Monday, February 28, 2011

It's Official: The FA Plays Favorites

If any player from any other team had thrown the elbow that Manchester United's Wayne Rooney threw at Wigan's James McCartney last Saturday, the FA would have banned him for at least three games. It is outrageous that Rooney escapes with no penalty simply because the ref, who did not see the elbow, saw the two players collide and awarded a free kick.

If Man U had any integrity as an organization, they would voluntarily sit Rooney for at least a couple of games for what was an obvious and intentional assault. It's time for teams to start taking responsibility for the on-field conduct of their players.

February Cycling Totals

265 miles for the month, including just two outdoor rides totaling about 76 miles. Those two rides were, of course, the cycling highlights of the month, along with a decent last LT test of winter training.

Year to date: 522 miles.

The Wages of Law

The ABA Journal has a site (here) where you can find out what lawyers earn in counties from around the US. In Marion County, Indiana, which is coterminous with the City of Indianapolis, the mean salary for attorneys is $105,990; the median salary is $95,030; and the 75th percentile salary is $126,340.

Given all the dire news out there about change in the legal profession and reports questioning whether law school is worth the money, it is useful to remember that lawyers still earn, on average, a comparatively good living.

Sleepless in Indianapolis

Between the long string of intense thunderstorms that rolled through the area last night, the frequent wail of warning sirens, and the even louder and just as frequent alarms from our weather alert monitor, it was not a restful night. However, I did learn this morning that I could get through a two-hour session of my Seminar in Property Theory on no sleep. The students looked as bleary-eyed as I felt, though I don't know whether that was because of a sleepless night or just the ordinary response to two hours of property theory.

Another Setback for US Climate Policy?

Today's edition of The Guardian (here) reports that President Obama has signaled his intention to order a two-year delay in the implementation of EPA's proposed rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Notwithstanding that the Clean Air Act is not well suited to dealing with climate change, the President's retreat is yet another sign that his Administration does not consider climate change a significant enough priority to fight for against the tide of Republican (and some Democratic) opposition.

This continues the one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach to climate policy that has characterized the Obama Administration so far. After identifying climate change as a key issue for his first term, President Obama declined to expend the political capital necessary to obtain Senate action on a climate bill that already had been approved (thanks largely to the efforts of Speaker Pelosi) in the House. EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act was supposed to be a back-up plan that would move US climate policy forward while spurring reluctant legislators to support special climate legislation to minimize compliance costs for regulated industries, e.g., through specially designed emissions trading and offset programs. Now, having already conceded the fight on special climate legislation, and faced with radical Republican threats to bring the federal government to a halt, President Obama appears ready to, in effect, put all federal climate policy on the back-burner until after the next presidential election.

Is this capitulation or good tactical politics? The one argument I can see for the later conclusion is that by delaying EPA regulations for two years, the President might forestall Republican efforts to emasculate the agency. That assumes, of course, that such Republican efforts have a serious prospect of working. Moreover, Obama's plan (if that's what it is) could backfire, if it simply emboldens radical conservatives, who already have inserted into funding bills measures to reduce EPA's authority to regulate hazardous air pollutants such as mercury (see here). How credible will President Obama's threats to veto such legislation be if he is known to capitulate at every turn?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Sunday Ride

Thanks to Jonas for letting me know he was heading out for a Zone 2-3 ride today. It was just what I needed between the debacle of the Carling Cup final and hundreds of pages of reading and note-taking for class tomorrow. We rode out with a pretty stiff breeze (9-18 mph) and back in against it for a total of 31 miles. By the time I got home, the headache I had before the ride was gone, and I was feeling relaxed and ready to get back to work.

Carling Cup Final: Arsenal 1 - Birmingham 2

Arsenal were fortunate to be tied 1-1 at halftime. Birmingham took an early lead off a set-play, when 6'8" Nikola Zigic  headed in off a set-play. Their lead easily could have been 3-0. Before Zigic's goal, Arsenal benefited from an incorrect offside call that prevented a good penalty claim by Birmingham's Lee Bowyer, and possibly a red card for Arsenal goalie Wojciech Szczesny. After Zigic's goal, Birmingham opened up the Gunner defense way too easily, and only a fine, point-blank save by Szczesny prevented another score. Finally, the Gunners regained some possession and started pressuring the Birmingham defense. The Gunners' goal came in the 39th minute, after Jack Wilshire - Arsenal's best player of the half by some length - struck the crossbar with a vicious shot from 30 yards out. Andrei Arshavin controlled the rebound on the edge of the box and worked his toward the goal line before crossing to Robin van Persie, who volleyed the ball into the Birmingham net. Arsenal could have scored again before the end of the half, when Samir Nasri hit a rocket from outside the box that Birmingham goalkeeper Ben Foster could only parry away. With the Gunners piling on the pressure, the Birmingham players were no doubt happy to hear the half-time whistle.

If Gunners' fans expected Arsenal to take over the game in the second half, they were disappointed. For the first few minutes after the break, Arsenal did look dangerous, but then Birmingham came back into the game with dogged determination. In fairness, Birmingham's team work-rate was higher than Arsenal's throughout the match. Unlike Arsenal, this was Birmingham's one chance for silverware this season, and they were going all out for it. Arsenal, by contrast, seemed to be treating the game as just one more in a congested schedule of  fixtures. Nevertheless, as the second half wore on, one could sense tiredness creeping into the Birmingham players' legs, and Arsenal upped the pressure. As the half wore on, Birmingham goalie Ben Foster kept his team in the game, making several fine saves. As long as he managed to keep Arsenal at bay, Birmingham could hope to grab a victory at the death.

And they did - out of nothing. On a easy ball into the box, Szczesny and Koscielny got all tangled up, and took each other out of the play. The ball fell at the feet of Birmingham substitute Obafami Martins, like manna from heaven. Martins simply passed the ball into a gaping goal.

Arsenal outplayed Birmingham for much of this game, but this was not a lucky victory for the Blues. Birmingham thoroughly deserved it. They played harder and with greater resolve, earning the luck that gave them the win.

Chris Sutton Wins Kurne-Brussels-Kurne

Congrats to the Team Sky rider, who won the sprint finish in Kurne. The most interesting aspect of the race for me was Tom Boonen's decision to attack with 5 km to go. He managed to stay in front for only about 2 km. My guess is that Boonen knows his form isn't yet good enough to win a field sprint; so he took a flyer. Those two kilometers on the attack can only improve his form as the Spring Classics season continues.

