Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Cycling Totals

The best thing I can say about November is that it was better than October. 322 miles this month. I only wish more of them had been outdoors. It doesn't look like I'll hit 5,000 miles for the year, unless we get unusually nice weather for December.

Year to date:  4605 miles.

Happy Birthday Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Arguably, the outstanding historical figure of the 20th century, Churchill served in the British army, daringly escaped captivity during the Boer War, modernized the British Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty, gave artful speeches as a Member of Parliament, served in various cabinet positions and twice as Prime Minister of England (the first time when it mattered most, during World War II), proved himself a reckless military strategist, whom subordinates often had to work around, but an excellent leader of his people. Churchill was also an exceptionally gifted writer, who earned the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. And he had a rapier wit. Of all the bon mots attributed to Churchill, my own favorite took place at a cocktail party, where a woman said to him: "If you were my husband, I would put poison in your wine." Churchill's response: "Madame, if you were my wife, I would drink it."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy 37th Birthday Ryan Giggs

It's rare that an Arsenal supporter like me would celebrate the birthday of a Manchester United player, but Ryan Giggs is special. He is universally admired for his prodigious footballing skills, the long tenure of his service at Man U (the only team he has played for, since 1991), his dedication to the game, and his evident modesty as a person. He is the kind of player every manager would like to have on his team, and every football fan would pay  to see play. Without question, Giggs is one of the all-time greats.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Faster than Advertised

The weather was a tad warmer today, and the winds a little lighter. Consequently, a larger group showed up for today's Wilkes/Raynor group ride, which was advertised as an easy, conversation-pace ride. I knew when we were in trouble when the three college guys showed up (all sons of regular group members, and all strong collegiate riders). At least Karl didn't have us climbing all the hills, like he did yesterday. I worked hard (for me) during  most of the ride, and was toasted several miles before the finish.

Anyway, 80 miles on a late-November weekend is always a reason to celebrate ... with a long nap.

Thaler on Wrong Scientific Beliefs

Over at The Edge, University of Chicago Business School Professor Richard Thaler, coauthor with Cass Sunstein of the influential book Nudge (Yale 2008), has raised an interesting question for regular Edge contributors:
The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?
I am not a contributor to The Edge, but I nevertheless sent Thaler the following message:
Already a couple of respondents have correctly indicated Newtonian gravity as a “wrong scientific belief.” Interestingly, it’s a wrong scientific belief that still seems to be treated as true, not by physicists of course, but by large segments of the public. I suspect there are two reasons for this: (1) gravity is both intuitive and conforms to our “common sense” of the world (of course, common sense is often treated as a infallible guide to judgment, but often is misleading); and (2) Newtonian gravity is only falsified at very high speeds, which none of us experiences. Thus, while Newton’s theory of gravity is scientifically false, it seems experientially “true.”

Long before Newton, when Aristotle’s “scientific” theories held sway for centuries, it was thought that objects move faster as they approach the earth because they sensed that they were approaching “home,” i.e., where they belonged. This theory, too, made some intuitive sense if one also accepted Aristotle’s belief that vacuums were impossible.

More generally, my sense is that all scientific theories, like all religious theories, are not only about people trying to comprehend the mysterious world and universe in which we live, but to establish regularities so as to be less frightened by the world and attain some (true or false) psychological equilibrium. The need for some such equilibrium is innate.

Happy Birthday Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)

It's hard to imagine that this Viennese novelist, poet, biographer, playwright, and journalist was once the world's most popular writer, selling more books in more countries than any other. Today, he is all but forgotten except among a few aficionados, including me (and The Guardian's literary critic Nicholas Lezard, see here). Zweig's novels and novellas have an honored place in my library but, truth be told, my favorite of all his works is his autobiography, The World of Yesterday, which is equally a history of the times in which he lived. Like his great French friend Romain Rolland, Zweig was a cosmopolitan, pan-European humanist of the fin de siecle, who increasingly felt out of place in the war-torn Europe of the twentieth century. Born a Jew, he managed to escape Austria shortly after Hitler's rise to power in Germany. He fled to South America. But he found he could not escape the psychological effects of the destruction of the Europe he knew, and he committed suicide in Brazil in 1942 (along with his second wife, Charlotte Elisabeth Altmann).

Saturday, November 27, 2010

First Cold Weather Ride of the Season

I count any ride in temperatures under 45 degrees (Fahrenheit) as a cold-weather ride. Today, was the first of the season for me. The temperature was 36-37 degrees, and winds were blowing from the west at 10-15 mph. I met a small group at Fishback Academy. For the first hour, we rode all the climbs around Traders Point (I totaled about 950 feet of climbing for the ride). A few riders went home after the hills, but Karl, Mark and I continued out for a zone 2-to-3 (endurance-to-tempo pace) ride out to Brownsburg, then up to Fayette, then back to Fishback Academy and home.

I hate putting on all the layers, but at least I got the recipe right today - not too hot, hot too cold. And while riding west into the wind was not fun, at least the sun was warm on our faces. Pretty soon, we'll be wishing for these kinds of temps and winds for riding.

Aston Villa 2 - Arsenal 4

Who would have thought, after last week's dreadful collapse at home to Tottenham, that Arsenal would go top of the table this week? Well, they have, if only temporarily (pending the outcomes of later games). The Gunners traveled to Aston Villa this week to face a solid team that had not lost at home all season. Despite some nervous moments after Villa twice closed two goal deficits to just one goal, the Gunners put the game away in the final minutes for a 4-2 victory.

Several Gunners merit special mention for their performances in today's match, starting with Andrei Arshavin, who scored for the first time since August, and generally looked quicker and more incisive with his passes than he has since the beginning of the season. Samir Nasri, who has been Arsenal's outstanding player throughout the season, had another excellent match, as did Marouane Chamakh, who is scoring regularly - he now has 10 goals for the season - and providing Arsenal with the kind of strength upfront that they have lacked in recent seasons. Tomas Rosicky also looked dangerous coming off the bench with his pin-point passing.

The Gunners may yet threaten for the title this season, but I think they still need help in defense. Not only do they need Vermaelen to get healthy, but they need another big and quick central defender to help out. Koscielny seems a decent player, but Squillace is a weak link. In addition, while Song has played very well in defensive midfield all season, Denilson needs to step up his game, and it would help to get Abu Diaby back  into the line-up.

Happy Birthday Charles A. Beard (1874-1948)

A progressive American historian, who was an early proponent of economic analysis of legal institutions. His 1913 book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, challenged the orthodox view that the founding fathers were purely publicly-minded individuals, devoid of self-interest. Beard's book, and his radical form of historiography, fell out of favor after the Second World War, in part because of Beard's opposition to US involvement in the war. Nevertheless, his economic approach to understanding the constitution remains influential today, at least among legal scholars. A simple Lexis search indicates  that An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States has been cited in law review articles more than 150 times since 1999.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Brad DeLong on "The Retreat of Macroeconomic Policy"

Here. I largely agree with his historical and political analysis.

