Wednesday, October 18, 2006


From the ever useful New Economist:
Five facts about prices
Emi Nakamura and Jon Steinsson from
Harvard University present Five Facts About Prices: A Reevaluation of Menu Cost Models (PDF):

We establish five facts about prices in the U.S. economy:
1) The median duration of consumer prices when sales are excluded at the product level is 11months. The median duration of finished goods producer prices is 8.7 months.
2)Two-thirds of regular price changes are price increases.
3) The frequency of price increases responds strongly to inflation while the frequency of price decreases and the size of price increases and price decreases do not.
4) The frequency of price change is highly seasonal: It is highest in
the 1st quarter and lowest in the 4th quarter.
5) The hazard function of price changes for individual consumer and producer goods is downward sloping for the first few months and then flat (except for a large spike at 12 months in consumer services and all producer prices).

These facts are based on CPI microdata and a new comprehensive data set of microdata on producer prices that we construct from raw production files underlying the PPI. We show that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd facts are consistent with a benchmark menu-cost model, while the 4th and 5th facts are not.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Texas Twofor

Today is a Texas two for one. From the sexually repressed file we have the following:

But Ms. McGee, 51, a popular art teacher with 28 years in the classroom, is out of a job after leading her fifth-grade classes last April through the Dallas Museum of Art. One of her students saw nude art in the museum, and after the child’s parent complained, the teacher was suspended.

Although the tour had been approved by the principal, and the 89 students were accompanied by 4 other teachers, at least 12 parents and a museum docent, Ms. McGee said, she was called to the principal the next day and “bashed.”
She later received a memorandum in which the principal, Nancy Lawson, wrote: “During a study trip that you planned for fifth graders, students were exposed to nude statues and other nude art representations.” It cited additional complaints, which Ms. McGee has challenged.

The school board suspended her with pay on Sept. 22. In a newsletter e-mailed to parents this week, the principal and Rick Reedy, superintendent of the Frisco Independent School District, said that Ms. McGee had been denied transfer to another school in the district, that her annual contract would not be renewed and that a replacement had been interviewed.
And on a more serious note, we have the recent decision by the SCOTUS to take a pass on reviewing the Texas ban on selling sex toys. The court continues to confuse privacy issues and commercial ones. How does one have the right to own a sexual toy, but no one has the right to sell one to the public? I guess these "adult" stores need to become private clubs, to avoid running afoul of the law. But really, don't cops have something better to do in Texas?

Supreme Court turns down sex toys.

SEX -- A war on sex toys?

The Supreme Court is giving some sex toy shops a bad vibe.

On Monday the court refused to consider whether a Texas law prohibiting the sale, marketing or dissemination of an "obscene device" is unconstitutional. An "obscene device" is a "a device including a dildo or artificial vagina, designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs."

(enlarge photo)
Better call this a child's toy if it's in a Texas, Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia sex shop. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
A man who worked in an El Paso adult book store had sued the state after he was arrested for showing two undercover officers a penis-shaped device and telling the female officer it would give her an orgasm.

The law may sound archaic, but Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama have similar bans.

Alabama's has been circulating through the courts since its passage in 1998. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, but it is back in lower courts. (The law is not being enforced because of a judge's injunction that was issued after adult store owners filed suit).

South Carolina discussed banning the sale of sex toys during its legislative session earlier this year. The bill never left committee, and the two-year session ended in June, so it is officially dead.



Of course, there are sex shops in those Southern states.

But most sellers refer to sex toys as novelties or health or therapeutic items. In Texas, medical and educational uses of the toys, such as demonstrating how to put on a condom, are exempt from the law.

Ignacio Sergio Acosta, a clerk at Trixx adult bookstore, didn't know to use that spin, says his attorney, Roger Jon Diamond.

"He was honest," says Diamond. "He told them what the purpose was. He didn't know by doing that he would be incriminating himself. He didn't know to say, 'Look you can use this as an art object. Put it on your mantle.'"

Acosta was arrested and spent 12 hours in jail. A lower court dismissed the criminal complaint against him, but an appeals court reinstated it, saying the Texas law does not infringe on private sexual behavior. After all, Texas law does not prohibit someone from owning a sex toy or using one.

But Diamond scoffs at that notion.

"You can't buy it. You cannot give it as a gift. If you bought a dildo for example in California, you could not give it to someone in Texas," he says. "So Texas is making it impractical to have one. If you can't acquire it. You can't use it. We're arguing for sexual privacy, which we claim is protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment."



Some Christians argue that using a sex toy is wrong. If someone is using a vibrator, that's basically masturbation, which goes against the Bible, says the Rev. Dave White, a minister with Harvest USA in Philadelphia.

