Monday, January 31, 2011

The Guardian's Atlas of Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Click on map to enlarge.

Of "Judicial Activism," Ideology, and the Affordable Health Care Act

Four judges have now assessed the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act's insurance mandate. Two Clinton appointees have upheld the Act. One Reagan appointee and one Bush appointee have ruled that it violates the constitution. Obviously, two of the judges are misinterpreting, perhaps intentionally, the constitution, right? It must be those pesky "judicial activists." But are they the Clinton appointees or the Republican appointees?

My guess is that most readers, including law professors, will know the answer to that question with absolute certainty and sincerity. But their answers will differ. The numbers supporting one side or the other may not be equal, but they will be close enough to raise a serious question about the inherently political nature of constitutional judicial review.

Notwithstanding the claims of Justice Scalia, the constitution itself is not a sum certain, but is amenable to multiple, legitimate, but mutually exclusive, interpretations. Ambiguities inherent to the constitutional document itself provide the opportunity for politicized judicial review, and allow for both sides to claim that judges on the other side are engaged in "judicial activism."

The Ice Storm Cometh

Indy is predicted to get 1" to 1.5" of ice overnight tonight and through the day on Tuesday. Here's the forecast map from Weather Underground:

The IU School of Law - Indianapolis will close for weather only if the entire IUPUI campus is closed. In my experience, those responsible for making that decision are overly reluctant to close the campus. They do not seem averse to the risks students, faculty, and staff face in getting to school on icy roads.

If the law school does close tomorrow, students will receive an official notification. If the law school does not officially close, I will make my own risk assessment for myself and my students, and let them know if I decide to cancel my Climate Law & Policy class. If students receive no announcements, they should presume that classes are going ahead as scheduled.

UPDATE: Late this afternoon, in an unprecedented preemptive move, the IUPUI brain trust cancelled closed down the campus as of 5 pm, before road conditions had deteriorated much.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

John Quiggin on the End of American Exceptionalism

At Crooked Timber (here), John Quiggin tries finally to put the rest the idea of "American exceptionalism." He makes a very strong argument that US policy makers should not be overly concerned about relative political-economic decline because it's already happened:

As a public service, I’d like to bring an end to this tiresome debate by observing that the decline of the US from its 1945 position of global pre-eminence has already happened. The US is now a fairly typical advanced/developed country, distinguished primarily by its large population[1]. Precisely because the US is comparable to other advanced countries in many crucial respects, there is no reason to expect any further decline.

As I’ve observed before, the US is similar to other leading countries in terms of key economic variables like output per hour worked and employment/population ratio. Like other countries it has some distinctive features, that can make it look good or bad on particular measures. Features on which the US is an outlier, in economic terms, include long average hours of work per employed person (particularly notable for women), high levels of inequality in wages and other incomes, low levels of public expenditure and taxation, an exchange rate that has typically been well below most estimates of purchasing power parity, and an international balance characterized by large deficits on the goods and services account, matched by large surpluses on the capital account.

In geopolitical terms, the US spends a lot more on its military than anyone else (in fact, more than everyone else put together) and (contrary to the beliefs of most Americans) hardly anything on development aid or other efforts at promoting global public goods. The amount of sustainable influence generated as a result appears pretty trivial. The number of places in the world where the US can directly determine, or even substantially influence, political outcomes is approximately zero – nothing like what might be associated with an old style Great Power, let alone a superpower or “hyperpower”.As I’ve observed before, Americans of all classes (except those directly connected to the military-industrial complex) get very little payoff for their military expenditure – trillions of dollars of expenditure has been unable to produce positive outcomes in a couple of relatively insignificant countries, or even to put paid to a bunch of pirates in the Indian Ocean.
I generally agree with Quiggin's assessment. Initially, I had some doubts relating to innovation and growth in total factor productivity (TPF), where I assumed the US still had a sizeable advantage. However, a cursory comparative review of patent filings and TPF growth only support Quiggin's hypothesis.

The figure to the left is a comparative assessment of growth in total factor productivity from 1990-2008. Even adjusting for the fact that countries starting from a low per capita productivity can more easily improve productivity than countries that already are highly productive, it's clear that the US has lost its productivity edge.

The figure to the right shows resident patent filings, by country, per $1 million invested in research and development in 2007.

FA Cup: Arsenal 2 - Huddersfield Town 1

It wasn't pretty, but Arsenal got it done in the end, surviving against League 1 side Huddersfield Town 2-1 at the Emirates to advance to the next round in the FA Cup. It was, however, an expensive victory, as Arsenal Player-of-the-year candidate Samir Nasri went off after pulling a hamstring in the middle of the first half.

The Gunners dominated possession in the first half, making plenty of chances but only scoring on one, when Nicklas Bendtner, who made excellent runs throughout the match, had his shot deflected into the Huddersfield goal by defender Peter Clarke. Late in half, Arsenal were reduced to 10 men, when Sebastien Squillaci was sent off for a professional foul; he obstructed a dangerous-looking Huddersfield attack when he was the last defender.

With the numerical advantage, Huddersfield Town came out in the second half in an attacking frame of mind. They dominated possession and plainly earned the goal Alan Lee scored with his head from a corner kick in the 66th minute. Shortly after that, Arsenal brought on their talismanic captain Cesc Fabregas, who almost single-handedly retook control of the match for the Gunners. A draw and reply seemed in the offing until the 85th minute, when Bendtner was pushed down in the box by Jamie McCombe. Fabregas calmly dispatched the penalty to send the Gunners through to the next round.

The Gunners were not at their best today, and needed to display character and patience today after going down to 10 men, which they did. Huddersfield Town acquitted themselves well, playing with poise and tenacity. They look a good bet to make the jump to the Championship next season.