As I watch more of the Dutch race feeds on Steephill.TV, I think I'm beginning to understand the language. At least, I often can make sense of what the commentators are talking about.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thinking about Time

Over at Legal Planet (here), Dan Farber engages in what he calls a "whimsical thought experiment" calculated to reduce the environmentally significant discrepancy between geological time and time as humans tend to experience it:

As a thought experiment, imagine changing the basic unit from a year to millenium, which we could abbreviate as  an M (pronounced “em”).  Then we’d have the following system of units:

     1 M is a thousand years.

     1 deci-M is a century.

     1 centi-M is a decade.

     1 milli-M is a year.

     1 micro-M is about 7 hours.

2100 is less than .09 M from now.  It’ll be here before you know it!
I suspect Dan calls his thought experiment "whimsical" because he understands all too well the public choice pressures generated by short time horizons (among other things), especially for policy-makers who face reelection in 2 milli-M, 4 milli-M, or 6 milli-M cycles.

The Tea Party v. The US Economy

The ever-sensible Ryan Avent, writing at the "Free Exchange" blog of The Economist (here), explains why the Republican/Tea Party chainsaw massacre of the federal budget would be very bad for the US economy. Avent quotes a non-partisan analysis from Goldman Sachs that predicts that GDP would decline by 2 percent as a result of the proposed budget cuts.

As I have noted in a previous blog post (here), some true-believing Tea Partiers might not care about the economic consequences of budget cuts; for them, smaller government is better government, regardless of the consequences. Most, however, are at best inconsistent supporters of smaller government; they are very happy to support some big-government programs, like Medicare, while cutting others. But even those inconsistent (or incoherent) Tea Party politicians are more concerned with short-term electoral consequences than longer-term economic consequences.

Whether they are true-believers or opportunists, sensible and pragmatic voters should oppose their efforts to cut government programs for the sake of cutting, without regard for the economic consequences.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last LT Test of Winter Training

I haven't had the best energy over the past couple of weeks of training, but I managed to average 300 watts on the nose this evening at the last 20 minute Lactate Threshold test of winter training at the Indy Cycling Academy. It's 8 watts lower than my personal best, which I hit at the final LT test of winter training last February; but it is an 11 watt improvement over my first LT Test of this season of winter training back in November. I don't know that I'm a whole lot fitter than I was when winter training started, but Coaches Bob and Steve, along with my training buddies, certainly helped me maintain a reasonable level of fitness through what has been a long, cold winter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Principles of Law and Economics, 2d Edition (forthcoming summer 2011)

Peter Grossman and I have just completed the final revisions of chapters for the second edition of our Principles of Law and Economics textbook, which should be published in plenty of time for the Fall 2011 semester by Kluwer/Aspen. We did not change the overall structure or organization of the book, but worked in several new cases (while weeding out some old ones), added more game theory applications throughout, and slightly increased the coverage of intellectual property issues. The Table of Contents remains the same:
  1. Economic Concepts and Institutions
  2. An Introduction to the American Legal System
  3. Putting Law and Economics Together: Frameworks, History, and Perspectives
  4. "The Problem of Social Cost" and Modern Law and Economics
  5. Property I: Acquisition
  6. Property II: Protection
  7. Property III: Limits
  8. Contracts I: Formation and Enforcement
  9. Contracts II: Remedies
  10. Torts I: Negligence
  11. Torts II: Strict Liability
  12. Torts III: Reform
  13. Crime and Punishment
  14. Antitrust and Regulated Industries
  15. Environmental Protection
We are very pleased with the way the book has worked for us in our classes, and even more pleased with the great support from Kluwer/Aspen, which will be marketing the book for both undergraduate and law school use. 

The Looming Government Shutdown

Over at Crooked Timber (here), John Quiggin wonders why the looming shutdown of the federal government on March 4th isn't a bigger deal to Americans. It's a very good question, and you should read his entire post. As Quiggin notes, the practical implications of even a short-term shutdown could be very severe for many people.

Here are a few tentative (and largely unsupported) hypotheses to explain the evident lack of concern about the consequences and lack of alacrity to prevent them:

(1) Few people remember the real harm done by the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s; all they remember is that it did not last that long.

(2) Among Democrats, even those who remember the consequences of the last shutdown remember that their side "won," as the shutdown backfired on the Republicans and increased support for President Clinton. They seem to expect the same thing to happen this time, as if the outcome is inevitable.

(3) John Boehner and the Republican leadership remember what happened last time and already have publicly announced that they will not let it happen again and, believing him, many people assume that a last minute deal will be struck.

One problem with hypotheses (1) and (2) is that past is not prologue. Just because the last government shutdown worked out as it did, and had few lasting consequences, does not mean the one now looming will prove to be just as temporary and inconsequential or that President Obama would be its political  beneficiary. As for hypothesis (3), Boehner's promise may not constitute a credible commitment because we already have evidence that he cannot control his own party in the House, where ideologically-pure "Tea Partiers" believe they have a mandate from the American people to, as Paul Krugman put it in a recent op-ed, build "a bridge to the nineteenth century."

One final hypothesis, which rings truer to me than the other three, is that March 4th is, in terms of political brinkmanship, still a long way off.  That's not to say that I am predicting a last-minute settlement (however temporary). But that's exactly what I think most of the party leaders (on both sides) in Washington are predicting. If so, then the absence of early agreement is in the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether we get a last-minute agreement remains to be seen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Leyton Orient 1 - Arsenal 1

Once again, Arsenal fail to put away a minnow in a cup tie. Arsene Wenger fielded a weakened side in what should have been a walk-over in the 5th round FA Cup tie at Leyton Orient. After a boring first half, the Gunners took the lead fairly early in the second half, when Tomas Rosicky headed (yes, headed) in a cross from Nicklas Bendtner. From that point on, the Gunners mostly acted like the game was in the bag; and, indeed, Leyton Orient only rarely mounted any kind of threat. But a single act of brilliance by Leyton Orient substitute Jonathon Tahoue split the Arsenal defence and slotted the ball below a slow-to-react Miguel Almunia to tie the match, and force a replay at the Emirates.