"The Scripture makes it clear that sexuality is a relational thing," says White. "God designed for it to exist in a married relationship. The whole thrust of sex is that it is supposed to be a selfless service. You are not supposed to be focused on yourself. Obviously with masturbation, you are failing on both accounts."

Others say restricting the devices hurts personal freedom and relationships. Lisa Lawless, founder of, an online sexual health store, believes sex toys enhance marriages.

"It's frustrating for people who want to feel free to explore their sexuality in a non-harmful way," says Lawless. "I think it's interesting that lots of states allow guns. Texas is fine with allowing the NRA to have a lot of leeway, but something as simple as a sex toy which brings someone pleasure and not pain is not allowed."

Lawless says the laws have also created this fear among people who sell sexual toys.

She mentioned Joanne Webb, the Texas housewife who was arrested for selling a vibrator at a private party to undercover officers who were posing as a married couple. Webb was a sales consultant for Passion Parties, a company that markets lotions and sexual toys at a private gathering similar to Tupperware parties. Her case was eventually dismissed.



You can't read too much into the Supreme Court's decision, says Roger Pilon, vice-president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute. He says the Supreme Court chooses around 80 cases, out of more than 9,000 petitions. A law banning sex toys is not that high on the radar screen.

"This is the kind of case that would generate a lot of prurient interest and a lot of laughter," he says. "But it isn't really central to the legal life of the nation. It involves the right of people to sell things that other people might not want sold, and therefore involves liberty more than privacy."

But Diamond disagrees.

He uses the case of Lawrence vs. Texas to make his argument. The case stemmed from two men who were arrested for having sex in their home, a violation of the Homosexual Conduct law. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that states do not have the right to ban consensual sex between adults in their own home.

"If the U.S. Supreme Court said it's OK for two persons of the same gender to have sex with each other," he asks, "what's wrong with one person having sex with himself?"

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Yeah, so Wisconsin has once again put itself on the international map. This time instead of Dahmer, or Ed Gein, we have this trio of morons:
Three Wisconsin men have been charged with attempted misdemeanor theft and third-degree sexual assault after attempting to steal a corpse from a cemetery to have sex with it, police said.

According to the Grant County criminal complaint, Cassville police were dispatched to the St. Charles Cemetery in Cassville, Wis. last Saturday at 11 p.m. on a report of an unoccupied, suspicious vehicle.

Officer Brent McDonald discovered Alexander Caleb Grunke, 20, near the vehicle, sweating and appearing to be nervous. Authorities then located the grave that Grunke told McDonald had been dug up by his brother Nicholas Owen and their friend Dustin Blake Radke, both also 20 years old. The grave had been dug up enough to expose the plaque on the vault below.

According to the complaint, Alexander Grunke admitted in a tape-recorded interview held on Sept. 3 that the three had driven to the Cassville cemetery to dig up the grave and remove the body, and that the three fled the scene when a vehicle entered the cemetery.

According to the complaint's account of a separate interview, Radke informed police that Nicholas Grunke had asked him to scout the Cassville cemetery earlier in the week to locate a specific grave.

Police said that Radke was then asked by Grunke to assist in digging up the gravesite, that Nick wanted to remove the body and bring it to a location behind his house, and that they stopped at a Wal-Mart in Dodgeville, Wis. to buy condoms for Nick to use while having sex with the corpse.

Sabbatical Roundup

I've applied for a sabbatical for next year. I want to research a book, and retool in order to do more research and teaching on the intersection of sex, health and porn economics. Here are a few articles from NBER that I might use, provided without commentary, but with pithy title:

Risky Teens:
The problems of teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and the high rates of other sexually transmitted diseases among youth have lead to widespread concern with the sexual behaviors of teenagers. Alcohol use is one of the most commonly cited correlates of risky sexual behavior. The purpose of this research is to investigate the causal role of alcohol in determining sexual activity and risky sexual behavior among teenagers and young adults. This research also addresses the question of whether there are public policies that can reduce the risky sexual behavior that results in harmful consequences. Individual and aggregate level data are used to investigate these questions. Results show that alcohol use appears to have no causal influence in determining whether or not a teenage has sex. However, alcohol use may lower contraception use among sexually active teens.
Catholic School Girls Gone Crazy:
Although there is a sizeable literature of the effect of private school attendance on academic student outcomes, there is a dearth of studies of the impact of school sector on non-academic outcomes. Using a rich data set, we analyze the impact of Catholic school attendance on the likelihood that teens use or sell drugs, commit property crime, have sex, join gangs, attempt suicide, and run away from home. Controlling for a host of personal and family background characteristics and adjusting for the endogeneity of sector choice, we cannot find evidence that Catholic schooling leads to a lower incidence of these risky behaviors among teenagers.

