Thursday, January 16, 2014

An economist walks into a bar...

First, HOLY COW IT'S BEEN A WHILE. Well, that's what having a baby will do to you, I suppose. That, and Twitter. I'm still recovering, but in the meantime, I'll be posting some short stuff I wrote that didn't, for whatever reason, end up in print. Some of it is...old. But still fun! Enjoy.


Nathan E. Science

Liquor is big business in the U.S., and with drunk drivers involved in about 40 percent of traffic fatalities, it’s also a serious public health threat. Acting on the assumption that drinking leads to increasingly risky decisions, many states prohibit happy hours or serving alcohol to clearly intoxicated people. But is the “more liquor, worse choices” axiom correct?

To find out, a team of economists armed with a breathalyzer and a laptop headed to a bar in New York’s Lower East Side. Once there, they asked 317 men and women of varying inebriation to make different bar-oriented decisions—between different combinations of sliders and dumplings, or between different cash lotteries—all the while looking for subtle inconsistencies in their subjects’ choices. Remarkably, even stumbling-drunk participants made sensible choices. The main exception: as they drank more, women became slightly more comfortable taking risks when choosing between lotteries.

If confirmed by further experiments, the results suggest that efforts to curb drunk driving or other negative consequences of drinking should focus on making better decisions while drinking rather than on discouraging drinking in the first place. The paper appeared last June in the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

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