Dear Economist

If you haven't seen Tim Harford's Dear Economist column in the FT, in which he "answers readers' personal problems with the tools of Adam Smith", you are in for a delight. While subscriptions are required for his full columns, the excerpts always have enough to be interesting. In his most recent column, for example, a reader asks what to do when their friends like sharing dishes at restaraunts and they prefer their own dish. He points out that the Coase Theorem gives an easy solution. As long as each diner starts out with property rights to their own dish, his reader will be happy, while those who prefer bits of various dishes can make mutually advantageous trades.

He's like an economist's Miss Manners, combining clear insight and consistent wit, sometimes into double-edged answers like this one:

Dear Economist,
My son has become addicted to economics. The more diligently I confiscate his economics books, the more he steals from my purse. I'm determined that he should grow up to be normal, frequenting the pub like everyone else. What should I do?
-- Stymied in Stratford

Dear Stymied,
You tell a sad story, but one that can be analysed using the theory of rational addiction developed by economists such as George Stigler, Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy. Addictive goods and activities have some interesting properties. First, addictiveness itself: the pleasure produced by consumption is higher if past consumption has been high. In other words, the more heroin, alcohol or neoclassical growth theory the addict has consumed, the less bearable it will be to abstain now.
Second, past consumption will also have a direct bearing on the addict's happiness. Typically, we think of negative addictions: past consumption of crack makes for a miserable junkie today. But positive addictions are possible too. A progressive addiction to yoga or to reading may make for a happier and happier person. I am addicted to my wife - so far, with unambiguously positive results.
Your son's addiction is probably a positive one, which will make him ever more fulfilled. But even if it is a negative addiction, you must remember that rational addicts are utility maximisers. He may have been driven to addiction by circumstances - a desire to escape an over-controlling parent, for instance - but trying to frustrate his desires will make him more miserable

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Anyone want to dispute a

Anyone want to dispute a claim that the woman's son has Asperger's Syndrome?

Economists and crack

Economists and crack addicts: separated at birth? :)

Dear Economist (i.e. Dear

Dear Economist (i.e. Dear Abby For Economists)
Patri Friedman at Catallarchy brings us a link to "Dear Abby for Economists" (Tim Harford's the Financial Times' "Dear Economist" columns).

The column answers readers' questions in the style of Dear Abby, but by using insights from classical ...