In fact, the Gunners were fortunate not to lose the game. Leyton would likely have scored a few minutes before Tahoue's goal but for defender Sebastian Squillace's face, which got in the way of a powerful shot from inside the penalty box.

Once again, Arsene Wenger gambled that a weakened and relatively inexperienced side could push Arsenal though against weak competition; and once again he was disappointed, as Arsenal wind up with another game on their schedule that they neither need nor want. They will, of course, destroy Leyton Orient in the replay at the Emirates. But it will be one more game to get through as the Gunners are fighting to win silverware in four competitions (the Premier League, the Champion's League, the Carling Cup, and the FA Cup).

Overall, today's game was only slightly less dull than I had expected. For the most part, it served as viewing fodder while I spun easy on the trainer, trying to work out the kinks from yesterday's long ride.

Judge Posner on Gun Control and Federalism

Over at the Becker-Posner blog (here), Judge Posner notes the
unwisdom of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions that have created—on the basis of a tendentious interpretation of the drafting history of the Second Amendment and an intellectually untenable (as it seems to me) belief in “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution—a constitutional right to possess guns for personal self-defense. The result is to impose a significant degree of nationwide uniformity on a problem that is not uniform throughout the nation. The case for private gun ownership is much stronger in largely rural states, such as Arizona—states in which there is a deeply entrenched and historically understandable gun culture and a rationally greater lawful demand for private gun ownership than in the suburban areas of the densely populated midwestern, northeastern, and mid-Atlantic states—than it is in big cities with high crime rates—cities that have long had very strict gun laws many of which may now be ruled unconstitutional. 
I find appealing Judge Posner's argument  that different states should be allowed to have different levels of gun control based on their respective histories, norms, and demographics (e.g., rural v. urban populations). The problem, of course, is that, even if everyone concedes the bankruptcy of "originalism," it would be very difficult for the Supreme Court (or any court) to apply constitutional mandates and limitations non-uniformly from one state to another.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Finally! First Outdoor Ride of the Year

Co-organized by Coach Bob and the Wilkes/Raynor group, a large group of about 20 riders met at Fishback Creek at 1 pm (several riders with too much time and energy had already ridden a bunch of hills). I saw a lot of friends I haven't seen in months. The plan was to ride up to the industrial park at Anson and do some fast laps. The ride up to Anson was spirited, and by the time we got to Anson, I wasn't much inclined to ride fast circuits. Fortunately, Professor Murphy shared my disinclination. After pedaling around for a bit, the two of us took off and headed north to Lebanon, then toward Whitestown, across Michigan Road to Little Eagle Creek, then over to Zionsville, before heading home. Finished with more than 2.5 hours and 45 miles on the bike.

Today's ride confirmed (yet again) that riding indoors on a trainer is really nothing like riding outdoors. Interestingly, what I notice most the first time out each year is the ache in my upper arms, shoulders, and neck from the bumps and road noise.Anyway, it was great to be outdoors again. Hopefully, it won't be another month before we get outside again.

More on Merrill and Smith's Attempted Resurrection of the In Rem/In Personam Distinction

In yesterday's post on Thomas Merrill and Henry Smith's new article on Coase's conception of property (see here), I noted my strong disagreement with their efforts to resurrect the in rem/in personam distinction the common law inherited from Roman law, but which fell into obsolescence during the first part of the twentieth century. However, I did not present many of my reasons for opposing a return to the in rem/in personam distinction because I wanted to keep the focus of that post on Merrill and Smith's analysis of Coase.

So, just in case anyone's interested, I am embedding below a brief essay I drafted a few years ago, but never completed or published, in response to a few earlier articles by Merrill and Smith complaining about how property is treated in Law & Economics (prominently including Coase's theories) and advocating a return to the old in rem/in personam distinction.

In Rem In Personam Distinction

Friday, February 18, 2011

Merrill and Smith on "Making Coasean Property More Coasean"

See the full paper here. The abstract:
In his pioneering work on transaction costs, Ronald Coase presupposed a picture of property as a bundle of government-prescribed use rights. This picture is not only not essential to what Coase was trying to do, but its limitations emerge when we apply Coase’s central insights to analyze the structure of property itself. This leads to what we term the Coase Corollary: in a world of zero transaction costs the nature of property does not matter to allocative efficiency. But as with the Coase Theorem itself, the real point is the implication for a positive transaction cost world: we need to subject the notion of property to a comparative institutional analysis. Because transaction costs are positive, it is no accident that property is defined in terms of things as a starting point, that uses are grouped under exclusion rights, and that in rem rights are widely employed: these features of property receive a transaction cost explanation. Simple lumpy packages of property rights motivated by transaction costs form an important baseline that furnishes presumptive answers to bilateral use conflicts. A more thoroughly Coasean approach points back to a picture of property more like the traditional one furnished by the law.
The gist of their argument is almost certainly correct: standardization of recognized property forms may well serve to economize of transaction costs (especially those relating to enforcement of title). It's easy to imagine Coase concurring with the "Coase Corollary;" it's already implicit in the "Coase theorem." If it doesn't matter which party has the property rights (in a counterfactual world of zero transaction costs), then the "nature," scope, or extent of those rights is hardly likely to matter either.

I continue to believe, however, that Merrill and Smith are (as they have been in previous articles) less than generous in attributing to Coase the claim that property rights are nothing more than "ad hoc bundles of government-prescribed use rights." It's certainly true that Coase does not share Merrill and Smith's deep (almost obsessive) appreciation of the in rem nature of property rights (that is, that property rights are good against "the entire world" -  a legal conceit if ever there was one); and perhaps he does not share their belief that the right to exclude  is the most important property right (I do not claim to know whether he does or not). There is, however, no particular reason to attribute to Coase the belief that property rights are anything other than what common-law courts say they are. Indeed, at one point in their article Merrill and Smith "seriously doubt that Coase entertained the notion that property rights are purely ad hoc assemblages of rights and privileges, like ingredients at a Mongolian barbecue restaurant." If so, then why do they keep attributing to him precisely the attitude they doubt he entertains? And if they don't believe he entertains it, then what attitude do they believe he actually holds about property? As it is, they seem to be attacking a straw man and calling him "Coase."