A word of praise is in order for the much-maligned (and not just by me) Andrei Arshavin. Although he squandered a few more scoring opportunities today, he passed the ball better and his work rate was impressive, including on defense, where his timely  intervention denied Huddersfield Town an excellent chance of taking the lead. On the other hand, Denilson continued his poor run of play for the Gunners, giving the ball away on numerous occasions and appearing to shy away from physical contact. Goalie Manuel Almunia, who was in the Arsenal line-up for the first time in several months, acquitted himself well, making one outstanding save and no obvious mistakes.

Now, all Arsenal fans will be awaiting the injury report on Nasri. It seemed a pretty obvious hamstring pull (hopefully not a tear). But such injuries are notoriously tricky to predict. He could be out a week or two months.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

RIP Milton Babbitt (1916-2011)

One of the greatest and consistently experimental American composers of the 20th century, Babbitt's early  work was heavily influenced by Anton Webern and other members of the Second Viennese School. Later, he composed music for synthesizers. With his background in mathematics, Babbitt is widely thought of as a composer who was more interested in appealing to the intellect than the heart. His music certainly possesses a cerebral quality, but it is no less interesting for that. The New York Times has an obituary here.

Below is a performance of Babbitt's 1947 composition, "Three Pieces for Piano."

Quiggin on Egypt

Over at Crooked Timber (here), the always thoughtful John Quiggin explores large, important, and very complex questions arising from the developing political situation in Egypt. The questions he raises, by themselves, are reminders to beware of the instant analyses and simplistic advice coming from the editorial pages of US newspapers.

Some of that advice could turn out to be correct, but there is little reason to believe that the the authors have either amassed and digested all of the significant facts or worked through in sufficient detail the long-run implications of alternative US positions.

13% of Public High School Biology Teachers Promote Creationism/Intelligent Design

An article appearing in Science Daily (here) provides a troubling picture of science education in US high schools. Based on a representative sample of more than 900 public high school biology teachers, researchers found that only 28 percent consistently implement National Research Council recommendations for teaching evolution. Nearly half that number instead promote nonscientific theories of creationism and/or intelligent design.

The Science Daily article notes that this is occurring despite nearly a half-century of court rulings that teaching creationism and intelligent design in science classes violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. It just goes to show that legal, even constitutional, rules are not always more powerful than social norms, especially at the local level where pressure from religious groups is most acute.

This depressing story gives me the same feeling I from television advertisements for the "Creation Museum" in Kentucky: Ignorance is a correctable problem, but willful ignorance is a deplorable contagion that, if left unchecked, leads to the epidemic disease of militant ignorance.

Has Ferrari Built the World's Ugliest Supercar?

You be the judge.

Maybe it looks better going 200 mph.

Friday, January 28, 2011

MIT Economics Symposium Webcast

To celebrate its 150th anniversary this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is mounting a series of symposia featuring faculty and graduates from various departments. The first symposium, which took place over two days this past week, is on "Economics and Finance: From Theory to Practice to Policy."

The symposium was comprised a six panels, plus a keynote address by Robert Merton. Distinguished panelists include (this is a partial list): George Akerlof, Avinash Dixit, Jerry Hausman, Oliver Williamson, Robert Solow, Peter Diamond, Robert Hall, Ester Duflo, Olivier Blanchard, Robert Gordon, Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw, Christina Romer, Dennis Carlton, Richard Schmalensee, Hal Varian, Myron Scholes, and Steven Ross. Each of the panels and the keynote address can be viewed in its entirety at the MIT website (here).

The panels are varied, informative, and entertaining. They shed light on the financial crisis and its aftermath, including what we may (or may not) have learned from it. A couple of presenters have interesting takes on issues of energy policy and climate change. Very highly recommended.

"Obamacare" as Health Insurance Privatization

The Affordable Care Act is often characterized as a massive government program designed to extend health insurance to millions. It might more accurately be characterized, however, as a massive privatization mechanism designed to move millions of individuals from the existing socialist system of de facto public insurance - taxpayer-funded emergency room visits for the technically uninsured - to private insurance coverage. Why aren't conservatives embracing this market-based solution to a problem of socialism?

Speaking of Negative Costs

Ever since the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company first published the above graph of abatement costs of various measures to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions a few years ago, I've wondered about its implications for economic theory. Assuming competitive markets and complete information, each "negative cost" abatement measure (all those extending down from the horizontal axis) should not really exist as an opportunity because they already should have been exploited by businesses seeking to minimize costs and maximize net revenues.

It reminds me of the old joke according to which University of Chicago economists Milton Friedman and George Stigler are walking through the quad one day, when Milton suddenly spots a one-dollar bill on the ground (being much closer to the ground than George, it was easier for him to see).
Milton: "Hey George, there's a one dollar bill on the ground."
George "No, there's not."
Milton: "Look, it's there."
George: "Can't be. If there had been a one-dollar bill on the ground, someone already would have picked it up."
Milton: "You must be right."
They walk on.

On the same basis that George Stigler doubted the existence of an unclaimed dollar on the ground, any true-believing economist must doubt that significant negative cost opportunities exist for abating GHG emissions. And yet, there are reports of companies, including British Petroleum, Kodak, and BASF, significantly enhancing shareholder value through substantial emissions reductions. In 2004, Lord Browne, then CEO of  BP, wrote an article for Foreign Affairs (here), in which he reported on a company plan to reduce GHG emissions 10 percent by 2010 from 1990 levels. The company met that target 9 years early mainly by plugging leaks in pipelines, at a cost saving to shareholders of approximately $650 million.

