Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obama Opens Coastal Areas to Oil Drilling

President Obama today announced plans to open vast new stretches of coastline to oil and gas drilling. The New York Times has the story here. The President claims that the plan "would balance the need to produce more domestic energy while protecting natural resources, would allow drilling along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska. It would end a longstanding moratorium on exploration from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean."

The plan is already being criticized on both sides: by environmentalists who argue that it will do nothing to improve American energy "security" (whatever the hell that is) while substantially increasing risks to marine wildlife and coastal ecosystems; by oil industry types and their Republic supporters in Congress who claim that the plan leaves too many coastal areas off-limits to oil drilling. Both sides are right.

This is precisely the kind of split-the-difference, conciliatory Obama approach to policy - similar to his initial forays into health care reform, before he was finally forced to stick his neck out - that pleases no one and pisses off everyone. I thought the health care reform process might have taught him the political value of strongly supporting a set of principles he believes in. Apparently not. Based on this off-shore oil drilling plan, it's not at all clear what the hell he believes in. 

Interview with Elinor Ostrom at Yes Magazine

You can read the interview, which is excellent, here.

Hat tip: Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution

Books I've Been Reading Lately

John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson (Knopf 2009).
A mostly interesting bio of a not-particularly exciting subject.

Anthony Scott, The Evolution of Resource Property Rights (Oxford 2008).
Professor Scott, who did seminal work in fisheries economics in the 1950s, has now published a magnum opus, which is amazing for the depth of legal, as well as economic, analysis.

Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial (MIT Press 1969).
Okay, I'm re-reading this book - a lingering part of my summer 2009 commitment to read or re-read all of Simon's major works. All economists should read Chapter 2 (at least) of this book.

Winston S. Churchill, The New World, Volume II of A History of the English Speaking Peoples (Barnes & Nobel 1956).
Fun and beautifully written.

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Random House 2010).
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Big Champions League Match

Arsenal host Barcelona in the first-leg of their quarter-final confrontation in the Champions League. They are probably the two most positive and stylish footballing clubs in the world. But Arsenal may be without their best player, Cesc Fabregas (who ironically was a junior player at Barca before moving to the London club at age 15). Barca will be without influential midfielder Andres Iniesta. They will, however, have super-superstar Lionel Messi, who lately has been playing (and scoring) like no soccer player on the planet ever has.

I cannot expect my beloved Gunners to prevail in the home-and-home series (although I would jump for joy if they did). In any case, the quality of football on display should be stunning. Every soccer fan in the world should be tuned into these matches.

UPDATE: After going down 2-0 just after halftime, Arsenal fought hard to recover a 2-2 tie. In a sense, it was a moral victory, but a very costly one: Arshavin limped off before halftime and is out for 3 weeks with a calf problem; Gallas was stretchered off before halftime and is out for the season; and the inspirational Cesc Fabregas, who tied the game on a late penalty, spent the final few minutes hobbling on what might be a broken leg. Thanks to their two away goals, Barcelona must be heavily favored to go through to the next round. Meanwhile, Arsenal will be left extremely short-handed as they try desperately to compete with Chelsea and ManU for the Premier League championship.

"Property Rights"

For those who prefer their explanations of property theory to come with formal mathematical models, Ilya Segal (Stanford) and Michael D. Whinston (Northwestern) have posted this working paper at SSRN, which will be published as a chapter in the forthcoming Handbook of Organizational Economics (Gibbons and Roberts, eds, Princeton University Press).

The chapter seems comprehensive and useful (with or without the math).

Happy Birthday Papa Haydn (1732-1809)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Judges Acting Like Academics

Over at Concurring Opinions, Lawrence Cunningham has a nice post about the Supreme Court's unanimous  vacating the 7th Circuit's ruling in Jones v. Harris. The Court expressly rebuked Judges Easterbrook, who wrote the majority opinion, and Posner, who dissented, for holding an academic debate about the economic wisdom of the statute they were supposed to be applying, not judging: "The debate between the Seventh Circuit panel and the dissent from the denial of rehearing regarding today's mutual fund market is a matter for Congress, not the courts."

Need to Ride

I've been off the bike for a week, and desperately need to get in at least an hour and a half of hard intervals this afternoon (no training ride this evening because of Passover seder). Before I can get out on the bike, however, I need to work ahead on class preps for tomorrow and next Monday. So, don't look for much more blogging from me today.

UPDATE: I got out for only 50 minutes, and my woeful set of intervals confirmed what I had been suspecting: I've lost a substantial amount of fitness over the last several weeks of only intermittent riding. Time to HTFU, ride more, and ride harder.

President Obama's Proposed Legislation to Regulate Financial Services

Just in case you want to educate yourself about what's actually in the legislation, before all the spinning and counter-spinning start.

senate finance bill -

Not Recommended Reading: The Health Care Reform Bill As Enacted

But if you really, really want to...

Health Care Reform Bill -

Happy Birthday Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Monday, March 29, 2010

What If Israel Attacked Iran's Nuclear Facilities?

This was the question asked by researchers at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, when they held a day-long war game between three players - Israel, Iran, and the US - each making three moves, with the first being Israel's unprovoked strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Kenneth M. Pollack, Director of the Saban Center, reports on the results of the game here.
One of the most important points that the stimulation illustrated was the danger for Israel that any strike against Iran could well force Jerusalem to mount major counter-terror operations against Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
It goes without saying that such simulations cannot replicate the strategic decisions made in the heat of actual conflict. So, it is never easy to determine how realistic are the outcomes of stimulations. But they are a useful exercise for policy makers, and we might well presume that other versions of the Saban Center's simulation have been or are being carried out in Israel and Iran.

Some Recommended Readings for Monday, March 29, 2010

Daryl Levinson, "Parchment and Politics: The Positive Puzzle of Constitutional Commitment."

Arthur G. Fraas, "The Treatment of Uncertainty in EPA's Analysis of Air Pollution Rules," RFF DP 10-04 (Feb. 2010).

Shi-Ling Hsu, "A Game-Theoretic Model of International Climate Change Negotiations."

Christine Wiedinmyer and Matthew D. Hurteau, "Prescribed Fire As a Means of Reducing Forest Carbon Emissions in the Western United States," Environ. Sci. Technol. 44:1926-1932 (2010).

David Vogel, Michael Toffel, Diahanna Post, and Nazli Z. Uludere Aragon, "Environmental Federalism in the European Union and the United States," Harvard Business School Working Paper 10-085 (2010).

U.S. General Accounting Office, "Climate Change: Observations on Options for Selling Emissions Allowances in a Cap-and-Trade Program," GAO-10-377 (Feb. 2010).

Larry Hardesty, "What computer science can teach economics," MIT News (Nov. 9, 2009).

The Universe of Information

Technology Review (here) has a fascinating account of a new theory of quantum physics according to which the basis of gravity - indeed, the basis of the entire universe - is information. As I non-scientist, I have no idea what to make of this; the implications seem both baffling and very exciting.