As in earlier articles, Merrill and Smith suggest that Coase was somehow infected by the Legal Realists' notion of property as a "bundle of rights," although once again they fail to identify the vector of contagion. Nor do they make a convincing argument that the "bundle of rights" view of property is either incorrect or pernicious. They complain that it "obscures," in various ways (all of which are debatable), the in rem nature of property, but then they concede that the "bundle of rights" conception of property is "not logically incompatible with the understanding that property rights are in rem." I believe that last statement is correct. Moreover, the main, positive contribution of their article - the argument that legal limitations of property ownership to a relatively few standardized forms may be efficient on a comparative transaction cost analysis - does not seem to depend on a conclusion that the "bundle or rights" view of property is erroneous or pernicious.

For many reasons (too many to go into here), I strongly disagree with Merrill and Smith's efforts to resurrect (from what is, in my opinion, a deserved obsolescence) the in rem/in personam distinction, and with their desire to elevate exclusion as the sine qua non of property (I just don't see why the right to exclude is necessarily more important or valuable to every owner than rights to alienate, possess, or use). But I will restrict myself here to just two objections that bear directly on their reception of Coase's work:

(1) Whether or not property rights are in rem has little or no bearing on the resolution of boundary disputes (among other types of property conflicts).

(2) Contrary to Merrill and Smith's assertion, recognizing the in rem nature of property does not render "utterly implausible" Coase's notion that land use conflicts invariably involve reciprocal harm (i.e., social costs).

Consider both objections in light of the famous case of Ampitheaters, Inc. v. Portland Meadows, 184 Or. 336 (1948). In that case, lights from a racetrack (used for evening racing) interfered with the operation of the neighboring drive-in movie theater. The racetrack had taken some steps to reduce the light emissions; the neighboring theater had done nothing to protect itself. The court ruled in favor of the racetrack, finding that it was not liable for a nuisance because the drive-in theater constituted an "abnormally sensitive" activity.

Both parties in that dispute were fee simple absolute owners of their respective lands. Even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that property rights were in rem, I don't see how that fact helps us. Does it avoid the problem before it arises, resolve the conflict (out of court) after it arises, or predetermine the outcome in court? Perhaps Merrill and Smith would argue that in rem would have resolved Portland Meadows (and similar cases), assuming that in rem rights entail the ad coelum maxim, which they mention in passing in their new paper. According to that maxim, property boundaries extend upwards to the heavens and down to the center of the earth. If that maxim were treated as a rule of property, stemming (however obscurely) from the in rem nature of property rights, the court in Portland Meadows might have been compelled to rule in favor of the drive-in theater because the light from the racetrack crossed the boundary between the two properties.

That solution would problematic in several respects. In the first place, no one to my knowledge, including Merrill and Smith, has argued that the ad coelum maxim is a necessary concomitant of in rem rights. Moreover, while often touted in dicta by common-law courts (far more in the US than the UK), the ad coelum maxim has never been consistently applied as a legal rule, let alone as a necessary concomitant of in rem rights. Finally, and most important for present purposes, the Supreme Court expressly disavowed the ad coelum rule in US v. Causby, 328 US 256 (1946) on grounds of - wait for it -  transaction costs (although the Court did not refer to them as such). The Court concluded that the ad coelum rule had "no place in the modern world" because it would have created insufferable (cost) barriers to civilian aviation. (On the problematic history of the ad coelem maxim, see my new paper on "Property Creation by Regulation" and Stuart Banner's marvelous 2008 book, Who Owns the Sky?).

Finally, returning to my second objection to Merrill and Smith's claims about the supposed in rem nature of property, in light of the outcome of Ampitheaters, Inc. v. Portland Meadows, it is clear that the owner of the drive-in theater was harmed by the court's decision. It had to either invest in high fences to block the light, pay the race track not to use its lights, move, or close down. Presumably, it chose the least expensive of those options, but every one of them entailed substantial costs. Now, consider if the court had come out the other way. In that case, the race track owner surely would have been harmed. It would have had to invest in better fencing to keep the light from crossing over the boundary, paid the drive-in theater to become an enclosed theater (or something like that), moved, or shut down. Simply put, the harm truly was reciprocal, and it's difficult to see how recognizing the in rem nature of property could possibly have changed that. Either way, one party or another is being prevented from doing what they want to do, and that is always costly, in the strict economic sense of that term, regardless of the ethics or legality of their wants.

We are left with the none-too-surprising conclusion that Coase was right! And just to end on the same positive note with which I began this post, Merrill and Smith are almost certainly right that the standardization of property rights, possibly even including the legal fiction of property rights good against the entire world, may serve to reduce transaction costs and maximize the social product across the run of foreseeable conflicts. I'm not sure that conclusion is "more Coasean," but it certainly is Coasean.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Few Interesting New Papers

The vertical stacks of papers on my desk reflects the fact that my appetite for interesting new papers to read, on a wide variety of subjects, exceeds my ability to actually read them. Each day, I receive announcements (through various mechanisms) of dozens of new papers. Some days, none will interest me enough to look beyond the abstract. Many days, however, I will find one or two articles that pique my interest enough for me to download, and sometimes print out, the entire article. Rarely, I'll have a day like one earlier this week, when I found a half dozen or more new papers to read.

In an effort to keep my vertical stacks of papers from approach the ceiling of my office, I've tried this week to make at least a little headway by reading papers (mostly newer ones) that have attracted my attention. Several of these I find worth recommending to others. (Warning: NBER papers require a subscription for download, but not for reading abstracts):

Lee J. Alston and Krister Andersson, "Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Forest Protection: The Transaction Costs of REDD," Working Paper 16756, NBER Working Paper Series (Feb. 2011).

Samuel Bowles, "Is liberal society a parasite on tradition?"

Pablo T. Spiller, "Transaction Cost Regulation," Working Paper 16735, NBER Working Paper Series (Jan. 2011).

Daniel A. Farber, "The BP Blowout and the Social and Environmental Erosion of the Louisiana Coast,UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1740844 (Jan. 2011).

Monica Eppinger, "Unravelling the Illiberal Commons: On Property, Personhood, and the New Objectivity" (July 2010).

Lord Skidelsky on Unrest in the Middle East

At Project Syndicate (here), Robert Skidelsky has an interesting and provocative post on domestic political upheavals in the Middle East. I find myself in agreement with much of what he has to say, but I remain baffled about his suggestion that anything going on in Tunisia, Egypt or elsewhere is a consequence, direct or indirect, of the Bush Administration's deceptive and unwarranted invasion of Iraq.

