Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Snarky Question About the Grammy Awards

How many awards are Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt nominated for this year? Or are the Grammies taking a chance and going with more youthful acts like U2 or Coldplay?

UPDATE: According to today's news reports, the Grammy voters really moved to the avant garde last night by recognizing (over and over again) the ground-breaking talents of Beyonce and Taylor Swift. How can the MTV Music Awards compete now?

A Big Week for the Gunners

Home to Man U today; away at Chelsea next weekend. The next week could tell the tale of their challenge for the Premiership title. Thomas Vermaelen is out today with a leg bruise. I don't like their chances without his reliable presence in the center of the defense. But they are at home. A draw would be a good result; a win would be a pleasant surprise.

UPDATE: Surprisingly, Vermaelen has healed quickly enough to be in today's starting line-up. That's great news for the Gunners. Now, a victory over ManU would not surprise me.

SAD UPDATE: Just as against Chelsea earlier in the season, Arsenal are being run off their own ground by a Man U team that is looking far more formidable than they have throughout most of the season. Arsenal have been poor particularly in defensive midfield. The first goal was created by a piece of Nani brilliance, but the second goal, by Rooney, was a back-breaker. Denilson failed to track Rooney's run, and Rooney was able to turn in the box and pick his spot.

Questions will be raised now about Wenger's decision to field a weakened team in the 4th round of the FA Cup. That was a competition they could have won. With their pending defeat today to Man U, their Premiership title hopes are in shambles, and all that's left is a long-shot in the Champion's League. Is it time, finally, to second guess the French "genius"?

John Quiggin on European Exceptionalism

Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin provides food for thought about American and, especially, European Exceptionalism:

the US is different in lots of ways: an outlier in terms of nationalism, military power, religiosity, working hours and inequality of outcomes and (in the opposite direction) in terms of government intervention, health outcomes and other measures typically associated with welfare states. Among these the outstanding differences arise from the fact that the US aspires, with some success, to be globally hegemonic in military terms and (with rather less success) in economic terms as well.

But, when you think about it, there is nothing exceptional here.

Almost every state of any significance in history has aspired to dominate its known world....

*     *     *

The real exception to ... this is Europe. The largest economic aggregate in world history, it has enough military power to repel any invader, but is deeply uninterested in using this power to any more glorious end. It grows by a process of reluctant accretion, controlled by ever more onerous admission requirements. In all of history, it would be hard to find anything comparable in terms of pacifism, godlessness, equality, leisure for the masses or public provision of services. It’s for this reason that American views of Europe resemble de Tocqueville in reverse. Something so unprecedented, and against the laws of nature, they think, cannot possibly survive, let alone prosper. And yet it does.

Happy Birthday Franz Schubert (1797-1828)



Saturday, January 30, 2010

ISO

This evening, we saw the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) play Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer, Faure's Requiem, and Dvorak's 7th Symphony. I had not been to an ISO concert since the orchestra parted company with its last maestro, Mario Venzago. The guest conductor this evening was Pietar Inkinen, currently Music Director of the New Zealand Symphony. The orchestra played beautifully under him, must better than I can remember it playing for Venzago. I hope Inkinen will return to Indianapolis often.

What I'm Currently Reading


Spencer R. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (Harvard 2008)
     An interesting an well-written history of climate science and policy.









Volume 1 of David P. Currie's masterful The Constitution in Congress: The Federalist Period: 1789-1801 (Chicago 1997).









I am also still keeping at Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, which I nearly abandoned. I still do not feel completely gripped by the work, but I am increasingly enjoying it.

Books I Am Anxious to Read, When I Can Find the Time



Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence (Knopf 2009)
     I've read everything he's written since Snow (2004)











Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God (Pantheon 2010)
     Haven't read her work before, but reviews suggest  a very intelligent and engaging read.








Christopher Andrew, Defend the Realm (Knopf 2010)
     An authorized history of MI5.











Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1850 (Oxford 2010).

The Known Universe (Very Cool)



Developed by the American Museum of Natural History

Hat tip: Jonas Dahlstrom's "Happiness" blog.

Lodge on Salinger

Having blogged within the past few days about both the death of J.D. Salinger and the 75th birthday of David Lodge, I was interested to see in this morning's NY Times (here) a generally laudatory op-ed piece about Salinger's work by Lodge. Gives me a (no doubt false) sense that I'm somehow ahead of the curve here at the Law, Economics, & Cycling blog.

Happy 35th Birthday Magnus Backstedt

A great day for all over-sized riders (like me) when big Maggy won Paris-Roubaix in 2004.

Bittersweet 41st Anniversary

On this day in 1969, the Beatles gave their final performance from the roof of Apple Records in London.















Not pictured: The late, great Billy Preston.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Recommended Reading in Legal History and Climate Change

1. Alexander Volokh of Emory Law School has a very interesting new article in the latest issue of the American Law and Economics Review (Vol.11, 2009, pp. 399-450) on "Property Rights and Contract Form in Medieval Europe," which contributes to our understanding of medieval legal and economic history as well as  institutional development. The article also happens to be elegantly written (despite the mathematical gymnastics). Here is the abstract:
Throughout western Europe, beginning about 1200, leasing of lords' estates became more common relative to direct management. In England, however, direct management increased beginning around the same time until the fourteenth century, and leasing increased thereafter. This article models contract choice as a trade-off between incentives and insurance. Leasing increases as living standards improve. In England, the increase in direct management can be explained by improved security of freehold tenure, and the increase in leasing can be explained not only by living standards but also by improved security of leasehold tenure.
A prepublication version of this paper is available here.

 2.  Economists Scott Barrett of Columbia University's Earth Institute and Michael Toman of the World Bank have an interesting new paper comparing and contrasting two general approaches to climate change mitigation: (1) the familiar "targets and timetables" approach, reflected in the Kyoto Protocol; and (2) a variety of "loosely coordinated smaller scale agreements," addressing different aspects of the problem.

The authors identify the following characteristics of any viable approach to climate mitigation: (a) global benefit should exceed global cost; (b) every country should gain individually from an agreement; (c) participation should be very broad; (d) obligations should be permanent, though subject to periodic revision; and (e) agreements should be enforced using credible mechanisms.