Becker and Posner on Health Care Reform

Becker finds nothing to like, and believes that real reform would be deregulatory. Posner finds several things to like in the health care reform legislation, but thinks it's a budget buster that moves the US in the direction of a  Greek-style economic melt-down, which he thinks might be a good thing for the US because it might finally force the federal government toward more efficient institutions. Their full analyses are here at the Becker-Posner blog.

I would agree that the reform legislation is likely, in the long-run (i.e., after all its provisions are implemented, which will not be for some time), to increase the budget deficit at least marginally, but will it threaten the overall stability of the US economy? It seems doubtful. Becker characteristically pretends that there is nothing structurally wrong with health care markets, aside from too much government interference; he blissfully ignores the fact that other advanced, industrial democracies obtain similar overall health outcomes at far lower cost than the US. Posner's view of the legislation is more nuanced and realistic, but the implicit prediction of doom in his analogy to Greece seems entirely too far-fetched. My relatively uneducated guess is that the CBO scoring of the health care reform bill will prove to have substantially underestimated the costs, but that the excess costs will not be nearly as great as Posner supposes.

Happy 81st Birthday Richard Lewontin

Lewontin has made important contributions to evolutionary biology and established a mathematical basis for population genetics. I still have his book The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change (Columbia 1974) on my bookshelf from when I was a graduate student at Chicago studying philosophy of science. 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Post-SELE Blues

I'm back home now from the second annual meeting of the Society for Environmental Law and Economics in Atlanta. Very sad to leave my new and old SELE friends. Even more sad to come back with class preps to finish for 4 hours of teaching tomorrow. Such is life.

Happy 68th Birthday Jerry Sloan

My favorite player, when I was a kid, growing up in Chicago.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Gunners Lose Ground

When I last checked the match before lunch, Arsenal were up 1-0 in the 82d minute. I returned from lunch to find that Birmingham City tied the match at 1-1. This is a dispiriting result, especially given Chelsea's 7-1 romp at Aston Villa. Arsenal couldn't afford the 2 points they dropped today. If they are to have any chance of winning the Premiership, I think they will have to win out their remaining matches. The Gunners cannot expect Chelsea and Manchester United, who still have to face one another, to drop enough points in their remaining games to permit Arsenal another slip up.

Bravo Fabian!

Fabian Cancellara pulls away from Tom Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha in the last two kilometers to win the E3 Prijs Vlaanderan. Sounds like it was a great race. Wish I could have seen it. Tomorrow, the Criterium Internationale pits Lance Armstrong against former teammate and still rival Alberto Contador. I would be surprised if either winds up on the top step of the podium, but the rivalry adds a bit of extra luster to this particularly Spring Classic.

Day Two of SELE (2010)

Today, we have 5 panels on: Enforcement; Tax and Environmental Regulation; Environmental Law and Other Disciplines; Benefit Cost Analysis; and Distributional Considerations. Presenters, coming from universities and research institutions in six different countries, including Julie Steiner (St. Johns); Howard Chang (Penn); Christian Langpap (Oregon State); Yoram Margalioth (Tel Aviv); Josephine van Zeben (Amsterdam); Mauel Utset (Florida State); Celeste Black (Sydney); Suzanne Kingston (University College, Dublin); Jim May (Widener); Douglas Noonan (Georgia Tech); Jose G. Vargas-Hernandez (Guadalajara); Peter Appel (Georgia); Tracey Roberts (Vanderbilt); and Jonathan Nash (Emory). I might also add, in this context, that during the last session yesterday, Akanksha Bhagat of the National Law School of the University of India, gave a remote presentation on market-based approaches to endangered species protection.

In just its second year of existence, the Society for Environmental Law and Economics has grown into a truly global organization.

Happy Birthday Heinrich Mann (1871-1950)

Elder brother of Thomas Mann, and a wonderful novelist in his own right, including Professor Unrat (which was adapted into the film The Blue Angel), Man of Straw, and my favorite, the two-volume fictionalized biography of King Henry IV of France (Young Henry of Navarre and Henry, King of France).


Friday, March 26, 2010

The View at SELE (2010)

My buddy and co-organizer Shi-Ling Hsu is at the podium presenting a paper on a game-theoretic model of international climate negotiations.

More Live Blogging from SELE (2010)

This afternoon, several papers on REDD, the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. This is, in my view, mainly a program for distributing resources (that is, cash money) from developed to developing countries for the ostensible purpose of conserving forests that are carbon sinks and, thus, mitigate carbon emissions.

The monitoring and verification problems associated with implementing REDD are almost innumerable and very serious. Among other things, if a certain area of forest is protected pursuant to some REDD-related agreement, what's to prevent forest users from merely cutting down more trees in some other, unprotected forest area, thereby undermining any emissions savings from the REDD-related agreement. Moreover, what constitutes "deforestation" under REDD is not entirely clear. Would agreements allow for prescribed burns that might minimize the deleterious effects of wildfires? A study in the current issue of Environmental Science and Technology (here) finds that prescribed burns can actually reduce net carbon emissions from specific forests between 18-60% by reducing fuel for wildfires. 

My Panel at SELE (2010)

My paper (with Peter Grossman) on why the game-theoretic treatment of Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" (the Herder Problem) is wrong, and how it might be improved, was well received. Paul Rubin, the commentator, called it a "nice paper" (high praise indeed).

The other paper on the panel was by Dan Kelly (Notre Dame) on "Strategic Spillovers." It's a very interesting paper on strategic decisions to create, or threaten to create, negative externalities that would not otherwise be created but for institutional mechanisms that provide possible pay-offs to avoid them.

OECD on Social Mobility

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has a new publication on Economic Policy Reforms. Chapter 5 of that publication (here) compares social mobility - the extent to which people moving up and down the prosperity ladder - in all the OECD countries. Interestingly, and contrary to the conventional wisdom, "[m]obility in earnings, wages and education across generations is low in France, southern European countries, the United Kingdom, and the United States. By contrast, such mobility tends to be higher in Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries."

What are the reasons for this? Among other factors, the OECD finds that "[r]edistributive and income support policies seem to enhance intergenerational social mobility." Presumably, higher inheritance taxes would also be associated with higher levels of social mobility. As a Property Law scholar, I also wonder about the effects of the growth of dynastic trusts (and the decline of the Rule Against Perpetuities) on the relative lack of downward social mobility in the US. 

Live Blogging from SELE (2010)

It's day one of the second annual meeting of the Society for Environmental Law and Economics at Emory Law School in Atlanta. The first panel is on Environmental Decisionmaking and Benefit-Cost Analysis, with two very good papers by Matt Adler (Penn), on "Future Generations: A Prioritarian View," and Jonathan Masur and Eric Posner (Chicago) "Against Feasibility Analysis." Right now, Sasha Volokh (Emory) is commenting on both papers.

