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Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I came across this new album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) – The Punishment of Luxury. For those of you are unfamiliar, OMD are a band from Merseyside Liverpool and have been long remembered for their hits “Electricity”, in 1979 and the 1980 anti-war song “Enola Gay”. The band achieved broader recognition via their seminal album Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three singles, all of which were international hits.

The “Punishment of Luxury” album is specifically about the global divide. Today the world is more unequal than at any time in world history which is due largely to the fact that 200 years ago everyone was poor. But the increasing wealth of the higher income group has been alarming – America’s top 10% now average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90%. The fact that people are much better off materially doesn’t seem to translate into a better mental condition – they seem to be unhappy. If you are in this situation you have undoubtedly got on the hedonic treadmill and the marketing people have got under your skin. It seems that if you don’t have the latest brand of a product you are less worthy of being recognized by your peer group and have less self-respect.

It seems that the very wealthy have the same problems as the rest of us but only on a much larger scale. A research paper from Boston College entitled “Secret fears of the super-Rich found that the top fears of the rich are:

  • The rich need increasing amounts of money to make them feel financially secure.
  • They feel isolated and don’t share their concerns or stress as they will sound ungrateful.
  • Thy worry that their children will become spoilt by inheriting so much wealth or resentful if its too little.
  • You are unsure if your friends genuinely like you or your money
  • There is constant dissatisfaction with consumption as something better / new is always being launched. They can’t get off the hedonic treadmill
  • Parents are concerned that money will rob their children of ambition and getting a job.

The title track is below. It is very OMD for those of you who are familiar with the sound of the band.

Money, happiness and hedonic adaptation.

December 10, 2015 Leave a comment

The Economist ‘Free Exchange’ column had a piece on money and happiness in which they looked at research into how peoples level of happiness is relative to reference groups. In the mid 1970s Richard Easterlin drew attention to studies that showed that, although successive generations are usually more affluent that their parents or grandparents, people seemed to be no happier with their lives. It is an interesting paradox to study when you are writing about measuring economic welfare and the standard of living.

Easterlin ParadoxWhat is the Easterlin Paradox?
1) Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.
2) But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies (or not by much).
3) As countries get richer, they do not get happier. Easterlin argued that life satisfaction does rise with average incomes but only up to a point. One of Easterlin’s conclusions was that relative income can weigh heavily on people’s minds.

Recent studies that looked at countries over time concluded that more income leads to greater levels of happiness. However it wasn’t clear as to whether money leads to happiness or happiness leads to money.

The Busara Centre for Behavioral Economics in Nairobi, Kenya, runs experiments with people from the depressed and rural areas of the country. Their researchers looked at the results of a lottery-like scheme in rural Kenya, in which a random sample of 503 households spread over 120 villages was chosen to receive cash transfers of up to $1,525. The average transfer, $357, was almost enough to double the wealth of a typical villager. After this had taken place researchers measured the well-being of villagers before and after the transfer of money. As expected those that received money reported an increase in happiness but those that did not receive any money fell sharply when they saw their neighbors livelihood improve. It transpired that the reduction in satisfaction by seeing your neighbour getting richer was greater than the increase in satisfaction from receiving the cash transfer. So therefore:

The bigger the handouts to others in their village, the greater the dissatisfaction of non-recipients

Hedonic Adaptation
Over a period of time the effects of the increase in a person’s income wears off over time as the recipient gets used to the norm. Economists refer to this as ‘Hedonic Adaptation’. There were big differences in the levels of satisfaction but after a year the level of happiness of both the recipient and non-recipients returned close to its original level prior to the windfall gain.

One interesting result was that villagers were not so concerned about inequality but the decline in their own wealth relative to the mean. Therefore a village could have great inequality as one group has got richer and another group poorer but the actual mean income remains unchanged.

A study by Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell entitled ‘Income and Well-Being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect’ shows that there is an asymmetry in the way people compare themselves with others. There is a tendency for people to compare themselves to those who are better off so we shift our reference group as our income goes up. Because of this we are never satisfied, since we quickly become accustomed to our own achievements.