Taleb the Predictor

In his popular but overrated book The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb argued that people are very bad at predicting the future in large part because they are by nature prone to forecasting errors. Apparently, Taleb believes that he is exempt from the errors that afflict the rest of us. In The Economist (here), he makes a variety of outrageous claims about what the world will look like later in this century. Among other things, he predicts the collapse of nation-states as significant political entities (though they may survive "cosmetically"), the disappearance of large-scale, publicly-traded corporations, the demise of currencies, and a return of the gold standard.

It's unclear to me why a staid publication like The Economist would publish such tripe, except that Taleb's name could sell copies. He is, after all, a genius. If you don't believe me, just ask him.

Facing the Costs of Climate Change Adaptation

A very well done article in The Economist (here) examines the issue.

Happy Birthday Major Taylor (1878-1932)

One of the greatest athletes that most people have never heard of. Raised in Indianapolis during the era of Jim Crow, Taylor overcame systemic racial discrimination to become a world champion cyclist. In his prime, he was virtually unbeatable. A truly inspirational athlete and man.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I give thanks to all of my family, friends, colleagues, and students who make each day a learning experience.

Happy Birthday Joltin' Joe (1914-1999)

Joe Dimaggio was one of the greatest ball players ever. 3-time MVP, 13-time all star. He still holds one of the most revered records in all sports: the longest ever hitting streak of 56 straight games (in 1941). He also married Marilyn Monroe and sold coffee makers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

A seventeenth-century Dutch Jew and rationalist philosopher who helped lay the groundwork for the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Although not an empiricist, Spinoza had an advanced understanding of science (for his day). Among other advances, he disputed Descartes mind-body dualism, arguing that what we perceive as two separate entities are really just two expressions of a single entity.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Braga Beat Arsenal

Apparently, Arsenal lost in the Champion's League today away at Braga (Portugal). I was not able to see the match because of meetings, but I understand that the Gunners displayed pretty much the same fragility that contributed to their loss at home to Spurs this past weekend. To make matters worse, Fabregas reportedly hurt his hamstring again. And Wenger is left fuming at the referees, when he should probably be asking himself what it is about his coaching that fails to prevent the kinds of defensive lapses we have seen throughout the season.

The Gunners still have a decent chance of progressing out of the group stage of the Champion's League, just needing a win against lowly Partizan Belgrade at home. But the way the Gunners have been playing at home, no visiting team should be considered to lowly to win there.

Happy 77th Birthday Krzysztof Penderecki

One of the greatest and most prolific composers of the modern era, whose work has evolved from experimental (and quite difficult) to something approaching late-late-Romantic, as in this very beautiful Chaconne in memory of John Paul II from his "Polish Requiem."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Jacob Cohen (1921-2004)

Better known as Rodney Dangerfield, one of the funniest men I've ever seen (I got to see him two or three times in live performances). His jokes are so memorable, I can still quote many of them. Men like Rodney, who can make us laugh, deserve our thanks and our respect.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Carol Rose on "Ostrom and the Lawyers"

University of Arizona law professor, Carol Rose, one of the outstanding property law scholars of our time, has posted a new working paper on the Social Science Research Network on "Ostrom and the Lawyers: The Impact of Governing the Commons on the American Legal Academy." The paper is forthcoming in a special issue of the International Journal of the Commons celebrating the 20th anniversary of Elinor Ostrom's Governing the Commons (Cambridge 1990).

Professor Rose's paper examines the influence of Lin Ostrom's theory of common property regimes on legal scholars since the publication of her famous 1990 book. Not surprisingly, Rose finds that the book exerted great influence on property scholars and law professors writing in environmental and natural resources law. More recently and only a bit more surprisingly, Ostrom's work has engaged the attention of intellectual property scholars. Here is the abstract of Rose's paper:
American legal academics began to cite Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons (GC) shortly after its 1990 publication, with citations peaking in the mid 2000s and with signs of a new peak in 2010 in the wake of Ostrom’s Nobel Prize in Economics. The legal scholars most interested in GC have worked in three areas: general property theory, environmental and natural resource law, and since the mid 1990s, intellectual property. In all those areas legal scholars have found GC and its many examples a strong source of support for the proposition that people can cooperate to overcome common pool resource issues, managing resources through informal norms rather than either individual property or coercive government. Legal academics have also been at least mildly critical of GC as well, however. A number have tried to balance the attractive features of GC’s governance model-stability and sustainability-with more standard legal models favoring toward open markets, fluid change and egalitarianism.
As someone who has written a fair amount about Lin's work myself (in my 2002 Pollution and Property book), I find nothing much to argue with in Rose's article. I only wish she had situated Lin's book within the context of her earlier work, much of it with her husband Vincent, on polycentric governance regimes, where they stress the importance of local authority as part of larger, more complex government institutional structures.

A greater focus on the central importance of polycentricity to Lin's framework would help explain some of the conventional (and contradictory) misunderstandings of Lin's work, by legal scholars and others, as either opposing private property or opposing public regulation. In fact, as Professor Rose notes, Lin opposes neither, but merely argues that in some circumstances other governance mechanisms exist for avoiding what Garrett Hardin called "the tragedy of the commons." Those other governance mechanisms include common property regimes. Such regimes do not always succeed, of course. Nor do they necessarily exist in isolation from other formal or informal institutional structures. As often as not, they are "nested" within a larger complex of institutions, including formal laws.

John Pistole Should Resign

TSA Administrator John Pistole is under fire for the new "enhanced security" measures recently introduced at US airports, which presumes that all American air travelers are criminals. For his part, Pistole defends the security measures as "a crucial development to guarantee the safety of travelers" (see here). This is complete BS, as anyone would know who has read John Mueller's expose, Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them (Free Press 2006).

I was not on the faculty when Pistole received his legal training at our law school. Nevertheless, as a faculty member, I am embarrassed that one of our esteemed graduates, with responsibility for a very powerful federal agency, has so little appreciation for the basic civil liberties that are supposed to limit government authority. Under Pistole's directive, the government is treating all air travelers just like common criminals. Such  treatment is intolerable and, in my view, patently unlawful (for reasons set forth by Marc Rotenberg here).

Even if the new security measures make travelers safer (a claim the TSA has yet to substantiate no doubt for reasons of national security), that does not make them either lawful or constitutional. Moreover, the price of safety can be very high. While the TSA protects us from terrorists, who will protect us from the TSA? I am reminded of an observation made by the famous Polish dissident Jacek Kuron at a symposium I attended several years ago: the safest societies are police states.

Hopefully, the political outcry and lawsuits will force the out-of-control TSA to back down, and lead to Pistole's resignation.

UPDATE: I have read that President Obama has defended the new security measures as "necessary" to airline safety. He should know better than most that what is "necessary" is not necessarily constitutional. His predecessor has claimed that waterboarding was "necessary." In the past, other politicians have claimed that internment of Japanese Americans was "necessary" or that Indian removal was "necessary." I used to think Obama would make a good Supreme Court Justice - perhaps a better Justice than a president. Perhaps I was wrong.