VSL in Regulatory Policy

Today's New York Times has an interesting story (at least for policy wonks) on changing and differing valuations of the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) for purposes of regulatory cost-benefit analysis. Vanderbilt's Kip Viscusi, who has been working on this issue longer than anyone, is quoted in the article as supporting the increased valuations, as do I. However, I also agree with John Graham, Dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU-Bloomington (and former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB under President Bush) that there is little justification for allowing different agencies to use different VSLs. Under current OMB rules, agencies are free to use any value between $1 million and $10 million, with $5 million as the recommended central estimate. That central estimate is clearly too low, and the range is too broad. It would be better if OMB would establish a figure for all Executive Branch agencies to use.

UPDATE: Dan Farber also agrees with the increase in the VSL (see here).

UK Forests Saved

I have been blogging about the UK Coalition government's misguided plans to sell off its national forests (see here and here). Those plans have finally been abandoned. The Independent is reporting (here) that, in the words of Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, "we got this one wrong." Indeed they did. Thank goodness the government was responsible enough to recognize the error of its ways and reverse course.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arsenal 2 - Barcelona 1

In the first half, Arsenal started well and created, but failed to convert, a couple of decent scoring chances. Barca gradually played themselves into the game, then dominated for the bulk of the first half. They created more and better scoring chances, cutting open the center of Arsenal's defense (and the dangerously high offside line the Gunners' defense was playing) on a few occasions. David Villa scored on one of those chances. Lionel Messi should have scored on at least one other. The halftime score could well have been 2-0, 3-0, or 2-1. As it happened, Barca's lead at the half was a slender 1-0.

The second half was a completely different story; Arsenal dominated it from the first kick to the final whistle. I don't know what Arsene Wenger said to the team at halftime, but the entire team seemed to elevate their games in the second half, playing with more brio and self-confidence. They attacked in waves and seemed to surprise a Barcelona squad that was unable to raise its game response. However, Arsenal couldn't not break down Barca's defense until the 78th minute, when Robin van Persie smashed a shot from a severe angle, squeezing the ball between goalie Victor Valdes and the near post. Valdes probably should have had the shot covered, but Arsenal sub Nicklas Bendtner was lurking in the middle, and Valdes was caught cheating to cover the square ball.

Van Persie's goal sent Arsenal's confidence soaring even higher, and it wasn't long before they struck again, this time on a beautiful sweeping move featuring a particularly fine cut-back pass from Samir Nasri to Andrei Arshavin, who did not take a touch before shooting low past two defenders well beyond the reach of Valdes. It was a difficult shot but the little Russian made it look easy as pie.

All in all, a tremendous team performance from the Gunners, which must raise their confidence level for all competitions. Particularly noteworthy were the stand-out performances by young Jack Wilshire, who played inspired football in midfield, and Laurent Koscielny, playing his first game ever in the Champion's League, and playing with the poise, self-belief, and strength of a world-class central defender.

Much work remains to be done before Arsenal book a trip to the quarter finals in the Champion's League. They have to wait nearly three weeks before playing the return leg at the Nou Camp. Meanwhile, Barca will take consolation in their valuable away goal. But whatever happens in that match, the Gunners will have gained much from today's super victory.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

President Bush's Trusted Policy Advisors on Climate Change

In January 2008, after the Supreme Court's ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency had authority under Clean Air Act to find that the greenhouse gases endangered public health, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson sent a letter to President Bush noting that he was preparing to make such an endangerment finding because the
latest science of climate change requires the Agency to propose a positive endangerment finding….  the state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research.
Johnson's letter also set forth a detailed plan for regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (see here).

As it happened, President Bush overruled Johnson's decision to make an endangerment finding, after consultations with other important agencies of the federal government including Vice President Cheney, the heads of the Office of Management and Budget and the Transportation Department, and Exxon Mobil Corporation. Funny, I don't recall the Senate voting to confirm Exxon Mobil as a member of the President's cabinet.

Hat tip: Brad DeLong.

Post Hoc Inevitability

It had to happen. Now that the Egyptian Revolution no one predicted has happened, it was, on reflection, inevitable. So says Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, in this article at Project Syndicate:
Revolutions happen for a reason. In the case of Egypt, there are several reasons: more than 30 years of one-man rule; Hosni Mubarak’s plans to pass the presidency on to his son; widespread corruption, patronage, and nepotism; and economic reform that did not benefit most Egyptians, but that nonetheless contrasted sharply with the almost complete absence of political change.

The net result was that many Egyptians felt not just alienated, but also humiliated. Humiliation is a powerful motivator. Egypt was ripe for revolution; dramatic change would have come at some point in the next few years, even absent the spark of Tunisia or the existence of social media.
Amazing how the entirely unexpected and unforeseen becomes, after just a few days of hindsight, inevitable and predictable.

Mitch Daniels Is a Serious Politician, but Not A Serious Contender for the Republican Nomination (and He Is Not Serious At All about Environmental Protection)

In his keynote speech to CPAC a couple of evenings ago, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels burnished his fiscal-conservative credentials by calling for "bariatric surgery" for the "morbidly obese" federal government (see here). Whether or not one agrees with his diagnosis and prescription, Daniels deserves credit for bravery.

In stark contrast to the other 2012 presidential hopefuls appearing at the conservative conference, Daniels virtually leaped onto the "third-rail" of politics, explicitly recommending dramatic changes in the structure of Medicare and Social Security. That, along with Daniels's argument that the "culture wars" should, at least for the time being, take a backseat to fiscal reforms, separates him from virtually every other potential candidate in the Republican field, including both heartfelt social conservatives and mere panderers.

The sharp intensity of Daniels's focus on fiscal reform and shrinking the size of the federal government - a focus Daniels seemed to lack when he was Director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush (see here) - is a two-edged sword. It marks him as an unusually serious politician, but at the same time virtually guarantees that he will not be a serious contender for the Republican nomination.