Increases in family income accompanied by identical increases in the income of the reference group do not lead to significant changes in well-being; the larger an individual’s own income is in comparison with the income of the reference group, the happier the individual is. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

Consumption and Short-Termism

December 6, 2015 1 comment

The New Philosopher dedicated a recent issue to The Property Wars in which there were articles by bestselling author Thomas Piketty in which he states that the current structure of property rights is a major cause of inequality. There was also a piece on consumerism and happiness

Many have argued that money doesn’t buy happiness and the most prominent economist to write about this was Richard Layard in his 2005 book ‘Happiness’. Rich countries are no happier than poor ones – real US incomes more than doubled after 1950 while happiness flatlined – and across the chequerboard of nations happiness goes up barely a jot beyond a per capita income of $20,000. Why to we buy stuff? The Gilded Age in the 19th century was a time of industrialisation and consumerism with property being “anything that the individual may acquire which sustains and prolongs life…and gives an advantage over opposing forces” – The Psychology of Ownership by Linus Kline and CJ France. In Australia, the lion’s share of household debt goes to mortgages on the family home, and world-wide the two best selling items are soft drink and potato chips. In the name of property and calories we slay the credit card and kill our domestic bottom line.

In reality, evolution may let us indulge our intellect, but feelings were there first and quickly remind us of this when we forget to do the basics like eating and sleeping. Theorists have argued that feeling good about products / services is central to our belief that they are good for us. As we find it hard to make decisions without feelings the advertising industry have entered the scene. John Kenneth Galbraith, in his book The Affluent Society, blamed the vast increase in consumption in the post-war period on companies that were now producing items which consumers would desired but not necessarily needed. Today brand building has become dominant in our society and the goal of each brand is to make you feel good about the product. For example:

  • A certain Mexican beer takes you to a part of the world where you want to be – a beach with a beautiful sunset.
  • A car company takes you to a ski resort amongst a picturesque Alpine environment.

Products become substitutes for experience as you get delivered the feelings by association – virtual reality with consuming a product. With a brand meaning more pleasure for consumers it is no wonder that there is greater consumption which leads to overspending. The 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes ‘excessive acquisition’ as a feature of ‘hoarding disorder’. And the brain scan data are in too: compulsive buyers light up the same reward centre that rats trigger with a lever, getting rewards until they drop.

In getting used to the short-term feel good factor of material possessions, we shall over invest in acquiring them at the expense of our leisure. Consumers do underestimate the hedonic treadmill and as a result our life can be too focused on working and making money, and away from other pursuits.

Sources:

The New Philosopher – Issue #9 ‘Property Wars’ – 2015

Happiness –  Richard Layard – 2005

Dosage and Happiness

Is poverty about money or friends?

June 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Social Interaction solutionIn the World Bank survey one stated that “I like money and nice things, but it’s not money that makes me happy. It’s people”. Research has suggested that social integration is more important for well-being than income and it also decreases poverty. By contrast loneliness can be deadly – one study found that it did more damage to health than smoking.

Income can be a misleading measure of need as:
1. Lower income groups end up living in different degrees of hardship depending on their intangible resources.
2. Having strong social integration reduce money hardship.
3. Friends and relatives can lend money, pool risk, mind children and bring news of job openings.

However a lot depends on having the right friends as if this does not eventuate hardship prevails. The more concentrated the poverty, the less helpful social networks tend to be.
A global survey conducted in 2014 by Gallup, a polling firm, found that 30% of people in the poorest fifth of their country’s population had nobody to rely on in times of need, compared to 16% of the richest fifth.

Several countries have experimented with schemes that connect lonely old people and deprived youth. Germany, for instance, has built “multi-generational” community centres where older visitors get computer coaching from teenagers.

Source: The Economist

Behavioural Economics iTunesU course for Schools

May 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Behavioural EconomicsBack in February I blogged on a Behavioral Economics course that I have been teaching for the last three years at King’s College. I have now put all the resources onto an iTunesU course so that you can access the multi-media material that accompanies the course booklet. The iTunesU course includes the following:

Interviews with:
– Richard Thaler – co-author of ‘Nudge’
– Geoffrey Miller – author of ‘Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour’
– Dan Ariely – author of ‘Predictably Irrational’
– Daniel Kahneman – author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’

Scenes from:
– Black Gold
– The Corporation
– Inside Job
– Seinfeld
– Kevin Slavin – TED Talk “How algorithms shape our world”

The course booklet has been edited so that answers to questions can be typed – this can be downloaded also from the iTunesU course. Click on the link below to enroll on the course.

https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/enroll/FXY-XEH-MDJ

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

Behavioural Economics course for school students

February 9, 2015 Leave a comment

BE Cover PageFor the past three years I have been teaching a Behavioural Economics course to all Yr 11 students (5th Form in UK). It is a 12 period course that is part of the Positive Education module. The course booklet consists of lesson plans on various topics and resources that are required to supplement the course. Click below to download the course notes and workbook. If you would like the PowerPoints that complement the course please email me – m.johnston@kingscollege.school.nz – and I will forward them on. Ideal for those post AS exam lessons.

