Benefits, costs and the Grenfell Tower fire

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire,

Jeet Heer posted what seemed to me a thoroughly ungenerous Tweet aimed at Megan McArdle, a frequent punching-bag for the Twitter left. (Full disclosure: I regard Megan as a friend, and intensely admire her book on failure, The Upside of Down.)The Tweet has a picture of a friend of one of the victims, and reads (in full) “Megan Mcardle [sic] should tell him that libertarian cost/benefit analysis proves his friend’s death is totally worth it.” Since the original Tweet didn’t link to anything McArdle had written, it looked as if Heer had simply picked her at random as his target.

But that wasn’t in fact the case. The Tweet was an allusion to a McArdle essay on Bloomberg News headlined “Beware of Blaming Government for London Tower Fire.” And while that piece does not in fact say that the deaths in Grenfell Towers were “totally worth it,” it really is just about as unfeeling as Heer makes it out to be. Worse (from my somewhat unusual perspective), it’s also a catastrophically bad piece of policy analysis. This is a case where the self-parody is even meaner than the parody. As someone who teaches and practices benefit-cost analysis, let me say that Megan’s essay is the sort of thing that gives the rest of us cold-blooded, heartless bastards a bad name. Continue reading “Benefits, costs and the Grenfell Tower fire”


If DST changes cause accidents and harm health, let’s stop. But should we also go from 4 time zones to 2? Good problem to give to a commission or the National Academies.

If the claims that the twice-annual change from Standard to Daylight Saving causes bursts of auto and workplace accidents and sleep-related heath problems are true, it seems to me the argument for getting rid of the changes is strong. I’d appreciate expert reader opinions on the state of the evidence. (Jennifer Doleac at U.Va. warns it might be bad for crime.) Since I’m a “late” person, I’d rather go to permanent DST, but that’s not based on any analysis of which would be better socially. The more radical proposal – to adopt year-round time and also collapse the continental U.S. from four time zones to two, an hour apart – would greatly improve my life,  both by shifting sunlight later in my day and by shrinking the time gap with the East Coast, making phone calls easier to schedule and reducing jet lag from a burdensome three hours to a trivial single hour. But again, I haven’t seen anything that looks like a benefit-cost study. This seems to me the sort of question that ought to be handed to a commission, or alternatively to the National Academies, for a study and some recommendations. It’s important enough to be worth getting right, and ought to have roughly zero ideological loading. Update As noted in comments, the right way to deal with the problem of kids going to school in the dark is to start the school day later, which would also better fit the circadian rhythm of teenagers and reduce after-school crime and other mischief.

Cannabis and alcohol (reprise)

Comparing pot to booze is beside the point; the question is how one influences the other.

David Frum and I agree that “But something else is even worse than X!” is not a good reason to ignore the X problem: autos kill more people than guns, but we should still try to reduce the number of people killed with guns. And the fact that alcohol is a much nastier drug than cannabis, both physiologically and behaviorally, doesn’t make cannabis abuse either rare or benign.

But Point #13 in the post Frum links to wasn’t about the comparison between cannabis and alcohol; it was about the causal connection between cannabis policy and alcohol abuse. As Frum notes, alcohol use and cannabis use are now positively correlated. But that doesn’t tell you anything conclusive about whether making cannabis legally available would increase or decrease heavy drinking.

In my view, an increase of as little as 10% in heavy drinking would wipe out any benefits from cannabis legalization, including the benefit in the form of fewer arrests because of the additional crime that would go along with the additional heavy drinking. Frum is aware of that possibility.

But he ignores the opposite possibility, equally plausible in terms of both logic and evidence. Continue reading “Cannabis and alcohol (reprise)”