The Sheffield team do acknowledge some quite significant discrepancies between their model and previous work. Faced with the fact that their methodology produces results inconsistent with other findings for price elasticity in heavier drinkers they do provide an analysis that is consistent with the literature…
“To enable more direct comparability with the estimates in the literature we have also generated elasticity estimates for total alcohol purchasing from the EFS, shown in Table 11. These are in broad agreement with the literature, showing that - at the highest level of aggregation – hazardous and harmful drinkers (combined elasticity of -0.21) are less price elastic than moderate drinkers (elasticity of -0.47).”
….but then ignore it.
“Note that these high-level estimates are provided for reference only and are not included in the model.”
This is an extremely important aspect of the whole exercise because if price elasticity is lower for people who are heavy consumers, the result of minimum pricing will not be a reduction in their consumption but a significant increase in the amount they spend with attendant social consequences for them and their dependants.
Eric Crampton touches on why they did this and why they're quit wrong in this post...
They note too that, when we look at own-price elasticity within product categories, hazardous and harmful drinkers are more price elastic than moderate drinkers: they're more likely to shift product categories. But that tells us zilch about what harmful drinkers do in response to a price increase for the entire product category; it would be misleading to use this kind of data to claim that harmful drinkers are the most price responsive. They're most price responsive when their preferred brand or product changes in price but they're also least responsive to aggregate changes in alcohol prices.
While we're on the subject of junk science, I was pleased to get a mention in this week's Economist re: The Spirit Level...
Since both the levels and the origins of inequality vary widely, it is hardly surprising that there is no established relationship between income gaps and financial crises. That does not mean inequality never aggravates macroeconomic instability, but unfortunately critics of inequality often exaggerate their claims. A case in point is “The Spirit Level”, a book by two British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, published in 2009. They claimed that higher levels of inequality were associated with higher murder rates, lower life expectancy, more obesity and all manner of other ills. Their explanation was a medical one. Inequality literally gets “under your skin” because the stress of keeping up with the Joneses raises cortisol levels.
“The Spirit Level” caused a sensation when it was first published in Britain, probably because it reflected the post-crash Zeitgeist. Its conclusions, however, have been largely debunked. In a devastating critique, published by the Democracy Institute, Christopher Snowdon showed that Mr Wilkinson and Ms Pickett made highly selective use of statistics. Other, more careful studies show that although there is a strong relationship between individual income and health (richer people tend to be healthier and live longer than poorer ones), the link between countries’ income gaps and their citizens’ health is weak.
Now to get on train for four and half hours to get to Devon to debate happiness with Richard Layard. Should you be in the area tomorrow morning, do come along.