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EconDebates Online

EconDebates Online keeps you informed on today's most crucial economics policy debates. Each EconDebate, created by John Kane (SUNY-Oswego), provides a primer on the issues and links to background information and current, in-depth commentaries from experts around the world. Review the brief introductions and, for EconDebates of interest, select the full debate.

Utility and Consumer Choice



Are American Overworked?

Full Debate

While individuals generally report that they feel increasing time pressure, an analysis of time-use diaries find that the mix of leisure and work time has not changed substantially in recent decades. Robinson and Bostrom (1994) and Sundstrom (1999) suggest that there may be an upward bias in reports of hours worked by those workers who report relatively long workweeks. Jacobs (1998), however, provides evidence suggesting that the Robinson and Bostrom results may be the result of random errors in the data and not the result of biased reporting of hours worked.
Does the anti-sweatshop movement help or harm workers in low-wage economies?

Full Debate


The anti-sweatshop movement in the U.S. and other industrialized economies has, in recent years, attempted to use consumer boycotts to eliminate sweatshop working conditions and child labor in less developed economies. Unions and college student groups have been leading the drive for sweatshop boycotts.
Should Napster and similar MP3 distribution mechanisms be banned?

Full Debate


For decades, individuals have made tape recordings of live musical performances or musical performances sold on records, tapes, or CDs. Taped copies, however, were of a lower quality than the original. The introduction of the MP3 recording format, however, made it possible to encode and compress musical recordings into a compact file that can be played back at near-CD quality. These files are small enough that they can be quickly downloaded from the internet, even by those using modem connections. The development of MP3 players that can store hundreds of songs has also encouraged the widespread use of this storage format.

Can Open-Source Software Survive?

Full Debate 

In the early years of computing, a substantial portion of software code was freely distributed by software developers. By the 1980s, however, most software was distributed using a proprietary model in which the companies selling the software maintained exclusive ownership of the software code. In most situations, software purchasers received licenses allowing them to use the software, but the users rarely received copies of the software code. In recent years, however, a growing amount of software is produced under open-source software licenses that allow programs to be freely copied, modified, and redistributed.

Do School Vouchers Improve the Quality of Education?

Full Debate 

Several experimental voucher programs have been introduced in the past decade. One of the oldest and largest is a pilot program begun in 1990 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Initial analyses of this data have suggested little or no improvement in the quality of education as the result of a voucher system. These results, however, are quite controversial and are the subject of a good deal of debate. More recent pilot programs in New York City and Cleveland are also beginning to provide additional evidence for this debate. Preliminary, and equally controversial, results from the New York Choice Scholarship Program suggest that a voucher system has resulted in modest improvements in test scores for low-income students that transfer to private schools as a result of a scholarship program.

Should marijuana be decriminalized?

Full Debate 

Marijuana is a product derived from the cannabis sativa plant. This plant, also known as "hemp," was a major agricultural product in the United States from the colonial period until the early part of the 20th century. Hemp was used to produce rope, cloth, lacquer, and bird seed. There is evidence suggesting that hemp was grown on the plantations of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Is the death penalty an efficient crime deterrent?

Full Debate 

The economic argument in favor of the death penalty is rather simple. Economists assume that individuals weigh the expected costs and benefits when deciding to undertake any activity. Thus, rational individuals considering criminal activities would weigh the expected benefits against the expected cost of the criminal endeavor. The expected cost of any given crime is affected by the probability of being detected, the probability of being convicted given detection, and the expected penalty that results from a conviction. Since the death penalty provides a higher cost than alternative punishments, it is expected to generate a larger deterrent effect, ceteris paribus.

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