Behavioural Economics – Yr 11 2015

Behavioural economics is about bringing reality into economic analysis. It borrows from psychology, sociology, politics, and institutional economics (which focuses on the rules of the economic game) to describe and explain human behaviour and economic phenomena. Behavioural economics builds upon conventional economics, offering more tools for understanding why people behave the way they do when it comes to income, wealth, ethics, and fairness. It uses prospect theory to describe the choices that the typical person makes. The course is split up into 4 topics and is designed for approximately 12 periods in length.

1. Understanding Choice

Free choice in Economic Decision Making
Nudging
Anchoring and Framing
Free
Placebo Effect
Paradox of Choice
Loss Aversion and Endowment Effect
Conventional v Behavioural Economics

2. Ethics and Economic Growth

Ethical Behaviour – definition
Milton Friedman and ethical behavior
The Conventional Perspective on Ethical Behaviour and the Economy
A Good Company – Ethics / Happiness
Examples of Companies with socially responsible norms
Ethics and Profits
Ethical consumers

3. Behavioural Finance

Definition – what is it?
Efficient Market Hypothesis
Random Walk Hypothesis
Irrational Exuberance
Bubbles and Busts – Tulip – Great Crash – Dot.com – 2008 Global Financial Crisis

Causes of Bubbles
– Following the herd
– Relative positioning in investor behavior
– Overconfidence and under-confidence
– Institutional failure
– Conflict of interest

4. Game Theory

Introduction to Game Theory
Football – Penalty Shoot outs
Golden Balls Game Show

5. Money and Happiness

Conventional Theory – Money = Happiness
Measuring Happiness – Gross Domestic Product v Gross National Happiness
Diminishing Returns for Income and Wealth
Easterlin Paradox: Money doesn’t buy happiness
The Hedonic Treadmill – Money leads to more happiness but not for too long
Differences in happiness between countries
Government Policy and Happiness
Smarter Spending

Sources:

Behavioural Economics for Dummies – Morris Altman
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Economic Naturalist – Robert Frank
Nudge – Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
Inside Job – DVD
Black Gold – DVD
The Corporation – DVD
How Algorithms Shape our World – TED Talk

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

New Zealand Well-Being

May 7, 2014 2 comments

Although a few years old, this graph from The Economist does highlight New Zealand as a country which has one of the highest levels of well-being but a low level of GDP per person to go with. The trend line shows that the higher the GDP per person the better the level of well-being. Ultimately the challenge for politicians is to try and get their country to the top left of the graph – i.e. higher well being for less GDP per person.

NZ Well-being

Does Income cause Happiness?

March 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Easterlin ParadoxThere has been a lot of research regarding how higher income = higher levels of happiness. Increasing your income increases your utility (satisfaction). But the more you have, your utility increases, but at a diminishing rate. At low levels of income increasing your income has a big effect on your utility. However when you have a high income more money does increase your utility, but not as much as when you started off with low levels of income.

Introducing this diminishing returns framework into an analysis of happiness also suggests that increasing the income to the poorer members of society increases society’s total happiness by more than if the income of the wealthy increases by the same amount – see graph. Research has shown that a lack of money brings both emotional misery and low life evaluation; similar results were found for anger. Beyond $75,000 in the contemporary United States, however, higher income is neither the road to experienced happiness nor the road to the relief of unhappiness or stress, although higher income continues to improve individuals’ life evaluations.”  The research does not imply that a financial increase will not improve the quality of life, but suggests that above a certain income level, people’s emotional wellbeing is constrained by other factors, such as temperament and life circumstances. The take home message of the research is that high incomes don’t bring you happiness, but they do bring you a life that you think is better.  The Easterlin Paradox concerns whether we are happier and more contented as our living standards improve. In the mid 1970s Richard Easterlin drew attention to studies that showed that, although successive generations are usually more affluent that their parents or grandparents, people seemed to be no happier with their lives? It is an interesting paradox to study when you are writing about measuring economic welfare and the standard of living.