Nearly all of the conference papers can be read here.

The Economist Assesses Health Care Reform

Here. The bottom line:
What will it mean for America? The short answer is that the reforms will expand coverage dramatically, but at a heavy cost to the taxpayer. They will also do far too little to rein in the underlying drivers of America’s roaring health inflation. Analysis by RAND, an independent think-tank, suggests that the reforms will actually increase America’s overall health spending—public plus private—by about 2% by 2020, in comparison with a scenario of no reform (see chart). And that rate of spending was already unsustainable at a time when the baby-boomers are starting to retire in large numbers.

Unemployment in Various Recessions

The current recession is much worse than any other recession since the Great Depression. But I didn't need to tell you that.

Hat tip: Mark Thoma at Economist's View and Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution

Happy 69th Birthday Richard Dawkins

First-rate philosopher of science and public intellectual.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

E-Boarding Passes

On this morning's flight to Atlanta, I used an e-boarding pass for the first time. It was easy. When I checked in for my flight on the home computer, Delta sent the boarding pass to my cell phone. On the e-boarding pass was something similar to a bar code. At security and at the gate, I simply scanned my cell phone instead of a paper boarding pass. Easy and cool. It probably didn't save much time, but at least it saved a piece of paper.

Hahn and Stavins Are Pushing My Buttons

Over at Resources for the Future, Bob Hahn and Robert Stavins have posted a new discussion paper (here) on the implications of the "Coase Theorem" for the allocation of emissions allowances in a cap-and-trade system.

The Coase Theorem basically says that entitlements to resources will ultimately be allocated by the market (or by some central planner, as Steve Cheung pointed out) to maximize efficiency, regardless of the initial allocation, so long as transaction costs are zero and the other standard assumptions of neoclassical economic theory hold. Hahn and Stavins refer to market reallocations that improve efficiency regardless of initial allocations as the "independence property" of the "Coase Theorem." They note that "[a] number of factors call the independence property into question theoretically, including market power, transaction costs, non-cost-minimizing behavior, and conditional allowance allocations. However, "in practice," they find, "support for the independence property in some, but not all cap-and-trade applications."

 I do not doubt their empirical finding for a moment. Markets often do manage to reallocate entitlements to more highly valued uses. But - and this cannot be over-stressed - that has nothing to do with the "Coase Theorem." As Coase himself has noted time and time again, the assumptions behind that theorem, including most importantly the assumption of zero transaction costs, never hold in the real world. When market reallocations improve efficiency, it is not because of the "independence property" of the "Coase Theorem"; it is in spite of the existence of positive transaction costs and other impediments to transacting. Always.

It would be useful for economists (and legal scholars) to bear in mind that the "Coase Theorem" doesn't posit that markets will sometimes reallocate property rights to improve efficiency; it posits that they will never fail to do so under the conditions specified in neoclassical economic theory. Those are two very different propositions, with very different implications. In finding that emissions markets sometimes, but don't always reallocate allowances to maximize efficiency, Hahn and Stavins are only telling us something we should already know: that the "Coase Theorem" does not apply, and has no implications for cap-and-trade regimes in the real world.

Society for Environmental Law and Economics

This morning, I'm heading to Emory University in Atlanta for the second annual meeting of the Society for Environmental Law & Economics, of which I am a founder. I'll be presenting a paper tomorrow, co-authored by Peter Grossman, called "Institutions Matter! Why the Herder Problem Is Not a Prisoners' Dilemma." The paper concerns the (mis)treatment of Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" in the game-theory literature, and why the Herder Problem is more in the nature of a what Amartya Sen calls an "Assurance Game" than a Prisoners' Dilemma. A prepublication version of the paper can be downloaded here.

I will likely do some live blogging from the conference, which runs through Saturday.

Happy Birthday Norman Borlaug (1914-2009)

The great agronomist, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize recipient for launching the Green Revolution and  saving millions (or more) from starvation by introducing semi-dwarf, high-yielding, and disease-resistant varieties of wheat in places such as Mexico, India, and Africa.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"The Museum of Innocence"

I just finished reading Orhan Pamuk's, The Museum of Innocence (Knopf 2009). I have been a fan of Pamuk's work since he published Snow in 2004, which is still my favorite of his books. Known for the emotional aloofness of his writing, and an increasing propensity to a form of post-modernism in some of his more recent works, The Museum of Innocence seems almost an antithesis of all of Pamuk's previous novels. The writing, as always, is beautiful, but the narrative seems more accessible than usual, and he tells the story in a more straightforward way.

I did not learn as much about Turkey or, for lack of a better word, Turkishness from this book as from Pamuk's earlier novels. The characters, while fully realized, did not elicit from me either sympathy or empathy, although perhaps that was not Pamuk's intention. What appears to be a heart-rending romance is really, at bottom, a tale about the destructive potential of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As such, it was not an easy book to read.

10 Highly Influential Books

The listing of influential books has gone viral in the blogosphere. Here are my own contributions, starting with two books that taught me about what legal scholarship could aspire to be:

1. J. Willard Hurst, Law and Economic Growth: The Legal History of the Lumber Industry in Wisconsin, 1836-1915 (University of Wisconsin Press 1964).

2. Robert C. Ellickson, Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes (Harvard 1991).

3. Thomas C. Schelling, Choice and Consequence: Perspectives of an errant economist (Harvard 1984) (it was only later that I read Tom's Micromotives and Macrobehavior, which quite rightly figures prominently on many others' lists of most influential books).

4.  Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge 1990).

5.  J.H. Dales, Pollution, Property and Prices: An Essay in Policy-making and Economics (Toronto 1968).

6.  Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle (Random House 1941).

7. Karl R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (Routledge 1963).

8. Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924).

9.  Janos Kornai, The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism (Princeton 1992).

10. Herbert Simon, Models of My Life (Basic Books 1991)

Needless to say, if Ronald Coase had published "The Problem of Social Cost" (1960) as a book, rather than an article, it would be at the top of my list. Other influential works that didn't quite make the cut include Kant's Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Henry Louis de la Grange's multi-volume biography of Gustav Mahler, Leszek Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism, various works by John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868) (an under-appreciated study of artificial, in contrast to natural, selection), Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), and last, but by no means least, Doug North's Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (Cambridge 1990).

Can the Federal Government Force Private Citizens to Buy Things?

Perhaps the most significant potential constitutional issue arising from passage of the Senate health care reform bill concerns the so-called "individual mandate," which will require nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance from some private provider. The purpose of the mandate is to reduce the adverse selection problem  that contributes significantly to rising health-care costs, as healthy folks drop insurance, leaving only the sick in insurance pools (see here).

