Women are getting unhappier

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Greg Mankiw notes a new paper:

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women's declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging -- one with higher subjective well-being for men.

Of course, we should all be happy in these gender egalitarian times that women no longer lord it over men in terms of their subjective happiness. As we all know, proper equality insists that we are all as miserable as each other rather than allowing any one group to be better off in any manner.

However, there shouldn't really be any surprise at this finding, not amongst those who have absorbed the second thing everyone needs to know about economics: that there are always opportunity costs.

It's true that women were restricted in the life choices that they could make only a few decades ago. A serious career was incompatible with marriage not all that long ago, a generation or two, and while that did get milder, it's only recently that the wider society has believed that children and a career were both possible. That all such choices, career or no, children or no, are seen as socially acceptable (even if the combinations might not be all that easy to carry off) this is an advance in the choices open to women and thus their liberty.

Hurrah! More liberty is good.

However, no one has ever said that such will make us happier. For with more choices comes a problem: there are more things that we cannot do. One cannot be both a childless career woman and a stay at home mother. One cannot be a career woman with children and simultaneously be a career woman without. As the number of possible paths increases so must the number of paths not taken. And as we all know, the true cost of something is what you give up to get it.

So, taking any one path means forsaking all those other paths, those number of paths which have in recent decades been rising in numbers. Thus the paradox of choice, that more such can make us subjectively less happy. But if you ask people whether having fewer choices would make them happier, no one ever actually says that yes, it would.

Just as an example, does anyone seriously think that insisting that women either pursued careers or had children, with no blurring of the roles allowed, would be an acceptable limitation of liberty in a free society: even if it did make those women happier?

No, I thought not maybe subjective happiness isn't the goal that society should be pursuing then?

If I were King...

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According to the front-page of Friday's Daily Mail, "one is not amused!" And you can see what they mean – there's not much in the news at the moment to inspire pride in the country. Being Britain's monarch probably isn't what it used to be.
 
The question that occurred to me is, if the Queen really were that unhappy with the state of British politics, could she dissolve parliament and call a general election without having to await the advice of the Prime Minister? There's no doubt that such a move would defy convention, but legally I don't think there's anything to stop it happening.
 
It's probably what I'd do. And I might say something like,
 
"Naturally, it is up to the political parties to determine which candidates they field and how they are selected, and then it is up to the electorate to decide who will represent them. But I would expect voters to take a very dim view of any candidate guilty of parliamentary corruption, and of any party which selected them."
 
In other words, let the purge begin.
 
Now, I suspect readers might think it odd that a libertarian would write about what an unelected monarch could or should do. I can see their point. But there is actually an interesting libertarian case for monarchy, which Hans-Hermann Hoppe makes in his book Democracy: The God That Failed.
 
His argument is that democracy, by its very nature, produces bad leaders. To rise to the top in a democracy, you have to be a skilled demagogue. To stay there, you have to value immediate advantage over long-term considerations. A monarch, by contrast, is like a property owner – their incentive is to preserve the long-term value of the country. Of course, Hoppe doesn't advocate monarchy as an ideal – he is a proponent of a 'private law society' – but rather as the lesser of two evils.
 
It's certainly an intriguing perspective.

 

Blog Review 969

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Increasing the CAFE standards: the only real problem is that it won't in fact work.

Sarcasm rather becomes this comment on the same CAFE standards.

Light rail isn't any better either.

How strange, when the taxpayers are actually asked the say no to more spending, no to more taxes and yes to paying politicians less.

On that M&S 1 p store story. Well of course the items ran out before the queue did!

No, the disdain for Gorbals Mick doesn't have anything at all to do with his religion.

And finally, did you know that information about driving licences is translated into braille?

Wanted: A culture of change

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The world of British politics is a unique, complex confusing place. Parliament is confused in its approach to change; it seems unable to decide whether it is a progressive flexible body looking to the future or an established conservative organisation building upon history.

The past months events have highlighted not only the failures of many individuals within parliament, but also the system itself. I can still remember being taught the concept of parliamentary conventions during an A Level politics class and being slightly perplexed by their influence over such important decisions. When we questioned why politicians are obliged to follow the conventions with such rigidity the response was plain: “they just are, it’s always been like that".

The expenses scandal and subsequent removal of the Speaker has undermined the notion of parliamentary conventions, the taboo has been broken, and as such we are facing a constitutional crisis. Foreign democracies must look at British politics with an air of bewilderment. Under a codified constitution the rules surrounding MPs pay, the office of the Speaker, accountability and subsequent scrutiny would have been much less ambiguous. The system we currently have fails to safeguard the fundamentals we have the right to expect within parliament, including democracy and effective scrutiny of the executive.

There needs to be effective reform, soon, and not the type of reform made by MPs to benefit MPs. A new culture needs to be bred within parliament making it far less insular and with a focus on public rather than self service. These changes need to start from the bottom up, for example, by adopting US style primaries and implementing term limits we would stop the abundance of career politicians and make many safe seats more competitive. This would make many MPs work a lot harder for our money and remove much of the established dry-rot that plagues the houses. We would also not have another unelected Prime Minister.

