Douwe Osinga's Blog: September 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cheaper Airfares

I wonder whether any economist has ever studied the prices of public toilets. The prices are of course usually pretty low, but there doesn't seem to be much reason to it.

For years and years the going rate in the Netherlands was 25 (Guilder) cents, about 11 euro cents, but after the Euro introduction, it shot up to 50 euro cents. A case of severe Euro inflation? Maybe. It seems to me that a market like this is held into place by little more than convention; if you really have to go, you'll most likely pay up, but the actual cost to the seller is rather low. Held up by convention and the need for the price to fit one coin, the toilet charge stays stuck and defies inflation until an external event opens up the chance for a new equilibrium.

Equally interesting is the question which establishments charge for the toilets and which don't. Companies usually don't charge their employees for going to the toilet, but sometimes they do charge for the coffee. In normal restaurants toilets are free, but in some fast food outfits and clubs you have to pay. On airports it's free, on railway stations you pay, but on the train it is free again.

On planes it is of course also free, but I wonder for how long. Somebody at Ryan Air or Easyjet must be thinking about this. After the free coffee the free toilets could very well be the next thing to be sacrificed in the persuit of offering the cheapest ticket possible. If you charge 2 euro per go, you can not only use this money to further reduce prices, but people most likely also will go less, so you'll  need less toilets, which will allow the airline to cram in more seats and reduce the ticket price. People will complain of course and call it an outrage. But when it is time to book, they will buy the ticket that is 5 euro cheaper and remember to go before take off.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Life expectancy of famous people

First of all, I must say I am a little disappointed in either the intelligence of my readers or my ability of explaining the abracadabra puzzle. Over 50% says it doesn't make a difference, even after my double explanation and a python program to back it up. Oh well.

My wife and I went to a concert a week or so ago and we noticed that of the three composers, two had died at a very young age and Mozart wasn't one of them. So we were thinking, do painters live longer than composers? Would be hard to say, if it weren't for the wikipedia. Determined to find out, I downloaded an XML dump and started hacking at it. I am not yet ready to answer this question, but I did produce an interesting graph, pasted below.

On the X axis the the year of birth, on the Y axis the life expectancy. This is based on people mentioned in the Wikipedia, a life expectancy for the famous, if you will. There are two interesting observations. One is the dramatic drop at the end - people born in the early twentieth century life to over 70 on average, but then it starts dropping and people born the last 20 years, don't life longer than, well, 20 years. Of course this is only due to the fact that we're only counting the people that actually died and nobody born in 1970 died at age 70 (yet). This site shows how the life expectancy of rock stars is only 36.9 vs 75.8 for normal people - I suppose my graph goes a long way explaining that too - how many rock stars were born 75.8 years ago? Not even the Stones.

The second interesting thing is the dramatic fall in life expectancy around the first century BC and AD. It is backward looking average that is plotted and we have less coverage in the early days, so it could all be a bit shifted, but it still is strange. The very high expectancy around -500 can be explained I think because of a lack of actual trustworthy records; oral tradition tends to multiply the years. But the unhealthy first century? Maybe a combination of young dying roman emperors and christian martyrs?