What is it?

1) Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.

2) But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies (or not by much).

3) As countries get richer, they do not get happier.

Easterlin argued that life satisfaction does rise with average incomes but only up to a point. One of Easterlin’s conclusions was that relative income can weigh heavily on people’s minds.

What about the other way around – Happiness causes Income?

An article by Scott Sumner (Library of Economics and Liberty) looked at this area and suggested that culture has an impact on happiness. According to Sumner peole who care about the welfare of others tend to be happier – this leads to more efficient policies, less corruption, acquiring governments handouts when they are not entitled e.g. the informal economy.

Denmark

1) They have one of the highest levels of public integrity in the world
2) If you exclude the the two “size of government’ categories from the 10 categories used by the Hertitage foundation. Denmark has the most free economy in the world. Therefore it is a free market with a strong welfare state. As Sumner points out “not much (selfish) rent seeking” behaviour. Happy people aren’t selfish?
3) Denmark ranks leads the world in many happiness rankings

Euphoria v Income

China currently ranks extremely high in level of satisfaction but doesn’t exhibit an extremely high level of “euphoria” for everyday life. Can researchers distinguish between peoples incomes and euphoria? Think of the euphoria in the east of the collapse of the Berlin Wall or Spain winning the Football World Cup when they had over 25% unemployment. Ultimately a lot is dependent on when the research is carried out and culture of the people. You might not have much but newly regained freedom or being the best football team in the world gives immense pleasure.

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

NZ General Social Survey 2012 – Wellbeing

October 25, 2013 Leave a comment

The New Zealand General Social Survey of 2012 showed some interesting facts regarding wellbeing:

An estimated 87 percent of people were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their lives overall.

Four aspects of life were important in determining people’s overall life satisfaction: health, money, relationships, and housing.
In 2012 an estimated:

* 60 percent of New Zealanders rated their health as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’
* 52 percent had ‘more than enough’ or ‘enough’ money to meet their everyday needs
* 69 percent had not felt lonely in the last four weeks
* 67 percent had no major problems with the house or flat they lived in.

– 21 percent of New Zealanders had good outcomes in all four of these (ie excellent or very good health, more than enough or enough money, never felt lonely, and no major housing problems). 

– 98 percent of those with four good outcomes were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives overall.

– 5.4 percent of New Zealanders did not have a good outcome in any of the four aspects of life. Of these people, 56 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives overall.

NZ General Survey

Categories: Growth Tags: ,

A happier world since GFC?

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

HappinessSince the GFC in 2008 the world seems a happier place to be than it was before the event. This is according to a Ipsos a research company which completed a poll of 19,000 adults in 24 countries. However the term happiness is self-reported and the term means different things to different people. According to The Economist two conclusions have emerged from the data:

1. Large, fast-growing emerging markets do not share share rich industrialised pessimism. The happy countries got even happier – Turkey, Mexico, and India. Incidently even considering the tsunami and the nuclear accidents Japan’s ‘very happy’ category increased.

2. Happiness levels tend to rise with wealth and then plateau – The Easterlin Paradox. This usually happens when a country’s national income per head reaches around $25,000 per annum. But the highest levels of reported happiness are in the poor and middle income countries – Indonesia, India, and Mexico. In rich countries the levels range from 28% in Australia to 13% in Italy and 11% in Spain. Most Europeans are gloomier than the world average.

Levels of income seem to be inversely related to happiness and one can see that happiness depends on a lot more than material welfare. One just has to look at the Bangladeshi cricket supporters in the recent test with the Black Caps. Plenty of happy faces with an average income of $1,883 per annum and ranked 151 by the World Bank.

In Search of Happiness – UN World Happiness Report.

September 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Recently came across the The United Nations General Assembly second annual World Happiness Report, measuring happiness and well-being in countries around the world to help guide public policy. Denmark topped the list of the happiest nations, ousting last year’s winner, Iceland. Denmark was followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden – New Zealand comes in at 13th place. Below is an extract and a graph showing the happiness ranking.

In an impoverished society, the focused quest for material gain as conventionally measured typically makes a lot of sense. Higher household income (or higher Gross National Product per capita) generally signifies an improvement in the life conditions of the poor. The poor suffer from dire deprivations of various kinds: lack of adequate food supplies, remunerative jobs, access to health care, safe homes, safe water and sanitation, and educational opportunities. As incomes rise from very low levels, human well-being improves. Not surprisingly, the poor report a rising satisfaction with their lives as their meager incomes increase. Even small gains in a household’s income can result in a child’s survival, the end of hunger pangs, improved nutrition, better learning opportunities, safe childbirth, and prospects for ongoing improvements and opportunities in schooling, job training, and gainful employment.