Putting to one side his "nominatability," and conceding his earnestness about policy, Daniels's laissez-faire attitude toward the economy (sometimes tinged with a corporatist flavor, especially on matters of energy policy) provides reason for concern. That attitude is more than evident in his contemptuous treatment of environmental protection and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) during his tenure as governor of Indiana (on which see my earlier blog post here). A November 2009 editorial in the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana provided the following list of Daniels's environmental "accomplishments" as governor:
  • Closed the IDEM office of enforcement.
  • Weakened enforcement rules, making it necessary to demonstrate environmental degradation before state takes action.
  • Ended contracts with local air pollution monitors.
  • Removed nearly all references about global warming in the state's educational material for kinds.
  • Appointed a coal industry attorney as IDEM's lead counsel.
  • Fast-tracked the BP Whiting expansion permit, weakening it in the process and potentially endangering the much-needed capital project

Daniels's speech at CPAC this past week, where he called for large-scale reductions in government regulations, confirmed that he would bring the same anti-environmental attitude to the White House. His call for large-scale deregulation is consistent with a recent op-ed Daniels published in the Wall Street Journal (here), calling for (among other things):
A "freedom window." Might we try some sort of regulatory forbearance period in which the job-killing practice of agonizingly slow environmental permitting is suspended, perhaps in favor of a self-certification safe harbor process? Businesses could proceed with new job creation immediately based on plans that meet current pollution or safety standards, or use best current technology, subject only to fines and remediation if a subsequent look-back shows that the promised standards were not met.
On a simplistic analysis - the only one Governor Daniels has yet provided - deregulation seems a natural way to spur the economy and job-creation. After all, whatever funds businesses are not required to expend on complying with environmental and other onerous regulations, are available for investment in productive activities; and increased production would likely lead (at some point) to more jobs. But this logic ignores pollution and other externalities from industrial production that impose very real costs on society. A careless deregulation of environmental protection would, in fact, reduce the overall productivity of the American economy and net social welfare (see, for example, this report by Harvard economist Dale Jorgenson and Northeastern University economist Richard J. Goettle on the net positive productivity and welfare effects of the Clean Air Act).

The reflexively pro-business Daniels seems blind to the very real distinction between efficiency-enhancing regulatory reforms (a good thing) and the false economies of radical deregulation (a bad thing). In that respect, at least, he is just like the other potential Republican nominees for 2012.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Is Anyone Serious about Climate Policy?

For the past couple of years, I've been working, albeit slowly and haltingly, on a book about the overuse and abuse of emissions trading and offset programs in the international climate regime. Even my research for that book, however, has not made me as skeptical of the Kyoto Protocol's "flexibility mechanisms," as I have become while teaching them this semester as part of my new Climate Law and Policy course. I find it  increasingly difficult to believe that anyone involved in the Kyoto process could possibly have believed, at any time, that it would lead to actual, measurable reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.

That is not to say either that no one is taking climate change seriously, or that the Kyoto Protocol was worse (or as bad) as doing nothing. I'm confident that climate scientists are taking problem seriously, and so too are the denizens of low-lying Pacific Island nations. To a lesser extent, I'm convinced that the bureaucrats of the European Commission (but not European politicians or those of most EU member states) are, at least relatively speaking, pretty serious about climate policy. Meanwhile, I suppose even the existing regime is marginally better than nothing; at least it has kept the international community grappling, however weakly and non-seriously, with the problem.

What would a more serious international climate policy look like? My (admittedly somewhat idiosyncratic) view is that a serious climate change mitigation policy would:

  • involve only the major emitting countries, as President Bush suggested, including India and China (though not necessarily with a view to persuading those two countries immediately to accept binding emission reduction targets), to minimize rent-seeking and other impediments to collective action; 
  • reject comprehensive coverage of all greenhouse gases from all sources in favor, at least initially, of a more limited focus on carbon dioxide emissions from major industrial sources to minimize administrative (monitoring and enforcement) costs;
  • restrict the use of emissions trading and offsets to combinations of greenhouse gases and sources with low costs of establishing baselines, monitoring emissions, and verifying reductions;
  • exclude from consideration claimed reductions from inherently unverifiable counterfactual emissions. 
An international regime that followed these general principles would probably come to resemble, at least in broad outline, the EU Emissions Trading System (excepting its links to the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms), which I believe does, in fact, represent a more sensible and serious approach to mitigating climate change.

Will we ever get a more serious climate regime? As the costs of climate change rise over the next 20-50 years, I expect the international climate regime will become more serious. I do not, however, expect it to change significantly in the near future - it's not even clear at this point whether the parties will agree to extend the Kyoto Protocol, let alone improve on it in any significant way, before the end of the first compliance period at the end of next year. I certainly do not expect the parties to limit, let alone eliminate, abuse-riddled trading regimes like Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism. Unfortunately, the forces of path dependency - too many parties with vested interests - are probably too strong to permit anything that sensible to happen. 

Of course, before we can expect the international community to grapple seriously with the problem of climate change, the international community has a right to expect major emitting countries, including the United States, to at least acknowledge, consistently and unambiguously, that climate change is a serious problem. I see no reason to expect any such acknowledgement before the 2012 presidential election at the earliest. 

Arsenal 2 - Wolves 0

A comfortable win today at home for the Gunners, who stay in  second place in the league, 4 points behind Manchester United. Wolves hardly threatened the Arsenal defense; Szczesny didn't even have to break a sweat in the Arsenal goal. On offense, meanwhile, the Gunners cut the Wolves' defense to shreds. Their goal tally could have been - and really should have been - much higher. Van Persie, who scored both Arsenal goals, Walcott, and Arshavin all wasted great scoring chances. But let's not be greedy. Overall, it was a reassuring performance after Arsenal's second-half collapse at Newcastle last weekend.

Now, the Gunners have to get ready for a mid-week Champion's League match at home to high-flying Barcelona. No one expects Arsenal to get through to the next round, but if they can steal an advantage at the Emirates Stadium this week, that would put pressure on Barca for the return leg at the Camp Nou in a couple weeks' time.

Some Geological Realism about Environmentalism

From Keith Humphreys at The Reality-Based Community
If humankind succeeds in raising carbon concentrations in the air and the oceans to the point that we kill ourselves off, the planet would not mind a bit. Indeed, if it had an opinion, it would probably be delighted that such a damaging species has gone the way of the Dodo. It may take 10,000 years to undo the atmospheric damage, but that is but a heartbeat to a 4.5 Billion year old planet. Selling environmentalism as a kindness we are doing “Mother Earth” is inaccurate: It’s actually an effort to save our own hide.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Happy Day for the Egyptian People (Hopefully, More Are Ahead)

The celebrations in the wake of Mubarak's resignation are well deserved. The Egyptian people rose up and forced the resignation of a dictator of 30 years, who clearly did not want to go. It remains to be seen, however, whether Mubarak's departure heralds a new era of freedom (including religious freedom) and greater economic opportunity for all  Egyptians. Many outcomes remain possible, as reflected in the fact that Hamas in Gaza and the Iranian government are both celebrating today's events in Egypt every bit as much as the US and Europe.