What explains such deviations from basic economic theory? I have some tentative hypotheses, relating to behavioral economics (availability heuristics), organizational theory, and focal point theory. But, somewhat surprisingly, I don't know of anyone who has seriously tackled what seems to me a central challenge to theory.

Negative Cost Greenhouse Gas Abatement from Agriculture

The February 2011 issue of the Journal of Agricultural Economics includes a study (here) by researchers from the Scottish Agricultural College examining marginal abatement cost curves for emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from UK agricultural, which currently accounts for approximately 8% of total UK emissions (mainly methane and nitrous oxide). They find that emissions could be reduced more than 30% from business as usual by the year 2022 at costs lower than the UK's official shadow price of carbon, which that year will be £34. Nearly half of those reductions could be achieved at negative cost.

Here is the abstract:
This article addresses the challenge of developing a ‘bottom-up’ marginal abatement cost curve (MACC) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from UK agriculture. An MACC illustrates the costs of specific crop, soil and livestock abatement measures against a ‘business as usual’ scenario. The results indicate that in 2022 under a specific policy scenario, around 5.38 Mt CO2 equivalent (e) could be abated at negative or zero cost. A further 17% of agricultural GHG emissions (7.85 Mt CO2e) could be abated at a lower unit cost than the UK Government’s 2022 shadow price of carbon [£34 (tCO2e)−1]. The article discusses a range of methodological hurdles that complicate cost-effectiveness appraisal of abatement in agriculture relative to other sectors.

What the Climategate E-mails Tell Us about Communication in the Sciences

A very interesting study by Marianne Ryghaug and Tomas Moe SkĂžlsvold in the September 2010 issue of International Studies in the Philosophy of Science treats the Climategate non-scandal as an example of how scientists communicate with one another on complex and controversial issues. Access to the full article (here) requires a subscription, but here is the abstract:
This article analyses 1,073 e-mails that were hacked from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in November 2009. The incident was popularly dubbed 'Climategate', indicating that the e-mails reveal a scientific scandal. Here we analyse them differently. Rather than objecting to the exchanges based on some idea about proper scientific conduct, we see them as a rare glimpse into a situation where scientists collectively prepare for participation in heated controversy, with much focus on methodology. This allows us to study how scientists communicate informally about framing propositions of facts in the best possible way. Through the eyes of science and technology studies, the e-mails provide an opportunity to study communication as part of science in the making across disciplines and laboratories. Analysed as 'written conversation' the e-mails provide information about processes of consensus formation through 'agonistic evaluations' of other scientists' work and persuasion of others to support one's own work. Also, the e-mails contain judgements about other groups and individual scientists. Consensus-forming appeared as a precarious activity. Controversies could be quite resilient in the course of this decade-long exchange, probably reflecting the complexity of the methodological challenges involved.
Hat tip:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the Social Cost of Carbon

Today's The Daily Climate (here) asks whether the federal government's official valuation of the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is too low. It's a good question, and the article cites a number a couple of prominent economists, William Nordhaus and Marty Weitzman, as well as an obscure law professor.

Last year, the federal government established a SCC of $21/ton (see here). This number is to be used in all regulatory impact analyses and environmental impact statements prepared by Executive Branch agencies.

Is it the right number? No one knows. Different  models of climate change reach different conclusions about the damage function and, hence, the value of the SCC. One thing we can say with certainty is that the federal government's new $21/ton figure is much better than its previous SCC, which was, zero. The $21/ton figure is fairly close to the $23/ton mean estimate Richard Tol derived in his 2007 meta-analysis of climate studies (freely dowloadable here). And even if one believes the federal government should have picked a higher number, instituting an SCC - any SCC -  is the single most important step the federal government has yet taken towards a functioning climate policy (though, admittedly, that's not saying much).

How important is the SCC? As The Daily Climate article makes clear, I don't believe setting a precise value on the SCC is nearly as important as getting institutions in place to start actually moving greenhouse gas emissions in the right direction. The entire history of environmental policy, as well as practical political realities, suggest that the risk of over-spending on climate change in the near term is quite small. I was particularly glad to read in the article that William Nordhaus seems to agree with me about that. He's quoted as saying "While there is debate about whether the 'right' number for a carbon price is $10, $20 or $100, the global average today is close to $1 and moving nowhere.... So we have a long, long way to go before we even enter the range of debate."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some Relatively Uninformed Thoughts on Davos

The World Economic Forum opened yesterday in the ski resort of Davos, Switzerland, bringing together heads of state, corporate honchos, and high-profile academics (especially economists) to discuss issues of global and regional importance  - everything from climate change and jobs to currency valuation and international trade. The forum includes public meetings, but my understanding is that nearly all of the serious conversation occurs behind closed doors in private meetings, beyond the ears of the media and the public. The World Economic Forum is a private, independent group, and the discussions have no official status. Corporations have to pay to play, forking up tens of thousands of dollars to interact with politicos.

In some respects, there seems to be a need for fora like Davos, where the movers and shakers can get together to plan the world (a grandiose-seeming phrase, but one that I think fits), even if it does smack of corporatism. On the other hand, it really does smack of corporatism, which is becoming something of a recurrent theme on this blog whenever I write about policy.

I can't tell you whether anything important or useful has ever come out of Davos; I haven't studied its history.

Word Clouds of Rep. Ryan's Response to State of the Union

For the official Republican response from Representative Ryan (from Rachel Maddow's Blog at MSNBC, here):

Word Clouds of the State of the Union Speech

Courtesy of Ezra Klein of the Washington Post (here):

Here's another one from Rachel Maddow's Blog at MSNBC (here):

Very convenient. Even though I didn't see or read the speech, I have a pretty good idea what it was about. I find it interesting that neither the word "climate" nor the word "environment" appears in the cloud.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are Law Schools in Trouble?