This change needs to happen soon or there could be huge and permanent repercussions for Britain. Two months ago we would have said a Speaker would never by forced from office by MPs, just as we said it would be impossible for the fascist BNP to hold a seat of power – now that is an incentive if we ever needed one.

Financial Crisis lunch with John Redwood

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 alt
This week the Adam Smith Institute hosted a lunch for politicians, economists and journalists to discuss the policy implications of the financial crisis. John Redwood MP led off with 10-minutes giving his own perspective, before we opened things up to general discussion. As we worked through the agenda, a number of interesting points emerged.
 
For instance, there was general agreement on the need to return to simple, prudential supervision based on cash and capital requirements, instead of the FSA's complex, process-driven approach (which has done more harm than good). It was also felt that responsibility for that supervision should probably rest with the Bank of England, who should also oversee government debt management once again. In other words, Gordon Brown's tri-partite regulatory structure should be scrapped. The case for a 'bad bank' for toxic debt was dismissed as weak (at best), while the idea of EU or global financial regulation proved distinctly unpopular.
 
One very interesting theme to emerge was the need for a more competitive banking sector in the UK – both so that banks do not become 'too big to fail', and so that customers get a better deal. Some people clearly thought the high street banks were exhibiting the characteristics of a cartel. Breaking up the government-owned megabanks – Lloyds TSB/HBOS and RBS – was suggested as a good way to start.           

Blog Review 968

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Advancing medical technology is not necessarily entirely a good thing.

Will California go bankrupt? More importantly, should it? (yes,-Ed)

A lot of politics seems to be about how to get other peoples' money spent on your own desires.

Sadly, lawmakers don't seem to understand the effects of the laws that they pass.

Excellent! They've worked out how swine flu spreads.

Poor Yazzmonster, she's so upset over recent events.

And finally, what colour is this revolution? Fuschia perhaps?

Blood, Sweat and Development

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altThe latest high-profile BBC show, ‘Blood, Sweat and Takeaways’, is a series of documentaries looking at how consumerism in the west is leading to poverty and exploitation within the Asian food industries, the first episode focussed on the Indonesian tuna industry. As can be expected with the BBC this show only presents half the debate.
 
It puts across a very tainted view of the situation; it implies that we are demanding cheaper and cheaper food in greater quantities than before. In order for this food to be produced, workers in foreign countries need to be exploited. It hints at a neo-colonialist world where Asian producers are at the beck and call of our demands at whatever human cost.
 
The evidence in the show is worrying, but the arguments are not conclusive. Clearly, hundreds of workers working and sleeping in cramp and hot factory conditions with few breaks is a distressing scene that none of us would envy – and yes, we probably have disassociated the food we eat with its production, but this is not the full story.
 
We need to consider the flip-side to these realities. Supermarkets already only make around 3p profit per tin of tuna they sell. If they were forced to pass any more of this profit onto the producers, the incentive for selling tuna would be severely limited (especially when the opportunity cost of stocking these goods is the sale of much higher-profit foods).  This would result in a decline in the tuna industry and the consequential unemployment of the factory workers.
 
I’m sure after watching the show many would call for a growth in Fair Trade products. As the ASI report ‘Unfair Trade’ has shown this would not be beneficial to the individual producers. Even if in the short run the benefits filtered down to individual workers, the higher prices would encourage more firms to enter the market, artificially forcing prices down further in the long-run.
 
It is easy to blame consumers for these problems, and although our casual spending may have fuelled the rapid development and industrialisation of many foreign industries these jobs would not exist at all were it not for our consumption.

How much should MPs get paid?

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In an ideal world we would not need to be represented by MPs, but as things stand the question of their remuneration will not go away and needs to be addressed. The general line MPs and the media are taking on the expenses dibacle is that MP fraud grew out of the politically charged problem of MPs not want ing to be seen to award themselves more wages. Frankly this is just an excuse to justify their behaviour and should be wholly ignored. Give or take the odd thousand either way – as of today – £64,000 is ample reward for the job of an MP.

Politics is a career these days. Young men and women decide at an early age to charm and smarm their way into political office. The profession of the politician is much the same as any other and should be treated as such. Of course they deserve a decent wage, but they already have one, especially given the bonus culture.

By bonus culture I don’t mean MPs dishonest and fraudulent expenditure claims, I mean the lucrative advantages of getting to the top of their profession: speaker fees, non-executive directorships, TV series and autobiographies. Like other professions, getting to the top certainly pays, as 'Tony Blair Inc.' explicitly testifies.

So if it is agreed that MPs should be earning as much as they are legitimately being paid now, how should this figure change over time? I would not tie it with any measure of inflation (who knows what that could lead to?) but instead link it to ebbs and flows in equivalent executive pay; excluding public sector pay for obvious reasons.