After illustrating how the Kyoto Protocol reflects the first approach  - "targets and timetables" - to achieving mitigation, Barrett and Toman suggest several characteristics of a differentiated portfolio approach to mitigation. Among them: emissions of different greenhouse gases or gases from different sources, such as aviation and marine transportation, might be separately regulated; sector-specific agreements might be negotiated; separate agreements might cover land use and forestry-related issues; etc.

Barrett and Toman conclude, interestingly, that the "targets and timetables" approach could well be more cost-effective than the piecemeal approach, but the piecemeal approach might be more successful in actually reducing greenhouse gases because it would be easier to implement in light of barriers to collective action.

The full paper is available here.

Into the Lion's Den

President Obama speaks to, and converses on policy with, Republicans.




Hat tip: Brad DeLong.

Contracting Around Citizens United

Writing in the Washington Post earlier this week (here), Yale Law Professors Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres suggest that one plainly lawful way to restrict corporate spending on election campaigns, after Citizens United, would be for the federal government to impose restrictions in all government contracts with corporations. According to Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports, approximately three-quarters of the 100 largest American corporations are federal contractors. Under Ackerman and Ayres's rule, those corporations would have to choose between doing business with the federal government or financing campaigns; they could not do both.

I have two questions about Ackerman and Ayres's proposal.

(1) Would it violate the unconstitutional conditions doctrine (on which see this)? Their own analysis suggests not, but given the current composition of the Court, I'm not so sure. It's not hard to imagine the Court concluding that an essential nexus exists between being a federal contractor and exercising First Amendment free speech rights.

(2) Is it a good idea to contractually limit the speech rights of some corporations, but not others? Given the diversity of corporations and corporate interests, wouldn't the public interest be harmed by limiting corporate speech to only some corporations? For example, suppose that Duke Power obtains government contracts and Exxon does not. I wouldn't be particular satisfied that Exxon, which has opposed climate legislation, could spend millions on political campaigns, while Duke Power, which supports climate legislation, could spend nothing.

Justice O'Connor Dissents

Sandra Day O'Connor has belatedly dissented from the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, according to this report at ABC News.com. Unfortunately, her dissent does not affect the outcome, but does given an indication of how her replacement, Samuel Alito (the Justice who expressed disapproval of President Obama's remarks about the Court's ruling during this week's State of Union address), has moved the Court at least marginally to the right.

President Obama Commits the Executive Branch to Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

President Obama Sets Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target for Federal Operations

Target to Drive Energy Cost Reductions in Federal Operations, Creating Clean Energy Jobs
WASHINGTON, DC – President Barack Obama today announced that the Federal Government will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by 28 percent by 2020.  Reducing and reporting GHG pollution, as called for in Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability, will ensure that the Federal Government leads by example in building the clean energy economy.  Actions taken under this Executive Order will spur clean energy investments that create new private-sector jobs, drive long-term savings, build local market capacity, and foster innovation and entrepreneurship in clean energy industries.
As the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, the Federal Government spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 alone.  Achieving the Federal GHG pollution reduction target will reduce Federal energy use by the equivalent of 646 trillion BTUs, equal to 205 million barrels of oil, and taking 17 million cars off the road for one year.  This is also equivalent to a cumulative total of $8 to $11 billion in avoided energy costs through 2020.
“As the largest energy consumer in the United States, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient,” said President Obama.  “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”
Federal Departments and Agencies will achieve greenhouse gas pollution reductions by measuring their current energy and fuel use, becoming more energy efficient and shifting to clean energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal.  Examples of agency actions that are underway are available on the White House Council on Environmental Quality website and can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/ceq.
On October 5, 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability, setting measureable environmental performance goals for Federal Agencies.  Each Federal Agency was required to submit a 2020 GHG pollution reduction target from its estimated 2008 baseline to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget by January 4, 2010.  The Federal target announced today is the aggregate of 35 Federal Agency self-reported targets.
Greenhouse gas emissions serve as a useful metric to measure the effectiveness of agency energy and fuel efficiency efforts as well as renewable energy investments. Agencies are already taking actions that will contribute towards achieving their targets, such as installing solar arrays at military installations, tapping landfills for renewable energy, putting energy management systems in Federal buildings, and replacing older vehicles with more fuel efficient hybrid models.
As a next step, the Office of Management and Budget will validate and score each agency’s sustainability plan, assuring a long-term return on investment to the American taxpayer. To ensure accountability, annual progress will be measured and reported online to the public.

Books, in Pictures

The Independent has a regular pictorial feature on "The Best of..." various goods. Today, they feature "The Best  of the New Books." I don't know about you, but I don't find such a list to be particularly helpful, when all they  provide are photos of the covers of "the best" new books, 1 through 10, without any commentary explaining why these ten books are exceptional. It's also ironic that a newspaper, of all media, would opine about new books, of all things, in pictures rather than words.

In Case You Weren't Already Convinced About the Severity of the Current Recession

















Hat tip: Brad DeLong's "Grasping Reality with Opposable Thumbs" and the Economic Policy Institute

Happy Birthday Romain Rolland (1866-1944)

The great Nobel-prize winning French novelist and biographer of Beethoven, most famous for his 10-novel roman-fleuve, Jean-Christophe. My own favorite of his works is the less well known, Colas Breugnon Burgundian. 







Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Cycling Industry Stimulates the Indy Economy


Governor Mitch Daniels was on hand today as Zipp Speed Weaponry, located in Speedway, Indiana, announced an expansion that would create 105 new jobs - nearly doubling its current workforce -  between now and 2013. Zipp makes some of the lightest and most expensive cycling wheels in the world; they're used by many of the top pro teams (and several of my own teammates). As part of the expansion, which is reported here on BikeRadar.com, Zipp will be constructing a new, 70k square foot manufacturing and customer service center near its current headquarters in Speedway.  

Legal Archaeology

The Independent is reporting (here) that two historians from University College London have unearthed  fragments of the Gregorian Codex, a compilation of Roman Law rules from the reigns of Hadrian (118-138 AD) through Diocletian (284-305 AD) and first published in about 300 AD. The Codex is thought to have influenced the Civil Law systems that govern much of Europe to the present day. Before now, the Gregorian Codex was known to have existed, but only through secondary sources; original copies were thought to have perished. The two UCL historians, Simon Corcoran and Benet Salway, discovered the 17 fragments of the Codex in Istanbul (old Constantinople).

