Alcohol and economic “success in life”

by Edward Stringham*

Don Boudreaux is a great economist and a consistent defender of letting individuals make economic choices for themselves. Yet I would take a different approach than his recent post that defends drug legalization by criticizing alcohol.

Boudreax writes, “But the same is true for alcohol – another drug that ruins many lives and contributes to no one’s ‘success in life.’”

Here Boudreaux appears to have paid too much time listening to the prohibitionists, and missed “No Booze? You May Lose” coauthored by me and Bethany Peters for the Journal of Labor Research. The article, which was mentioned in numerous outlets from Time to Maxim, found that social drinkers earn significantly more than otherwise similar non-drinkers. If one’s measure of success in life includes superior labor market outcomes then drinking should be viewed as a positive rather than a negative.

Continue reading here

*Edward Stringham, Hackley Endowed Professor for the Study of Capitalism and Free Enterprise, Fayetteville State University.

Coffeehouse Culture: Coffee, tea, or CDs?

by Sandy Ikeda

Another thing Jenny has pointed out is that while independent coffeehouses are generally crammed with tables, Starbucks stores often look like they could easily accommodate many more than they do. If that’s true, I’m not sure why. Some possibilities:

1. Lower store-specific loyalty? Starbucks’s brand-loyalty is pretty strong, but its store-specific loyalty is probably lower than any given independent shop’s. If an independent’s customers tend to be repeaters, they are more likely to be local and a higher percentage of them will sit compared to a Starbucks. Continue reading

Coffeehouse Culture: an uncommon economic indicator — maybe

by Sandy Ikeda

I’ve noticed in the past 6 months or so that it’s been getting harder even on weekdays to find a seat at my preferred local coffeehouse (aka “the office”), and much too frequently lately I’ve had to bail to my second choice, which very often is also full. It’s not the cold weather because the crowding these days is a lot worse than in winters past. My wife suggests it’s the recession, with the growing reserve army of the unemployed – who in my nabe would mostly have worked on Wall Street – choosing to spend its time sipping joe in public than at home. Sounds plausible, but I’m too timid to ask anyone straight out if they’re there because they lost their job.

Anyway, just another, admittedly trivial, reason to hope this recession ends quickly. (But it won’t – not for another two years, I think, when inflation will be double-digit.)

Coffeehouse Culture: Optimal Distraction

By Sandy Ikeda

At the end of my last Coffeehouse Culture post “Coffeehouse as office”, I asked: What makes working in a coffeehouse more productive than working at home when there seem to be as many distractions in the former as the latter?

There are at least two reasons.

The first is that, because you’re being watched by a number of people, whether they let on or not, you’re more self-conscious in a coffeehouse about getting up all the time (admittedly, surfing the Web may be immune to this social constraint), which raises the cost to you of doing it (and this is in addition to the cost of food and drink) and so you do it less. Consequently, at a coffeehouse I’m less likely to get up for trivial reasons. If I’m going to leave my stuff on the table to get another drink or whatever, it’s a bother and I’m not going to do it too frequently, maybe once an hour instead of every 20 minutes if I’m at home.

The second reason is more important. Continue reading

Coffeehouse Culture: The coffeehouse as office

by Sandy Ikeda

My earlier post on “Coffeehouse Culture: New York v. Elsewhere” focused more or less on how groups interact in coffeehouses. But it’s no secret that people don’t always go to a coffeehouse for conversation or even for the coffee. In my favorite neighborhood hangout, for example, the coffee quality ranges from okay to burnt tire rubber. For people like me, the coffeehouses is a kind of “office.”

Coffeehouses are filled with solitary figures who quietly read, write, or, more and more these days, stare into computer screens (although as mentioned in my previous post, some places ban computers, including two of my favorite NY coffeehouses – thank goodness!). The question is: Assuming they really are working and that they have the space to do it at home, why do they choose to work in a public place? Continue reading

Coffeehouse Culture: New York v. Elsewhere

by Sandy Ikeda

The life of a city mainly consists of what goes on in its public spaces. In New York, and increasingly in other American cities, coffeehouses are a vital part of this public life.

According to Café Life in New York, “cafés” or “coffeehouses” as I prefer to call them, “function mainly as gathering places with coffee and/or tea as the central offering. … These cafés beckon the patron who has come to stay awhile, often a long while – order a single cup of coffee, and you are welcome to stay as long as you wish … the primary purpose is to provide a ‘third place’ – beyond home and work.” (I’m not really recommending this cute little book, subtitled “An insider’s guide to the City’s neighborhood cafés,” because it doesn’t mention any, not one, of my favorite coffeehouses!)

While it may not be as old, coffeehouse culture in its various forms thrives in New York. But if I may generalize there do seem to me to be important differences. Continue reading

A coffeehouse puzzle

by Sandy Ikeda

An article in “The City” section of The New York Times yesterday (30 November), “Where plugging in means paying up,” raises several interesting questions.  It’s about a café that charges customers to use its electricity, which is evidently an unusual enough practice these days to warrant a Times story.  Why don’t more places do this?  Is electricity that cheap?  Is it because the computer phenomenon is relatively new and business practice hasn’t quite caught on?