Some are arguing that this is the first time the federal government has ever required individual Americans to purchase goods, and that it is unconstitutional. Ian Millhiser, over at Think Progress, notes that this argument would have surprised George Washington, who signed into law the Second Militia Act of 1792, which included the following provision:
[E]very citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack. That the commissioned Officers shall severally be armed with a sword or hanger, and espontoon; and that from and after five years from the passing of this Act, all muskets from arming the militia as is herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound; and every citizen so enrolled, and providing himself with the arms, ammunition and accoutrements, required as aforesaid, shall hold the same exempted from all suits, distresses, executions or sales, for debt or for the payment of taxes. (Emphasis added)
Hat tip: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal 

Best Headline I Read This Morning

From Crooked Timber: "The Liberal Fascist Octopus Has Sung Its Swan Song, the Jackboot Is Thrown into the Super Conducting Super Collider of Culture-war Melting Pot Calling the Kettle Black!"  

Least Appealing Headline I Read This Morning

From the Telegraph (here): "Dung Beetles' Sneaky Sex Lives Revealed."

Happy 61st Birthday Nick Lowe

The "Jesus of Cool."

Here's a great video of Nick singing his song "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?" with Elvis Costello:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thomas Jefferson on Government Innovations and "Slender Majorities"

In the debate over health care reform, many commentators, including my colleague Gerard Magliocca (here), have trotted out a quote from a private letter Thomas Jefferson wrote as President in 1808: "Great innovations should not be forced upon slender majorities." This quote is used to argue that any policy change as significant as health care reform should not occur without the approval of a large majority.

I wondered about the context of Jefferson's quote, and managed to find the entire letter. Here's a larger segment from it:
we must depend on a classified militia, which will give us the service of the class from 20 to 26, in the nature of conscripts, composing a body of about 250,000, to be specially trained. This measure, attempted at a former session, was pressed at the last, and might, I think, have been carried by a small majority. But considering that great innovations should not be forced on a slender majority, and seeing that the general opinion is sensibly rallying to it, it was thought better to let it lie over to the next session, when, I trust, it will be passed.
 The context was military conscription, something that had never been done before, and the larger quotation suggests that Jefferson was being strategic, figuring that a larger majority would support the measure in the next session. I don't know whether or how this context affects the use of the quote with respect to health care reform, but at least two differences are apparent: Congress has enacted similar entitlement programs in the past and there was no likelihood of a larger majority in favor of health care reform in the next session of Congress.

Jon Stewart Does Glenn Beck - Hilarious

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Glaeser on Pure v. Pragmatic Libertarianism

Harvard Econ Professor Ed Glaeser has a thoughtful piece in today's New York Times on the distinction between "pure" and "pragmatic" libertarianism (here). The only problem is that what he defines as "pragmatic libertarianism" seems to me generally indistinguishable from Social-welfare Economics or New Institutional Economics. For instance, he writes that "[t]o the pragmatic libertarian, the question of whether to act or not on global warming comes to down to costs and benefits, not any philosophical objection to restricting pollution." I just don't see any semblance of "libertarianism" in that assertion. Which is not to say that I disagree with it. But neither would any economist I know, including those who do not ascribe to any particular variant of libertarianism.

Happy 42d Birthday Damon Albarn

An extraordinary musician and composer. Below is one of my favorite songs of his Gorillaz project, "Hong Kong":

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Tragedy of the Commons

This episode of 60 minutes explains how bluefin tuna populations are decimated by a combination of rising demand and lack of property rights in the fish prior to extraction:

Hat tip: See the Invisible Hand

New NAS Report on Verification of Greenhouse Gas Emission

The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has just released (here) a prepublication version of an interesting report on "Verifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Methods to Support International Climate Agreements." Here's the conclusion from the report's Summary:
The report concludes that each country could estimate fossil-fuel CO2 emissions accurately enough to support monitoring of a climate treaty. However, current methods are not sufficiently accurate to check these self-reported estimates against independent data (e.g., remote sensing, atmospheric measurements) or to estimate other greenhouse gas emissions. Strategic investments would, within 5 years, improve reporting of emissions by countries and yield a useful capability for independent verification of greenhouse gas emissions reported by countries.... [B]y using improved methods, fossil-fuel CO2 emissions could be estimated by each country and checked using independent information with less than 10 percent uncertainty. The same is true for satellite-based estimates of deforestation, which is the largest source of CO2 emissions next to fossil-fuel use, and for afforestation, which is an important sink for CO2. However, self-reported estimates of N20, CH4, CFC, HFC, PFC, and SF6 emissions will continue to be relatively uncertain and we will have only a limited ability to check them with independent information.
This conclusion lends support to my recommendation that, instead of a comprehensive regulatory scheme covering all greenhouse gases and sources, both the international community and the US, domestically, should follow the EU's lead in focusing on CO2, at least for the near- to mid-term.

Who Are You and What Have You Done with the Real Paul Krugman?

According to this article in last Friday's Telegraph, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman wants the US government to slap a 25% import tariff on Chinese goods in order to force the Chinese government to raise the value of its currency (the yuan renminbi). This kind of naive protectionism - naive for thinking that China could be so easily bullied by US tariffs - is most surprising given Krugman's reputation as a supporter of free-trade. Perhaps he should re-read his own book, Pop Internationalism.

It's difficult for me to see how Krugman's recommendation could possibly do anything other than harm American consumers. It's even more difficult for me to understand how Krugman, of all people, made the recommendation. Perhaps he has finally completed his conversion from respected economist to political shill.

Historic v. Histrionic

If the House passage of health care reform was historic, the tenor of the House debate was histrionic.


I used to wear a LiveStrong wristband in honor of my old and very dear friend Kevin Kelly, who passed away from cancer a few years ago. Now, I have a new wristband to wear for myself, which is very popular among Australian cyclists. A cycling teammate of mine gave it to me. It says simply "HTFC," which stands for "Harden the F*ck Up." The inspiration is from this Australian video:

Wristbands can be ordered here.

In Memoriam: Stewart Udall

Stewart Udall died Saturday at the age of 90. As Interior Secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, Udall played a large part in the preservation of 3.85 million additional acres of public lands, including the creation of 50 new national wildlife refuges and 4 new national parks: Canyonlands (Utah), North Cascades (Washington), Redwood (California), and Guadalupe Mountains (Texas). As an obituary in today's NY Times (here) notes, Udall was able to work effectively with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, reminding us that there was a time when environmental protection was a bipartisan issue.

Watch Messi!

Friends, we are witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, who is still only 22 years old, could well eclipse the accomplishments (and legends) of Diego Maradona, Johann Cruyff, and Pele before his career is finished. Yesterday, Messi scored a hat-trick for Barca against Real Zaragoza, taking his tally to 11 goals in the last 5 games. There are not enough superlatives for the quality, artistry, and dignity (e.g., he never dives) of Messi's game. He is simply a supreme talent.