Obama and the Supreme Court

President Obama reportedly criticized the Supreme Court's Citizens United case during his State of the Union address, claiming that the decision opens the floodgates to political spending by corporations, including foreign ones. According to this blog post at the NY Times, Justice Alito took quiet exception to the President's assertion, shaking his head and muttering "not true." As the NY Times blog post notes, the majority opinion in Citizens United left undecided the question of the First Amendment rights of foreign corporations.

My question - which really is a question, as I know very little about corporate law - is how hard it would be for a foreign corporation to separately incorporate a US subsidiary with the sole or predominant goal of influencing US political campaigns? Just wondering.

In Memoriam: JD Salinger (1919-2010)


The AP is reporting (here) that J.D. Salinger has died. The famous and reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Franny and Zooey (1961) and numerous other novels and short stories turned his back on fame and fortune, not publishing a single word after 1965.

It is a very sad day for Salinger fans throughout the world, and the only consolation is that, perhaps, in the near future many works he has presumably been writing since the mid-1960s will be published posthumously.

"Death Knell" for the Notebook Computer?

That's what the Daily Telegraph suggests (here) about Apple's new iPad (pictured below). But why on earth would I want a computer without an actual keyboard on which to type?


State of the Union Redux

So, is it safe to come out from under the covers now? Did President Obama fix everything with his speech? Are the Republicans now on board? Did Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman publicly apologize and promise never to grandstand again? Did all members of Congress hold hands and sing Kumbaya?

Do we now have health care reform, climate legislation, energy independence (whatever the hell that might mean), reasonable regulation of financial institutions, tax cuts for the middle class, jobs for everyone, budget surpluses as far as the eye can see, Israeli-Palestinian peace, victory in and withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and complete national security with zero inconvenience for Americans?

As Homer Simpson might say: "Presidential State of the Union addresses, is there any problem they can't fix?"

UPDATE: It is impossible, of course, to peruse any news sources or blogs without being bludgeoned by analyses of the President's speech. From what I glean from those analyses, it was: a long and fairly detailed speech, which some found to be excellent, and others found to be so-so, which displeased Justice Alito, but so far has failed to cure cancer. How disappointing.

The Premier League Race

The next two weeks may well make or break Arsenal's title challenge. Between now and February 10th, they play at Man U, home to Chelsea, and away at Liverpool.  The Gunners currently stand 3d on the League table, a point behind Man U and two points behind Chelsea (with Chelsea holding a game in hand). Arsenal really must take all three points from the games against those two teams; and they cannot afford to lose at Liverpool.

The task is all the more difficult because the Gunners lost their brilliant and dependable fullback Thomas Vermaelen to a possible broken leg during yesterday's 0-0 draw at Aston Villa. Eduardo also pulled up with a hamstring problem. With the old and (if one game is any evidence) unreliable Sol Campbell to take Vermaelen's place in the middle of Arsenal's defense, Rooney (for Man U) and Drogba (for Chelsea) might well be licking their chops.

It seems too much to hope that the Gunners could come through the next three games with 8 points; indeed, at this point, they might settle for 3.

Happy 75th Birthday David Lodge

One of my favorite British novelists.














Here's where he writes at home near Birmingham (from this article in The Guardian) :


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The State of the Union

Odds that I will be watching the President's State of the Union address this evening? Slim.

Odds that I will watching talking heads afterwards? Zero.

Odds that I will watch what John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have to say about the speech the following night? Very high.

Chicago-Kent

Spent yesterday at Chicago-Kent College of Law, and was very impressed by the warmth, collegiality, and serious scholarly culture I found there. Nice building and location too.





















It's a little known fact that I began law school at Chicago-Kent before transferring, mainly for locational reasons, to Lewis & Clark in Portland. I was happy to see a few of my first-year teachers yesterday, all of whom looked great.

Climate Litigation

John Schwartz has an excellent article in today's NY Times discussing the importance, both strategic and substantive, of lawsuits filed against major greenhouse gas emitters for alleged costs of climate change. The biggest case discussed in the article, still at a fairly early stage in the process, was filed by a village of 400 Alaska natives located on a barrier island that is being eroded away allegedly because the sea ice that used to protect it is disappearing. They are suing two dozen energy companies and utilities, including Exxon and Shell Oil, for the costs of relocating the entire village to the mainland, which could amount to $400.

As the article notes, the chief value of litigating climate lawsuits may not be in the substantive outcome of those suits, but in the pressure they create for defendants to support alternative regulatory solutions currently stuck in the Senate. However, even if Congress enacts a regulatory regime, there is no guarantee that it would immunize greenhouse gas emitters from similar lawsuits in the future.

The article also makes an interesting analogy to the early tobacco litigation, which were not very successful early on, but eventually led to large negotiated settlements and new regulations.

Ronald Dworkin on the Citizens United Decision

He calls the decision, which struck down virtually all restrictions on corporate spending on political campaigns,  "appalling" and "devastating" in this article in the NY Review of Books.

CBO on the Economy

This Congressional Budget Office Report provides a pretty good overview of the current situation of the economy and forecast for the rest of this year.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong is less optimistic than the CBO (see here).

Happy Birthday Wolfie (1756-1791)


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Misinformed, Stupid, or Both?

Joe Klein slams the electorate (here), and his argument is difficult to deny. Given that the lion's share of stimulus spending has gone to middle-class taxpayers, on what basis do they believe - as polls indicate - that the stimulus was "wasted"? Here are Klein's answers to that question:
1. The Obama Administration has done a terrible job explaining the stimulus package to the American people...especially since there have been very few documented cases of waste so far.

2. This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed...and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don't make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you're a nation of dodos.

Happy 47th Birthday to the "Special One" - Jose Marinho

Which picture is better?

Monday, January 25, 2010

EPA Sets New NOx Standards

Back in December 2009, EPA proposed new national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone, a precursor to urban smog. Today, the EPA finalized a new one-hour NAAQS for nitrogen oxides, which are emitted predominantly by power plants and motor vehicles. The rule limits concentration levels to100 parts per billion or less over any one hour period. This new rule supplements the pre-existing average annual concentration limit for nitrogen oxides of 0.053 parts per million. In addition, the new rule requires new monitoring of nitrogen oxide concentration levels near highways and other areas where concentration spikes are likely to occur.

According to this article in today's Washington Post, the annual standard actually is currently met by every Air Quality Control Region of the country. And nearly all are already meeting the new one-hour standard. Only Chicago is out of attainment, but is expected to come into attainment based on existing implementation plans.

