The picture below is of a “beer” I drank at a friend’s house this past weekend. It actually tasted pretty good; but why 0.5 percent alcohol, which surely added to the cost of production, but couldn’t, I think, have added to the taste? Including the minuscule amount of alcohol would certainly exclude teetotalers from consumption; and to get any kind of buzz a real beer drinker would need to drink at least several gallons.
Our podcast “The Suicide Paradox” featured sociologist David Phillips, who spoke about his research on copycat suicides (a phenomenon he calls “the Werther Effect”). More recently, Philips has been studying drunk driving. Particularly, he’s been looking at drivers who are merely “buzzed” — with 0.01 percent blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) — and has found that the severity of life-threatening motor vehicle accidents increases significantly at BACs far lower than the current U.S. limit of 0.08 percent. In an email, Philips describes his latest research on buzzed drivers:
My current research, just published in Injury Prevention, shows that even minimally buzzed drivers (with BAC=0.01%) are 46% more likely to be blamed for an accident than are the sober drivers they collide with. This indicates that there is no safe level of alcohol for drivers: any amount of alcohol markedly increases the risk to drivers and their passengers. We reached this conclusion after examining an official, U.S. dataset of more than 570,000 car crashes. The findings have implications for drivers, passengers, police, judges, lawyers, insurance companies, advocacy organizations (like MADD) and regulatory agencies.
Liberals, according to a new paper in the Journal of Wine Economics by Pavel A. Yakovlev and Walter P. Guessford of Duquesne University. The paper, “Alcohol Consumption and Political Ideology: What’s Party Got to Do with It?,” looks at alcohol consumption and voting patterns from 1952 to 2010 and finds that as states become more liberal politically, they drink more beer and spirits, although less wine. The abstract:
Recent research in psychology and sociology has established a connection between political beliefs and unhealthy behaviors such as excessive alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug consumption. In this study, we estimate the relationship between political ideology and the demand for beer, wine, and spirits using a longitudinal panel of fifty U.S. states from 1952 to 2010. Controlling for various socioeconomic factors and unobserved heterogeneity, we find that when a state becomes more liberal politically, its consumption of beer and spirits rises, while its consumption of wine may fall. Our findings suggest that political beliefs are correlated with the demand for alcohol.
There are three convenience stores in the student area west of the University of Texas campus. Store A sells the most beer, and barely looks at student IDs; but it also charges the highest price of the three. Store B is a bit stricter on fake IDs, refuses some underage students, and charges a lower price. Store C has the best prices, but its clerks inspect IDs thoroughly. My student reports that nobody makes it through with a fake ID. This near-campus oligopoly defines a new pricing strategy: lenience on IDs that is unsurprisingly related to the stores’ pricing policies. I wonder about differences in the characteristics of the patrons of the different stores.
A reader named Robb Stokar wrote in with the following question: “Which foods and/or drinks have the greatest diminishing marginal returns and which have the greatest increasing marginal returns?”
Wonderfully, Robb answered the question himself:
Diminishing food: pancakes. Those first few bites of syrup-y and butter-y goodness are like angels singing. Then, about 1/2 way through, finishing the stack becomes a chore. And if you actually finish the stack, hello food coma. (Credit for the origin of this idea goes to my brother, Jason.)
Diminishing drink: Bloody Mary. First few sips are great, but by the bottom of the glass much of the spice has settled and you get a watery mouthful of pepper and celery salt.
Increasing drink: wine or whiskey, provided very little ice. Wine is self-explanatory, but some advocates say a little water “opens up” the whiskey and a cooler temperature eliminates that alcohol “bite.” I agree.
Increasing food: Indian or something similarly spiced. I believe that with each successive bite, the diner gets a better flavor profile and you can fully appreciate the dish.
A new study (gated) published in Substance Abuse & Misuse and summarized by Anahad O’Connorin The New York Times identifies the brands of beer most often drunk by people who end up in a hospital emergency room:
The study, carried out over the course of a year at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, found that five beer brands were consumed most often by people who ended up in the emergency room. They were Budweiser, Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice and Bud Light.
Three of the brands are malt liquors, which typically contain more alcohol than regular beer. Four malt liquors accounted for nearly half of the beer consumption by emergency room patients, even though they account for less than 3 percent of beer consumption in the general population.
I doubt this statement will shock you or light up the blogosphere, but drunk driving is bad. Our own Levitt has looked at the costs, and found that those who have had even one drink are seven times more likely to cause a fatal crash, while for those over the legal BAC limit the risk is multiplied by 13. This equates to a cost to society of more than 40 cents per drunk mile driven (2013 dollars), implying that a fine of $10,500 would be appropriate if drunk drivers were to bear the full cost of their actions.