The paradox that Easterlin noted in the U.S. was that at any particular time richer individuals are happier than poorer ones, but over time the society did not become happier as it became richer. One reason is that individuals compare themselves to others. They are happier when they are higher on the social (or income) ladder. Yet when everybody rises together, relative status remains unchanged. A second obvious reason is that the gains have not been evenly shared, but have gone disproportionately to those at the top of the income and education distribution. A third is that other societal factors – insecurity, loss of social trust, a declining confidence in government – have counteracted any benefits felt from the higher incomes. A fourth reason is adaptation: individuals may experience an initial jump in happiness when their income rises but then at least partly return to earlier levels as they adapt to their new higher income.

These phenomena put a clear limit on the extent to which rich countries can become happier through the simple device of economic growth. In fact, there are still other general reasons to doubt the formula of ever- rising GNP per person as the route to happiness. While higher income may raise happiness to some extent, the quest for higher income may actually reduce one’s happiness. In other words, it may be nice to have more money but not so nice to crave it. Psychologists have found repeatedly that individuals who put a high premium on higher incomes generally are less happy and more vulnerable to other psychological ills than individuals who do not crave higher incomes. Aristotle and the Buddha advised humanity to follow a middle path between asceticism on the one side and craving material goods on the other.

A further huge problem is the persistent creation of new material “wants” through the incessant advertising of products using powerful imagery and other means of persuasion. Since the imagery is ubiquitous on all of our digital devices, the stream of advertising is more relentless than ever before. Advertising is now a business of around $500 billion per year. Its goal is to overcome satiety by creating wants and longings where none previously existed. Advertisers and marketers do this in part by preying on psychological weaknesses and unconscious urges. Cigarettes, caffeine, sugar, and trans-fats all cause cravings if not outright addictions. Fashions are sold through increasingly explicit sexual imagery. Product lines are generally sold by associating the products with high social status rather than with real needs.

Global Happiness
Happiness Key

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

Can money buy happiness?

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Although U.S. GDP has grown over the last 35 years, average happiness has not. According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, the reason may lie in growing economic inequality. Paul Solman of PBS reports as part of his Making Sense of Financial News. Some good references to the book ‘The Spirit Level’ and an interview with Robert Frank of Economic Naturalist fame and the Darwin Economy.

Measuring Wellbeing

January 9, 2013 Leave a comment

This has become popular with a lot of governments worldwide especially in the UK and USA. Late last year I attended a conference at the University of Waikato and Professor Les Oxley took a session entitled

“Is GDP an appropriate measure of wellbeing?
….. and is anything else better?”

Traditionally we have used Gross Domestic Product as it measures:
– The total value of final goods and services produced in the economy
– The total of incomes earned in producing that output
The final purchases by households, business, and government by summing consumption, investment, government spending, and net exports

Historically origins of GDP

In the 1930’s, in response to the information gap revealed by the Great Depression, Simon Kuznets developed a set of national income accounts.

In the 1940’s, World War II planning needs were the impetus for the development of product or expenditure estimates (gross national product); by the mid-1940’s, the accounts had evolved into a consolidated set of income and product accounts, providing an integrated birds-eye view of the economy.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, interest in stimulating economic growth and in the sources of growth led to the development of official input-output tables· In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, accelerating inflation prompted the development of improved measures of prices and inflation- adjusted output.

However there are negatives to GDP as a measurement which was outlined by President Kennedy in 1968.

“The Gross National Product counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them … the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl … Yet (it) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play … the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages … it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” President Kennedy 1968

Les Oxley produced a comparison of wellbeing between the USA and France – Are GDP and other measures highly correlated?

France USA wellbeing

Conclusions:

* GDP was not designed to measure wellbeing, especially at the individual level
* We continue to use it because we can measure it quite easily and use it for comparisons over time and space
* BUT it can mislead and potentially lead to mismanagement
* There are alternatives to complement GDP
* The complements are not freaky or the realm of weirdos in and out of economics – they are becoming more mainstream and the problems of using GDP for purposes for which it was not intended are becoming public
* Some of the best minds are trying to shift us away from SOLE use of GDP as an INDIRECT measure of wellbeing

I am off to the beach again for a few days – back again on 19th January.