The new one-hour limit is based on recent science showing that short-term (e.g., less than one-hour) exposure to higher concentration levels of nitrogen oxides (for instance, near highways) can aggravate respiratory ailments,  such as asthma, and impair lung function. Again, when setting NAAQS, EPA can only consider human health effects; it may not consider cost.

While the Clean Air Act bars EPA from considering costs in setting NAAQS, EPA is required to prepare them under both statutory law and Executive Order of the President. The Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) accompanying the rule compares costs and benefits using alternative 3% and 7% discount rates with costs and benefits running to 2020. Also, importantly, the RIA presumed the attainment of concentration levels of 50 ppb, which is far more stringent than the 100 ppb limit the final rule actually imposes. That said, and with due regard for uncertainties about some excluded costs and benefits, the RIA concludes that (a more stringent version of) the new rule would create net benefits ranging from -$120 million and +$270 million, with a central estimate above +$100 million.

IND

I'm sitting in the Indy airport, waiting on a flight to Chicago. The airport is as busy as I've ever seen it. Lot's of Colts fans proudly wearing the blue. Many chastened Jets fans heading for home. And lots of other folks heading who knows where for every conceivable reason.

Happy Birthday Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)

One of the great 20th century composers.




















An excerpt from his 3d symphony:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Did Obama Try to Do Health Care Reform too Quickly?

A friend of mine recently suggested that Obama pushed too quickly for health care reform, and that a slower approach would have yielded better results, both substantively and politically. I'm not so sure.

It's not obvious that Obama was wrong to believe he needed to act quickly and decisively, at least prior to the mid-term elections, when the party out-of-power is almost always strengthened, especially given the (admittedly, highly effective) Republican strategy of total opposition to any and all legislative proposals emanating from the White House. Moreover, he took the time to gain the support (or at least non-opposition) of several key interest groups, including the AMA, AARP, and most insurers, before pressing the reforms. Furthermore, the passage of  significant (if far from perfect) reform packages in both the House and Senate suggests that legislative efforts were not premature. There is little reason to believe that spending more time on public hearings, etc., would have led to significantly better legislative outcomes in the political process.

If the Obama Administration can be faulted on health care reform it is on two counts: (1) Rahm Emmanuel and Harry Reid were unable to enforce party discipline in the Senate, which meant that Ben Nelson could hold-out for a ridiculous special deal that rightfully angered the public and gave ammunition to the opposition; and (2) the President failed to step up and take personal responsibility for communicating to the American people the social benefits (over costs) of the legislation.

FA Cup Action

Arsenal have taken a risk, fielding a relatively weak side in today's fourth-round FA Cup match at Stoke. But so far, so good. They are tied 1-1 at halftime. Stoke got a goal just 30 seconds into the match, immediately raising questions about an Arsenal defense comprised of Sol Campbell (playing his first game for the Gunners in three or four years), Michael Silvestre, Armand Traore, and Francis Coquelin. None of the four is a regular starter. Fortunately, Denilson evened up the score shortly before halftime off a set piece.

UPDATE: Arsenal's make-shift defense has cost them in the second half. They are down 3-1 with 5 minutes (plus stoppage time) left to play. They are going out of the FA Cup. It's a mixed blessing really because the fixtures really have been piling up; and Arsenal are far more concerned with the Premiership campaign and the Champion's League. Still, when you haven't won a trophy for four years, I would have thought they would have wanted to keep all options open for this season. Resting both Vermaelen and Gallas in the same game was probably not the wisest strategy. And, if you're going to rest your entire starting defense, why risk putting Fabregas on the field against a team that seeks to stop him by cutting out his legs?

God in Haiti

Eleven full days after the earthquake in Haiti, a man was rescued from the rubble, severely dehydrated but otherwise unharmed. The chief of the French rescue team that freed him pointed to the sky declaring, "This is God" (see here). I do not question the Frenchman's religious conviction, but I do want to ask him, what about the 150,000 people (at latest count) who have died?

From Super-Majority to Majority: Any Difference?

An article in today's Washington Post (here) makes the following assertion:
Republican Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts special election on Tuesday cost the Democrats' their filibuster-proof Senate majority.
But what has really changed? Even before Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts last week, the Democrats did not have a "'filibuster-proof Senate majority" because the Democrats, unlike the Republicans, are not a party that walks in lock-step. It wasn't the threat of a Republican filibuster that gave Harry Reid headaches on health care reform but threats from Democratic Ben Nelson and Independent (but captive of the Connecticut insurance industry) Joe Lieberman. Indeed, Ben Nelson has threatened a filibuster against any bill coming out of conference does not tighten restrictions against federal funding of abortions (see here).

The Republicans, despite the supposed fault lines between the intellectual neo-cons and the anti-intellectual theocrats, seem better able than the Democrats to enforce party discipline. Perhaps not much has changed since Will Rogers quipped, "I am not a member of any organized party - I am a Democrat."

Happy Birthday Oskar Morgenstern (1902-1977)

Co-inventor, with John von Neumann, of the branch of mathematical-economics known as game theory, which has greatly influenced virtually all of the social sciences (as well as biology).



Saturday, January 23, 2010

Colts v. Jets

Call me a "homer," but I smell a Colts win tomorrow. Big deal, you might say, pretty much everyone expects the Colts to win. Here's the difference: I'm expecting a blow-out. The Colts offense puts up at least 24 against the league's top-rated defense, and the Jets score no more than 1 touchdown (if that). Peyton & Co. head back to Miami, the site of their victory over the Bears in Super Bowl 41, to take on either the Vikings or the Saints. I'm not predicting that game, but my sister and her family live in New Orleans, so I'm pulling for the Saints.

UPDATE: Well, it was a second-half blow-out. After trailing 17-13 at halftime, the Colts blanked the Jets in the second half to win 30-17.

Tol on Post-Kyoto Climate Policy

Richard S.J. Tol, a top climate economist, is somewhat surprisingly endorsing the extension of the Kyoto Protocol (here). His argument makes some sense - as he notes, the Protocol itself does not expire in 2012, only its emissions reduction targets do that. Still, I think the Protocol is fatally hampered by its overly ambitious emissions trading system and   offset mechanisms that really are nothing more than an elaborate system for transferring resources from rich countries to poor countries with no necessary impact on global emissions of greenhouse gases.