Happy Birthday Voltaire (1694-1778)

Francois-Marie Arouet was one of the great Enlightenment philosophers and writers who promoted freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, science, and free trade against the absolute monarchism, mercantilism, and religious dogmas of his day. He wrote dozens of plays, stories, philosophical treatises, and histories, many displaying his great wit as well as wisdom. He was revered by and inspired other Enlightenment thinkers, including Adam Smith, Rousseau, John Locke, and Benjamin Franklin. The crown and church considered Voltaire a dangerous man because he thought for himself, and that is what made him great.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why Do Anti-Intellectuals Publish Books?

I'm just asking.

Arsenal 2 - Tottenham 3

Arsenal could have gone top of the table (temporarily) with a win at home today to North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. But, in recent years, every time the Gunners have closed within shouting distance of the top, they have found a way to squander the chance. Today, they squandered the chance after taking a two-goal lead.

Arsenal played an excellent first half, taking a 2-0 lead on superb breaks finished by, respectively, Nasri and Chamakh. The second half seemed like a mere formality, and Arsenal played as if it was and paid for it. They  broke like a cheap toy, and Tottenham took all 3 points.

The wounds were largely self-inflicted, as Arsenal fell asleep at the back for Tottenham's first goal, and Fabregas gifted the Hotspurs a second goal with an almost cynical handball in the box on a free kick, which lead to a penalty. Tottenham finished off the come back with a well-played free kick which Kaboul headed into the back of the Arsenal net.

All true Gunners fans will be stunned and outraged by the complete and utter collapse at home, which cannot be laid only at the feet of the players. How many times will Arsene Wenger be able to get away with talking about their "naivete"? At some point, the coaching staff must take responsibility for the mental preparation and strength (or lack thereof) of the players.

Happy 63d Birthday Joe Walsh

One of the true greats of rock 'n roll, Walsh can make his guitar sing, with a style immediately recognizable as his own. He is probably best known (for better or worse) for playing and singing with the Eagles, but he did so much wonderful work early on with the James Gang, and later on his own.

Here are a couple songs from the James Gang Live (at Carnegie Hall), which is my all-time favorite live recording (even above The Who's Live at Leeds). Note that Joe is playing the Hammond B3 organ.

And just to make sure we don't forget that he is a guitar hero, here's Joe playing with Booker T and the MGs at Eric Clapton's Crossroads concert a couple of years ago:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brief Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

It was, as expected, a wonderful night out for my family, along with a couple hundred others in the mostly teenage audience. Everything about the film marked it as different - the clothing, the locations, the coloring, the music and, for long stretches, the absence of any characters other than the three young heroes. They had to carry a lot more weight in this picture, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had the acting chops to pull it off. They are, in fact, much better actors now than they were not just at the beginning of the series, but even in the most recent episodes. (My kids agree with this assessment.)

The fact that the film makers decided to split the final book in the series into two films is a great boon because it gives them a certain luxury of time to allow the full story to unfold. I wish they had done likewise with the Goblet of Fire (at least), which was so truncated on the screen that virtually all exposition and character relations were sacrificed to what was, in the end, just a series of action scenes (with an inexplicably angry and voluble Dumbledore).

The Deathly Hallows, Part I is recommended to anyone who does not place themselves above and beyond the many charms of J.K. Rowling's books.

Happy 66th Birthday Dennis Hull

My favorite hockey player when I was a kid. I don't know why I preferred him to his flashier brother, Bobby. Maybe it was the very fact that he was less flashy but still an All Star-caliber player, who had the hardest shot of any left-winger in the game.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rose-Ackerman on Cost-Benefit Analysis

The always astute Susan Rose-Ackerman, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence in the Law School and Political Science Department at Yale (from which she also possesses a PhD in economics), has an interesting new paper, "Putting Cost-Benefit Analysis in Its Place: Rethinking Regulatory Review." Here is the abstract:
Policymakers need to reassess the role of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in regulatory review. Although it remains a valuable tool, a number of pressing current problems do not fit well into the CBA paradigm. In particular, climate change, nuclear accident risks, and the preservation of biodiversity can have very long-run impacts that may produce catastrophic and irreversible effects. This article seeks to put cost-benefit analysis in its place by demonstrating both its strengths and its limitations. The Obama Administration should rethink the use of CBA as a way to evaluate regulatory policies and develop procedures to restrict its use to policy areas where its underlying assumptions fit the nature of the problem.
I don't think the paper breaks much new ground on the methodological or practical problems of CBA, but it does include an interesting discussion of an alternative called Impact Assessments (IA), which is widely used in the European Union and elsewhere. However, none of the various alternatives for CBA avoids the biggest problems, which include the valuation of non-market goods, the impossibility of  making unambiguous interpersonal utility comparisons, and the setting of social discount rates. Professor Rose-Ackerman is obviously correct, however, that CBA is a tool of only limited utility that should not be elevated to the role of decision rule in social or regulatory policy. She also usefully points out when cost-effectiveness analysis may be more suitable than CBA.

Finally, it's not obvious to me that creating a new organization within (or without) the White House on policy integrity would solve any of the problems she identifies. How would such an organization differ in structure, mission, or political orientation from the current White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget? It's clear that government CBAs, among other kinds of analysis, require greater consistency in methodology and application. To that end, the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis is in the process of developing "best practice" standards, which the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs or reviewing courts might one day adopt (as I have recommended in earlier writings, e.g., here). But it's not clear to me that a brand new bureaucracy would improve the situation.

Harry Potter and the Curse of the Midnight Show

The Harry Potter series has spawned numerous Cyclingprof family traditions. As each book came out, I would read them aloud (complete with poorly-done characterizations) to the family. Then, on road trips we would listen to the audio versions of the books (the early ones on cassette, the later books on compact disc) read by the inimitable Jim Dale. We would go the midnight show to see each film on opening night. And, finally we would buy the DVDs and video games.

Tonight the tradition continues. My daughter is taking the bus up from Bloomington, my son will be taking a peremptory nap this afternoon, and my wife and I will be drinking lots of tea to help us stay away for tonight's midnight extravaganza. The actual quality of the film doesn't much matter to my brood (although I walked out on the film of the fourth book because I thought the portrayal of Dumbledore was too loud and the Director sacrificed everything else in the book for the action scenes).  The reviews from England of the new film have been mixed, but the several positive reviews have made me cautiously optimistic. I'll file my own review tomorrow.

Supreme Court Opinions Are Growing Longer, Less Clear, and More Boring

A terrific piece of reporting by Adam Liptak in today's New York Times (here) supports an argument that I have long been making (see, e.g., here and here) that Supreme Court opinions are out of control. Here's one interesting tidbit from the article: In the 1950s, the median length of Supreme Court opinions was 2000 words. The Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education - a judicial landmark if ever there was one - was all of 4000 words. Today, by contrast, hardly any Supreme Court opinions manage to come in under 10,000 words; and it is not at all uncommon to find opinions in the 40,000-word range, which approximates a 300-page book.