The good news is that we have made tremendous progress. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road fatalities due to drunk driving have dropped from 21,113 in 1982 to 9,878 in 2011. The decrease is even more remarkable given that total miles driven almost doubled during that period. So the drunk driving fatality rate per billion miles traveled has dropped from 13.4 to 3.4 in the last 30 years.
Some of this is due to general improvements in driving safety, such airbags and increased seatbelt use. But this is only a part of the equation. A suite of policies specific to alcohol has also been implemented, with considerable success. These have been recently analyzed by Susan A. Ferguson and Koyin Chang, Chin-Chih Wu, and Yung-Hsiang Ying, among others. Successful policies have included toughening laws and their enforcement, such as reducing permissible blood alcohol content (BAC) levels, especially for underage drinkers. Sobriety checkpoints are a very effective enforcement mechanism, particularly if properly publicized. Other policies that have been found to be effective are higher alcohol taxes (very), and to a lesser extent laws banning open alcohol containers in cars and higher legal drinking ages.
I’m passing along a photo I took Friday at one of the state-run ABC liquor stores in Fairfax, Va. … Neither [bottle] was on sale, and it contrasts with most other liquor offerings, where larger product offerings tend to have a lower unit cost.
Which led me to wonder — and no, I had not done any in-store sampling — is this simply the counterintuitive marketing strategy of a state-run enterprise? Is the store trying to discourage excessive alcohol consumption by making smaller product sizes less expensive?
As the A.D. at West Virginia, here’s what Luck saw happening at home football games:
“People drinking far too much at pre-game parties and tailgate parties before games. Sneaking alcohol into games. Leaving at halftime or any point during the game to go back out to the tailgate to drink even more and come back into the game. … They would usually drink hard liquor — ‘get their buzz back on’ and come back into the game for the third quarter. And the police again would know exactly at what point in the third quarter these ‘throw-up calls’ would start to come over the radio.”
A few months ago we wrote about whether shoemaker-to-the-stars Christian Louboutinought to have a monopoly over red shoe soles. Last week, in Kentucky, a similar issue arose concerning red wax. The red in question was on the neck of bottles of booze—specifically, Maker’s Mark bourbon and Jose Cuervo’s Riserva de la Familia tequila, which both feature a bottle cap seal made of red, dripping wax (Cuervo has since shifted to a straight-edged red wax seal). Maker’s, which used the dripping wax seal first, sued Cuervo, claiming trademark infringement.
Reader Thomas Barker writes in about a bar called D Street in Encinitas,CA. that prices its drinks based on demand:
I was recently at a bar for 25-cent wing night that I had not gone to in a while and saw something I thought you guys would be interested in. It was a drink price index ticker and they had them on TV’s all over the bar. It seemed that if a drink wasn’t ordered in a 15-minute time span the drink would go down a few cents. When we showed up my friend had his eye on an irish car bomb which was over $5 at the time, in the hour or so we were there it went down to his target range of about $3.75. As soon as his was ordered it jumped back up over $4.
New research indicates that alcohol, which many a moody poet has indulged in, may actually increase creativity. Psychologists Andrew F. Jarosz, Gregory J.H. Colflesh, and Jennifer Wiley recruited 40 males, got half of them a little tipsy on vodka, and then subjected them to the “Remote Associates Test,” which tests insightful thinking. Their results, as summarized by the BPS Research Digest, were surprisingly good:
Philip J. Cook and Christine Piette Durrance have published a working paper called “The Virtuous Tax: Lifesaving and Crime-Prevention Effects of the 1991 Federal Alcohol-Tax Increase.” It makes a substantial argument for the upside of higher alcohol taxes:
On January 1, 1991, the federal excise tax on beer doubled, and the tax rates on wine and liquor increased as well. … We demonstrate that the relative importance of drinking in traffic fatalities is closely tied to per capita alcohol consumption across states. As a result, we expect that the proportional effects of the federal tax increase on traffic fatalities would be positively correlated with per capita consumption.
A new study in the Journal of Clinical Pathology from Ian Proctor, Vijay Sharma, Mohammad KoshZaban and Alison Winstanley, reveals doctor biases towards smoking and smokers. The researchers looked at 2,128 death certificates, and 236 postmortems issued at a large London teaching hospital between 2003 and 2009. They found that while alcohol was listed as a major contributor to 57.4 percent of death certificates, smoking was only listed as a cause of death in .5 percent of cases, and usually a secondary cause at that. Considering that 279 of those deaths included either lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — that’s a bit strange.