If some amount of mitigation is presently desirable (which I think it is, though others might reasonably disagree), then it would be far better to replace the Kyoto mitigation regime with something closer to the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, which limits the use of offsets and limits emissions trading to the most easily measured combinations of sources and greenhouse gases  - namely carbon dioxide emissions from four major emitting industries.

I suspect, however, that the international community will do more or less what Tol suggests - extend and expand on the Kyoto Protocol - if (but only if) the US adopts, as expected, an emissions trading scheme that is closer to the Kyoto model than the EU model.

Why Have Supreme Court Justices Become So Verbose?

The Blogosphere is, predictably, all abuzz about the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FTC, about which I posted (here) the day the decision was announced. The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog (here) has a pretty good round up of visual sound-bites about the ruling.

To the litany of complaints about the decision, I would add my one of my own, which has become something of a hobby horse in recent years: why can't members of the Court write shorter opinions? All together, the various majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions in Citizens United add up to more than 170 pages of text, which is far too long for most people - other than law professors - to read. Members of the Court seem to have lost the understanding that they write opinions not just for each other and for legal scholars to dissect, but for the edification of the general public about the state and reason of the law. The Great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes never seemed to need more than a few pages to say what he wanted to say about the law, even on the most fundamental of constitutional issues (admittedly, he wasn't particularly concerned about  what anyone else, besides himself, thought about the Constitution). Today, it seems, every substantial Supreme Court ruling has to be the length of a book.

I would support a constitutional amendment to impose word limits on Supreme Court opinions!

First Outdoor Ride of 2010

Great day for a ride! 43 degrees, overcast, misty, wet roads, and a consistent 16 mph wind from the SE.

41 miles at an average wattage of 231, according to my iBike (though I bonked at mile 33).

It is impossible with current technology to simulate in indoor training the qualities of an outdoor ride -  the wind, the heaviness and moisture content of the air, the bumps and gradations in the road, getting dropped by Jerry, etc.

UPDATE: According to PerfPro's analysis, my normalized power was 298 watts, and I averaged 300 watts for 20 minutes during the ride, which is 11 watts higher than my best ever lactate threshold test. Something must be wrong with my iBike.

FURTHER UPDATE: After sending the file for my ride to iBike, everything seems to be working properly.

Happy 57th Birthday Robin Zander (of Cheap Trick)

Still one of the greatest voices in rock. Pictured below with one of my dearest friends, the late Kevin Kelly.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

DeLong on Krugman

Brad DeLong writes a glowing review of Paul Krugman's new book, The Accidental Theorist (here).

Some Realism about Climate Science

The January 21st issue of Nature contains a useful article (here) about "The Real Holes in Climate Science" (as distinct from the mythical problems often cited by skeptics). It also includes an editorial (here) putting in proper perspective, and drawing appropriate lessons from the controversy surrounding the leaked e-mails of several climate researchers, including: 
Perhaps the most important lesson is that researchers must be frank about their uncertainties and gaps in understanding — but without conveying the message that nothing is known or knowable. They must emphasize that — although many holes remain to be filled — there is little uncertainty about the overall conclusions: greenhouse-gas emissions are rising sharply, they are very likely to be the cause of recent global warming and precipitation changes, and the world is on a trajectory that will shoot far past 2 °C of warming unless emissions are cut substantially. Researchers should also emphasize that cities and countries can begin to prepare for the effects of climate change through both mitigation and adaptation, even though they do not know the exact course of the changes.

Highly Recommended Reading

Robert Solow's review in The New Republic (here) of John Cassidy, How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2009). The book sounds good as well, but Solow's views are  always worth reading.

The brilliant Paul Collier's January 2009 report to the United Nations (here) on "Haiti: From Natural Catastrophe to Economic Security." Collier's analysis of policies to move Haiti out of poverty is especially poignant in light of the not-entirely-natural catastrophe that hit Haiti this past week. The earthquake that demolished much of Haiti on January 12th had a magnitude of 7.0. An earthquake of almost exactly the same magnitude rocked San Francisco in 1989 (which I experienced up close and personally). Both were "natural disasters." The Loma Prieta earthquake outside of San Francisco killed 63 people, injured more than 3,700, left between 3,000 and 12,000 homeless (including myself) for some period of time, and caused an estimated $6 billion in property. The Haiti earthquake has caused far more death (72,000 at lastest count) and destruction. The difference, of course, is that Haiti lacked both the money and the institutions to better protect itself against earthquakes. The disaster is as much financial and institutional as natural.


Hat tip to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution for links to both papers.


UPDATE: A third highly recommended paper, which I just finished reading, is Herbert Hovenkamp's new one on "Coase, Institutionalism, and the Origins of Law and Economics, which is available here. Here is the abstract:

Ronald Coase merged two traditions in economics, marginalism and institutionalism. Neoclassical economics in the 1930s was characterized by an abstract conception of marginalism and frictionless resource movement. Marginal analysis did not seek to uncover the source of individual human preference, but accepted preference as given. It treated the business firm in the same way, focusing on how firms make market choices, but saying little about their internal workings

“Institutionalism” historically refers to a group of economists who wrote mainly in the 1920s and 1930s. Their place in economic theory is outside the mainstream, but they have found new energy with the rise of behavioral economics and socio-economics. The institutionalists emphasized the importance of human created institutions that allocate resources and power, institutional rules of social control, and the effect of institutions on the economy. The institutionalists severely qualified marginalist analysis as well as the emergent neoclassical creed that the study of naked individual preference is the exclusive methodology of economic science. By contrast, most institutionalists defended the study of the biological and behaviorist sources of preference. Finally, unlike mainstream neoclassicists, most institutionalists believed that market exchange is only one of many institutions that move resources through the economy.

Coase’s work merged neoclassicism with institutionalism by incorporating marginalist analysis into the study of institutions. As the neoclassicists, he was not concerned about the source of preferences but only with the mechanisms by which they are asserted. More explicitly, by recognizing individual preference orderings and market exchange as the only efficient movers of resources, he reduced the problem of resource movement to one of “transaction costs.” The result was a new brand of institutionalism that was far more palatable to neoclassicists but largely unacceptable to traditional institutionalists.

This revised institutionalism became an important source of theory for modern law and economics. First, it recognized marginalism and the conception of the rational actor as central to economic analysis of legal institutions. Second, it preserved the Pigouvian, fundamentally institutionalist concern that economics consider the costs of moving resources from one spot to another. Third, its market-oriented marginalism led Coase to assume that the only relevant costs of resource movement are the internal value maximizing decisions of individual economic agents, captured by Coase’s 1937 essay on The Nature of the Firm; and the costs of bargaining, reflected in his 1959 and 1960 articles on social cost.