UPDATE: The only thing I've read today that makes me anxious about the outcome of the revolution in Egypt is the following quote, which headlines an article in The Guardian (here): "Nobody will be able to to exploit the system here ever again." Whoever said that must have a political system in mind with which I am unfamiliar.

Judge Posner Slams the Harvard "Blue Book"

Here. I doubt Judge Posner's common sense will ever prevail among the pointy-headed purveyors of legal citation form. I learned basic "Blue Book" style back in law school, and continue to use it when necessary, although I have not bothered to keep up with the cancerous growth (as Judge Posner describes it) of "Blue Book" rules. I don't think I've actually looked at a "Blue Book" in more than 20 years. I only rarely publish in law reviews anymore anyway, but I vastly prefer social science approaches to citations and references, and nearly always use them in my books.

Hat tip: The Browser.

Bruno Frey on the Future of Academia

The distinguished Swiss economist Bruno Frey has posted a concise new working paper on the changing nature of the academic enterprise and the forces driving those changes. Here is the abstract:
Strong forces lead to a withering of academia as it exists today. The major causal forces are the rankings mania, increased division of labor in research, intense publication pressure, academic fraud, dilution of the concept of “university,” and inadequate organizational forms for modern research. Academia, in a broader sense understood as “the locus of seeking truth and learning through methodological inquiry,” will subsist in different forms. The conclusion is therefore pessimistic with respect to the academic system as it presently exists but not to scholarly endeavour as such. However, the transformation predicted is expected to be fundamental.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Republican Control of State Government Means (in Indiana)

For the first time in a long time, the Republican Party controls the Indiana Governor's office and both houses of the state legislature. So, what items are at the top of the Republican legislative agenda? Cutting taxes, creating jobs, and shoring up the financial state of the state? Not so much. So far, the legislative proposals I've been reading about in the local newspaper are (1) a legislative declaration that life begins at conception and (2) a carbon-copy of Arizona's immigration law. Well, if you can't pander to your ideological base when you have complete control of the levers of power, when can you?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions. My apologies to our hard-working, focused, and freedom-loving state legislators.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Governor Mitch Daniels, to his credit, has called on his own party to declare a truce on social issues and focus on putting the state on a more secure fiscal footing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

House of Representatives v. EPA, Round I

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives attack on the EPA has officially begun. Today, the House Appropriations Committee released a partial list of spending cuts that includes a massive $1.6 billion reduction in the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (compared to the President's fiscal year 2011 request).  That amounts to 16-17% reduction.

At the same time, the House Energy and Commerce Committee was taking its first shots at EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, at a hearing on a bill sponsored by Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that would reverse the EPA's finding, based exclusively on scientific evidence, that carbon dioxide endangers public health and the environment, as defined in the Clean Air Act. I have not yet been able to find a link to the hearings, but the opening statements of Committee members, Administrator Jackson and other witnesses, are available here.

As Administrator Jackson observes in her opening remarks (here), the threatened legislative reversal of EPA's endangerment finding would mark a dangerous step in the ongoing politicization of science. It would be the first time Congress has ever overturned a federal agency's scientific finding. However, the chance of enactment seems remote, as the Democrat-dominated Senate is unlikely to go along; and even if it did, President Obama would certainly veto the measure, and the Republicans don't have enough votes to override it. The same political calculus applies to the budget cuts proposed today by the House Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting (here) that House Republican leaders already are facing internal party dissent over their failure to make even deeper cuts.

I'll leave it to others to debate whether today's events were significant or mere theater. Either way, we should be prepared for many repeat performances over the next two years (at least). The House Republicans seem to believe that the EPA is an easy target in the current climate of slow economic recovery and conservative resurgence. Only time - and ultimately the 2012 elections -  will tell whether they are right.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Nature of Academic Conferences

Stanley Fish has a nice column in today's New York Times (here) about the nature of the academic enterprise. His main claim, with which I agree, is that the primary purpose of academic work and meetings is not to derive normative conclusions with direct relevance for policy, but to ask and argue about big issues outside of the policy-making pressure cooker.

Fish explains that a conference he recently attended on "originalism" in constitutional interpretation was a success, not because it resolved substantive problems in the world, but because "a set of intellectual problems had been tossed around and teased out by men and women at the top of their game," who " were more than willing to do the hard work involved in trying to get things straight." They were "willing and eager, that is, to do academic work."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What I've Been Reading

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Random House 2010).

A tremendous romp through the history of domestic life, full of interesting stories and surprising facts - at least in the first half of the book. By the second half, Bryson seems to have run out of original and insightful stories to tell. So, instead, he turns his focus to social historical tales that tend to sell lots of books. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the second half of the book is less a history of the domicile itself, and more a series of vignettes on the social history of sex, muck, stink, and disease. It is no less readable for that, just a bit less insightful and edifying.

Paschal Larkin, Property in the Eighteenth Century (H. Fertig 1969 [1930]).

To be honest, I read this book as background for the Property Theory Seminar I'm teaching this semester. In any case, it's a fine work, full of useful insights into Locke's theory of private property, and how his theory was received in the century following his death. Among Larkin's more surprising (though unfortunately unsupported) assertions, is that Locke eventually backed away from his own labor theory of property acquisition.

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury 2010).

This is the book that won the 2010 Man Booker Prize - a very rare occurrence for a comedy. Although he is virtually unknown in the US, Howard Jacobson has always been prized in the UK as a serious and wise writer of funny books. I am just starting in on this one, and my hopes are very high.


I've also just started reading Melvin Urofsky's highly esteemed biography, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (Pantheon 2009). It's engagingly written, and while Urofsky clearly likes his subject very much, the biography seems less hagiographic than many others I've read about Supreme Court justices.