Behavioural Finance: Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow

November 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Here is a very good TED talk from Shlomo Benartzi. It’s easy to imagine saving money next week, but how about right now? Generally, we want to spend it. Economist Shlomo Benartzi says this is one of the biggest obstacles to saving enough for retirement, and asks: How do we turn this behavioural challenge into a behavioural solution?

Shlomo Benartzi uses behavioural economics to study how and why we plan well for the future (or fail to), and uses that to develop new programs to encourage saving for retirement.

Neuroeconomics – consumption experiences

October 30, 2012 Leave a comment

An article in the recent Eco@Otago publication, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, showed how the changing properties of a product which are unrelated to its natural characteristics can affect people’s satisfaction.

Beer with vinegar in it

Dan Ariely (of “Predictably Irrational” fame) and others carried out research in 2006 where they offered patrons at a bar two types of beer:

1. A common brew
2. A common brew with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

They divided the testers into 3 groups:

1. They had no information about the beers’ ingredients – “blind”
2. They were told which beer had vinegar in it before tasting both – “before”
3. They were told which beer had vinegar in it after tasting both – “after”

If knowing about the vinegar has no impact on preference then the outcome of tastes tests should be the same across all groups. If knowledge about vinegar influences tastes then the results from the blind group should differ between the “before” and “after” groups. The study showed that revealing the vinegar in the brew did affect the satisfaction only if the tasters were told “before” they tried the beer. Therefore, expectations changed the satisfaction that tasters received from their drinks.

Coke or Pepsi?

A similar experiment explored the cultural influences on satisfaction. It involved a taste test with Coke and Pepsi, two similar products but each have their own cult following. This study conducted ‘functional magnetic resonance imaging’ (fMRI) while participants were tasting to identify the effect consumption of each drink had on brain function.

Participants revealed which drink they perferred and were then subject to either blind taste tests OR taste tests with information about which cola they consumed. Consumers who preferred Coke experienced greater brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and midbrain when they were drinking it – versus when tehy did not know it was the brand they tasted. Therefore knowledge of brand can actually produce a physical response during consumption.

Does a higher price = more satisfaction?

A similar experiment showed how economic decision-making is affected by price and satisfaction. In this study participants performed blind taste tests with fMRI scanning for 5 different types of wine. They also conducted taste tests after revealing the prices of the wines to the participants to see if their preferences depended on cost. There were two innovative elements of this study:

1. There were actually only 3 wines – two of the wines were re-administered to the participants but were assigned different prices before doing so.
2. The fMRI focused on the area of the brain believed responsible for satisfaction – the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC).

Taste tests revealed that subjects exhibited more activity in the mOFC when they tasted highly-priced wine versus the same wine with a lower price tag. Therefore more expensive wines regardless of their composition led to the following:

Expected higher quality wine = higher price = physically generated enhanced experience.

Purchasing decisions are more complex than traditional textbooks describe and what goods are perceived to be has a significant influence.

Olympics Boost for UK economy by £16.5bn

July 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Patrick Foley, Chief Economist at Lloyds Banking Group, recently wrote in The Daily Telegraph (UK) that the Olympic Games in London will boost the UK economy by £16.5bn. He sees construction, tourism, jobs and the ‘happiness’ effect will leave a lasting legacy.

The development of a neglected area of East London will have a huge impact with higher living standards and business opportunities. There are also huge tourism benefits that follow from the end of the games and this has been prevalent with most host cities in the past. The Games could create and support a total of 354,000 years of employment across the UK. Jobs that are directly associated with the Games themselves and through developing skills of the working population that help raise their prospects of jobs in the future.

There is also the ‘happiness effect’ with hosting one of the biggest sporting events which is likely to inspire consumer spending. A number of economists have looked at the economic impact of hosting significant sporting events and are in broad agreement that aggregate demand does increase. In 1996 when England hosted the European Football Championship it was estimated that the feel-good factor was equivalent to £165 gift for each of the UK population – it can be expected the London Olympics will be significantly higher than this figure.