Supreme Court Overturns McCain-Feingold, and Itself

The Supreme Court has just handed down a 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturns central provisions of the "McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002" that  limited the amount of money corporations could contributed to political campaigns. Equating money with political speech and corporations with human individuals, Justice Kennedy's majority opinion also overruled previous Supreme Court decisions from 2003 and 1990. Justice Stevens took the still unusual, though increasingly common, step of reading his lengthy dissent from the bench. That dissent accused the Court of making a grave error in treating corporations as ordinary persons for purposes of political speech. The NY Times reports on the decision here.

UPDATE: My colleague Gerard Magliocca approves of the outcome, but agrees with Justice Stevens that  narrower grounds existed for the majority's ruling (here). And University of Illinois law professor Lawrence Solum observes (here) that Justice Roberts's concurring opinion in the case seems to establish a new basis for declining to follow precedents that are "hotly contested," and creates tension with existing Supreme Court rulings (notably Casey) on the issue of precedent. No doubt as constitutional law experts read and digest the Court's ruling, a lot more exegesis and analysis will appear in the blogs and, ultimately, in law journals.

A Candidate for an "Ig Nobel Prize"?


Each year the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research awards "Ig Nobel Prizes" (a parody of Nobel Prizes) to ten serious scientific studies "that first make people laugh, and then make them think." For example, in 1993 the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics went to French alchemist Corentin Louis Kervran for his finding that calcium in chicken eggshells was a result of cold fusion.The 1996 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the editors of the journal Social Text for publishing meaningless and incomprehensible articles claiming that reality did not exist. Here is a complete list of former Ig Nobel Prize winners.  

Were I on the nominating for the Ig Nobel Prize in Sociology or Public Health for this year, I would nominate a study discussed (here) in today's Daily Telegraph, according to which people named Andy and Sarah are most likely to "call in sick from work." It made me laugh. However, it has not yet made me think.

Political Pundits and Sports Reporters

Political pundits and sports reporters seem to suffer from extreme forms of a common malady known to cognitive psychologists and behaviorial economists as the "availability heuristic." Simply put, they tend to base predictions of future events or outcomes on the most recent and vivid experiences they recall, regardless of how unrepresentative or unreliable those experiences might be. The Israeli pyschologist Daniel Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his work on this and other forms of cognitive bias in individual decision-making. (Unfortunately, Kahneman's long-time collaborator and compatriot, Amos Tversky, died in 1996, and so could not be co-recipient of the 2002 Prize).

Among sports commentators, whoever won the last game or two is the "hot" team expected to sweep all others aside. Even during the course of the game, whichever team holds the lead is praised as if they could do no wrong, while the losing side is reviled. If the score flips, the previously losing team is now virtually unstoppable and the formerly winning team has no chance. Past praise is forgotten in an instant, without apology or explanation.

The same phenomenon is observed among the political pundocracy. All of a sudden, because the Republicans  now have what Jon Stewart referred to on the Daily Show last night as a "super-minority" of 41 votes in the Senate, Obama has been a terrible president and the Democratic Party as a whole is in free fall. The media-wing of the Democratic Party, known as MSNBC, is in mourning and seeking scapegoats. Meanwhile, the media-wing of the Republican Party, known as Fox News, is gloating, as if all of a sudden the Republicans are in charge of everything. The media have even treated seriously a proposal by Republic Senator Murkowski of Alaska to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, as if such a proposal has a snowball's chance in hell of being enacted by a Congress that is still dominated by Democrats.

Yes, Brown's defeat of Coakley in Massachusetts makes the near-term prospects for climate legislation and health-care reform more doubtful. It also indicates, as President Obama himself has acknowledged, popular disaffection with something - Congress, unemployment, general economic conditions, the President's policies, the Democratic candidate - but the precise cause of popular disaffection is no more certain than what "causes" the stock markets to rise or fall on a given day. Brown's victory might be a prologue to greater Democratic losses in the fall. But greater Democratic loses in the fall are almost perfectly predictable based on empirical information from dozens of prior mid-term elections; we didn't need the Brown data point to tell us that. They would have become no less predictable if Coakley had won in Massachusetts this week.

The bottom line is that the Republican celebrations and Democratic wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over a single Senate race seems pretty silly to me. And, yes, I would have said the same thing if a Republican were president, and a Democrat had won a Senate race in Georgia.

Happy Birthday Benny Hill (1924-2982)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Go Gunners!

Arsenal beat Bolton 4-2 this afternoon at the Emirates Stadium. After going down 2-0 early in the first half, the Gunners cut the deficit to 1 just before halftime before putting the game away in the second half. Their 2-goal victory leapfrogs Arsenal past Manchester United and Chelsea into first place in the English Premier League, although Chelsea have a game in hand. No one should any longer doubt whether Arsenal will remain in the title race for the rest of this season.

He's No Ted Kennedy

Yesterday's election to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate sent shock waves through Washington, as Republican Scott Brown defeated the anointed successor Martha Coakley, who, the outcome suggests, must be among the worst campaigners of all time.

I don't know much about either Brown or Coakley, except that the later was far more likely to support two  pieces of legislation currently hanging in the balance: the health-care reform bill and the climate change bill. If I were a betting man (which I'm not), I'd say that because of the outcome of the Massachusetts Senate race, climate policy is dead for 2010 (and maybe longer) and health-care reform is on life-support, now that Republicans have the numbers to prevent cloture on debate.

There are, however, two reasons to hold out hope for climate legislation this year: (1) The Democratic leadership might be able to sweeten the pot sufficiently to attract either or both of Maine's moderate Republic Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to break ranks; (2) the threat of EPA regulation of greenhouse gases is still out there, and some Republican senators might well conclude that the existing legislation proposal is the lesser of two evils. There is currently a movement among Republic lawmakers to remove the threat of EPA regulation by legislative amendment of the Clean Air Act (see here), but such a measure has no hope of passing, given the current composition of Congress.

As I've previously noted, I hope the climate bill passes not because I think it's all that great (at best, it is only marginally better than nothing), but because I think it moves the country in the right direction on climate change for the first time in more than a decade. My hope is that, if enacted, it would be improved by amendments over the next several years. It would not be a disaster, however, if it is not enacted at this point. A bigger disaster would be if the cap-and-trade provisions were excised from the bill, leaving only the subsidies for renewable energy production.

