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Nasty, Brutish, and Long

Summary:
Steve Landsburg, true to form, has a provocative post in which he wonders if the increase in opioid deaths could be a good sign–a sign that people are celebrating their lives by using opioids. That’s not a hill I’m willing to die on–the argument or the opioids–but it’s an interesting point nevertheless. If you want to know his argument, read it rather than depending on me. You’ll also see what is, even for Steve, a high percentage of disagreement from commenters. Steve ends with this paragraph: You know what else is way up over the past couple of decades? Expenditures on smartphones. That sounds really really bad if you choose to ignore the fact that the people who are spending all that money get to have smartphones. Likewise, an upward trend in mortality from M&M

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Steve Landsburg, true to form, has a provocative post in which he wonders if the increase in opioid deaths could be a good sign–a sign that people are celebrating their lives by using opioids. That’s not a hill I’m willing to die on–the argument or the opioids–but it’s an interesting point nevertheless.

If you want to know his argument, read it rather than depending on me. You’ll also see what is, even for Steve, a high percentage of disagreement from commenters.

Steve ends with this paragraph:

You know what else is way up over the past couple of decades? Expenditures on smartphones. That sounds really really bad if you choose to ignore the fact that the people who are spending all that money get to have smartphones. Likewise, an upward trend in mortality from M&M consumption sounds really really bad if you choose to ignore the fact that the people who are shortening their life expectancies also get to eat a lot of M&Ms. There is more to life than life expectancy.

One commenter wrote:

I think the issue is that people underestimate the power of opioid addiction. Smart phones and M&Ms may have an element of addiction, but not nearly to the degree of opioids. You can argue that people should know this by now, but not everyone has good judgment, and addiction can occur after just one use. That’s [a] steep price to pay for poor judgment, relative to someone who splurges one night on M&Ms or upgrades a cell phone too early.

I’m not sure the commenter got the point about cell phones. If he has been in a restaurant in, oh, about the last five years, he will see that the possible addiction is not to new cell phones but to using cell phones. I’ve been at conferences with economists whose names you would recognize–and no I won’t say their names–who are on their cell phones in the middle of conversations and, going from what they’re saying, they weren’t listening to or other participants.

Even though I’m concerned about opioids, I love the last sentence of his paragraph I quoted above: “There is more to life than life expectancy.”

It reminds me of a conversation I had with the late Robert Tollison in the late 1980s, I think. Bob was telling me about some of his research on, if I recall correctly, the nanny state and its regulation of cigarettes. He said that the nanny staters wanted life to be “nasty, brutish, and long.”

[If you don’t get the humor, check this.]

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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