Categories: Growth, Sport Tags: ,

Grand Central Station becomes 3D movie theatre

March 30, 2012 2 comments

The Financial Times has produced a series of three interactive 3D infographics covering business, economic and technological topics demonstrating the global breadth and expertise of the Financial Times. What is unique about these is that they are displayed in the Vanderbilt Hall in New York’s Grand Central Station so commuters can catch a glimpse of them on their way to catch that train. It is brilliantly done by David McCandless. If you heading to New York soon you must go to Grand Central and see for yourself. You can view the 3 presentations at FT Graphic World. They are on the following topics :
Global Economy
Money Talks
Recession & Recovery
– see below.

Oil prices: self-fulfilling pessimism

May 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Over the last two months the price of oil has gone up US$30 dollars a barrel and currently stands at US$110 . In the US there is the concern that the periods of stagflation evident in the oil crisis years of 1973 (oil prices up 400%) and 1979 (oil prices up 200%) are back to haunt the economy. James Surowiecki in The New Yorker mentioned that the recent increase in oil prices shouldn’t really have a significant impact on the economy for the following reasons:

* In the US petrol is a relatively small percentage of household spending.
* It is estimated that an increase in oil prices by $20 a barrel should equal only a 0.5% decline in GDP
* The current increase is not at the same level of previous spikes
* Not all price increases have an effect on growth eg. between 2002 and 2006 oil prices increased 150% yet the US economy grew at a high rate.

Research has shown that rising petrol prices have a notable influence on the level of happiness of American consumers. Petrol prices are probably the most visible prices in the market – every petrol station has them. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely has argued that the way we buy petrol watching the dollar counter ever increasing is essentially depressing. According to Surowiecki the danger at the moment is more psychological than economic. Some economists have suggested it is only when the price of a barrel of oil gets above US$130 that we will experience an oil crisis like those in the past.

Tax by height?

April 14, 2011 1 comment

In 1897 Irish philosopher and economist Francis Edgeworth set the utilitarian (happiness) foundations for highly progressive taxation. He pointed out that a utilitarian social planner will equalise the marginal utility of the population, but this requires equalising people’s disposable income (after tax). Edgeworth stated that those with greater than average productivity are fully taxed on the excess, and those endowed with lower average productivity are subsidised to bring them up to the average.

As specified in one study, the typical 6-foot American earned $5,525 more than a 5-foot-5-inch worker, after correcting for sex, age and weight. Research has identified that taller adults maintain jobs of higher standing and, on average, earn more than other workers. In developed countries, researchers have highlighted characteristics such as self-esteem, social superiority, and prejudice. Other studies have stated that on average, taller people earn more because they are more intelligent – an additional inch of height is associated with a one to two percentage
increase in earnings. If this is true height should be a useful indicator for determining an individual’s optimal tax liability. Therefore, a tall person of a given income should pay more in tax that a short person of the same income.

Using optimal-taxation formulas, Mankiw and Weinzierl (2007)* crunched the numbers and came up with a “tall tax” amounting to 7 percent of a tall person’s income. Short people would receive a 13 percent rebate. According to conventional utilitarian calculus, the optimal height levy is large. The optimal tax for white males in the US is divided into 3 height groups:
Small= 1.76cm
Medium = 1.77m – 1.84m
Tall = 1.85m

Taxing people by height is a rather unusual idea but it has been interesting to look into the research concerning optimal levels of taxation.

*The Optimal Taxation of Height: A Case Study of Utilitarian Income Redistribution Gregory Mankiw & Matthew Weinzierl (2007)

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags: ,

The Inequality Weather Forecast

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to Geoff Riley of the Tutor2u blog for this amusing clip of the inequality weather forecast. In earlier posts I mentioned the book that the clip is advertising – “The Spirit Level”. The book shows that there are a significant negative effects of the increase in inequality in an economy. Many graphs are presented which show how certain variables are influenced by the level of inequality. Here are some of their conclusions . Inequality:
*causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives;
*increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction

On almost every index of quality of life, or wellness, or deprivation, there is a gradient showing a strong correlation between a country’s level of economic inequality and its social outcomes. Almost always, Japan and the Scandinavian countries are at the favourable “low” end, and almost always, the UK, the US and Portugal are at the unfavourable “high” end, with Canada, Australasia and continental European countries in between.

If Britain were instead to concentrate on making its citizens’ incomes as equal as those of people in Japan and Scandinavia, we could each have seven extra weeks’ holiday a year, we would be thinner, we would each live a year or so longer, and we’d trust each other more. Guardian Newspaper

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