The Creation "Museum"

A.A. Gill has a very humorous piece in the new Vanity Fair (here) about his visit to the "Creation Argument, err, Museum" in Northern Kentucky:

The Creation Museum isn’t really a museum at all. It’s an argument. It’s not even an argument. It’s the ammunition for an argument. It is the Word made into bullets. An armory of righteous revisionism. This whole building is devoted to the literal veracity of the first 11 chapters of Genesis: God created the world in six days, and the whole thing is no more than 6,000 years old. Everything came at once, soTyrannosaurus rex and Noah shared a cabin. That’s an awful lot of explaining to do. This place doesn’t just take on evolution—it squares off with geology, anthropology, paleontology, history, chemistry, astronomy, zoology, biology, and good taste. It directly and boldly contradicts most -onomies and all -ologies, including most theology.
I'd like to take my kids there for a visit. Here's a photo of one very funny panorama in the museum:

















Hat tip: The Browser.com

The Effects of Mandatory Helmet Laws on Cycling


In yesterday's New York Times, Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame, wrote (here) about this new study, which finds that mandatory helmet laws, currently in effect in 21 states, do three things, two of which are intended and one of which is unintended. The two intended effects are to increase the rate of helmet use and reduce the rate of cycling fatalities. So far, so good. However, mandatory cycling laws also tend to discourage cycling among youth who (a) cannot afford helmets or (b) consider helmets "uncool."

Two things strike me about both the study and Dubner's assessment of it. First, why should anyone be surprised that mandatory helmet laws would affect the rate of cycling. It is well understood in the Law and Economics literature that strict liability rules affect both the level of care and activity levels. So, for example, road builders who use dynamite for blasting are strictly liable for any damage they cause to neighboring properties. This leads them to be very careful in using dynamite and to use bulldozers instead of dynamite whenever feasible. A mandatory helmet law is like a strict liability rule in that riding without one imposes automatic, strict liability. Therefore, we should not be particularly surprised that it has the effects of a strict liability rule in both increasing the use of helmets and discouraging some amount of cycling.

Second, if cycling helmets are so "uncool," why are we witnessing (at least anecdotally) a strong trend in favor of helmeted snow-boarders, as this recent NY Times article suggests?

The real question, from my perspective, is whether society considers riding without helmets to be so dangerous that it would rather reduce the overall amount of cycling than tolerate higher levels of helmet-less cycling. To me, as an experienced cyclist who has been involved in his share of accidents (with two cracked helmets sitting on the shelf), the answer to that question is clear: better not to cycle than to cycle without a helmet. My own rule is never to throw my leg over the bike, if I'm not wearing a helmet. And I impose the same rule on my children.

Happy Birthday Walter Piston (1894-1976)

An underrated American composer and excellent scholar. I have recordings of a few of his works, and his books on Orchestration and Harmony.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Year 1 of the Obama Presidency

Andrew Sullivan, writing in The Atlantic (here), has a nicely modulated, fair-minded perspective on the first year of the Obama Administration. Overall, he finds Obama's first year in office to have been quite successful, especially in light of the economic challenges he faced. I tend to agree. I also agree with Sullivan's sense of the President as "a liberal pragmatist in politics and a traditional conservative in his understanding of the presidency" which might explain both the vitriol from the right and the increasing catcalls from the left.

I'm not sure of Obama's approach to the presidency as a recipe for reelection, but so long as he continues to anger the raving lunatics at Fox News as well as Liberals (with a really big 'L') who believed that they were electing a combination of Moses and Noam Chomsky, my own vote for reelection is reasonably secure.

New Bikes from Super Mario

Former great Italian sprinter Mario Cippolini has created his own bike manufacturing company, MCippolini, which will be ridden by Italian pro team ISD this year. Not surprisingly, Cippo refers to his own bikes as "egoistical." Word has it that Cippo also had a hand in the design and coloring of ISD's team clothing.

















Are all great former Italian cyclists required by national law to start their own bike companies?

Hat tip: Italiancyclingjournal.blogspot.com

Travel Day

On the way home from Phoenix today, with the hope of making it to winter training at the bike shop this evening. I need it.

Happy Birthday Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)


Monday, January 18, 2010

Senate Rules I Didn't Know

I was surprised, when I read this piece in the Washington Post, to learn that a reconciled health-care bill will still be subject to a possible Senate filibuster. If Republican Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley in the election to replace the late Ted Kennedy in the Senate, that might provide a 41st vote against cloture on health care reform.

I had been under the misimpression that once a bill was approved by the Senate and sent to conference committee for reconciliation, it returned to the Senate only for an up-or-down simple majority vote. Apparently, that is only the case with respect to appropriations bills. Thus, a super-majority cloture vote can be required twice for what is in essence the same piece of legislation.

Relevant Senate rules and procedures governing consideration of reconciled bills are discussed in this CRS report.

World's Most Expensive Bicycle

Danish design company Arumania offers a limited edition of these hand-made track bikes (see below), with tubes, forks, and rims plated in 24-carat gold and inlaid with 600 Swarovski crystals. If you need to ask the price, you cannot afford the bike (it's 80,000 Euros, about $115,000). If you're going to race it, I'd recommend buying two, just in case one has to go in the shop, e.g., for polishing.



















Hat tip: Velonews Buyer's Guide (Vol. 39 2010).

Apologies

It has come to my attention that several people have tried to leave comments on posts over the past several weeks, but the comments never appeared on the blog. I think I have now corrected this problem. I sincerely apologize to those of you who cared enough to post a comment in the past, and I hope you will be willing to leave comments in the future.

A "River Walk" in the Desert?

This is the first time I have been in Arizona for a couple of years. Since my last visit here, Scottsdale has engineeered a "River Walk" (pictured below) as part of its downtown development plan. I don't know whether the more famous River Walk in San Antonio, Texas was the inspiration, but the Scottsdale River Walk is not especially attractive. In another sense, however, it does make for an interesting analogy with the San Antonio River Walk.

















As Rob Glennon notes in his brilliant 2002 book, Water Follies, San Antonio's River Walk (pictured below) is based on a fake - or "Disneyfied" - river that ran dry early in the 20th century. The river has been artificially recreated by pumping increasingly scarce groundwater.

















