Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Keynes-Hayek Smackdown

Here's a new video from Russ Roberts explaining the differences between the ideas of J.M. Keynes and F.A. Hayek... in a manner the kids can understand.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Copyright law and the most famous 6 seconds of contemporary music

I'm working on some research regarding copyright laws in the music industry, with a focus on genres when they are emerging (i.e., considered underground). Copyright laws are all about providing incentives for creative development and productive research. One of the big questions about copyright laws, particularly in the arts, is whether they have any retroactive power regarding things created (and not copyrighted) in the past that are being currently adopted and used (often without remuneration).

One of the people I'm working with on this sent me the video below regarding what is likely the most famous 6 second drum break in contemporary music. Its originally by a band called the Winstons and was written in 1969. This 6 seconds made its way through rap and hip-hop, helped found drum & bass and jungle music, and has made its way into advertising.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Health Codes Violations, Single Motherhood, and the Breakfast I had Last Week

I'm currently teaching Economics 349: the Economics of Social Problems. I thought I'd use our department blog to help raise some examples of the types of issues that arise in the Calgary area which relate (even tangentially) to the course. (To those students in the course, some of this stuff may serve as fodder for term papers.)

Last week, some friends and I had breakfast at Nellie's Cosmic Cafe on 17th Ave SW in Calgary. We were pretty shocked to learn a day or so later that the restaurant chain had been fined $60,000 for health code violations. We all had the same thoughts: Eww! This was one of our favorite restaurants. (Note: In the sense of fairness, I want to mention that according to news reports nobody reported getting sick from the food at Nellie's and no personal claims were filed. The fines were based on the findings of health inspectors.)

Among my friends we talked quite a bit about this case (waiting a requisite 48 hours before making any jokes about it). When we thought about the problem, there are a number of things that struck us.

Basically, the health code protects "the public" from the externalities associated with poor workplace practices in a restaurant. However, we had a couple of questions about the chain of events. I'm sure there are others, but these jump to mind as worthy of discussion.

First, the restaurant had apparently been warned for over a decade. Why did it take so long for investigators to act? It raises the issue as to whether the law is being equally applied to all. A local eatery in my neighborhood received a fine after one visit by an inspector last year, and for something more innocuous than what Nellie's was apparently fined for. What does this say about the application of these laws?

Second, in her statement the owner of Nellie's mentioned "she was devastated by the charges and that it was difficult for her, a single mother, to keep proper monitoring of all the locations." I know of several single-mothers who were somewhat insulted by this statement. At the risk of sounding like a real jerk (which I probably am), it suggests that single mothers are less able to, in this case, manage a business than other individuals i different circumstances (e.g., married mothers). We often see examples of certain groups (here, single mothers) being stereotyped by more salient and visible examples of individuals of their "type" (e.g., the single-mother owner of Nellie's). In making this statement, what information is communicated and what inferences might others make about single mothers writ large?