This might be acceptable if the opinions were well crafted and engaging to read, but they never are. As Liptak points out, Supreme Court opinions are pastiches of draft opinions by clerks, plagiarized sections of briefs from the parties, topped off with a few apercus by the Justices themselves. They are stylistically inconsistent and often border on incoherence, which needless to say undermines their pedagogical and wider social purpose. What we need are opinions that are clear, to the point, and written with a bit of flair. What we tend to get are plodding tomes.

Dearth of Blog Posts

I apologize for the lack of substantive blog posts this week. We are interviewing job candidates just about everyday this week at the law school, which means office interviews, job talks, lunches, dinners, and reading resumes and published writings. The rest of my time this week has been spent studying the history of (formal) water law in Spain and Kenya as part of an NSF proposal with folks from the Workshop in Bloomington. That group has been meeting once or twice each week to work on that proposal. In fact, I have so many meetings to attend this week that I can't possibly attend them all. All that is on top of normal class preps, of course. (And I thought I was too busy when I was traveling.)

Happy Birthday Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

An innovative and very influential composer, Weber was a progenitor of the Romantic school of composition, and is best known today for his opera Der Freischutz. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Warren Buffet on the Federal Government's Role in the Economic Recovery

Here in today's New York Times. I only wish more Americans understood, prior to the mid-term election, both the threats we faced and the important role the government played in avoiding greater economic catastrophe.

Happy Birthday Gene Clark (1944-1991)

The Byrds were much more than a Bob Dylan cover band, and much more than Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, the two best known members of the group. Gene Clark was a founding member of The Byrds and wrote or co-wrote many of their best songs between 1964 and 1966, including this one:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Don't Believe in Conspiracy Theories

If I didn't know better, I would suspect that the Transportation Security Administration and the airlines are conspiring to make air travel as inconvenient and uncomfortable as possible. I'm not joining any of the protest movements that are out there (see, e.g., here) but I do intend to reduce travel that involves airports.

Happy Birthday Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

One of my very favorite composers from any era. His combination of lush harmonies with contrapuntal and polyphonic melodies gave him a sound all his own.

I was unable to embed Hindemith conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in one of my favorite of his compositions, the Concert Music for Strings and Brass, but you can view it here.

Here is Glenn Gould playing the Fugue from Hindemith's Third Piano Sonata:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happy 68th Birthday Daniel Barenboim

Among the most talented musicians of our era. Here he is playing the fourth movement of Beethoven's second piano sonata:

And here he is conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he created to bring Israeli and Arab musicians together, in a performance of Liszt's "Les Preludes":

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Ride with Mob Squad Youth Squad

I took son of Cyclingprof out to the Northeast side this afternoon for a training ride with Mario Comacho and the Mob Squad junior training squad. The group included eight kids, ranging in age from 11 to 17, and four adults. It was a good, solid 33-mile training ride on a brisk, breezy day. My son worked very hard, and I got a pretty good workout myself.

Everton 1 - Arsenal 2

A well-earned road victory today for the Gunners, with two good goals taken, respectively, by Barcary Sagna and Cesc Fabregas. Despite a late goal by the Toffees, Fabianski was, once again, solid in the Arsenal goal. The victory moves the Gunners into sole possession of second place, two points (for now) behind Chelsea (who are trailing at home to Sunderland by 2-0 early in the second half) and one point ahead of Man United (who yesterday came back to earn a tie at Aston Villa, and remain unbeaten in the League).

It's shaping up to be a very interesting season in the Premier League, where the "minnows" seem capable of taking big bites out of the sharks from week to week.

Happy Birthday Claude Monet (1840-1926)

The father of Impressionism.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hadfield and Weingast on "Endogenous Institutions: Law as a Coordinating Device"

Last week, at a conference celebrating Doug North's 90th birthday (see here), Stanford Political Scientist Barry Weingast presented a new draft paper he has co-authored with USC legal scholar Gillian Hadfield, which seeks to explain what law is, why it possesses certain distinctive attributes, and how it is sustained as an equilibrium over time. As the authors note, this is a question that has not been adequately addressed in the legal, positive political economy, or law-and-economics literatures.

Hadfield and Weingast present an account of law as an institution characterized by two features: "a system of distinctive reasoning and process that is grounded in economic and political functionality; and a set of attributes, such as generality, stability, publicity, clarity, non-contradictoriness, and consistency." They argue that:
law has developed its distinctive structure in order to coordinate beliefs among diverse individuals and thus to improve the efficacy of decentralized rule enforcement mechanisms. In our account, law is a specialized  system of reasoning that seeks to converge on the categorization of actions as either warranting punishment/action or not. We contend that a designated system of specialized reasoning helps coordinate beliefs by undertaking two tasks: reducing ambiguity and serving as a focal point around which people can coordinate their enforcement behavior; and providing a process of public reasoning that, among other things, extends and adapts existing rules to novel circumstances. (citation omitted)
Their analysis is clear and generally sensible, though I do have a couple of quibbles. First, I simply do not understand their claim that "dictators create order, but they do not create law." The legal rules imposed by dictators may not serve as focal points for decentralized enforcement, but they certainly can possess the distinctive attributes of law that Hadfield and Weingast identify: stability, clarity, non-contradictoriness, publicity, and consistency. In other words, even if the legal rules established by dictators are inconsistent with the rule of law, that does not make them any less legal rules. Moreover, it is certainly possible for the legal rules created by dictators to constitute stable equilibria over fairly lengthy periods of time. We can both abhor dictatorship, and recognize that dictators do, in fact, make law.

My other problem is not so much with Hadfield and Weingast as with Fuller and Raz, whom Hadfield and Weingast cite approvingly for the proposition that non-retroactivity is a central attribute of law. Were that so, how might we explain court decisions in cases of first impression or, more generally, the evolution of the common law? I think Holmes was closer to the mark when he identified legal rights (and duties) as little more than a prediction (or expectation) of what a court (or other dispute settlement organization) will decide when confronted with a dispute.

Bottom line: This is an interesting and provocative paper, which  I hope will prove sufficiently influential to spur further study of this important and under-explored topic.

Happy Birthday Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)

A giant among jurists, Brandeis fought for civil liberties - particularly the rights of privacy and expression -  and against monopolies and other forms of excessive corporate power before joining the US Supreme Court in 1916, becoming the Court's first ever Jewish justice. On the Court, he pioneered the acceptance of social-scientific evidence in support of legal arguments.

Melvin Urofsky recently published a new biography, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (Pantheon 2009), which I have not yet had a chance to read. Friends who have read it tell me it's quite good.

Special shout-outs to two other greats born on this date: the philosopher Saul Kripke and the jazz drummer Ari Hoenig.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Rule of Law or Rule of Banks?

In the November 25th issue of Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi has a has a very disturbing story (here) about how  a court of law in Florida - the specially created housing court presided over by retired judges -  is rubber-stamping bank foreclosures regardless of substantive or procedural defects in their claims. According to Taibbi, the judges admit that the court's goal is not justice but speed:
One Jacksonville judge, the Honorable A.C. Soud, even told a local newspaper that his goal is to resolve 25 cases per hour. Given the way the system is rigged, that means His Honor could well be throwing one ass on the street every 2.4 minutes.
More evidence of rising "corporatocracy" in America (see here).

