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Frances Woolley
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Avon, vitamin D fortification was introduced to protect children. Vitamin D is required for healthy bone and other types of growth. Past experience has shown that, absent fortification, not all parents will ensure that their children receive adequate levels of vitamin D, either through exposure to sunlight, eating cod liver oil, or in other ways. Markets require fully informed economic agents to achieve efficient outcomes. Children cannot be assumed to be fully informed and rational economic agents. There's your market failure.
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Henry: "Is the regulation explicitly targeted at certain ethnic groups with certain skin pigmentations or is it targeted towards all Canadians?" The regulation applies to all milk sold in Canada, but it was introduced in 1965, which is probably the point in time where the percentage of people in the population who were lactose intolerant was lower than it has been at any time before or since. So it's not in any sense explicitly targeted at certain ethnic groups. However the optimal level of vitamin D fortification, and the best way to deliver that fortification, is likely to depend upon the ethnic and cultural composition of the society (and, in a country like Canada, also on the geographical distribution of the population north/south).
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Avon - "but it runs against most people's sense of fairness" Poking holes in utilitarianism is easy. The challenge - as the GBA+ folks have found - is coming up with some kind of alternative. Can you articulate a little bit more precisely what "fairness" means to you? That, too, will be normative. Because what we're doing here is having a normative discussion about the best way to organize the world. Which is perfectly fine. That's what WCI is for.
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Avon: "Thus, the allocation that maximizes society’s total utility has the less productive members having higher overall utility than the more productive members. Do we really want this? Even little kids recognize that merit should be rewarded." And bureaucrats do too. Any attempt to maximize social welfare has to take into account the relevant constraints. A key constraint on tax/benefit policy is that the tax/benefit scheme should not make it attractive for high ability individuals to masquerade as low ability individuals. I.e. the tax/benefit system should not be so redistributive that highly productive people quit their jobs as computer analysts on Wall Street and instead become part-time math tutors living at home in their parents' basements. But that's the kind of thing that can happen if the tax/benefit system is designed so that less productive members had higher overall utility. This is why there are real limits to the amount of redistribution that social welfare maximizing bureaucrats and policy analysts advocate. I would have expected you to have gone with a rights-based critique of utilitarianism. I.e. not that utilitarianism is impractical, but that it's morally wrong because focuses only on the ends (how happy people are) rather than the means (due process, respect for human rights and dignity, etc). Nozick, Wilt Chamberlain, etc.
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Formerstudent - yup - and that's a huge data gap! Admin data would pick up some sex changes, but those still enforce gender binaries. Saul Templeton, http://law.ucalgary.ca/law_unitis/profiles/saul-templeton is starting to do some interesting work that's related to this area. See, e.g., his blog posts (linked to from his web site).
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Luis - what kind of perspective are you looking for - mainstream, feminist, development econ,....?
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Jacques Rene - it would be really interesting to compare maternity/parental leave taken by self-employed women in Quebec/ROC. I wonder if anyone has done that. Sick leave is also an issue - I have a friend who is self employed and having some health issues and it's totally brutal because no work=no income, Frances
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Angella - interesting. That doesn't look like it's specifically for EI claimants, though, and I don't know if there's anything that encourages people to sign up. I'm thinking of things like this reporting calendar - http://www.esdc.gc.ca/en/reports/ei/calendar.page - wouldn't it be possible to make that a little bit sexier and also encourage people to use is to do thinks like keep track of networking, reaching out for contacts, etc? People must have turned their mind to this....
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Vladimir - was just looking that up today for the EI claimant in my household. Here's the clawback info: http://www.esdc.gc.ca/en/reports/ei/repayment.page. It starts at net income around $63,000, and people who haven't claimed in the past 10 years are exempt from the taxback. Remember the regular benefit/contribution ratio for the construction industry is more than twice the Canadian average. The clawback will make a bit of a difference, but it's still way out of whack.
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Just embarrassed by my carelessness....
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Kevin, thanks for this. May not have a chance to correct this for a little while - see how the morning goes tomorrow. It is clearly differentiated by being in red on the spreadsheet, but I didn't read the footnotes. Sorry about that.
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Avon - "There is little reason to think that a government monopoly is any better than a private one." Or any worse - Beer Store v. LCBO is a case in point. Competition matters much more than ownership.
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Bob - Has anyone looked at the economics of converting the DVP into a toll road? I wonder who the winners/losers would be? My first worry would be that it would just divert the traffic onto streets around there, thus be an inferior policy to a congestion charge. On toll roads: it's the cost of land that I'm talking about here when I'm talking about the subsidies to toll roads. I remember once hearing a story (which may or may not be true) that a land developer once came to the City of Toronto and offered to build an express tunnel underneath the harbour to replace the Gardiner Expressway in exchange for the land that the Gardiner Expressway is on. What did the developers of the 407 pay for the land that road lies on?
