Ryan D. Edwards

Associate Professor of Economics



Health policy

The good, the bad, and the ugly of alcohol consumption and taxes

Preventive Medicine 55(3): 244-245, September 2012.

The new contribution in these pages by Lhachimi et al. (2012) tallies up the net effects on mortality from internal and external causes that are likely to derive from changes in alcohol taxes in 11 countries within the European Union. Health economists prefer the efficiency of taxes to quotas or outright prohibition, but there are costs as well as benefits associated with any tax, because it drives a wedge between demanders and suppliers and thus reduces welfare. To guide public policy in this area, researchers should measure costs and benefits broadly defined, and Lhachimi et al. provide a useful first step.

Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes raise demand for substitutes and could even raise caloric intake

Preventive Medicine 54(3-4): 284-285, March-April 2012.

If the goal is to reduce obesity, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) may not work because consumers can and do shift demand to cheaper calories. Adam Smith identified sugar, alcohol, and tobacco as appropriate commodities for taxation because they were luxury goods in his day. He would never have supported differential rates of taxation across close substitutes, as implied by a tax on SSBs rather than on calories.

Soda taxes, obesity, and the shifty behavior of consumers

Preventive Medicine 52(6): 417-418, June 2011.

Rising obesity is a threat to public health, and taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in order to reduce consumption and thus caloric intake could be a viable policy response. But raising the price of SSB calories will raise the quantity demanded of relatively cheaper calories, and net effect on obesity is unclear. I review the evidence on shifting calorie demand and discuss the viability of soda taxes to achieve improvements in public health.


Health, Aging, and the Post-Service Life Cycles of U.S. Veterans

with Alair MacLean

in Jomana Amara and Ann Hendricks, eds., Military Medical Care: From Pre-Deployment to Post-Separation, Abingdon: Routledge, 2013.

For the majority of U.S. veterans, the period of military service is a relatively brief but potentially important segment of the life course. Service can entail shocks to mental and physical health through exposure to combat and other risks, inspire healthy or unhealthy behaviors in response to stress, affect future earnings and wealth, subsidize and increase educational attainment, and it can affect family formation and quality. Many of these influences have lasting effects on health and well-being throughout the life cycle. But isolating the effects of military service per se on post-service health and other outcomes is a challenging task, one that is complicated by selection governing the composition of the current all-volunteer force. In this review, we summarize and discuss the existing evidence regarding the health of aging cohorts of veterans over their life cycles and the relationship between military service and later-life health and well-being. We identify the open questions in this subfield of life-course research and suggest avenues for future inquiry.

Still in the Nation's Service: What Military Retirees' Educational Histories Reveal About Health

AMRA News 36(4): 22-23, Fall 2010.

What makes us healthy? Good genes, good living, or just good luck? Doctors and health researchers have a variety of answers to this question, but specific medical advice can vary significantly across decades, and even year-to-year. While not an excuse to ignore your doctor, the ephemeral nature of dietary and behavioral advice raises the obvious question of which determinants of good health are more stable over time, are more fundamental, and arguably most important, which are subject to intervention. It turns out that the life histories of U.S. military retirees offer new and important insights into these research and policy questions.


Population aging, the dependency burden, and challenges facing preventive medicine

Preventive Medicine 55(6): 533-534, December 2012.

Population aging will significantly raise the burdens on individuals at working ages of caring for retirees in advanced economies because of the modern system of age-related government transfers. Ensuring that future generations of workers remain healthy and productive will be an increasingly salient goal of preventive medicine.

Post-9/11 War Spending, Debt, and the Macroeconomy

paper prepared for the Costs of War Project, Eisenhower Research Project, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, June 2011.

Military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan have entered their ninth and tenth years respectively and have produced $1.1 trillion in direct costs through 2010. The federal budget has been in deficit since 2001, and by the end of 2010, debt held by the public had risen by more than $5.7 trillion, to a level exceeding 60% of GDP. A large part of this rapid increase was due to the recession of 2008 and the unprecedented fiscal policy response to the financial crisis. But the consequences of deficit spending to finance war activities have been considerable. Thus far, post-9/11 war spending has increased indebtedness by $1.3 trillion or around $4,000 per person, raised the ratio of public debt to GDP by 9-10 percentage points, roughly a third of the total increase since 2001, and probably raised long-term interest rates by 30-35 basis points. It also has likely boosted annual GDP by perhaps 0.5% on net, but that effect will dwindle as impacts of borrowing on the nation's capital stock emerge, and it is small relative to the effect on debt. If forecasts of war spending over the next ten years prove accurate, the associated war debt may increase the debt-to-GDP ratio by up to 20 percentage points, and interest rates may rise by 70 basis points.

Related: Statement to Reuters on June 20, 2011.

Work, Well-Being, and a New Calling for Countercyclical Policy

International Journal of Epidemiology 34(6):1222-1225, December 2005.

The new paper by Jose A Tapia Granados, "Increasing Mortality During the Expansions of the US Economy, 1900-1996," like others in the important and increasingly vibrant subfield of interdisciplinary research on economic fluctuations and health, gives macroeconomists much to think about. The basic finding of the paper is that mortality, a fundamental measure of the inverse of human well-being, rises significantly during periods of economic expansion and falls significantly during recessions. In a very real sense, this result turns both neoclassical and traditional Keynesian perspectives on their heads.


(Book Review of) Demographic Forecasting

Journal of the American Statistical Association 104(488): 1718-1719, 2009.

With their new book, Girosi and King contribute a new Bayesian methodology of fore- casting mortality when time series are noisy and sparse. The method is strongly evocative of seemingly unrelated regression; another parallel is that the book's title is almost seemingly unrelated to the method's much broader applicability. This is not to understate the authors' valuable contributions to the particular field of mortality forecasting, as evidenced by extensive and repeated application of the methods. But it is not until the last section of the introductory chapter that we catch a glimpse of the wider relevance of the methods, during a discussion of their applicability to, and perhaps their partial genesis in a seemingly unrelated field: comparative political science.