This study serves as a bellwether of the western world’s campaign to stop smoking. Cigarette packages in the UK carry punitive phrases such as “smokers die younger,” and “smoking can cause a slow and painful death.” More recently, every cigarette pack has been required to carry a graphic image as well: pictures of black lung, throat cancer, and even a corpse. Scarier messages and pictures are coming to the U.S. too. There’s no doubt that our attitudes towards smoking have changed immensely; so drastically, in fact, that the authors conclude that doctors would rather lie and spare a family the eternal shame of having a loved-one remembered as a smoking bandit:
The Bourbon Outfitter in Lexington, Kentucky sells souvenirs and paraphernalia related to bourbon distilling and drinking. Its only physical retail outlet is a kiosk in a shopping mall; and its selling season is the Christmas shopping period. Its difficulty is that the mall will only rent kiosk space in three-month intervals—the kiosk is a fixed cost to The Outfitter, which has come up with the following solution: It rents the kiosk from November through January, and opens on November 1, sufficient time before Black Friday to make an impression on shoppers. It stays open until New Year’s and then closes down.
The owner tells me that this is a profit-maximizing policy, since the variable cost of remaining open after New Year’s Day far exceeds the trickle of revenue that might flow in.
[HT to BK]
Fifteen years ago, on a visit to Peru, I drank many pisco sours and decided I had to buy a duty-free bottle of pisco. It has sat unopened in our liquor cabinet since then. A colleague mentioned he had bought a number of bottles of a South African liqueur, Amarula Cream, that tastes a lot like Baileys Irish Cream, which we love. Chatting, we suggested a trade, since he’s a pisco sour fancier, as is his wife.
The trade is now consummated, and both we and our wives are happier for it. No monetary transaction, but I am convinced that everybody is better off—this is a real Pareto improvement.
(HT to LL)
Researchers examined data on more than 44,000 drivers in single-vehicle crashes who died between 1999 and 2009. They found that 24.9% tested positive for drugs and 37% had blood-alcohol levels in excess of 0.08, the legal limit. Fifty-eight percent had no alcohol in their systems; 5% had less than 0.08. The data were from a government database on traffic fatalities.
Study co-authors Eduardo Romano** and Robert Voasof the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Md., say their study is one of the first to show the prevalence of drug use among fatally injured drivers. Among drivers who tested positive for drugs, 22% were positive for marijuana, 22% for stimulants and 9% for narcotics.
If you’ve ever bought alcohol in Pennsylvania, you know what a weird, controlled system it has. As 1 of 19 “alcoholic beverage control” states in the U.S., Pennsylvania has some of the more strict, if not bizarre, laws regulating the retail sales of booze. Wine and spirits are sold only by state-owned stores, which don’t even have names; they’re designated by call numbers instead. Prices are kept uniform in all locations. Many of the stores operate at a loss. If you’re under 21, you’re not even allowed inside, and until recently, you couldn’t buy alcohol on a Sunday. Oh, and check out its “Kafka-esque” system of grocery store wine vending machines.
This may all be about to change. Pennsylvania is debating whether to privatize its liquor sales as a way to raise money and bridge its budget gap.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?” It features some research presented by the American Association of Wine Economists, whose members include Karl Storchmann, managing editor of the group’s Journal of Wine Economics.
Storchmann wrote to us the other day about an interesting working paper the AAWE has just posted: “Women or Wine? Monogamy and Alcohol,” by Mara Squicciarini and Jo Swinnen.
Like great and inventive dishes, creative cocktails are often copied by others — sometimes as overt homage, but often simply because they are great. Can cocktails be protected from copying? Some bartenders are trying to use aspects of IP law to protect their liquid creations.
To some people, the following conclusion should be filed under “Duh.” But even they might appreciate the empirical rigor undertaken by Scott E. Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, and James E. West in a new working paper called “Does Drinking Impair College Performance? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Approach.”
Every year, I teach the production possibility frontier in terms of the two outputs that students can produce-fun and learning. To introduce technical progress, I ask for examples, first sector-specific progress, then general improvements in technology.
A new literature review, summarized in the BPS Research Digest, concludes that “the vast majority of studies find that lay people, police officers and bartenders are in fact hopeless at distinguishing a drunk person from a sober one, at least at moderate levels of intoxication.”
Last week, we solicited your questions for Daniel Okrent, the author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. He has answered your questions with gusto. Big thanks to Okrent and all of you for turning in another great Q&A.
In “Binge Drinking & Sex in High School” (abstract here; PDF here), Jeffrey S. DeSimone argues that “binge drinking significantly increases participation in sex, promiscuity, and the failure to use birth control, albeit by amounts considerably smaller than implied by merely conditioning on exogenous factors.”