Tuesday, June 22

The expected costs of releasing sex offenders

An interesting post on a very contentious topic over at The Commons caught my eye. Author Jonathan McLeod weighs into the debate over whether we should change how we pardon sex offenders in Canada. He argues we should use hard numbers rather than emotions to make these decisions. Although like many Canadians I have strong emotions on this topic, the economist in me tends to agree with McLeod.

McLeod then describes some data he found, which suggests that sex offenders are less likely to re-offend than the average criminal. Thus, he concludes that "statistics demand that we offer no special punishment to sex offenders seeking pardons."

But after looking into this a little deeper, I think the data shows the opposite: releasing sex offenders poses more of a cost to society than the average criminal.

Friday, June 18

Predatory interest rates in Montana

While out grabbing some lunch in downtown Missoula, I was stopped by a gentleman armed with a petition. After having spent five years in Victoria, I was expecting a "save the whales" type of spiel, but he was actually petitioning for a cap on interest rates.

Wednesday, June 16

Cross-border taxation

The last North Dakota town along the interstate highway before hitting the Montana border is Beach. Along the highway leaving Beach, there is a billboard reminding Montana residents who purchased cigarettes in North Dakota that it is the law for them to pay the Montana cigarette tax — it urges consumers to "do the right thing" and pay the tax.

It seems that Montana's cigarette tax is almost four times greater than North Dakota's ($1.70 per 20-cigarette pack in Montana vs. 44 cents in North Dakota). Thus, it's not far-fetched to think that some enterprising Montana smokers might stock up in Beach to save the tax.

Monday, June 14

Big things, small places

One thing I noticed on my cross-continent drive was a tendency for small towns to build really big things to attract tourists. This was especially the case in North Dakota, where there was very little sign of civilization aside from Fargo and Bismarck, the two largest towns.

I spent one night in Jamestown, North Dakota, which claims to be home to the world's largest buffalo sculpture.

Saturday, June 12

How many garbagemen does it take to change a lightbulb?

Missoula, Montana is a bit of a weird place in terms of its economics.

The city seems to lack an understanding of the concept of "diminishing marginal product of labour." It's the idea that each additional worker a business takes on will be less productive than the last.

This makes sense. If I run a pizza shop, I'm not going to be able to do anything with zero workers. The benefit from my first worker is huge — I'll be able to produce pizzas. The benefit from my second worker is still pretty big — now I can do delivery instead of just take-out — but it's not as exciting as adding my first worker. My third worker will allow me to take on more business, but as I start adding a fourth and fifth worker, they'll probably contribute a little less since they'll mostly be standing around except when the shop is really busy. By the time I start adding a sixth and seventh worker, my pizza parlor is probably getting crowded and they might even slow things down.

Wednesday, June 9

Cross-continent drive

Last month, I drove from Hamilton, Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia via the United States. It was an interesting four-and-a-half day trip, but my back was sore from all the time spent driving by the end of it.

I got to see a lot of neat small towns along the way. The riverside town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, made a peaceful lunch stop; the Grand Avenue Cafe serves a mean vegetarian lasagna.