Hat tip: The Browser.

Rest in Peace: Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010)

One of the greatest composers of the last century, who started as a modernist, and became a minimalist. His works were suffused with religious and folk themes.

The Guardian has a brief obituary here.

Here is the beautiful second movement from his Third Symphony:

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

The great equal rights advocate, who started as an abolitionist before turning her attention to womens' rights after the Civil War. She actually opposed passage of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution (promising equal protection of the laws) because it was not then interpreted to include women. After the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, she began arguing that they did include women.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What a Week for Cycling - Updated

After hill repeats in the park on Tuesday, I got in a 33-mile tempo ride on Wednesday. Normalized power for that ride was pretty good at 244 watts. Today, I got back to the park for just an hour with son of Cyclingprof. We did some intervals on the oval at the back of the park: 10 x 1' max efforts with two minutes easy spinning in between each effort. I definitely need to do more of those. On each interval, I hit 500-600 watts but could only sustain an average around 350 watts. Anyway, three solid days of training in beautiful weather, which is supposed to last for only one more day. Unfortunately, I'll be in Bloomington tomorrow afternoon; otherwise, I'd be out for a nice recovery ride.

England's FA Needs to Rid the Game of Thugs Like Joey Barton

Happy 57th Birthday Andy Partridge

The man who has written and sung many of my all-time favorite songs as front man of XTC. Their album Skylarking is never far from my record player (or my cd player or my MP3 player). What sets Partridge apart as a songwriter are his lyrics which are always thoughtful and sometimes quite brilliant. Listen, for example, to "1000 Umbrellas" from the above-mentioned album. Here are music videos of Partridge's best known songs - live performances are few and far between because XTC essentially gave up live performing more than 20 years ago. The first, "Mayor of Simpleton" is simply a perfect pop song with brilliant lyrics. "Dear God" is much more serious, but not less brilliant.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wolverhampton 0 - Arsenal 2

Arsenal striker Maraoune Chamakh scored bookend goals - off a header in the first minute of play and on a break in the last minute of second-half stoppage time - to see off the Wolverhampton Wolves in a tightly contested match, in which both sides had a number of good scoring chances. The Wolves were impressively tough and offensive-minded on their home turf, and it was good to see the Gunners get stuck in and play some good defense for a change. Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski made up for letting in a soft goal on the weekend by making several fine saves.

Thanks to Chelsea's loss on the weekend, the Gunners have not lost ground in the title hunt, but they are going to have to play more consistently, and they must score more goals. They missed several good chances again this evening.

Higher Percentage of Democrats Than Republicans Support Free Trade

This is according to a new survey just published by the Pew Research Center (here). Overall, the survey finds increased public support for free trade, except for trade with China and South Korea. However, over the last year, already deplorably weak support for free trade has fallen.

The most interesting table in the report is below. It indicates that a higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans or Independents believe that free trade agreements are good for the US. This does not square with my impressions from the midterm election campaign, where I heard Democrats, far more than  Republican candidates, complaining about the exporting of jobs.

Hat tip: Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution and Dani Rodrik.

China and Coal

James Fallows has an exceptionally clear-sighted article in The Atlantic (here) which notes the basic problem facing the world, and especially China: climate change is a problem resulting substantially from the burning of fossil fuels, but there is no realistic way of weaning the world off coal and oil for the next few decades at least. Energy demand in developing countries, including China is rising steeply, and they are building new coal-fired power plants almost on a weekly basis. What is to be done? As Fallows notes, "bridging" technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) are available (at a price), which would prevent carbon emissions from reaching the atmosphere. Indeed, as I have noted before, there is no reasonable plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next couple of decades (at least) that does not involve CCS.

To this point, there really is nothing new in Fallow's story. But then comes the payoff: China is the hero. It is in China, not the United States, not in Europe, where the real work and the demonstration projects are being done to determine the cost and reliability of CCS at scale. This confirms my suspicion that China, the US foil in climate change negotiations, is already doing more to minimize the climate change than the US, even as it is building dozens (if not hundreds) of new coal-fired power plants.

Here is the leader to Fallow's article:
To environmentalists, “clean coal” is an insulting oxymoron. But for now, the only way to meet the world’s energy needs, and to arrest climate change before it produces irreversible cataclysm, is to use coal—dirty, sooty, toxic coal—in more-sustainable ways. The good news is that new technologies are making this possible. China is now the leader in this area, the Google and Intel of the energy world. If we are serious about global warming, America needs to work with China to build a greener future on a foundation of coal. Otherwise, the clean-energy revolution will leave us behind, with grave costs for the world’s climate and our economy.

Happy 63d Birthday Greg Lake

Gifted singer, guitarist, bassist, and songwriter for King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Below are two nice examples of his playing and singing:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bush's Admission

In his new memoir, former President George W. Bush reportedly admits to having authorized waterboarding (see here), and argues that it saved lives (see here). I think it is fair to say that most legal scholars and lawyers believe waterboarding is a form of illegal torture. In a 2007 column in the Washington Post (here), Evan Wallach, a judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade and a former JAG officer, described the domestic legal treatment of waterboarding since the end of World War II:
[W]aterboarding cases have appeared in U.S. district courts. One was a civil action brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that "the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to . . . the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee's mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation."

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners' civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning."

The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On these precedents, and even without considering the treatment of waterboarding at international law, President Bush seems to have acted illegally and unconstitutionally. However, some, including most notably Bush's Deputy Attorney General John Yoo (see, e.g., here), contend that the waterboarding President Bush authorized did not amount to illegal torture (see, e.g., here and here). In other words, questions of law persist about whether waterboarding always, or in this particular case, constitutes illegal torture.

We have a place to resolve such questions of law. We call them courts. We do not determine what the law is in the media. When faced with disputes over what the law is, the proper place to resolve them is a court of law. Indeed, that is what the Constitution of the United States and 200 years worth of precedents require. President Bush may argue that he was acting on the best legal advice from the lawyers in his administration, but that does not obviate the outcome of the case. A good faith belief that one is acting legally, based on the advice of counselors, never has been a recognized excuse in court. No Deputy Attorney General gets the final say on what the law is. Not even the President of the United States can turn an illegal act into a legal way by issuing an authorization or proclamation.

If we are to resolve the dispute over whether the waterboarding authorized by President Bush constituted illegal torture, then there should be a trial in a court of law. The case could rise to the Supreme Court for a final determination of whether the waterboarding was legal or illegal under US law (which includes international treaties ratified by the Senate).

Whether or not waterboarding was the right thing to do because it saved lives (again, assuming arguendo President Bush's contention) cannot have any bearing on the determination of the legal issue. Sometimes, the law might prohibit what seems the right thing to do (in the circumstances). If President Bush really believes that was the case here, then it really should not matter whether his decision was illegal or unconstitutional. A brave man must be willing to suffer with dignity the potential legal consequences of having done the right thing. In Communist Poland, for example, literally thousands of brave men and women of great dignity were willing to go to prison for their belief that the Party-state was wrong, and they were right.