Here is a video of his famous goal against Getafe in 2007:

Happy 43d Birthday Super Mario

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Frum on the Republic Party's Approach to Health-Care Reform

Former Bush speech-writer David Frum, writing here, thinks the Republican defeat on health care reform will extend well beyond the legislation itself.

Not Exactly Must-see TV

I've been watching some of the 1-minute floor speeches about the House health care reconciliation package on C-SPAN this afternoon. Individual members of Congress, on both sides, are simply reiterating talking points we've been hearing for months. The outcome is pretty much all sewn up: the bill will pass. But the cameras are on and more folks than usual are probably watching, so the politicians, being politicians, cannot help themselves.

Overall, it is much less interesting and exciting viewing than Blackburn's comeback to earn a tie against Chelsea earlier today in the Premier League.

Spring Break Roundup

I wrote a few pages of Chapter 4 of Selling Hot Air: Emissions Trading and Offsets in Climate Policy, and read a lot. Most importantly, after three weeks off the bike, I got 183 miles under my belt since last Monday, including a wet, windy, and cold "recovery" ride this morning with Coach Bob and Dave (sorry about the flat). My legs are toast.

Tomorrow, back to school. I'd better get cracking on some class preps.

Happy Birthday Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

I listen to Bach more than to any other composer.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Congrats to Oscar Freire

He won Milan-San Remo today for the third time, beating Tom Boonen and Ale-jet (Alessandro Petacchi) in a sprint finish.

Cyclingnews has the story here.

Excellent Day for an Endurance Training Ride

Temps in the low 60s. Low humidity. Westerly winds at around 10 mph. A good group of 10 riders, although we lost one early with a broken spoke (sorry Bill). We headed north to Elizaville and then over to Lebanon before heading back toward home. We worked hard, seemingly always with a headwind or crosswind.

The final tally: 50 miles, averaging about 19 mph; normalized power for the ride was 233 Watts. Somehow, at some point, I hit 1000 Watts. Not bad for March.

Thanks to Doctor Attack, Doctor Stevens, Dave and his daughter Meg (who is awesome, by the way), Brian, Kenny, Andy, Rebecca, Tim W., and I'm forgetting someone.

Tomorrow, if the rain holds off in the morning, hill repeats at the Preserve.

Mankiw on CBO's Scoring of Health Care Bill

Harvard Econ Professor, and former head of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, H. Gregory Mankiw, provides a strong warning about putting too much stock in the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) economic analysis of the Senate Health Care Bill. The CBO estimates (here) that the legislation would have significantly reduce projected budget deficits over 10 and 20 years.

Mankiw challenges the CBO's scoring (here) on methodological grounds. Specifically, the CBO presumes constant rates of GDP growth. But Mankiw notes that the bill includes some tax increases on wealthy Americans that must, according to theory (and all else being equal), reduce work effort and, therefore, growth in GDP. This observation if correct, but does it merit the strong warning that Mankiw issues:

I have two concerns about Mankiw's heavy discounting of the CBO scoring. 

(1) It takes a number to beat a number. Mankiw himself does not estimate, or cite any estimates of, (a) the GDP effects of the tax hikes in the health care legislation or (b) the effects of GDP losses from higher taxes on the net benefits (or costs) of the legislation. With respect to (b), he presumes that all else is equal, i.e., that there are no GDP-boosting elements in the health care bill that would offset (or more than offset) those tax hikes. For instance, David Cutler and Neeraj Sood claim (here) that health care reform could add between 250,000 and 400,000 jobs per year to the economy over the next 10 years. If their claim is correct, it would obviously go some way to offsetting the negative GDP effects of the legislation's tax increases. 

(2) Mankiw still hasn't explained why the Clinton tax increases of the early 1990s did not curtail the high levels of GDP growth experienced throughout that decade. Perhaps raising taxes does not always have such deleterious effects on work effort and GDP, at least if there are other countervailing factors favoring high growth rates.

Having said all that, I am highly confident that Mankiw is correct that the CBO's scoring of the health care bill is erroneous. No surprise there. It is a truism that any ex ante economic estimate is going to be found to be in error on any ex post assessment. The goal, of course, is to minimize the range and amplitude of error in ex ante economic estimates. The CBO may not have done that in th case of its scoring of the health care bill; it may even be prevented from doing so by the rules under which it operates. 

Even if assumed, however, that the CBO estimates are off to some significant extent, no one should be prepared to reach the opposite conclusion from the CBO. CBO estimates might be wrong and the health care reform bill could still provide net social benefits. If Mankiw wants to convince us that the health care bill is bad policy, he should give us a better, i.e., more convincing cost-benefit analysis, and not simply criticize the CBO, which, by the way, is something he only seems to do when it supports policies proffered by Democrats. 

Ultimately, all Mankiw's blog has done is to provide political (not economic) cover for Republicans who find the CBO's scoring to be inconvenient.

Happy Birthday B.F. Sknner (1904-1990)

One of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.

Friday, March 19, 2010

No Wonder Europeans Think Americans are Obnoxious

Retired US Marine Corps General John Sheehan, former joint NATO "supreme commander" and apparent lunatic, testified before Congress that the existence of gay soldiers in the Dutch army contributed significantly to the July 1995 disaster in the Bosnian "safe haven" of Srebrenica. The approximately 400 Dutch soldiers charged with defending the town failed to carry out their mission; they were handcuffed to telephone polls and generally humiliated by Serbian forces, who then marched 8,000 Muslim men and boys out of the city and murdered  them.

Needless to say, Dutch officials have contradicted and condemned Sheehan's claim. The Times (UK) has the story here.

Sheehan should be ashamed of himself, should apologize for reinforcing the stereotype of the stupid and boorish American, and should never speak in public again.

Milan-San Remo

Tomorrow is the next true Spring Classic, Milan-San Remo. Here's the race map:

Last year's winner, Mark Cavendish, will be hoping for another sprint finish. So will other contenders, including, Daniele Bennati and Tyler Farrar. Edvald Boassen Hagen could win in a sprint or from a solo break. Fabian Cancellara will look to have a lead going into the last kilometer. Lance Armstrong was scheduled to race Milan-San Remo, but has pulled out because of illness.

Cavendish could well repeat, but I wouldn't bet against Boassen Hagen, who is in fine, early-season form.

Live coverage begins at 10am Saturday on Universal Sports.

CL: Arsenal v. Barcelona

Arsenal have drawn Barcelona in the quarter finals of the Champion's League. It will be something of a rematch of the 2006 Champion's League final, between the two teams who are generally acknowledged to play the most attractive football of any club sides in the world. This is not the draw I would have chosen, if I were Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Barcelona are in a rare vein of form, led by the world's greatest player - by a substantial margin, Lionel Messi, who has scored something like 8 goals in his last 4 Champion's League matches.The Gunners will have to play out of their minds over the two-game series to have any chance of beating the Catalan giants.