For a year or more, I've been reading and hearing gloom and doom stories (many from my own Dean) that the current model of legal education is obsolete and that law schools must change or die. In recent months, these stories have been supported by declining admissions, both at my law school and nationally, and national press reports (such as this one) raising legitimate questions about whether legal education is worth the money.

However, when I look at the graph below (from the Economix blog in today's New York Times, here), I see the very recent downturn in law school admissions, which more or less tracks the recession, as a small part of a longer cycle of generally rising law school applications. Perhaps the doomsayers are right, but I'll need more than one or two years of downturns in law school applications to convince me of structural changes in the market.

Preview of the State of the Union

No idea, really. I suppose the President's going to talk about jobs, improving the economy, the Tucson shootings (with representatives from the shooting to stand to be applauded), civility (reflected in the mixed seating of members of Congress), and how he plans to work with Republicans to get "the peoples'" business done. The president will not strike out against big business. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito will not be present to disagree with whatever the President might say about the Supreme Court.

There will be two rebuttals instead of the usual one. Representative Paul Ryan will give the official response of the Republican Party, in which he will blame the President and the Democrats for reckless spending, "job-killing" legislation (including the Affordable Care Act), and the need to reduce the budget deficit. Speaking on behalf of the Tea Party, Representative Michelle Bachmann will say many of the same things as Rep. Ryan, only a lot less intelligently. She will also talk about returning our country to the Constitution. whatever the hell that means, and protecting freedom (except for immigrants).

Since I already know what everyone's going to say, I won't be watching the show this evening. Instead, I'll be watching the rebroadcast of today's Carling Cup match between Arsenal and Ipswich, which I cannot watch live because of class.

UPDATE: I don't know about the State of the Union, but the Arsenal match was excellent. They won 3-0 to advance to the finals of the Carling Cup. They will face either Birmingham City or West Ham. We Gooners have been waiting a long time for some silverware, and it seems like the breakthrough with this maturing team is finally near.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Inanity of Ranking Composers

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I despise numerical rankings of qualitative goods. They are nothing more than exercises in vanity and hubris, designed to attract attention (and sell copy) much like car-wrecks. We are now in the midst of awards season, during which various "experts" will inform the Hoi polloi which are the "best" film, actors (male and female), hip-hop album, etc., of the past year. Other "experts" will dispute the results.

One ranking I did not expect to see this year, and which is even more distressing and depressing than the usual fare, appears in this morning's New York Times (here), where the Times' chief music critic, and lone voter, Anthony Tommasini humbly reveals to his readers his ranking of the 10 greatest composers of music (excluding those still living). He notes that there are many close calls, issues apologies to some composers and their fans, and even wishes he could have chosen a top 20 instead of a top 10 (he cannot, in good conscience, expand the list because he had previously promised his adoring readers a ranking of just ten).

Tommasini's ranking confirms my long-held suspicion that arts critics are really no different in kind from sports writers. Their techniques and sensibilities are similar; only the players are different.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Arsenal 3 - Wigan 0

Robin van Persie scored all three Arsenal goals - the second on a volley from a sublime Cesc Fabregas pass over the heads of the Wigan defense - in a walk in the park for the Gunners. In truth, van Persie should have scored at least four and possibly five as he missed a penalty (earned by Fabregas), hit the post with a shot, and missed a couple of other good chances. The Gunners created enough chances that their final goal tally easily could have been doubled. The defense looked solid throughout the match, though in truth Wigan didn't pose much of an offensive threat. Arsenal goalie Wojciech Szczesny hardly touched the ball in the first half, and I'm not sure he was forced into making a real save throughout the match. All in all, despite the numerous missed opportunities, a very comfortable win at home.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Understanding the Tea Party's Motivations

The Washington Post has a story this morning (here) about a rift among House Republicans over the depth of proposed spending cuts. Many want far deeper cuts than the leadership is proposing. They want to cut not only fat, but muscle, sinew, even bone. What they seek is not a more economically efficient federal government - it would be a mistake to suppose that they are social-welfare consequentialists. The motivation of tea-partiers is not economic but ideological. They want to shrink the federal  government simply for the sake of smaller government, pretty much regardless of consequences for social welfare.

The problem the tea-partiers inevitably will confront is that, however much voters say they want smaller government, they tend to want it only for other people. For themselves, they typically want whatever government programs benefit them. That's why it is not irrational, even if it is contradictory, for a protester to carry a sign that reads, "No Socialized Medicine; Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare."

I suspect Tea Party-backed members of Congress are going to find it difficult to retain their ideologically purity of heart, unless they are willing to sacrifice their own political futures. And while it would be a mistake to suppose that they are social-welfare consequentialists, it would be a bigger mistake to suppose that they are heroes who do not care about their own welfare.

On This Date

On January 21, 2011, Cyclingprof began to find his own blog tedious (amazing it took so long).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On This Date

On January 20, 1801, John Marshall is appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, arguably the most momentous decision in the history of US constitutional interpretation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Leeds 1 - Arsenal 3

Arsenal overcame a game Leeds side to earn a birth in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Nasri's opened the scoring within five minutes after some quick passing by the Gunners easily (too easily) opened up Leeds' defense. Arsenal scored again in the middle of the first half on a fine shot by defender Bacary Sagna. The best goal of the half, however, was Leeds consolation goal late in the half, when defender Bradley Johnson hit the shot of his life from 30 yards out. As the announcers said, even if all three Arsenal keepers had been playing that shot still would have found its way into the top right corner of the net.