If a court of law concludes that the President's authorization was illegal and/or unconstitutional, then he should be willing to go to jail for the sake of what was, in his mind, a higher moral principle. Breaking the law to save innocent lives is very high-minded and noble thing to do, and perhaps the motivation should have some bearing on the penalty for the legal violation. Perhaps it might even induce a change in the legal rule governing future decisions by presidents. But the moral purpose should not be allowed to obviate or obliterate the legal rule. If it did, then all legal rules would be in danger of being swallowed up by defenses based on "higher moral purposes."

What a Week for Cycling

It's just too nice out for indoor training at night. With high temperatures expected around 70 degrees for the rest of the week, I'm going to try to get out each afternoon, if only for an hour, to do some high-intensity work (hill repeats, 10 x 1' max-efforts, etc.). Soon enough, it will be frigid and/or wet, and I'll have no choice but to pedal indoors. I've got to take advantage of the Indian summer, while it lasts.

UPDATE: Two laps and five hill repeats up and down the ravine towards the 71st St. entrance.  Mark Dewart provided great company.

Happy Birthday Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996)

The scourge of the "nattering nabobs of negativity" (his quote about journalists), Agnew was (pre-Cheney) the worst Vice President in American history, and remains (unfortunately) the only one who had to resign that office because he was convicted of accepting bribes while he was Governor of Maryland and VP of the USA.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ideological Barriers to Nudging

UCLA economists Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn have posted a very interesting working paper at NBER's website (here, and non-gated version here). In it, they examine how political ideology affects "nudging" - a term from the behavioralist economics literature populartized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (here) that refers to government actions, such as provision of information, that can improve the decision-making capabilities of boundedly rational individuals.

Studying the effects of "smart-energy" programs that provide immediate feedback to consumers, Costa and Kahn found that self-identified Democrats tended to reduced energy consumption by 3 percent, but self-identified Republicans increased energy consumption by 1 percent. In other words, Republicans were willing to spend more on energy simply to display that they were not conservationists. 

Here is the abstract:
“Nudges” are being widely promoted to encourage energy conservation. We show that while the electricity conservation “nudge” of providing feedback to households on own and peers’ home electricity usage works with liberals, it can backfire with conservatives. Our regression estimates predict that a Democratic household that pays for electricity from renewable sources, that donates to environmental groups, and that lives in a liberal neighborhood reduces its consumption by 3 percent in response to this nudge. A Republican household that does not pay for electricity from renewable sources and that does not donate to environmental groups increases its consumption by 1 percent.
The take-home message is not that Thaler and Sunstein are wrong - that "nudges" don't or cannot work. Rather, the message is that nudging is a great deal more nuanced than many readers of Thaler and Sunstein might have supposed, and requires more careful study before governments start trying to "nudge" individual decision-makers in various directions to make presumptively better decisions.

Happy Birthday Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

An underrated English composer who combined romanticism and impressionism.

Here is the Lento movement from Bax's Third Symphony conducted by Vernon Hadley:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Modern-Day Corporatism

President Obama is visiting India this week. Is he there for diplomacy or trade? Apparently, both. Yesterday, he announced $10 billion in new contracts for American exports to India (see here). Whose business is he doing there, and does it matter? Meanwhile, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is currently leading a state trade delegation to China. The delegation is privately funded (see here), but that hardly ameliorates concerns over the overt mixing of politics and business, which seem to be growing ever-more intertwined in the United States (among other countries). Whose bidding is Governor Daniels doing?

Between (a) the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United (on which see here), which ruled that corporations are "persons" for purposes of constitutional rights, (b) the apparently unstoppable revolving door between Congress and state legislatures, on the one hand, and national and state lobbying organizations on the other (is Indiana's "new" Senator-elect, Dan Coats, a Senator first, a lobbyist first, or both at the same time?), and (c) the work politicians do on behalf of private corporate entities on trade delegations, the boundaries between private market competition and public governance increasingly are blurred. Is the US becoming (if it is not already) a "corporatocracy"?

2 Hour Sunday Group Ride Becomes 1 Hour Sunday Solo Ride

Less than 5 miles into the ride with a small group, I was nearly taken down by a guy who just cannot seem to hold a consistent line. So, I dropped off the group ride, and just rode on my own, and had a good short ride. It was nice to be on the bike again after getting home from my last trip of the semester last night.

I think I'll be training and riding on my own and less with the group this winter season than I had anticipated.

Jonathan Zasslof is Happy to See the Back of Evan Bayh's "Empty Suit"

See his post here. As a resident of the State of Indiana, which Bayh represented without distinction for the past 12 years in the Senate, serving before that as a "Republicrat" governor, I wish I could disagree with Zasslof. But I can't.

Arsenal 0 - Newcastle Utd 1

A tepid performance from an, on paper, strong Gunners side saw them fall, at home, to a Newcastle side they had trounced in the northeast of England just 12 days ago in the Carling Cup. Arsenal were twice denied by the woodwork, but the Gunners simply could not muster enough scoring chances. Their passing was well below par throughout the match. Even the ever-sharp captain, Cesc Fabregas, wasted numerous balls. Newcastle thoroughly deserved the points, having outfought the Gunners from the opening whistle to the closing whistle. A very impressive performance by the Geordies.

Happy Birthday Marie Sklowdowska Curie (1867-1934)

Madame Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and the only person so far to win Nobel Prizes in two distinct scientific disciplines (Linus Pauling later won two Nobel Prizes for Chemistry and Peace). Curie's first prize, shared in 1903 with her husband Pierre, was for their joint work on radioactive elements, including the isolation of the elements polonium (named for Curie's country of birth) and radium. Eight years later, and five years after Pierre's death, she was awarded a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her work on those same elements. That same year, however, she was denied membership in the French Academy of Sciences, which tells us only a little about the obstacles Madame Curie had to overcome in that era to receive scientific training, become a professional scientist, obtain research funding and laboratory space, and receive professional recognition from her peers.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Free Keith Olbermann!

MSNBC has suspended Liberal bloviator Keith Olbermann because of campaign donations he made to three Democratic candidates prior to last week's midterm elections (see here). He plainly violated NBC News rules prohibiting campaign contributions. However, I am appalled and dismayed by his suspension.

In the first place, what is it about the campaign contributions that makes Olbermann appear more politically biased than he appeared prior to the contributions? He's not a newsman, but a pundit who wears his political alliances on his sleeve. Even those who simply read the news have their own political commitments, whether or not they display them as like the strutting peacock that is Keith Olbermann. Prohibiting him, or anyone else,  from making personal campaign contributions creates only a false impression of objectivity, while depriving both newsreaders and opinionators like Olbermann from expressing their personal political views in a meaningful way - more meaningful than the bile Olbermann spews on MSNBC (countering the even more voluminous bile spewed on Fox News) every day.

