Assorted Papers of Interest

  • The Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization just published this paper I co-authored with Vincenzina Caputo and Rudy Nayga.  We argue that the choices survey-takers make depend not only on the prices used in hypothetical shopping choices in the survey itself but on people's perceptions about the level and variability of prices outside the survey.  We derive a conceptual model showing that when the variability (or uncertainty) about prices in "real life" increases, people are more likely to refrain from making any purchase at all.  The results stemming from our study, which manipulated information about the level and variability of prices outside the study, are broadly consistent with this hypothesis in addition to re-confirming the often-found loss aversion phenomenon (i.e., people are more sensitive to price changes above a reference point than below).
  • In case you missed it, last month the Congressional Research Service released a report outlining the possible effects on agriculture of a US withdrawal from NAFTA.  The short summary is that if the US looses most favored nation status with Canada and Mexico, the overall effects are likely to be negative for US producers and consumers.  
  • In the past couple months I've noticed a couple interesting papers suggesting new ways of learning about consumer behavior and welfare. 
    • The first is this paper by Robert Allen in the American Economic Review. Allen proposes doing away with the World Bank's "$1 a day" measure of poverty and instead proposes to measure poverty by calculating the least cost to attain an "adequate" diet given the particular prices and income in a given country.  His paper suggest people may be poorer than we thought they were. 
    • The second is this paper by Scott Schuh in Economic Inquiry who discusses a method to measure consumer expenditures based on records of daily authorizations made by different payment types (cash, check, or debit/credit card).  He finds significantly higher levels of spending with this method compared to other popular government methods of measuring consumer expenditures.  The results seem to suggest people may be spending more on food than we thought they were.  

Assorted Links

Books that have arrived on my desk

One of the nice things about writing books is that you then often get free books sent to you to review.  I've written "blurbs" for three such books that have recently arrived on my desk.

Discriminating Taste: How Class Anxiety Created the American Food Revolution by S. Margot Finn, "Finn offers an engaging and compelling explanation for the rise of the modern food movement. It's one that the leaders of the movement will no doubt find unsettling."

Food Truths from Farm to Table: 25 Surprising Ways to Shop & Eat without Guilt by Michele Payn, ""An engaging defense of modern agricultural production practices."

Nudge Theory in Action: Behavioral Design in Policy and Markets, edited by Sherzod Abdukadirov, “Finally, a serious look at how government nudges would work in the real world.  A valuable guide for anyone interested in how behavioral economics interacts with public choice economics and market forces.”

Assorted Links

  • This article in The Conservation by Fabrice Etile attempts to sort out the various explanations for the rise on obesity.  The conclusion: "Despite initial academic evidence then, the main drivers of the global rise in obesity levels remain, to a large extent, a black box."
  • A fantastic piece by Øystein Heggdal that skewers a report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food System.  Key points include spurious yield comparisons across countries, a "clever sleight of hand" in using the Rodale Institute's comparison of organic and conventional crop yields, and undue focus on pesticides and fertilizers as contributors to climate change.
  • In the New York Times, Stephanie Strom reports on some interesting innovations to increase the shelf life of fruits and veggies
  • Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrock is optimistic about the future of cultured meat and meat replacements.  He conjectures: "Animal rights will be the big social revolution of the 21st century."  (He linked to this interesting paper which I'd never before read entitled, "Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolution").
  • Guy Bentley expresses skepticism over the Harvard study's claim that a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks would prevent 100,000 cases of obesity and 3,683 deaths

Assorted Links

  • This NYT article by Stephanie Strom discusses an interesting fault line in the organic movement: whether hydroponic crops (which are not grown in soil) can be called organic. 
  • A couple days ago, the USDA Economic Research Service put out this "chart of of note" showing trends in private and public spending on agricultural research.  As the chart shows, public spending has been falling, although private spending has increased.
  • The USDA-AMS has started putting out what appears to be a relatively new monthly report on production and prices of cage free and organic eggs. 
  • The Journal of Economic Psychology has released a special issue I co-edited with Marco Perugini on food consumption behavior.  There are 11 articles on a whole host of interesting topics from organic, food labeling, school lunches, nutrition, "fairness", food security, and more.
  • More controversy over chicken pricing, this time from the Washington Post.  I spoke to some industry folks about this a few days ago, and one thing they highlighted is that the type of chicken priced by the Georgia Dock is quite different (higher quality - contracted in advance) than what is being priced by other indices like the Uner-Barry (chicken parts - in spot markets).  Thus, a lot is being made of an apples-to-oranges comparison (even if the apple price report is flawed). 
  • One of my former students, Brandon McFadden, has a new article in PloS ONE looking at the factors that drive a wedge between public and scientific option about climate change and genetically engineered food.  He's got some cool graphs showing people's joint beliefs about climate change and genetically engineered foods, and he explores how those beliefs are affected by cognitive ability, illusionary correlations, objective knowledge, and political party affiliation.