look at so called research studies which calculate a cost of an activity (drinking etc) without ever calculating the benefits, and hence they are very flawed as a basis for decision making. He highlights this little reported point from the alcohol report:
This study takes a conventional approach for economic cost studies, which “do not attempt to fully consider the economic benefits of alcohol… and other drugs, and should not be confused with cost-benefit or cost-effectiveness analyses” (Single et al, 2003: 14).
In other words, everything is a cost. Imagine applying this methodology to anything else. What are the costs of car use? Of apple growing? Of coffee? It’s very easy to get big numbers on the cost of anything, if you don’t offset the corresponding benefits.
So lesson number one is ignore any research that measures costs only.
He looks at one example:
The study counts as costs reduced labour productivity. If you go to work with a hangover, you’re less productive. Similarly, if you spend a night out on the town rather than putting in the overtime, you’re not producing as much. If we only count costs, then these get included: costs to society via lost output and costs to the government via reduced tax revenues. But if we worry about NET costs rather than gross costs, these have to disappear. Why? Because if I decide to drink and be less productive at work, I’m less likely to get a promotion or a salary increase. My productivity affects my wages. If I decide to be less productive and have a lower expected salary path, that’s between me and my employer: I’m bearing the costs. If I decide to do it, that’s prima facie evidence that I weigh the benefits as greater than the costs.
We get the same from the lobbyists for banning cellphones from cars. They never calculate the benefits of cellphone use in cars, just the costs.Tags: Eric Crampton