Happy 29th Birthday Kolo Toure

Former Arsenal defender (now, sadly, at Manchester City), who played with the "Invicibles" squad of 2003-2004.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Memorable Ride

After nearly three weeks off the bike, I've ridden 105 miles in the past four days. This evening's ride was the best of all, and one I always will remember. Not because it was the first Thursday evening training ride from Nebo Ridge, but because my son rode with me on the "C" group's 17-mile route. We've ridden together before around the neighborhood, but this was his first outdoor training ride on his first road bike, which he received for Christmas. He worked hard, rode well, and we both enjoyed every minute of the ride - something I couldn't have said if I had ridden with the "A" group or the "Killer Bs." But, who knows, by the end of the summer, my son may have worked his way up to the Killer Bs.

Now, if I could only get my wife and daughter on their bikes.

The Disaster of Land Reform in Zimbabwe

Over at the Marginal Revolution blog, friend of Cyclingprof Alex Tabarrok has a splendid account of how land reform in Zimbabwe - which took private land from white farmers and turned it into communally-owned land - has resulted in a true "tragedy of the commons." The photos Alex displays provide stark evidence of how quickly land (and water) can be degraded by bad institutional choices.

I Used to Like Tony Kornheiser

But now the glib, formerly smart, and generally affable radio and TV talk-show host is suggesting that drivers should "run down" cyclists on the roads. As Lance Armstrong says (here), "What a complete f-ing idiot."

Happy Birthday John Updike (1932-2009)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy 46th Birthday Former Arsenal Great Lee Dixon

One-fourth of the greatest set of defenders in English football history.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

News Flash

I did not "win" the first round of the 2010 edition of the Tuesday night World Championships  - the 26-mile (soon to be 30-mile) training loop from the Nebo Ridge Bike Shop - this evening. But it was good to see a lot of friends and teammates I hadn't seen throughout the winter. I dropped out of the lead group at about the halfway point of the ride and, in effect, TT'd my way back solo. I worked pretty hard - normalized power of 252 and max heart rate of 185 - and felt good about the effort.

UPDATE: I later discovered that I had a slow leak in my rear tire from a sidewall puncture that I must have gotten when I hit a bad pothole just north of 32. Glad I was riding 25cm tires; otherwise, I might have bent a rim. Indeed, given the condition of the roads this time of year, I'm surprised that anyone would train on 23cm tires.

Profile of Justice Stevens

Jeffrey Toobin, in the March 22 issue of The New Yorker (here), has an excellent profile of Justice John Paul Stevens, who, as he nears his 90th birthday, is probably hearing his final cases as a member of the Supreme Court.

Happy 21st Birthday Theo Walcott

Monday, March 15, 2010

First Ride in Weeks

I went to see the doctor today about my lingering chest congestion. She gave me a script for antibiotics and, most importantly, cleared me to ride. Fortunately for me, Coach Bob and the boys were scheduled for a "recovery" ride today, which, after three weeks off the bike, was the only type of ride I could manage without getting dropped. Except for a stretch heading south (with the wind) at about 24 mph, everyone was very well behaved, and I got some good miles (28 of them) in my legs.

Tomorrow evening is the first regular Tuesday evening training ride - otherwise known as the Tuesday World Championships -  of 2010 from the Nebo Ridge Bike Shop at 106th and Michigan Rd. I'm sure I'll get tossed out the back as soon as we cross Ind. 32. But give me a few weeks to catch up, and I should be able to stick with the fast group.


Today's Telegraph (here) has some gorgeous photos of Antarctic icebergs taken by Steven Kazlowski.


Elizabeth Kolbert has an interesting review essay on recent happiness research - an emerging subfield of various social sciences - in the March 22, 2010 issue of The New Yorker (here). Using mostly survey techniques, researchers have gotten some intuitive and some counter-intuitive results. As we would expect, wealthier people within a given country tend to be happier than poorer people. More surprisingly, the percentage of Nigerians who consider themselves happy is about equal to the percentage of happy Japanese, even though Japan's Gross Domestic Product is nearly 25-times higher than Nigeria's. Based on such findings, some have hypothesized that happiness is relative to some changeable and usually local baseline.

If happiness is, indeed, relative to some changeable baseline, then I'm not sure that self-reported happiness or unhappiness is a particularly useful guide to public policy. Happiness research might yield some useful information about the declining marginal utility of consumption, a phenomenon Jeremy Bentham pointed out more than two centuries ago. For example, the installation of indoor plumbing is likely to improve people's lives, both objectively (material welfare) and subjectively (happiness), a lot more than a subsequent installation of gold-plated faucets. Beyond that, it's pretty clear that happiness, while an important goal, is not the only goal for most people. That is to say, happiness does not equal preference satisfaction.

Happy 77th Birthday Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Saint-making Fatigue"

Robert Barro, Rachel McCleary, and Alexander McQuoid have a fun and fascinating new article, complete with regressions, on the "Economics of Sainthood" (here). Not surprisingly, they find that the rate of canonization correlates closely with the number of candidates. More interestingly, they find that the rate of canonization falls with the length of a pope's tenure, which is evidence of what they call "saint-making fatigue."

Hat tip: Marginal Revolution

Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District

This past Thursday, the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals (in California) ruled (here) that the "Pledge of Allegiance" does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits the government from institutionalizing a favored set of religious beliefs. As reported at, a 2-1 majority of the court concluded that:
the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress' ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge - its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation's history—demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise. For these reasons, the phrase "one Nation under God" does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity.

Accordingly, we hold that California's statute requiring school districts to begin the school day with an "appropriate patriotic exercise" does not violate the Establishment Clause even though it permits teachers to lead students in recitation of the Pledge.
I am not a Constitutional Law expert. In fact, I believe Constitutional Law (though not the Constitution itself) is more a matter of politics than of law. That said, I respectfully disagree with the 9th Circuit's ruling because it is historically myopic. The court may well be right that "the ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism." That was surely the "ostensible and predominant purpose" when the Pledge was first created in 1892, without reference to any god. The phrase "under God" was only added in 1954. On any sensible rule of construction, those two words must be read to add a new and religious significance to the Pledge that did not exist before. Why else would those words, and only those words, have been added more than a half-century after the original Pledge was designed?

According to the 9th Circuit's interpretation, the belated addition of the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance had no special significance for the Pledge's meaning. That conclusion strikes me as both disingenuous and insulting to religion.

VP Biden's Visit to Israel

Tom Friedman's column in today's NY Times gets it exactly right:
when Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s government rubbed [Vice President Biden's] nose in some new housing plans for contested East Jerusalem, the vice president missed a chance to send a powerful public signal: He should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: “Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country.

Happy Birthday Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Just this past week, a letter in Nature (here) reported that Einstein's theory of general relativity had been tested and found to operate as Einstein predicted on large scale formations, including gravitational lensing, galaxy clustering, and structural growth rates.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Choices, Choices

Stage 6 of Paris-Nice and Stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico are both live on the web right now. Paris-Nice can be seen here. Tirreno-Adriatico can be seen here. I'm feeling spoiled for choice.