Arsenal sealed the victory in the last quarter of the match, when Nicklas Bendtner, who played reasonably well all evening on the right wing, hit a perfect cross that Robin van Persie headed back across Leeds keeper Schmeichel and into the right side of the net. All the Arsenal players deserve plaudits for working hard throughout the match against a dogged, if out-gunned, Leeds side. Arshavin continue his almost season-long run of poor play, but at least viewers could tell he was making an effort. On the other hand, Denilson had a better match playing in front of the back four.

Arsenal's play next on Saturday in a Premier League match at home to Wigan.

When Fabregas Scores, Arsenal Win

The Telegraph has the story (here). Let's hope he scores today against Leeds in the return leg of their FA Cup tie.

Word is Getting Out about My Favorite Aperitif

The Wall Street Journal has the story of Zubrowka (here). I strongly recommend you keep a bottle in the freezer (not the refrigerator), and savor it in shots, unadulterated by mixers.

On This Date

January 19 is a day notable for premiers of masterpieces: in 1829 - Goethe's Faust Part I; in 1853 Verdi's opera Il Trovatore; and in 1893 Ibsen's The Master Builder.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Executive Order on Regulatory Impact Analysis

President Obama signed a new Executive Order (EO) today (available here), which does not replace but supplements the existing Executive Order 12866. The most significant  addition of the new EO is its requirement of regular post hoc regulatory reviews. Until now, federal executive branch agencies have only been required to prepare ex ante regulatory impact analyses (a form of cost-benefit) analysis for newly proposed regulations. This new requirement forces agencies to go back and periodically examine existing regulations to ensure that they are, and remain, cost-effective. It is a very sensible addition to the regulatory review process.

Unfortunately, the new EO does not address the issue of social discounting - the process whereby future streams of costs and benefits are expressed in present dollar values. I, for one, had been hoping that the new EO might adjust downward the current baseline discount rate of 7%, which is quite high especially for regulations with intergenerational effects.

On This Date

On January 18, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began against the Nazis. Amazingly, the poorly armed and supplied Jews managed to hold their own for several months. The most significant part of the insurgency began in April and lasted nearly a month before finally being crushed by numbers, greater firepower, and evil.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cowen Proposes an Oath for Government Economists

Over at the Marginal Revolution (here), Tyler Cowen takes a gratuitous slap at his fellow economists working for the federal government, suggesting that they should be required to swear an oath "not to act against the truths of their discipline for political gain". This is in response to calls for academic economists to adopt an ethical code that requires them to disclose (at least) conflicts of interest in the policy advise they give. As a recent New York Times story (here) reports, this is particularly a problem among a small number of prominent academic economists who write about financial regulation while advising, and even serving on the boards of, investment banks.

It is not immediately clear to me, however, that government economists suffer from the same kinds of conflicts of interest that have led to so much criticism of academic economists in the wake of the financial crisis. Indeed, Cowen merely lists the number of economists working in various branches of the federal government; he provides no analysis in support of his call for them to take a special oath. He does not provide any evidence of cases where government economists' advice has been potentially or actually tainted by personal "political gain" (whatever that might mean). Nor does he specify which eternal "truths" of economics they are not presently upholding. Surely, Cowen does not suppose that bad government policies - of which there are plenty - are necessarily promoted, or even acquiesced in, by government economists, the vast majority of whom are not political appointees.

Finally, Cowen takes an extra gratuitous slap at the Environmental Protection Agency, doubting whether its 163 economists are enough. The unmistakable implication is that EPA is an economically reckless federal agency that imposes substantial net costs on society. That sentiment is as bogus as it is widespread. It is worthy of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. It is not worthy of Tyler Cowen.

On This Date

On January 17, 1961, US President Dwight Eisenhower, in a televised farewell address to the nation, three days before leaving office, warns of the rising power of the "military-industrial complex."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Most Interesting Sentence I've Read in Some Time

A parenthetical in a column by theoretical physicist Brian Greene in today's New York Times:
(Although nothing can move through space faster than the speed of light, there's no limit on how fast space itself can expand.)

On This Date

On January 16, 1786, the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted the Statute on Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson. It was a remarkable piece of legislation at the time, and the enlightened sentiments it expresses resonate powerfully even today. It is worth reading the text of the statute in full:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom.
Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;
that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,
that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;
that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;
that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;
that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,
that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,
that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;
that though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;
that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;
that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;
and finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:
Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

West Ham 0 - Arsenal 3

The Gunners put their mid-week, Carling Cup woes behind them, winner at West Ham 3-0. Arsene Wenger fielded his strongest available side against a West Ham team that is struggling to avoid relegation. The Gunners were hitting on all cylinders throughout the match, holding possession for nearly two-thirds of the 90 minutes. Their movement and passing were quick and incisive throughout the match. Robin Van Persie, who is rounding into good form after his long injury layoff, scored twice, the second after Theo Walcott earned a penalty. Walcott added the third goal. The defense was generally solid, except for a couple of misplays by the usually reliable Johan Djourou.

When Arsenal are on song like they were today, it becomes all the more difficult to understand how their poor display at Ipswich this past Wednesday. They have the goods to be champions. What they have lacked so far is the consistency and, sometimes, the killer instinct.    

On This Date

On January 15, 1759, the British Museum, one of the world's outstanding museums, opened in London.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On This Date

On January 14, 1784, the Congress of the Confederation of United States ratified the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A New Interview with Ronald Coase


Hat tip: Marginal Revolution.