Olbermann broke company rules and has to pay for it. But the rule is silly, especially in the case of someone like Olbermann.

Happy Birthday Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)

The great Polish pianist (and composer) turned politician. Paderewski first achieved world-wide fame for his unsurpassed virtuosity. He then used that fame for philanthropic purposes mostly directed towards his native Poland. During World War I, he helped to establish the Polish Relief Fund in London, while serving on the Polish National Committee (PNC) in Paris, which was pushing for recognition of an independent Polish state (after more than 120 years of dismemberment by Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary). The Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia) officially recognized the PNC as representatives of the Polish nation. In order to enhance prospects for post-war international recognition, Paderewski was named the first Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Poland's Second Republic, which was established in the waning days of the war. In those capacities, he represented the newly liberated Poland at the Paris Peace Talks and he signed the Treaty of Versailles, which gave international recognition to the reborn Polish state.  

Here is a brief excerpt of a rare video of a performance by Paderewski, playing (of course) Chopin.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

Mark Kleiman's book, When Brute Force Fails (Princeton 2009), which I really should have read immediately upon publication, is probably the most important contribution to the social science literature on crime and punishment since Gary Becker's famous 1968 article (see here). Mark shows convincingly how the US can reduce both the incidence of crime and criminal punishments at the same time. I can only hope it will be as influential as Becker's work, both among scholars and among those who shape institutions in the criminal justice system.

Henry-Louis de la Grange pulled off what has to have been the greatest biographical feat of the 20th century with his massive, 4-volume biography of the great Austrian composer and conducter Gustav Mahler. I remember distinctly buying Volume 1 (soon to be re-released by Oxford University Press) when it was first published in 1973. Already by that time I was a huge Mahler fan. Unfortunately, I had to wait several years for the second volume to appear in 1995. I read that volume, and then the third, as soon as they were published. Volume 4 appeared quite a while ago already, but I only just recently got my hands on a copy. Gustav Mahler: A New Life Cut Short (1907-1911) (OUP 2008) covers the last half-decade of Mahler's life in just under 1100 pages. In total, the four volumes come in at over 4,000 pages. This is not the kind of biography likely to appeal to the casual fan, especially plenty of decent one-volume biographies exist. However, for the real Mahler fan and/or the true aficionado of the art of biography, nothing else will suffice. The research and analysis is first rate, and the books are a true pleasure to read. Aside from its quality as a biography, the reader learns as much about life among the elites of fin de siecle Vienna as one would learn from a stack of history books. Henry-Louis de la Grange spent nearly a half-century writing Mahler's biography, and the result is a truly monumental achievement.

Happy 90th Birthday Douglass C. North

Doug received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1993 for his work in economic history and the importance of institutions and institutional change to adaptive efficiency and long-run economic growth in a nonergodic world. He remains very active, having published in 2009 an important book, with Barry Weingast and John Wallis, on Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (CUP). Doug is also a very kind and generous person.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"The Legacy and Work of Douglass C. North"

That's the title of a conference I'm heading to later this morning in St. Louis. Speakers include John Wallis, Joel Mokyr, Barry Weingast, and Kenneth Shepsle. Lin Ostrom will present the keynote address. I'm sure Doug will have something to say as well. I feel honored to have been invited. The full program is here.

UPDATE: I guess I should not have felt so honored just to have been invited. It turns out that my invitation covers only the conference sessions themselves, which are open to the public. So, there doesn't seem to have been much point in the invitation. Nevertheless, I'm glad I'm here to celebrate Doug's birthday and legacy.

A Brief Review of Nicholas Phillipson's "Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life"

Adam Smith must be among the most difficult subjects for any biographer. In the first place, he was a scholar who led a mostly retiring life of reading, writing, and conversation with relatively few close friends. He never married and lived much of his life with his mother. In the second place, Smith left behind him less of a paper trail than modern Supreme Court nominees. He personally supervised the burning of nearly all of his unpublished manuscripts, papers, and letters prior to his demise. Consequently, from the biographer's perspective, he is the anti-Churchill.

However, Smith did two things during his life that have earned him enduring fame. He completed and more or less continually revised two great books: Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Those two tomes make Smith a quintessential Enlightenment figure of continuing relevance, which ensures that biographers will continue to write about him, despite the obstacles Smith placed in their path.

It is difficult to imagine any biography of Smith to rival Nicholas Phillipson's new one, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (Yale 2010). It is per force an intellectual biography, focusing on the evolution of Smith's thinking about moral sentiments and oeconomy, based on his personal and professional relations with other great thinkers such as David Hume, Francios Quesnay, and the other French Physiocrats. The book is as much a history of the time (the Enlightenment) and the places Smith lived (Edinburgh, Oxford, Glasgow, London), as it is a biography. But therein lies much of the charm and value of Phillipson's book. If our picture of Smith, the man, is only slightly less murky after reading this biography, our understanding of Smith's intellectual development is greatly enhanced. The most remarkable aspect of the book, to me, and perhaps Phillipson's greatest achievement, is that it is not stolid or stuffy, but eminently readable.

Happy Birthday Nicolas Frantz (1899-1985)

The first of (surprisingly) many great Luxembourg cyclists, Nicolas Frantz, twice won the Tour de France (1927, 1928), and finished second on two other occasions. He also won Paris Tours once and his country's national road racing championship 12 consecutive years.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Travails of Cap-and-Trade Continue: CCX to Close

First, climate change legislation failed to pass in the Senate (see here). Then, trading all but stopped in the acid rain program's SO2 trading market, while the price of emissions allowances dwindled to zero (see here and here). Now, one day after an election in which the phrase "cap-and-trade"  became a swear word akin to "command-and-control," National Geographic News is reporting (here) that the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), an eight-year-old experiment in voluntary trading of greenhouse gas emissions at the Chicago Board of Trade (which subsequently merged with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange), is set to close up shop at the end of this year. The CCX will, however, continue to serve as a registry for various carbon offset programs.

Was Climate Change a Major Issue in the Midterm Election?

At Poltico.com (here), Darren Samuelsohn and Robin Bravender claim that support of climate change was deadly for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections. As proof, they cite election losses by dozens of Democrats who supported the House climate bill last term.

In response, Brad Johnson at the The Wonk Room (here), crunches the numbers and finds that Democratic legislators who supported the climate bill actually fared better than those who did not. 81 percent of those who voted for the climate bill won their races, while 64 percent of those who opposed the bill lost. Among Republican candidates, meanwhile, only one of eight members of the House or Senate who supported climate legislation - Mike Castle of Delaware - lost his seat.

These numbers strongly suggest that the climate change issue did not play a significant role in the Democrats' 2010 midterm debacle. More likely, to borrow a phrase from James Carville, it was "the economy, stupid."

UPDATE: Over at The Monkey Cage (here), Eric McGhee also crunched the numbers but controlled for various factors including campaign funding and the recent electoral history of the district in which they were seeking re-election. He found that positive votes on climate legislation did, along with positive votes on TARP, health care reform and the stimulus, was negatively correlated with reelection. A yes vote on any one of these four bills cost the candidate 2/3 of a percentage point in the subsequent election. However, he also notes that the election results were entirely consistent with "fundamentals," including the general state of the economy, which might well have been even worse without passage of TARP or the stimulus. So, an unanswered question is whether Democratic legislators seeking reelection would have been better off if they had voted "no" on these bills, and they had not passed.