Defending champion Alberto Contador, the best stage racer in the world these days, is currently leading the general classification in Paris-Nice, though Cyclingprof favorite Jens Voigt remains in the hunt. Meanwhile, sprinter Daniele Bennati currently leads the Tirreno-Adriatico, but it would be a massive shock if he held on for the overall victory, with riders such as Tom Boonen, Cadel Evans, and Edvald Boassen-Hagen lurking.

Deficit Hawks Should Vote for Health Care Reform

Here is the latest assessment of the Senate health care reform bill from the Congressional Budget Office. If enacted, the legislation would reduce the federal deficit by an estimated $118 billion during its first ten years, and an estimated $600 billion over its second ten years. As Ezra Klein notes in this morning's Washington Post (here), the bill would extend health care coverage to an additional 30 million people, but on the CBO's projections, would result in less total spending on health care than no reform.

Happy 85th Birthday Roy Haynes

Check out this great video from of Roy playing with Stan Getz, Gary Burton, and Steve Swallow in London back in 1966.

Friday, March 12, 2010

There's Always Time for a Good Work-Out

A new study supports what our coaches have been telling us about the value of short, high-intensity training sessions. According to this article in Saturday morning's Daily Telegraph, the study that found that anyone can get a good "endurance"-level work-out from just 20 minutes of high-intensity training - for instance, 10 one-minute max effort spins (getting close to max heart rate) on the bicycle, with one minute rest in between each.

Damn. There goes my not-enough-time excuse for not exercising.

The Future of Libraries

The New Republic has a fabulous article on that issue here.

Hilarious Movie About Cycling Gear

Hat tip: Jason Pope

Time Lapse Photos of Mountaintop Mining

National Geographic provides (here) this neat series of time lapse photos showing the spread of mountaintop mining across Boone County, West Virginia.

Happy 62d Birthday Sweet Baby James

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dream Bike

I just built up my (current) dream bike at Wrench Science to see how much it would cost. The bike is a 2010 De Rosa Idol frame and fork with electronic Dura Ace drivetrain, Zipp 404 wheels, Easton stem and bars, Speedplay pedals, and Fizik saddle for just under $12,000. The bike would weigh 15.87 lbs, or approximately 200 lbs less than I weigh. And, yes, it would be beautiful. Now, if only I could win the lottery without actually buying a ticket.

Or, for just a couple thousand more, you can buy this Italian work of art at R&A Cycles:


I received the new issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives today, and not one article in it interested me enough to open it. I think that's a first.

Spring Break. What Break?

Yesterday evening, I taught my last class before Spring Break, which officially begins tomorrow. Spring Break means that I don't have to teach any classes next week. Other than that, it really is no break at all. More than anything else, the lack of classes means that I will likely work more, rather than fewer, hours than usual next week because I will not have the fatigue of teaching.

Among other things on the agenda for the next week: I have to finish preparing PowerPoint slides for the remaining four weeks of Land Use classes; I must make reasonable further progress on Chapter 4 of my Selling Hot Air book (I define "reasonable further progress" as at least finish the section of the chapter I'm currently writing on the history of US climate policy up to the present); and my wife and I have to make a final decision about a job offer in hand.

I also hope to get in some miles on my bike next week, if I can get rid of this darn cough. That would, of course,  be an important goal even if it were not Spring Break.

Mitch Daniels at OMB

George Packer, writing in the New Yorker (here), reminds us that before Mitch Daniels became a decent Governor of Indiana (excepting his administration's terrible record on environmental protection), he was a horrible Director of OMB in the Bush Administration. 

Happy 74th Birthday Justice Antonin Scalia

The original "originalist" (except when he's not).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Wisdom of Bertrand Russell

Here is a brief excerpt from a BBC interview with an elderly Bertrand Russell.

Hat tip: The Book

Jens Voigt Leads Paris-Nice

Half way through the "race to the sun," and cyclingprof favorite, 38-year-old Jens Voigt holds the lead by six seconds over 20-year-old Peter Sagan, who won today's stage. While he hopes to hold on to win the overall classification, Voigt has also suggested a special recognition for older riders in the peloton:
As much as there is the white as the distinctive jersey for the best young rider, there should be a grey jersey to award the best cyclist of the over 35 year old category.
It's hard to imagine how many of those things Viatcheslav Ekimov would have won before he finally stopped racing at age 41 or 42.

Hat tip:

Kidney Donations

The supply of kidneys relative to demand for them remains low. But here's one new piece of information that should put encourage people to contribute to the supply of kidneys. According to a new study reported in Scientific American (here), kidney donors have the same life expectancy as non-donors. There remains, of course, the risk of death from the procedure itself, post-operative infection, and so forth. But once healed up, there is no excess risk of death for otherwise healthy persons who have donated a kidney.

Putting the 2008 Recession in Context

George Mason Economic History Professor John V.C. Nye has a clear and well-written piece on the respective roles of markets and governments in causing and repairing economic downturns (here) at The American Interest Online. I'm not sure there is quite the "consensus" among experts he finds that the Great Depression was caused primarily by a series of mistakes at the Federal Reserve. However, agreement or disagreement with a particular argument is no reason to read or not read such a finely written, concise article.

Happy Birthday Arthur Honeger (1892-1955)

An under-rated 20th-century composer. My favorite member of Les Six.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Arsenal 5 - Porto 0

Arsenal booked their place in the last 8 of the Champion's League with a thorough and entertaining dismantling of an over-matched Porto side this afternoon. Niklas Bendtner, who squandered a handful of easy chances in Saturday's Premier League win over Burnley, bounced back with a hat-trick today, aided by the superb Andrei Arshavin. But the goal of the game - and possibly the goal of the year - was a sublime solo effort by Samir Nasri, subbing for the injured Cesc Fabregas. Weaving his way in towards goal from the far right, Nasri impressively dribbled around and through three defenders before beating the goalie with a perfectly placed shot into the far side net.

Amazingly, considering all the injuries and other set backs this season, Arsenal are still in the hunt for two trophies: the Champion's League and the Premier League championships.

Best Thing I've Read Today


Daniel Gilbert, on individualism:

Yes, it’s true that you may like strawberry ice cream more than chocolate, whereas I prefer chocolate. But that shouldn’t obscure the much bigger point: everybody likes ice cream more than they like gall-bladder surgery

Happy Birthday Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

One of the great American composers of the 20th century.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Day in the Life

Most folks don't know what it is that law professors do with their time, other than teaching their classes. Here's what I did today, which was a fairly typical teaching day (but quite different from a typical writing day).