Finding A Wife In a the Middle of a Sausage Fest:

A combination of changing migration patterns and US immigration restrictions acted to shift the male-female balance in many ethnic groups in the early 20th Century. I use this variation to study the consequences of changing sex ratios for the children of immigrants. Immigrant sex ratios affected the second generation for a number of reasons, most importantly because immigrants and their children typically married in the same ethnic group. The results suggest that higher sex ratios, defined as the number of men per woman, had a large positive impact on the likelihood of female marriage. More surprisingly, second-generation male marriage rates were also an increasing function of immigrant sex ratios. The results also suggest that higher sex ratios raised male earnings and the incomes of parents with young children. The interpretation of these findings is complicated by changes in extended family structure associated with changing sex ratios. On balance, however, the results are consistent with theories where higher sex ratios increase male competition for women in the marriage market.
Big is Beautiful? But Fewer Bucks:

We investigate income, marital status, and hourly pay differentials by body mass (kg/m2) in a sample of 23 to 31 year olds drawn from the 1988 NLSY. Obese women have lower family incomes than women whose weight-for-height is in the 'recommended' range. Results for men are weaker and mixed. We find similar results when we compare same-sex siblings in order to control for family background (e.g., social class) differences. Differences in economic status by body mass for women increase markedly when we use an earlier weight measure or restrict the sample to persons who were single and childless when the early weight was reported. There is some evidence of labor market discrimination against obese women. However, differences in marriage probabilities and in spouse's earnings account for 50 to 95 percent of their lower economic status. There is no evidence that obese African American women suffer an economic penalty relative to other African American women.
Be Happy, Have Sex:
This paper studies the links between income, sexual behavior and reported happiness. It uses recent data on a random sample of 16,000 adult Americans. The paper finds that sexual activity enters strongly positively in happiness equations. Greater income does not buy more sex, nor more sexual partners. The typical American has sexual intercourse 2-3 times a month. Married people have more sex than those who are single, divorced, widowed or separated. Sexual activity appears to have greater effects on the happiness of highly educated people than those with low levels of education. The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is calculated to be 1. Highly educated females tend to have fewer sexual partners. Homosexuality has no statistically significant effect on happiness. Our conclusions are based on pooled cross-section equations in which it is not possible to correct for the endogeneity of sexual activity. The statistical results should be treated cautiously.
Punish Gays with Marriage Monogamy and end HIV:
One of the conjectured benefits of establishing the legal recognition of samesex partnerships is that it would promote a culture of responsibility and commitment among homosexuals. A specific implication of this claim is that "gay marriage" will reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STI). In this study, I present a simple 2-period model, which provides a framework for discussing the ways in which gay marriage might reduce (or increase) the prevalence of STI. Then, I present reduced-form empirical evidence on whether gay marriage has actually reduced STI rates. These evaluations are based on country-level panel data from Europe, where nations began introducing national recognition of same-sex partnerships in 1989. The results suggest that these gay-marriage laws led to statistically significant reductions in syphilis rates. However, these effects were smaller and statistically imprecise with respect to gonorrhea and HIV.>
Unintended Consequences:

Recent breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV have coincided with an increase in infection rates and an eventual slowing of reductions in HIV mortality. These trends may be causally related, if treatment improves the health and functional status of HIV+ individuals and allows them to engage in more sexual risk-taking. We examine this hypothesis empirically using access to health insurance as an instrument for treatment status. We find that treatment results in more sexual risk-taking by HIV+ adults, and possibly more of other risky behaviors like drug abuse. This relationship implies that breakthroughs in treating an incurable disease like HIV can increase precautionary behavior by the uninfected and thus reduce welfare. We also show that, in the presence of this effect, treatment and prevention are social complements for incurable diseases, even though they are substitutes for curable ones. Finally, there is less under-provision of treatment for an incurable disease than a curable one, because of the negative externalities associated with treating an incurable disease.

Abstinence Increases the Spread of HIV?
Under asymmetric information about sexual history, sexual activity creates externalities. Abstinence by those with few partners perversely increases the average probability of HIV infection in the pool of available partners. Since this increases prevalence among the high activity people who disproportionately influence the disease's future spread, it may increase long-run prevalence. Preliminary calculations using standard epidemiological models and survey data on sexual activity suggest that most people have few enough partners that further reductions would increase steady-state prevalence. To the extent the results prove robust, they suggest that public health messages will be more likely to reduce steady-state prevalence and create positive externalities if they stress condom use rather than abstinence.