The new exhibition on the Vikings at the British Museum illustrates behavior along supply curves. The local Anglo-Saxons decided that the best way to keep Viking raiders at bay was to buy them off—to pay tribute. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this extra payoff merely induced a movement up the supply curve of Viking raids, as more raiding parties realized that there was money to be made by raiding English villages. Perhaps this is a lesson for modernity: don’t negotiate with terrorists!
New research, reported on by Mark Townsend in The Guardian, explores the habitual behavior of a small sample of British hitmen. Here’s Townsend’s summary:
The killers typically murder their targets on a street close to the victim’s home, although a significant proportion get cold feet or bungle the job, according to criminologists who examined 27 cases of contract killing between 1974 and 2013 committed by 36 men (including accomplices) and one woman.
…The reality of contract killing in Britain tended to be striking only in its mundanity, according to David Wilson, the university’s professor of criminology. He said: “Far from the media portrayal of hits being conducted inside smoky rooms, frequented by members of an organized crime gang, British hits were more usually carried out in the open, on pavements, sometimes as the target was out walking their dog, or going shopping, with passersby watching on in horror.”
Researchers found that the average cost of a hit was £15,180, with £100,000 being the highest and £200 the lowest amount paid. The average age of a hitman was 38 with the youngest aged 15 and the oldest 63.
An article on VOX by Guy Michaels and Ferdinand Rauch looks at whether towns in France and Britain are “poorly located.” The authors explain that being in the wrong place — with poor access to world markets and resources, or vulnerability to natural disasters — has dire economic and social consequences. Examining historical evidence from the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, they found that towns in France stayed put, while those in Britain moved:
Medieval towns in France were much more likely to be located near Roman towns than their British counterparts (Figure 1). These differences in persistence are still visible today: only three of the 20 largest cities in Britain are located near the site of Roman towns, compared to 16 in France. This finding suggests that the British urban network shifted towards newly advantageous locations, while French towns remained in locations, which may have become obsolete.
Members of the public are being encouraged to take on the Bank of England by betting on the U.K.’s future inflation and unemployment rates.
Free-market think tank the Adam Smith Institute on Wednesday launched two betting markets in an attempt to use the “wisdom of crowds” to beat the Bank of England’s official forecasters. Punters can place bets on what the rate of both U.K. inflation and unemployment will be on June 1, 2015.
Sam Bowman, the research director of the Adam Smith Institute, believes the new markets will “out-predict” official Bank of England predictions. “If these markets catch on, the government should consider outsourcing all of its forecasts to prediction markets instead of expert forecasters,” he said.
We watched some of the Diamond Jubilee celebration and loved it. The only disturbing part was to see media comments that the U.K. would have been better off if people hadn’t had the Monday holiday for the Jubilee (much less the Tuesday holiday that some workers also had). The argument was that GDP would have been higher without the holiday.
Perhaps, but workers often make up for lost output when they return from holiday. Much more important is that no nation’s purpose should be maximizing output (and income). Instead, maximizing utility is what societies should be about. While well-being is much less readily measurable than output, measurement difficulties should not seduce us into becoming market fetishists. Perhaps if the U.S. emulated the U.K. (and Europe generally), and we took longer vacations and had more public holidays, our country would be better off (even if output were slightly lower).
The UK riots continue as PM David Cameron and the Metropolitan police flood London with 16,000 officers in hopes of calming the civil unrest.
Critics have suggested that this is the behavior of a generation that’s been ignored by the establishment. The anarchy on the streets of London has been attributed to high unemployment and disaffected youth, combined with a trigger event — the death of Mark Duggan, shot by police last Saturday.
A couple weeks ago, Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth put out their working paper “Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009.” It uses cross-country data in the 90-year period to examine whether riots and civil unrest increase as governments cut spending. They found a positive correlation between social instability and budget cuts.
Last time I was in London I had a headache, and went to the nearest Boots to buy something for it.
In U.S. drugstores, I’m accustomed to finding half an aisle devoted to headache pills, with bottles ranging from small to very large — at least 200 pills in them. So that’s what I went looking for in Boots, but no such bottle was to be found. The only options were cardboard packets containing maybe 20 pills, with each pill in its own blister packet. (The pills were also larger than U.S. pills.) Hmm, I thought. I guess Boots finds it can charge a lot for a small amount of headache medicine since most people, when they have a headache, aren’t very price-conscious.
But I recently learned the real reason for this phenomenon while interviewing David Lester, a psychologist at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey who is the dean of suicide (and death) research. (We are producing an hour-long Freakonomics Radio special on suicide.) We were discussing the efficacy of SSRI’s on treating depression (and fighting suicide) when he explained why it’s hard to find a big bottle of headache pills in England:
Many economists view the health-care bill passed in the U.S. earlier this year as falling somewhere between “a complete waste of time” and “actually making the situation worse.” Will the Conservative Party do better with health-care reform in the U.K.?
The Great Silence by Juliet Nicolson presents information on disability payments to injured World War I veterans: 16 shillings per week (80 pence to those unfamiliar with older British money) for the loss of a right arm, 15 shillings for the loss of a left arm. Since about 90 percent of people are right-handed, this is more equitable than the reverse. But why not equality?
On family holiday in London, we were riding in a taxi out to the Imperial War Museum. As we passed the riverfront headquarters of MI6, a.k.a. the Secret Intelligence Service, my wife happened to be futzing with her iPhone. A list of Wi-Fi networks popped up. At the top: a network called KeepNoseOut. Coincidence? I’d like to think not. I . . .
Inspired by a recent trip to London, this recent Times article about England’s reluctant search for a national motto (suggestions range from “No Motto Please, We’re British” to “One Mighty Empire, Slightly Used”), as well as by this new book on six-word memoirs (which we teased not long ago here), I invite you all to attempt the following: Write a . . .