7:00-7:30am      Up and eat breakfast.
7:30-8:50am      Overnight emails, Google Reader entries, and blog.
9:00-10:10am    Short bike ride in Eagle Creek Park.
10:30-11:15am  Read colleague's new paper.
11:15-11:40am  Druga sniadania (early lunch) with wife.
11:45-12:05       Drive to school.
12:10-12:45pm  Finish preparing for Law & Economics class.
12:45-2:10 pm   Teach Law & Economics.
2:15-2:45pm      Meet with Dean.
2:45-3:15pm      Emails and Google reader entries; another blog.
3:15-5:30pm      Finish prepping 2-hour Land Use class.
5:30-7:20pm      Teach Land Use.
7:30-7:50pm       Drive home.
8:00-8:15pm       Eat dinner.
8:15-9:00pm       Emails and Google Reader entries; another blog.
9:00-10:30pm     Reading
10:30 pm            Lights out (unless I feel up to Stewart and Colbert)

The Inflated Cost of Regulations

Winston Harrington, Richard Morgenstern, and Peter Nelson of Resources for the Future, a non-partisan environmental economics think tank in Washington, D.C., have just released a new paper (here) expanding on an article they published in 2000, which found that EPA and other regulatory agencies tend to over-estimate the costs of federal regulations. They cite several reasons for this, including difficulties with projecting technological innovations that eventually reduce compliance costs, and the incentives of industries, which are the agencies' primary sources of cost-information, to inflate cost estimates as a strategy for defeating or relaxing regulations.

The Increased Risk of Driving a Recalled Toyota

Finally, the information I've been waiting for. Carnegie-Mellon Professor Paul Fischbeck has done the calculations (here) and estimates that driving a recalled Toyota increases the risk of having an automobile accident (of any kind) by 2%. As Fischbeck explains:
Walking a mile is 19 times or 1,900 percent more dangerous than driving a mile in a recalled Toyota. Driving while using a cell phone would increase risk much more than the chance of having a stuck accelerator.
He concludes that, if left uncorrected, the Toyota defects would result in an extra 600 motor-vehicle deaths each year.

The total estimated cost of the recall to Toyota is approximately $2 billion (see here), which may seem a lot to reduce a risk that is 19 times less dangerous than walking a mile. However, over any reasonable time-period, saving 600 lives per year is worth a lot. Even if we were only talking about one year, the cost per life saved would be $3.33 million, which is well within the accepted range of human life valuations in the literature.

Hat tip: Marginal Revolution

Reforming the Filibuster

My brilliant colleague Gerard Magliocca has a new and very timely working paper, available here from SSRN, on "Reforming the Filibuster." In it, Gerard recommends that instead of allowing a minority of the Senate to kill legislation by invoking cloture rules, the filibuster should be time-limited so as to merely delay legislation that ultimately would receive an up-or-down simple majority vote. The article usefully describes how a similar reform was accomplished in the UK's House of Lords, and addresses the various issues associated with changing  the filibuster from a rule that terminates legislative proposals to a rule that merely suspends final action on them for a limited length of time. It is, as usual, a very readable and well-argued proposal.

A Thoughtful Analysis of the Stimulus in Year One

John Cassidy has this fair and balanced (not in the Fox News sense) account of the economic stabilization plan  and of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in the New Yorker.

Happy Birthday Justice Holmes (1841-1935)

He wasn't always right, but he was always brilliant. Perhaps the greatest jurist in US history (and he probably would have thought so himself).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wilderness Warrior

I am now up to Chapter 22, page 631, of Douglas Brinkley's massive 800+ page tome, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (Harper 2009). I have to confess, during the first 200-300 pages, I almost put the book away. I thought it was simply too big, bigger than it needed to be. But I'm glad I didn't stop reading because I have gotten caught up in all the stories, including the mini-biographies of the many tangential figures, who figured in Roosevelt's various conservation and hunting trips. My admiration for Roosevelt - already quite high from several previous biographies - has grown, as has my admiration for the remarkable achievement of Brinkley, in pulling all of this information together and present a truly comprehensive history of Roosevelt as the conservationist supreme.

Going "Nuclear" and "Collateral Damage"

The political divisions and dysfunctions of government in the US are exemplified by the increasingly common use of war metaphors and expressions in ordinary political discourse. No issue, seemingly, is too small to be compared to atomic warfare. An example appears in this morning's Washington Post (here), in a story on the conflict between Walt Disney Co, which owns ABC, and Cablevision. Having reached an impasse in negotiations over transmission fees, Cablevision stopped airing ABC at midnight, which means that 3 million people will be deprived of watching the Academy Awards tonight (unless they have a digital converter box to obtain a signal over the airwaves). Because this is happening in Washington, members of Congress are taking a keen interest in the dispute. Senator John Kerry is quoted as follows: "When pulling a signal becomes the nuclear option in negotiation, it inflicts collateral damage on consumers who pay their bills and have done nothing wrong."

Now, I'm aware that television is considered a fundamental right by most Americans, second only to their right to drive, and I'm further aware that many people consider a television show celebrating this year's films, most of which will be forgotten by next year, is must-see TV. But to describe a contract dispute over transmission rights as akin to nuclear war that inflicts "collateral damage" on consumers - ins't that going a bit too far?

Maybe if we toned down the rhetoric a bit, we might manage to reduce the overall level of political heat.

Worth A Try, I Suppose

I was feeling a bit better this morning after a good night's sleep, and thought I might try some light intervals  on the trainer for an hour or so, but then...  I knew my cycling buds had scheduled a "recovery" ride for 11, and I saw the sun shining and the temps were warming. So, I thought, what the heck, let's give it a try. As I scurried to get bike and gear ready, I noticed several small holes and cuts in my rear wheel (which probably should have been caught during annual winter bike maintenance), so I starting changing out the tire for another one I had lying around, which also proved to have some holes in it. Running late at this point, I ran to the basement to grab bike #2, pumped up the tires, threw it on the car rack, tossed my gear in the back seat, and drove off to the meeting place. When I got there, I noticed I had forgotten my cycling shoes. So, I ran back home to grab those. And the guys rode toward my house to meet me. Finally, off we went.

First thing I noticed as we started riding was that my cycling computer wasn't functioning. Later, I discovered that the sensors and magnet were not aligned properly. No big deal, I thought, I'm just out for a ride, and don't really care about stats. Then, a couple of other guys noticed that my rear brake was slightly rubbing against the wheel rim, which is something else that shouldn't have happened just after winter service.

Mechanical issues aside, I found that I just wasn't recovered enough from the flu to keep up, even on a "recovery" ride. My legs didn't have the strength, and my lungs didn't have the capacity. So, after half and hour or so, I turned off and headed home.

The good news is that I managed to get in almost an hour on the bike on a lovely, sunny day, which is more than I expected for today. However, after nearly two weeks off the bike and recovering from the flu, I do feel like I've lost some fitness. Hopefully, I'll make that up over the next couple of weeks.

Happy 37th Birthday to Former Gunner Great, Ray Parlour