For those of you not aware, I did a podcast series with the Development Research Institute at NYU earlier this year. It was nine episodes focusing on development that happens on a level other than the nation-state. Each episode featured me discussing a paper with its author and is worth checking out. My favorite one is probably the fourth episode, focusing on the centuries-long history of one New York City block. Here’s the summary:

Between Houston and Prince Streets on Greene Street in lower Manhattan, one city block has undergone dramatic changes over the course of four centuries. Today this Greene Street block is home to luxury retail and expensive residences, but not too long ago it was filled with art galleries, brothels, and garment manufacturing. The shifts in the block’s physical character and value were often sudden and totally unanticipated. Looking only at the nation-state level can obscure meaningful growth that occurs on much smaller levels, but how much can we learn from looking at just a city block? William Easterly of New York University tells us about this exciting and surprising history of one New York City block and what it can teach us about development.

Here’s a link to the iTunes page.

One can argue, as I have, that imposing any sort of regulation or tax on foods deemed “unhealthy” is unjustified. But what if legislation is passed that just forces businesses to display calorie counts and other nutrition information? I’d argue against that, but even if one argues in favor of such rules, the bottom line of the legislation should be whether it works or not.

In July 2008, New York City began requiring chain restaurants to list calorie counts on their menu boards. The first study of this mandate’s impact, published online yesterday by the journal Health Affairs, suggests that, contrary to the highly optimistic projections of its promoters, it has not led New Yorkers to consume fewer calories. In fact, the researchers found that the average calorie count for meals at fast food restaurants (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC) rose by 2.5 percent in New York after the mandate took effect while remaining essentially unchanged in Newark, the comparison city.

…In any case, it seems clear that menu mandate boosters have exaggerated this policy’s power to make people thinner. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene predicted the menu regulations would stop 150,000 people from becoming obese and prevent 30,000 cases of diabetes over five years. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy claimed menu labeling would result in a weight loss of nearly three pounds a year per fast food consumer. Such results are hard to achieve if people do not actually eat less.

I’m not too surprised by these findings. I have always thought that American’s ridiculous obesity rate and general unhealthiness isn’t due to lack of information but instead due to general cultural behavior. I find these laws to be similar to the ones mandating warning about how smoking causes death/cancer on cigarette packs. Who doesn’t know, at this point, that cigarettes are bad for you? Similarly, who doesn’t know the unhealthiness of a Big Mac? And, are the people who are really concerned about counting daily calories going to be eating at fast-food joints anyways?

A dollar can’t buy you the same things everywhere in the world. That’s something that a lot of people usually don’t understand and/or consider. A dollar buys me a heck of a lot more in Angola than it does in Reykjavik. This applies to different areas in the United States as well. A dollar in San Francisco doesn’t go nearly as far as a dollar in Wyoming. So making a $50,000 salary in Wyoming will buy me a lot more stuff (and hence make me effectively wealthier) than a $50,000 salary in San Francisco.

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But how far does this reasoning go? According to this article, New York City is the poorest big city in America. Yes, even poorer than Detroit. If this seems to bake your intuition noodle, try not thinking about it in terms of how much money the average dweller in that city makes. Instead, consider how much the average person in that city makes and what it can buy. Housing in the Big Apple, for one, is ridiculously expensive. The cost-of-living, meaning everything from food to utilities to transportation, is so high in NYC that their residents are effectively poorer than Detroit’s.

I’d still want to live in New York instead of the current armpit known as Detroit because of New York’s non-monetary awesomeness. Effective wealth is still something people commonly overlook.