On This Date

On January 13, 1898, the French writer Emile Zola published his famous letter,"J'accuse," in the French daily L'Aurore. Zola's letter exposed the Dreyfus Affair, in which a young Jewish officer was accused of treason for passing secrets to the Germans - a crime he did not commit. But he was railroaded by anti-semitic prosecutors and sent to Devil's Island. When the real culprit (a gentile) was identified, the Army sought to protect itself by suppressing the evidence against him and fabricating documents to point the finger at Dreyfus. Zola's brave letter (it was not fashionable to defend Jews at that time in France), though not the first publication to defend Dreyfus, garnered world-wide attention, which forced the case to be re-opened. After a second trial, which split public opinion between the openly anti-semitic media and the "Dreyfusards," including (in addition to Zola) Anatole France and Henri Poincare, Dreyfus finally was exonerated. A week later he was made a Knight in the Legion of Honour as a "soldier who has endured an unparalleled martyrdom." He went on to serve in World War I and finished his military career at the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ipswich 1 - Arsenal 0

Last weekend, Arsenal had to score late to earn a tie against Championship-side Leeds. At least Leeds are that league's leaders. Today, Ipswich, who are sixth from bottom in the Championship and just fired their manager (Roy Keane), beat the Gunners 1-0 in the first-leg of their semi-final tie in the Carling Cup competition. It was Arsenal's first lost in Ipswich since the mid-1980s. Arsenal lacked luster throughout the match. Predictably, Arshavin and Denilson were very poor, as (seemingly) always. Eboue was just as bad, particularly on defense (if that's what you can call the position he was playing).

How can they hope to contend in the Premier League, the FA Cup, and Champion's League if they lack the power and self-belief to brush off a team like Ipswich in the Carling Cup? It's about time for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to ask some hard questions about his players, and about his own management.

China's Climate Policy Shames the US

The chief US complaint about international climate regimes - the main reason George W. Bush gave for withdrawing US support from the Kyoto Protocol - was that developing countries, including China, were not required to commit to reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), despite the fact that China is now the world's leading emitter of GHGs (though not per capita).

China, which had already self-imposed a carbon-intensity reduction target (that is, a target to reduce GHG emissions per unit of production, which does not necessarily entail a reduction in total annual emissions), today announced that it will impose binding emission-reduction targets on each of its regions as part of that effort. Scientific American has the story here.

This is a small but important step in the Chinese government's development of a domestic climate policy. As always, the proof will be in the pudding. (Will China actually enforce and verify emissions reductions?) But at least China is taking action, which is something the US government has yet to do since President Bush denounced the Kyoto Protocol, despite the fact that per capita income in the US is nearly 8 times that of China (based on purchasing power parity). At least 130 million Chinese citizens still live on $1/day or less. Given this, China's climate commitment puts the US government to shame.

2010 Ties for Warmest Year on Record

Even an unusually cold December in many places could not prevent 2010 from tying 2005 as the warmest year on record, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). According to this report in USA Today, the global mean temperature in 2010 was 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the twentieth-century average, marking the 34th consecutive year in which the annual global mean temperature exceeded that average.

Final Report of the Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The Commission, appointed by President Obama and co-chaired by former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and former EPA chief (under Bush I) William Reilly, makes numerous recommendations for improving offshor drilling safety and environmental protection, including the following:

  •  Congress should create an independent safety agency within the Department of the Interior to oversee all aspects of offshore drilling safety.
  • When drafting offshore oil leases, under existing statutory authorities, Interior should ensure that the industry pays the costs of regulatory oversight, as do other regulated industries, such as telecommunications. Those regulatory oversight costs should include the budget of the new independent safety agency (see above) and oil-spill response planning, which should be borne by the agency, rather than American taxpayers.
  • With respect to the increased risks associated with deepwater drilling in areas with less well understood geologies, Interior should toughen its baseline prescriptive safety regulations and require oil companies to demonstrate that they have undertaken thorough risk assessments and are prepared to manage all risks pertaining to planned operations.
  • Congress should enact a statute that would create within the Interior Department a distinct environmental science office headed by a chief scientist with well-specified responsibilities regarding environmental review and protection.
  • The oil and gas industry should adopt, as some other high-risk industries already have, a "Safety Institute," as an industry-created, self-policing entity responsible for developing, adopting, and enforcing standards of excellence to ensure continuous improvement in safety. 
  • Each house of Congress should assign a committee with responsibility for conducting annual oversight hearings to consider the state of technology, application of safety processes, and environmental protection in offshore oil exploration and drilling.
  • The President should seek increased funding for agencies with oil-spill response responsibilities, including Interior and the Coast Guard.
  • The President should create an inter-agency review process for oil-spill response planning. Final response plans should be made publicly available.
  • Interior, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Energy should develop in-house expertise to effectively oversee containment operations in the immediate aftermath of a well blowout.
  • As a permit condition for deepwater drilling, Interior should require oil and gas companies to (a) design wells in ways that anticipate the potential need for containment should a blowout occur and to (b) have immediate access to containment technologies.
  • Congress should significantly increase the Oil Polllution Act's liability cap and financial responsibility requirements for offshore facilities.
Many of the Commission's recommendations are based on its analysis of what other countries, such as Norway and the UK, already require. The full report, supporting documents, and a press kit that contains "Highlights of Key Recommendations" can be viewed here.

On This Date

On January 12, 1915, legislation to create the Rocky Mountain National Park passed Congress. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law on January 26. The park encompasses more than 1,000 square kilometers of Colorado's northern Front Range and hosts nearly 3 million visitors each year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

RIP: Roy Gardner 1947-2011

I just received notice that Roy Gardner has passed away. Roy was the Chancellor's Professor of Economics and Henry H.H. Remak Professor of West European Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington. Roy was also very active in the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, which is where I got to know him. In fact, I recently had been wondering why I had not seen Roy in the last several months at the Workshop.

