Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hiring Funeral Guests

Here is an article about professional funeral guests in Taiwan. You hire them to create the appropriate level of sorrow at a family member's funeral:

Liu and her five-member Filial Daughters' Band are part of a thriving mourning business in Taiwan. They're professional entertainers paid by grieving families to wail, scream and create the anguished sorrow befitting a proper funeral.

The performances are as much a status symbol for the living as a show of respect for the dead on this island of 23-million people lying 145 km off the Chinese coast.

Weary, grieving relatives hire groups like the Filial Daughters' Band to perform their mournful stuff for $600 for a half day's work.

Maybe for a little more money, you could get Al Pacino to give an impassioned eulogy or bring in a phone booth and have Will Ferrell scream out "I'm in a glass case of emotion!" at your funeral.

(Source: Marginal Revolution)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Social Benefits and Costs of Advertising

This is an extension of our discussion in class on advertising.

What do you think of advertising? In what ways is it good for society as a whole or bad for society as a whole? In what ways is it efficient or inefficient? You should come up with specific examples.

From the individual perspective, advertising is pretty avoidable in a lot of cases if you find it personally annoying (XM radio, HBO, Tivo or other DVRs, popup blockers on web browsers). See this post from economist Bryan Caplan.

Feel free to throw in your own favorite commercial in addition to your comment. One of my favorites was one I saw on a big screen in the middle of the Ginza district in Tokyo: it featured a a big formation of people singing and dancing with a huge smiling, laughing teapot at the front of the formation. I may have found it funny because it was really strange, because it reminded me of the Kool-Aid guy, or because I don't think the commercial was advertising anything to do with tea or teapots, but then again it was mostly in Japanese.

Economics of Torture Policy

A big news item of late is the debate over whether to make torture illegal that has involved Dick Cheney and Congress. Alex Tabarrok posted a very interesting point on how the debate over whether to make it illegal is not a debate over whether to never use torture, but rather on how high to make the price of torture:

President Bush, Dick Cheney and others who support the use of torture by the United States and its agents usually rely on the ticking time bomb argument. Sometimes torture is necessary to prevent a greater evil. I accept this argument. If my kid were kidnapped and the suspect was refusing to talk, I'd want Vic Mackey to do the questioning.

But it does not follow from the "ticking time bomb" argument that torture should be legal. The problem with making torture legal is that the government will abuse its powers. I do not trust the government, any government, to use this power responsibly. Leviathan must be heavily restrained, especially when it comes to torture.

Here is where economics can make a contribution. By making torture illegal we are raising the price of torture but we are not raising the price to infinity. If the President or the head of the CIA thinks that torture is required to stop the ticking time bomb then they ought to approve it knowing full well that they face possible prosecution. Only if the price of torture is very high can we expect that it will be used only in the most absolutely urgent of circumstances.

Again, no need to get political; stick to an economic discusion of incentives and what you expect to happen in various circumstances.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Economics of Thanksgiving

I know it is a little early for Thanksgiving talk since it is still a couple of weeks away, but here is the question anyway:

What do you think are the economic effects of Thanksgiving?

Or you could just discuss the economic effects of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Again, the more creative the answers, the better. For example, I thought one of the best answers about the economics of Halloween was from Andrew, who talked about how all of the planning of Halloween parties and leaving work early to get little kids dressed up in their costumes, would probably cause a decrease in productivity that day.