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Ryan, and I personally really enjoy driving the 407 - allows me to completely avoid Toronto rush hour traffic when driving from Ottawa to Waterloo. I also like going to the opera. And in a way toll roads (at least in our present system) are like opera - they provide really nice things for people who are able to pay for them, with significant subsidies that come in part from people who aren't able to pay for them.
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Kelvin - I wondered if it was that. So it's partly the funding story, partly the self-government story, i.e. that Vancouver and New West had greater power to say no, and partly the self-interest story, i.e. that the highway wouldn't have shortened the commute from Shaughnessy downtown materially.
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Erik - o.k., I take your point on SoCreds in Vancouver. But that then raises the question - why did the funding formula so penalize the city of Vancouver and New West? Perhaps Vancouver votes were too expensive to buy with roads, because of the cost of building roads within the city? Or perhaps Vancouver voters just didn't fancy roads all that much? Look at that highway map and think what's in it of a typical Point Grey resident - basically nothing. Perhaps a slightly faster drive to the ski hills on Saturday morning, but there wouldn't be any traffic to speak of on a Saturday morning anyways. When you talk about the failure of central coast megaprojects - is this a good thing or a bad thing? I'm thinking LNG, for example.
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Jacques-Rene - thanks for writing - we haven't had a chance to chat for a while. I didn't know about Quebec City - thanks for the link.
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Mike - Whenever I drive the Don Valley I'm torn between thinking "it's so terrible that what could be a beautiful urban wilderness is desecrated by this roadway" and thinking "this is such a fast way to get downtown" (I don't usually drive it in rush hour). So, yes, when freeways work they're pretty sweet. The question is: if road users had to pay a toll that reflect roads' actual cost, how much would people still use the highways? I think I'm right in saying that the new toll on the Port Mann bridge has affected traffic volumes much more than the provincial government expected. And the 407 is pretty empty. I'm not disagreeing with you about the value of road tolls - just pointing out that, if we actually charged tolls that approximated the economic costs of roads, we wouldn't be building a great many freeways.
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Erik, Thanks for writing. I agree, it's complicated. "Is it really a matter of funding formulas?" You're right in that this wasn't solely about funding formulas. As important as funding formulas was the decision-making structure, which allowed Vancouver to actually say no. Am I right in thinking that Burnaby would have liked to have vetoed the recent widening of the trans-Canada, but couldn't? What the funding formulas did, I think, was buy Vancouver time. Because of the funding formula, the downtown expressways didn't get built in the 50s and early 60s. Then by the time the proposals were revised in the mid- to late- 60s (the proposed bridge/tunnel from downtown to the North Shore, bouncing off Brockton Point) people had started to realize that roads didn't solve all problems, and opposition to them was stronger. Much as the Toronto has the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley, but opposition stopped the Spadina Expressway. With regards to your question - why didn't the funding formulas get worked out? I'll answer it with another one: Why didn't the city of Vancouver vote Social Credit? All tied up in BC's complex electoral dynamics. "where the same kind of objections did not derail the interstate projects of America" That would be a subject for a whole different blog post, but north/south trade patterns and low population density would, I'd guess, be part of the story. Though as for megaprojects - we did build one or two hydro-electronic dams, and don't forget the St Lawrence Seaway...
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Shangwen - I agree, but my students love TED videos. Once I showed them a TED video on behavioural economics in intermediate micro, and they were just so sad that we weren't doing that for the entire term (though this may tell you more about intermediate micro than about TED talks).
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Anonymous, if you were in the position of evaluating a cifar funded research program, what criteria would you use?
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JKH - "stuff is lasting longer" - plastics and synthetic materials have changed the length of time stuff lasts. But I'm not convinced that, on balance, stuff lasts longer than it does. Yes, "the economics of stuff" suggests there is a new steady state rather than a temporary change
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Benoit: "this means that getting out of a recession could be just a matter of inflation reaching 3 or 4% for people to start turning idle cash into stockpiles of stuff they are going to need" The point is that people don't have room to stockpile (more) stuff. Inflation could not increase to a point where I would want to stockpile anything other than food and basic necessities because *my house is already full of stuff*. Joseph ""lower rates of economic growth" are not necessarily the end of civilization as we know it, but may actually be accompanied by an increase in that elusive observable "contentment"" Absolutely right.
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Steve - "demand for services should increase" - yup, businesses selling stuff are being replaced by spas and hair stylists and restaurants. But there's no reason to expect that the demand for services will increase enough to offset the decreased demand for stuff. Indeed, the whole reason we're having this conversation is that, empirically, population aging is associated with lower rates of economic growth - this is the fact that needs explanation, and so I'm offering an explanation of it.
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Squeeky Wheel - that's really interesting. What you're describing sounds like a transparent and inclusive process - and also a lot of work for people. And there's the rub: people want transparency and inclusion, but they don't want the hard work that this entails. "the Associate Dean is not pushy enough to demand an ice cream" - we really do have the best commentators of any economics blog here at WCI....
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