Roy was an expert in Game Theory, and a highly productive scholar. My personal favorite of his works is the book he wrote with Elinor Ostrom and Jimmy Walker, Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources (University of Michigan Press 1993). Roy was also a generous scholar, who always gave useful advice and comments on draft papers. He was a very smart and good guy.

On This Date

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt ended debates in Congress about whether the Grand Canyon should be preserved or developed (for hydro-power and minerals) by declaring it a National Monument, under authority granted by Congress in the Antiquities Act of 1906. This move, controversial at the time, protected what has become the most popular natural tourist attraction in the United States against the designs of developers, while Congress dithered. It was not until 1919 that Congress finally designated the Grand Canyon as a National Park.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Weather is Not the Same Thing as Climate

An article in today's Christian Science Monitor (here) contends that:
The unusual winter conditions, especially in the South and parts of the mid-Atlantic, have renewed debates about manmade global warming, with many scientists saying the cold weather is proof of climate change and skeptics saying such global-warming hype has left many unprepared for one of the coldest and snowiest decades in 40 years.
This is simply shoddy journalism by someone who doesn't understand the difference between weather and climate. The cold, snowy whether in the south has certainly not "renewed debates about manmade global warming." Short term weather patterns tell us next to nothing about longer term climate trends.

On This Date

On January 10, 1776, Englishman Thomas Paine anonymously published Common Sense, a pamphlet that provided the American colonists with arguments for independence from English rule and promoted a system for representative democracy. Written like a religious sermon, rather than philosophical tract, common folk could understand it easily, which enhanced its popularity and circulation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On This Date

On January 9, 1349, the Christian population of Basel, Switzerland rounded up and incinerated the entire Jewish population of that city because they had become convinced that the Jews were responsible for the Black Death (plague). Unfortunately, virulent antisemitism as well as other forms of religious-based hatred and deadly superstition are still very much with us today.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Well Said, Sheriff Dupnik

Commenting on the suspect in today's shooting in Arizona (from the, here):
"There's reason to believe this individual has a mental issue and I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol," he said.

"Vitriol" in public debate was a recurring theme in Dupnik's remarks as he blasted the media for "the vitriolic rhetoric" heard on television and radio.

"This has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in and I think its time we do the soul-searching," he said.

"The anger, the hatred the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately, Arizona has become the capitol. We have become the mecca of prejudice and bigotry."

Thoughts and Wishes for Gabrielle Giffords and Other Victims of the Arizona Shooting

The Democratic Representative from Arizona was shot and critically wounded today at a public meeting with her constituents. Others were killed or wounded. Details are here (and pretty much all news sources). My thoughts and best wishes go out to all of them, their families, and friends.

I hope (against hope) that this was a random act of violence, rather than a political assassination attempt, stemming from the increasingly violent political rhetoric of cable news and the internet.

FA Cup: Arsenal 1 - Leeds 1

It was almost a new low to the season, as Arsenal trailed late at home to Championship (the league beneath the Premier League in England) side Leeds. But the Gunners nicked a replay in Leeds on a late penalty earned by substitute Theo Walcott and scored by substitute Cesc Fabregas.

Almost predictably, the lazy and wasteful Andrei Arshavin and the slow, seemingly tranquilized, Denilson played  poorly. (It was Denilson who gave up the penalty that led to the Leeds goal.) Amazingly, when Fabregas and Walcott entered the game, those two did not depart. Instead, Arsene Wenger inexplicably pulled a couple of useful players, Chamakh and Song, from the match. Among the rest of the Arsenal cast, I thought only Djourou and Szczesny, who made an excellent save to keep the Gunners in the match, played really well. The always self-overconfident Niklas Bendtner played hard but wasted a number of decent scoring opportunities. Tomas Rosicky was poor running the offense from midfield.

The only prize Arsenal earned from today's match was the opportunity to play yet another game, away at Leeds, in a schedule already choked with matches. But at least they didn't crash out of the FA Cup (yet).

On This Date

On January 9, 1835, for the first and only time in US history, the national debt fell to zero.

Friday, January 7, 2011

On This Date

Continuing the communication technology theme from yesterday, on January 7, 1927, exactly 89 years and one day after Samuel Morse successfully tested the electrical telegraph, the first transatlantic telephone line was established between New York and London.

Consider, once again, how communication technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds in the 80 or so years since then.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Well, That Didn't Take Long

From The New York Times (here):
On the first full day of legislative business, House Republicans introduced measures on Wednesday to block the environmental agency’s proposed regulation of greenhouse gases and new rules limiting toxic air emissions from cement factories.
The Republicans will tell you, supported by absolutely no evidence, that "job-killing" EPA regulations are a significant cause of unemployment. Don't you believe it.  

On This Date

On January 6, 1838, Samuel Morse completed the first successful test of his electrical telegraph, which revolutionized communications, and had profound effects throughout the economy.

It's interesting to reflect on how far communications technologies have improved since then. Before the nineteenth century was over, we had telephones; within a century after that, we had satellite communications and the internet. This should give us some reason for cautious optimism that we similar improvements in energy technologies over the next 50 years or so could minimize carbon emissions to stabilize the climate.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Arsenal 0 - Manchester City 0

In the first half-hour, it looked like Arsenal would rip Man City to shreds. Three times, Arsenal shots hit the post. But Man City shored up its defense, and played an entirely negative game the rest of the way. Fabianski and Arsenal's central defenders barely had to break a sweat. Virtually the entire game was played on Man City's side of midfield. But the Gunners could not break through. Man City's strategy prevailed and they left the Emirates with a point. The only winner from this match was Manchester United, which saw two of its main rivals drop points.

