Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Economics and AIDS

Greg Mankiw links to a NYT article on 13 promising new economists:

So during her time as a Ph.D. student at Harvard, the younger Ms. [Emily] Oster took on AIDS in Africa. Her most provocative finding was that Africans didn’t really behave so differently from people in countries with much lower H.I.V. rates. They did not have many more sexual partners than Americans on average. And, like Americans, Africans had cut back on unsafe sex in response to AIDS — or at least relatively well-off, healthy Africans had.

Poorer Africans, who of course make up the continent’s overwhelming majority, had made fewer changes. They had less of an incentive to practice safe sex, Ms. Oster concluded, because many of them could not expect to reach old age, whether or not they contracted H.I.V. Any attack on AIDS should therefore include an attack on poverty.
Of course, for the New York Times, an "attack on poverty" means some type of government (foreign or domestic) intervention and berating the US for not spending enough on foreign aid... but I digress. Economics is being used in increasingly creative ways. As the NYT editorializes:
[...] economists have been acting a lot like intellectual imperialists in the last decade or so. They have been using their tools — mainly the analysis of enormous piles of data to tease out cause and effect — to examine everything from politics to French wine vintages.

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