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Archive for November, 2015

Are you an economics graduate student casting about for dissertation topics? I have a few ideas for you. As part of the rewriting of Freedom in the 50 States, I’ve been reviewing the economic literature on how various public policies affect consumer and producer surplus, deadweight loss, and so on. We use an estimate of “victim cost” for each policy to weight the policy. The weighted sum of policies comprises the freedom index. Interestingly, the literature on some public policy issues is quite thin. That makes it difficult for us to come up with weights, and sometimes we have to do no more than guess.

Without further ado, here is a list of research questions to which I for one would like to see credible answers:

  1. How productive are publicly owned hospitals relative to for-profit and charitable ones?
  2. How accurate are people in estimating how much of their state’s residents’ income is taken in state and local taxes?
  3. How do state-level regulatory takings compensation requirements affect local land-use regulation and economic outcomes such as housing prices and population growth?
  4. How does state-level eminent domain reform affect actual local eminent domain takings?
  5. How do laws forbidding employers from forbidding guns on their property affect employers’ liability insurance rates?
  6. What are the effects of state workers’ compensation laws on workers’ comp costs? What is the effect of employers’ WC coverage costs on employment and wages? How efficient are state funds relative to private insurers?
  7. What is the incidence of state short-term disability insurance coverage mandates? In other words, which workers lose, which ones win, and by how much? What is the effect on labor supply?
  8. How does mandatory paid family leave affect labor supply and wages?
  9. How do state mandatory E-Verify programs affect employment rates of natives and immigrants and aggregate economic growth? What are their administrative costs?
  10. How do state anti-discrimination laws in employment (above the federal minimum) affect lawsuits, liability insurance rates, and tort judgments against companies? How effective are they at reducing employment and wage differentials?
  11. How do state-mandated health insurance benefits affect premiums after the PPACA? How do direct access to provider mandates affect premiums and health care spending? What about standing referral mandates?
  12. How do video franchising reform and general telecom deregulation (along different dimensions) affect broadband rollout, competition, and prices?
  13. How does severity of occupational licensing (education and examination requirements especially), not just prevalence or existence of licensing, affect prices, wages, and deadweight loss?
  14. Here’s one for the political scientists: do state sunrise and sunset provisions affect occupational licensing burdens?
  15. What are the economic impacts of being inside versus outside the Nurse Licensure Compact? What are the effects of having a “nursing consultation exception” that permits some interstate practice?
  16. How does membership in the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Compact affect the number of life insurance and annuity offerings in a state and their premiums? How does it affect wages of life insurance agents, independent versus employed? How do state form filing requirements affect these outcomes?
  17. How do certificate of need laws affect density of ambulatory surgery centers?
  18. What is the effect of state rate filing requirements for personal auto insurance and homeowners’ insurance on premiums and coverage rates (residual markets)? What about bans on certain kinds of rating, e.g., territorial?
  19. What is the effect of California’s Proposition 65 on prices of consumer products, manufacturing production, and manufacturing employment? How many products are not sold at all in California as a result of the law, and what are the economic losses?
  20. What is the effect of allowing direct-to-consumer Tesla sales on consumer surplus?
  21. What is the effect of requiring certificates of public convenience and necessity for household goods moving companies on prices, moving company profits, consumer surplus, and deadweight loss?
  22. What is the effect of general retail sales-below-cost laws on retailer margins, prices, and productivity?
  23. How effective are certain tort reforms, such as joint and several liability reform/abolition and punitive damages caps/abolition, on liability insurance costs?
  24. How does concealed carry license cost, including mandatory training, affect the number of license holders? How do various state gun regulations, such as assault weapons bans, high-capacity magazine bans, “Saturday night special” bans, licensing of gun buyers/owners, mandatory sale of locking devices, and state licensing of dealers, affect gun prices, sales, and ownership rates?
  25. How do happy hour bans affect alcohol sales and restaurant and bar profitability?
  26. How do direct-to-consumer wine shipping bans affect wine prices and sales?
  27. How does permitting wine and spirits sales in grocery stores affect sales?
  28. How does marijuana decriminalization affect consumption and producer and consumer surplus? What is the price elasticity of demand for marijuana?
  29. How do penalties for marijuana cultivation and distribution affect quantity supplied?
  30. How do Salvia divinorum bans affect consumption and producer and consumer surplus?
  31. What would Americans be willing to pay for greater privacy? E.g., not having fingerprints on driver’s licenses, not having SSN’s stored in government databases, not having to go through sobriety checkpoints, not being tracked by automated license plate readers, etc.?
  32. Do bans on home poker games affect the prevalence of such games? Do gambling penalties (felony vs. misdemeanor) affect the prevalence of illegal gambling?
  33. What is the price elasticity of demand for casino gambling? How do casino regulations/legalization affect consumer surplus?
  34. What is the size of the U.S. raw milk industry? What is the consumer and producer surplus? How would banning raw milk affect welfare?
  35. How have restaurant trans fat bans affected sales, prices, and consumer welfare?
  36. What is the consumer surplus from mixed martial arts? What are the economic effects of state legalization?
  37. How do mandatory state approval/accreditation and registration of private schools affect private school enrollment and competition? What about mandatory licensure of private school teachers?
  38. How do home school regulations affect the number of home schoolers by state?
  39. How do smoking bans in bars affect bar turnover, profitability, and competition? Believe it or not, no one has analyzed bars separately from restaurants, even though the effects on bars are hypothesized to be much larger.
  40. Do regulations on cigarette vending machines and Internet sales affect consumption?
  41. How did sodomy laws, gay marriage bans, and “super-DOMAs” affect the migration of gay couples? What can we infer about their effect on gay Americans’ well-being?
  42. How do campaign contribution limits affect would-be contributors’ welfare?

All of these policies show some variation across states, making it possible to do some research on their effects across states. Not all of them are hugely economically significant, but they are all at least somewhat controversial politically. How can legislators make informed decisions about these policies without at least rough estimates of their consequences for citizens?

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