I can't fault the Gunners too much. Overall, they played hard and well, as they tried vainly to break down Man City's defensive wall. Despite one brilliant shot, Van Persie still shows signs of his long injury lay-off. Arshavin was characteristically poor when he came on as a substitute for Theo Walcott for the last quarter of an hour. Otherwise, it was a strong performance that probably deserved all three points.

Unfortunately, both Arsenal's Bacary Sagna and Man City's Pablo Zabaleta received red cards late in the game for going head to head in a mutual display of petulance. The color probably should have been yellow. Nevertheless, it will be bad news as Arsenal will be without the services of one of it's most consistent defenders for the next three league games.

If You Want to Know Why College/Law School Tuition Is Increasing

In August, the Goldwater Institute published a report on "Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Education". Here is the Executive Summary of that report:

Enrollment at America’s leading universities has been increasing dramatically, rising nearly 15 percent between 1993 and 2007. But unlike almost every other growing industry, higher education has not become more efficient. Instead, universities now have more administrative employees and spend more on administration to educate each student. In short, universities are suffering from “administrative bloat,” expanding the resources devoted to administration significantly faster than spending on instruction, research and service.

Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent. Arizona State University, for example, increased the number of administrators per 100 students by 94 percent during this period while actually reducing the number of employees engaged in instruction, research and service by 2 percent. Nearly half of all full-time employees at Arizona State University are administrators.

A significant reason for the administrative bloat is that students pay only a small portion of administrative costs. The lion’s share of university resources comes from the federal and state governments, as well as private gifts and fees for non-educational services. The large and increasing rate of government subsidy for higher education facilitates administrative bloat by insulating students from the costs. Reducing government subsidies would do much to make universities more efficient.

We base our conclusions on data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Higher education institutions report basic information about enrollment, employment and spending in various categories to IPEDS, which then makes this systematically collected information publicly available. In this report, we focus on the 198 leading universities in the United States. They are the ones in IPEDS identified as four year colleges that also grant doctorates and engage in a high or very high level of research. This set includes all state flagship public universities as well as elite private institutions.

Hat tip: Environmental Economics

The Health Care Act Reduces the Deficit!

According to Ezra Klein's excellent column in today's Washington Post (here), we all need to keep repeating that fact until a majority of the American electorate, and Republicans in Congress, understand it.

On This Date

On January 5, 1945, the Soviet Union completed a despicable fait accompli by officially recognizing the puppet government Moscow established in Poland following rigged elections. This marked the beginning of 45 years of Communist Party mis-rule in Poland. In 1989, Poland finally threw off the shackles of communism and Russian domination, beginning a process that led inexorably to the downfall of the Soviet Union itself.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On This Date

On January 4, 1972, Rose Heilbron (1914-2005) became the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey. She was also the first woman barrister to win a scholarship to Gray's Inn, the first woman treasurer that honorable society, the first woman Recorder, and the first woman to be named King's Counsel.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Last Week of Winter Break

While many of my colleagues will be heading to San Francisco this week for the massively over-priced and always underwhelming annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, I'm staying home preparing to teach Climate Law & Policy for the first time and a Seminar in Property Theory for the second time (and the first time in more than half-decade). I also have to draft an introduction for an edited volume this week. It may be my only opportunity to get any new writing done this semester.

The second 8-week session of winter training also begins this week. Now that the holidays are over, it's really time to start ramping up the effort to add some watts and drop some pounds.

On This Date

On January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the United States. It was, at the time, the only state not directly connected by land to any other state. Comprised of territory originally purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, Alaska increased the total size of the US by more than 586,000 square miles (counting territorial waters) - more than the combined area of California, Texas, and Montana, which are the three next largest states. It has a longer coastline than all other US states combined, the lowest population density of any US state, huge reserves of minerals, and the most amazing scenery and wildlife to be seen anywhere. The tallest mountain in North American, Denali, is found in Alaska, as are the world's largest national park and wildlife reserve.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

On This Date

On January 2, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon signed a bill lowering the maximum US speed limit to 55 mph. The primary purpose of the move was to conserve gasoline during the OAPEC oil embargo by an estimated 2.2 percent. However, because many motorists ignored the law, and many states did not strictly enforce the speed limit, the real gasoline savings were closer to 1 percent. Nevertheless, the limit had side-benefits as well, including reduced traffic fatalities and pollution emissions. The federal maximum speed limit was lifted in 1995, during the Clinton Administration, in response to pressure from states and the transportation industry, after the price of gasoline had fallen (in real terms).

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Birmingham 0 - Arsenal 3

The Gunners kept pace with the two Manchester teams today with a heartening performance in Birmingham after  their disappointing draw at Wigan last Wednesday. After a rough-and-tumble first half in which Arsenal took a 1-0 lead on a deflected Van Persie free kick, the Gunners took complete control in the second half, with some stunning close passing, particularly between Nasri, who scored Arsenal's second goal, and Fabregas whose shot was ultimately played into the net for Arsenal's third goal by Birmingham defender Roger Johnson. The Gunners wasted nary a pass during the second half in a truly dominant display of football. The defense was also much better today, with goalie Lukas Fabianski, who made one great save on a Birmingham fee kick, earning the Gunner's first clean sheet in seven games.

Next up, a tough home match against Man City on Wednesday.  

Happy New Year!

With best wishes for a healthy, happy, prosperous, and crash-free 2011.

On This Date

On January 1, 45 BC the Julian calendar took effect for the first time, with January 1 as the first day of the year.