Californian's Reject Effort to Derail Climate Policy

California has the most ambitious state climate policy in the United States. It's goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which constitutes a reduction from current emissions of between 18 million and 27 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent (see some details here). Yesterday, California voters repudiated efforts to derail that plan by overwhelmingly voting down Proposition 23, which would have prevented the climate policy from taking effect until California's unemployment rate dropped to or below 5.5% for four straight quarters. The measure was defeated handily by nearly 60% of voters (see here). Well done, California.

I will have more to blog about California's comprehensive and mandatory emissions trading system in coming weeks.

Election Results and Consequences

As I (and many others) had predicted, the Republicans took the House but not the Senate. At least a few of the uber-nutters lost, including Angle in Nevada (whom I had predicted would defeat Reid) and O'Donnell in Delaware. The Demos maintain a slim majority in the Senate; the Repubs have a sizable majority in the House. Neither party will be able to accomplish anything without votes from across the aisle.

What does it mean for the economy? Well, forget about another round of stimulus spending. It's more likely that we'll end up with an austerity budget (or semi-austerity budget) a la the UK. That could slow the economic recovery as President Obama and others have warned. But I'm sure that's a risk the Republicans are willing to take, on the assumption that two more years of economic weakness increase their prospects of taking back the White House.

On the other hand, the Financial Times might be a bit hasty in suggesting that the election "dims" President Obama's prospects for reelection (here). With the Republicans now firmly in charge of one house of Congress, the President will not be the focal point of all blame for policy failures. The elections have removed some of the pressure from the president's shoulders and placed it firmly on the shoulders of House Republicans, most notably presumptive Speaker John Boehner. If he doesn't figure out a way to compromise with the White House on budget proposals, history suggests that Congress, rather than the President, may be held responsible.

Finally, what does the election mean for environmental policy, which is something I actually know a little about?  It means at least two things, one of which we already knew: no climate legislation. In addition, we might now expect the Republican-controlled House to attempt to derail EPA regulation of greenhouse gases by holding hearings and proposing legislation that would strip the agency of statutory authority to address climate change. Those legislative proposals will almost certainly not be enacted into law, but the hearings could well delay, if not completely deter, EPA's ability to regulate by consuming lots of agency resources. My best guess is that EPA will ultimately promulgate substantial greenhouse gas regulations. Whether those regulations will pass judicial muster is another question, about which I will blog if and when the regulations are promulgated.

Happy 77th Birthday Amartya Sen

Winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1998 for his work on welfare economics, especially as it relates to poverty, Sen is not only an economist but an important political theorist. He is a genuine polymath, and among the greatest living thinkers and writers in any discipline. If only he were more influential among his fellow economists...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Harold Evans on the Stimulus

There are lots of opinions out there about President Obama's stimulus package, most of them wrong. Unfortunately, the wrong ones have gotten virtually all of the attention during the campaign season. Over at The Daily Beast, former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans attempts belatedly to set the record straight. The article is here

UK Government Plans to Sell Off Public Woodlands to Pay Down Debt

In a letter published at the end of last week, the UK Government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that it was preparing to sell off significant segments of publicly-owned forests, which currently comprise 18% of wooded areas in Britain, in order to help pay down the public debt. Current plans call for selling off up to 50% of publicly owned woodlands (see here), currently managed by the Forestry Commission, including the famous Sherwood Forest (see here). According to some estimates (see here), the privatization scheme would amount to the largest land ownership change in the UK since World War II.

Is privatization of publicly-owned forests a good idea? It is according to at least a few economists, who call themselves "free market environmentalists." From their point of view (see, e.g., here), public ownership of natural resources is just as bad an idea as public ownership of productive enterprises (which is a very bad idea, indeed). They argue that government bureaucrats tend to manage natural resources as badly as they manage other assets. Private owners, by contrast, have a greater economic incentive to conserve their resources over time.

The reality, however, is far more complicated than the simple story told by free market environmentalists. In fact, private owners tend to maximize the net discounted private value of assets they own, without much regard for social values. In other words, private owners' interests in natural resources do not always coincide with larger societal interests. And a great deal of historical evidence, some of it from the UK forests, confirms that private ownership does not always or necessarily correlate with better resource management.

Parliament created the Forestry Commission in 1919, at a time when the UK had the lowest percentage of forested lands - less than 3% of total national acreage (about 700,000 acres) - of any country in Europe. The once vast primeval forests of Britain had been nearly wiped out by harvesting of forests that were virtually all privately owned. In its first year of operation, the Forestry Commission purchased 19,000 hectares of land and planted trees on 700 hectares. Within 25 years, the Forestry Commission had increased forest cover in Britain by approximately 25 percent. (The information in this paragraph comes from my book, Pollution and Property, CUP, 2002, pp. 97-8).

Parliament would be wise to bear in mind the history of private deforestation and public afforestation in the UK before it begins to privatize the UK's forest reserves.

A Big Thanks to Poll Workers

If voting makes little sense from a cost-benefit perspective, working the polls must make even less sense. It's a very long day of work for very little money, no status, and few thanks. Nevertheless, a few devoted individuals, including my step-mother, do it year after year. It is true public service.

Why I am Voting Today

Despite the fact that my vote is completely insignificant with respect to any election's outcome and it costs me time and effort to go to the polls, I will be voting today (at least in a few contests) in order to obtain psychic benefits, the expected value of which exceeds the costs of voting. I expect to obtain those psychic benefits from the following discrete sources:

1. Voting against candidates, and in opposition to neighbors, who vilify others. Admittedly this is often difficult to do as, in many races, candidates have not only criticized but vilified each other, leaving me with no one to vote for. Alas.

2. Voting against candidates who deny climate science (or any real science) based on the cynical calculations  of campaign consultants. Unfortunately, this leaves few Republicans in the running for my vote this year.

3. Voting against candidates who deny that "Obamacare" is essentially the same as "Romneycare," which probably rules out any Republicans left standing after the last filter.

4.  Voting in opposition to a certain close relative of mine, which should prevent me from voting for utter nutters.

5.  Exercising a right that is my property as a proud citizen of the United States.

Happy 52d Birthday Carter Beauford

The ridiculously talented, tasteful, and ambidextrous drummer for the Dave Matthews Band, Beauford does not always shine a bright light on himself while playing, but tempers his (always brilliant) playing to serve the music. Here's an example:

Monday, November 1, 2010

UK Not Heading for Double-Dip Recession

Despite the bad news on Britain's housing front, which I referred to last week (here), the UK's recovery seems to be on a fairly firm footing according to this story in today's The Independent.

Happy 90th Birthday Ted Lowe

"Whispering Ted," the "voice of snooker" for a half century. Why Ted? Why snooker? Why not?