How big will the market be for betting on sports?

The Supreme Court on May 14 struck down a 25-year federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada.  The big question on many minds – particular state officials and companies like MGM Resorts and DraftKings looking to cash in – is how much money is at stake. Many of the articles on the decision cite the same eye-popping figure: Americans wager an estimated US$150 billion in illegal sports bets every year. Continue reading

The Prom and the Wall Street Journal

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article discussing my Prom Price Index (article is here).  For those of you who are new readers, I have been creating an index that tracks the change in the price of going to the Prom since 2014.  The updated 2018 index is found on this blog under the “Data Files” heading or by clicking here. Continue reading

How to deal with life’s risks more rationally

The world is an uncertain and risky place. The news constantly bombards us with scary situations from school shootings to gruesome murders.  Risk is everywhere and associated with everything. For example, the Center for Disease Control a decade ago estimated over 20 million people a year ended up in emergency rooms because of bathroom injuries. Continue reading

What is March Madness – and the nonprofit that manages the mayhem?

The annual college basketball spectacle known as March Madness has arrived.  Millions of people will tune in to the three-week tournament to see who’s the best team in the U.S. And millions more will wager a few bucks to take part in an office pool in which they try to pick the winner. Even presidents have been known to take part in the madness.  But behind the hype is a lot of cash. Just as journalists are trained to follow the money, so are economists like me. So let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Why does the price of turkeys fall just before Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a great U.S. holiday during which people consume huge quantities of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie.  One of the stranger things about this holiday, however, is that a few days before everyone starts cooking, whole turkeys are suddenly discounted by supermarkets and grocery stores. Continue reading

Richard Thaler Wins the 2017 Economics Nobel Prize

The 2017 Nobel Prize in economics was won by the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler.  The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences gave the prize “for his contributions to behavioural economics,” which is the integration of economics with psychology.  The award was not a total surprise since Thaler’s name was floated earlier on the list of potential winners. Continue reading

Will Regulating Fast Food Restaurants Really Help Poor People?

Eating fast food is frequently blamed for damaging our health.  It is not the healthiest type of meal since it is typically high in fat and salt.  Because of this some government officials have considered regulating parts of the fast food industry to improve public health and reduce health inequalities across society.

Regulating fast food locations to improve health among low income Americans rests partly on a key assumption: that fast food is primarily eaten by poor people, who cannot afford nutritious but more expensive food.  Mark Bittman in the New York Times, summed it up nicely: “The ‘fact’ that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes.”

Our recently published research examined this assumption by looking at who eats fast food using a large nationwide random sample.  What we found surprised us.  The poor don’t eat the most fast food.  Instead, the middle class do.  Moreover, the difference between the proportion of rich people and poor people who eat fast food was quite small.  It seems when you ask people if they ate at a fast food restaurant like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Taco Bell last week, the majority of rich, poor and middle class said “yes.” Continue reading

When people leave Ohio, where do they go?

A few months ago newspapers in Columbus and Dayton trumpted stories with headlines like “More People Moving Out of Ohio.”  Both stories relied on data from large moving companies.  While data from United Van Lines and Atlas Van Lines is interesting, relying on moving companies for migration information presents a biased view of migration.  Continue reading

Update for 2017 on the “Cost of Going to the Prom”

In both 2014 and 2015 I wrote about the cost of going to the Prom. I found the results surprising. The cost of going to the prom from 1998 to 2015 was going up much slower than the cost of inflation. The findings appeared in outlets like the Washington Post, US News and The Conversation. It is now two years later.

What has happened since 2015 to the cost of attending the prom? Continue reading

What Has Happened to Maternity Leave Over Time?

The recent presidential campaign reminded us that the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t require companies to provide paid maternity leave. Maternity leave is important. One of the key reasons is because medical researchers have shown overwhelmingly positive effects when parents are able to spend time with their newborn children.
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Has Black Friday’s death been greatly exaggerated?

Black Friday is hyped as one of the biggest in-store shopping days of the year, with stores trumpeting giant sales and even bigger advertising campaigns.  Some pundits claim that Black Friday is dying and is no longer relevant. However, the National Retail Federation issued a strong denunciation of these articles and declared that Black Friday is “far from gone.”  Which is the true story? Is Black Friday dying or still relevant? Continue reading

How to get the most candy on Halloween (without resorting to extortion)

Halloween is here, the night every year when children dress up in costumes and go “trick or treating.”  On the surface, that activity appears to be a relatively benign one. What could be more innocent than cute youngsters collecting sweets?

Halloween, however, is actually one of our only holidays based on extortion. When children scream “trick or treat,” they are essentially demanding candy in exchange for not doing a prank or something else that is nasty. Continue reading

Why is taking photographs banned in many museums and historic places?

Have you ever pulled out your camera or phone in a museum or historic place and suddenly found a staff person telling you “no photographs”?  I was in London recently and it happened repeatedly in places like Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and Parliament. The no-photos policy is not limited to just England but is a worldwide phenomenon. Visitors cannot take photos in places like the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam or inside Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home.

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How to kiss babies, Donald Trump style

Politicians have a long history of trying to be elected by kissing babies. However, with about four million babies being born in the U.S. each year, there isn’t enough time in the current presidential race to kiss enough newborns to make any real difference. So Trump is trying to find another way to convince Americans he cares about babies. Continue reading

Do Businesses Have to Accept Cash?

We’ve been talking about society’s transition to a cashless society for a long time, but it begs an important question: Can stores and other retail establishments refuse to take your dollars and cents?  As odd as it sounds, this is not hypothetical anymore as a small number of stores and industries have stopped accepting cash and allow payment only by credit card, debit card or via a smartphone app. Continue reading

Explainer: why does the price for turkeys fall just before Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a great US holiday during which people consume huge quantities of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie.  One of the stranger things about this holiday, however, is that a few days before everyone starts cooking, whole turkeys are suddenly discounted by supermarkets and grocery stores (see examples here or here).

And this happens every holiday season: the price falls just before Thanksgiving and stays low until Christmas. For example, November 2014’s price per pound for turkey was almost 20% lower than the price the previous March.  Why does the price come down at the one time of the year when demand for the product spikes the most – before a holiday that’s literally dubbed “Turkey Day”? Continue reading

Are Turkeys Getting More Expensive Over Time?

It is almost time for Thanksgiving, the holiday when many people in the USA cook and eat turkey.  As I was walking up and down the aisles of the supermarket yesterday, buying food for the holiday, I was wondering what has happened to the price of turkeys over time.

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Why Google’s plan to blanket wilderness with Wi-Fi is a bad idea

Facebook wants to blanket rural India in cheap Wi-Fi. Google is launching balloons to do the same around the globe. Soon, it seems, there won’t be a square inch of Earth or the heavens that isn’t connected.

These ambitious plans beg the question: should there be places in the world where cellphones, tablets and other high-tech pieces of modern communications are off-limits and their use curtailed to emergencies only? Continue reading

Plain cigarette packaging: healthier citizens, sicker state finances?

Over the last few years, a new idea for improving public health has been slowly spreading across the world: a ban on selling cigarettes in packages with custom brand designs. Instead of selling branded tobacco, all cigarettes are sold in either plain packages or packages with grotesque pictures showing the health consequences of smoking.

The obvious question is: is it effective at reducing smoking rates? The less obvious one: what are the economic consequences of a healthier population? Continue reading