One important difference between the San Antonio River Walk and the Scottsdale River Walk is that the water for the later is not groundwater, but comes from Arizona's allocation of Colorado River water. In fact, the Scottsdale River Walk really should be referred to as a canal walk, more properly analogous to, but still less attractive than, the one in my hometown of Indianapolis (pictured below). To the extent that the development along the canal in Scottsdale shades it from the hot sun, reduced evaporation may be an environmental benefit.


Bravo Boise

To go along with the State of Idaho's enlightened approach to cycling safety, the city of Boise has enacted a new ordinance designed to maximize the safety of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. According to this report at BikeRadar.com:  
The new ordinance states that drivers must yield to cyclists at intersections, provide a minimum distance of three feet when passing a cyclist and cannot cut bicycles off when turning. Furthermore, cyclists cannot ride recklessly or in crowded pedestrian areas and must give a warning before passing a pedestrian on the sidewalk. Lastly, motorists cannot intentionally intimidate or harass cyclists.

Happy 32d Birthday Thor Hushovd

The "God of Thunder."


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Airplane Reading

I have taken the blog on the road today to warm and (hopefully) soon to be sunny Phoenix, Arizona. On the flight, I had time to read a few new articles that have been sitting on my desk for a bit. Two of them worth recommending highly:

Sheila M. Olmstead, "The Economics of Water Quality," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 4(1):44-62 (2010), is an excellent literature survey on cost-benefit analyses and more general social welfare effects of water pollution control. According to the literature, "provision of piped drinking water has very high net economic benefits, due to is potential to reduce acute illness and death, particularly among young children.... Improved sanitation also has high economic benefits through its impact on reducing exposure to waterborne contaminants." No real surprise there. Among industrialized countries, the stringency of water pollution regulations has been increasing to a point where the costs of further national regulation may in many cases outweigh the benefits. Olmstead hypothesizes that national minimum water quality standards make sense economically only up to a certain point beyond which local or regional regulations may be more efficient.

Martin L. Weitzman, "Risk-Adjusted Gamma Discounting," NBER Working Paper 15588 (Dec. 2009). This paper strikes me, like just about all of Marty's work, as an extremely important contribution to the literature on cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of long-term social problems and policies, such as climate change. In the paper, Marty does something with a very simple model that is highly counterintuitive but potentially game-changing:
[T]he standard normative interpretation of the Ramsey formula [r = p + ng, where r is the social discount rate, p is the pure rate of time preference, n  is the measure of relative risk aversion, and g is the expected rate of growth in consumption] is that the future growth rate g ismore or less exogenously given and, for postulated n, it determines the appropriate r for CBA.... In this paper the causality is reversed. For any exogenously given productivity r, CRRA [Constant Relative Risk Aversion] coefficient n implies a corresponding endogenously chosen value of the growth rate g = r/n and initial consumption level.... [U]nder uncertainty it turns out that the direction of causality between r and g matters.
* * *
[T]he ultimate goal of this paper ... will be to show that under uncertainty, even with expected discount rates [values of r] as high as 6%, the "effective" discount rate, which "ought" to be used, can be much lower than 6%.
The take away point is that fear over even small possibilities of great reductions in future productivity, combined with a fairly realistic degree of risk aversion, should transfer some amount of present consumption to the future as a matter of insurance against future losses to productivity. This really does not seem so different from the conclusion other economists have reached when hypothesizing about the potential for negative real growth rates as a result of potential climate catastrophes. See, e.g., Dasgupta, P., K.-G. Maler, and S. Barrett (1999), "Intergenerational Equity, Social Discount Rates, and Global Warming", in P.R. Portney and J.P. Weyant, eds. (1999). However, it is Marty's way of getting to the same place that is so interesting and, perhaps, groundbreaking.

By the way, it is interesting that Marty adopts a pure rate of time preference of 0, in accordance with Ramsey's preference. But unlike Lord Stern, this does not lead Marty to conclude that the social discount rate is 0 or nearly 0. Marty shows that even with a 0 value of pure time preference, a social discount rate of around 6% can make sense. Meanwhile, he shows that such a social discount rate might itself have to be discounted because of uncertainties over future discount rates!!!! So, observing a current discount rate of 6% might imply the use of a lower discount rate for long-run policies to ameliorate social-cost problems. Fascinating stuff.

Happy Birthday Madam First Lady


Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Political Lunacy on the Haiti Crisis

It was bad enough when Rush Limbaugh called the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath "made to order" for the Obama Administration (see here), and even worse when Limbaugh added that Americans shouldn't bother making donations for earthquake relief because we've already given via our income taxes (see here), and even worse than that when Pat Robertson suggested that the Haitians brought it on themselves after they made a deal with the devil to get rid of their colonial French masters (see here).

Now comes the Irish columnist Patrick Cockburn's piece of tripe, err, opinion piece in today's Independent (here), which argues that the US government has (already) failed Haiti just like it failed New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I won't bother to point out all of the errors in Cockburn's thinking (if one can call it "thinking"); doing so would reflect more credit on his execrable column than it deserves. Instead, I will merely suggest that Cockburn, Limbaugh, and Robertson should be required to spend a week shackled together roaming the rubble-filled streets Port au Prince.

Funny, but Newsworthy?

The Times reports (here) that a group weigh-in at a Weight Watchers meeting in Sweden was disrupted when the floor began to collapse. What could possibly make this story newsworthy, apart from some editor's cynical expectation that readers take an almost juvenile pleasure in others' misfortunes (schadenfreude). Sadly, that expectation seems to be justified. The story is the second most read article at timesonline.co.uk today. And, after all, I am blogging about it.

Getting Further Behind the Climate Curve

According to this report in The Guardian, scientists have discovered the methane emissions from thawing arctic permafrost increased by 31% between 2003 and 2007. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, 20 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide, but carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere much longer.


Gunners Make Another Signing

Soccernet.espn.com is reporting (here) that Arsenal have signed Bolivian midfielder Samuel Galindo. This is more like the normal signing for Arsene Wenger. Galindo is 6'2", plays central midfield, and is 17 years old. Wenger plans to loan him out to a Spanish club at first to get him some seasoning.

Happy Birthday Frank Zamboni (1901-1988)


The most important man in the history of hockey.


Happy 22d Birthday Nicklas Bendtner

Heal up quickly. The Gunners need you.