Unexpected Correlations: Lead and Crime, Coffee and AIDS

While I’m no great fan of Freakonomics in particular, I am a fan in general

of economists uncovering hitherto unsuspected causations. There was a great

one in the Washington Post on Sunday, about the

link between lead exposure and crime. It seems that by far the best thing

you can do if you want to bring your crime rate down is to switch to unleaded

gasoline and then wait for 20 years.

Here’s Emily Oster, with another interesting correlation:

Uganda’s rate of HIV infection, it turns out, is very highly correlated to the

amount of coffee that it exports. The famous ABC

campaign in the country did precede a fall in HIV infection, but it also

preceded a fall in coffee exports, so maybe public education doesn’t reduce

AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa as much as we thought it did.

There’s lots more where that came from in this talk, including the fact that

if a sub-Saharan African nation doubles its exports, it will quadruple

its rate of AIDS infections. Poverty reduction and AIDS reduction are not always,

it would seem, the same thing.

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