Aurora Borealis Over Norway

Today's The Daily Telegraph's website has a gorgeous video of the Northern Lights, taken from a Norwegian island. I then found an even better video on YouTube, which is embedded below, with the perfect accompaniment of Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata.

Richard Powers on A.I.

The brilliant novelist Richard Powers has a column in today's New York Times ostensibly about the upcoming Jeopardy challenge, in which IBM's "Watson" computer will compete against humans. As Powers points out, the outcome of that challenge is not nearly as important as some of the deeper issues it poses about the nature of artificial intelligence and the nature of human beings.

As with everything Powers writes, it is required reading. For those who have not yet read any of Powers' novels,   just pick one and start reading!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Newcastle 4 - Arsenal 4

Arsenal went from the catbird seat to the outhouse in the space of 45 minutes. Having blitzed Newcastle to take a 4-goal lead in the first 26 minutes, the Gunners appeared unstoppable. But, in the second half, they let their guard down - not the first time - and Newcastle, led by the thug Joey Barton, came back to tie the match, with a bit of an assist from referee Phil Dowd.

Barton actually started the turn around before the end of the first half, when he started diving in with reckless tackles, to which referee Phil Dowd turned a blind eye. It was one such tackle early in the second half that changed the game. After Barton nearly broke his leg, Abu Diaby reacted by putting his hand on the back of Barton's neck and pushing him to the ground. Diaby was red-carded, and Barton was one of the few players on the pitch who managed to finish the game without a card or even a warning. He went on to score two penalties for Newcastle, the second of which was highly questionable. Newcastle's final goal, it has to be said, was on a brilliant, unstoppable volley from outside the box by Cheick Tiote, following a cleared corner kick.

Despite Barton's thuggery and Phil Dowd's numerous questionable calls and non-calls, the Arsenal players really have no one but themselves to blame for the outcome of this match. Abu Diaby deserved his red card; he should have know better than to let Barton get to him. Barton knew exactly what he was doing with his tackles, and the Gunners played right into his hands. Diaby let his teammates down, and will continue to do so for the next three matches from which he is banned, with fellow defensive midfielders Denilson and Alex Song out injured. As for the rest of the Arsenal side, they appeared to panic after Diaby's departure. It didn't help matters when Johan Djourou limped off the field to be replaced in central defense by the slow and slow-witted Sebastien Squillaci. [Wenger's failure to sign a competent central defender during the January transfer period is already proving costly.]

If this game only cost the Gunners two valuable points in the title race, it would be too much. One fears that the psychological blow will ultimately cost them much more.

UPDATE: Playing after the Arsenal match, Man U forfeited their undefeated season at Wolves, which means that Arsenal now trail by just four points in the title race. But it should have been two. The biggest winners on the weekend will be Chelsea and Man City; both teams will feel they are back in the title hunt after the top two stumbled.

Another Day, Another Snow Squall

The view from our front door, Feb. 5, 2011, 10:50 am.

3-4 inches of new snow since early this morning, on top of an existing 3-4 inches of ice and 1-2 inches of snow from earlier this week. It's been a ridiculously cold, snowy and icy winter here in Central Indiana. I will ride my bike outdoors whenever roads are clear of snow and ice and temps are above freezing. Suffice it to say that I've had one outdoor ride since last November. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EPA to Issue New Regulations to Regulate Toxins in Drinking Water

While it faces Republican attempts not just to prevent it from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (see here), but to shut it down entirely (see here), the EPA, to its credit, pressing ahead with plans to issue much-needed regulations to reduce and prevent contamination of drinking water supplies by carcinogenic and toxic substances that are commonly found in drinking water supplies. The New York Times has the story here. The EPA's official announcement is here.

Unfortunately, Republicans are playing politics with a very important federal agency that has contributed greatly to improving public health and welfare since its creation in 1970. Not all EPA regulations are well-founded, efficient or effective (and those specific regulations should be amended or eliminated), but many EPA regulations and programs are both effective and efficient. Indeed, the Clean Air Act is, overall, among the most effective and efficient government social-welfare programs ever implemented.

Pressing Issues in the Social Sciences

Last April, Harvard held a conference on that issue with contributions from economists, political scientists, philosophers, and sociologists. You can view videos of all the sessions here, and a summary of the conference results here.

That conference was followed in August by an ambitious, but not yet completed, National Science Foundation (NSF) project to assess  the most important research questions in the social, behavioral and economic sciences over the next decade (see here). The Nature article, discussed below, indicates that the NSF issued a final report on its agenda-setting project last week, but I am unable to find it on the NSF website or from any other source.

The February 2, 2011 issue of Nature includes an article on biggest challenges in the social sciences, with a list of the top-ten problems here. Those problems, in order, are:
1. How can we induce people to look after their health?
2. How do societies create effective and resilient institutions, such as governments?
3. How can humanity increase its collective wisdom?
4. How do we reduce the ‘skill gap’ between black and white people in America?
5. How can we aggregate information possessed by individuals to make the best decisions?
6. How can we understand the human capacity to create and articulate knowledge?
7. Why do so many female workers still earn less than male workers?
8. How and why does the ‘social’ become ‘biological’?
9. How can we be robust against ‘black swans’ — rare events that have extreme consequences?
10. Why do social processes, in particular civil violence, either persist over time or suddenly change?
What strikes me about all this, as a legal scholar, are the myriad legal aspects and implications of many of the research questions. It is about time that (a) legal scholars recognized that they are social scientists (whether they like it or not), and (b) other social scientists recognized that legal scholars have special expertise that bears on several of the issues that are greatest interest to them.

What's an Academic To Do on a Snow/Ice "Holiday"

I've been teaching in Indianapolis for 20 years. This is the first time I can remember having the entire campus closed down for two days in a row. What's an academic to do?

Fortunately, the academic profession is not highly weather-sensitive. To begin with, I work at home as much or more than I work at school. So, the fact that school is closed hardly means that I cannot work. The only thing I cannot do on snow/ice days is teach class. I missed one class yesterday because of the storm, but I don't have one scheduled for today. (By the way, using existing technologies I certainly could teach from home, so long as the electricity and internet are working, but it is not yet convenient, via existing university systems, to connect up with students who are not all sitting in a single room together.)

Aside from teaching, I can do (and am doing) virtually everything else I do on a daily basis, including class preparations, internet-based research, and writing/editing everything from articles and book chapters to letters of recommendation, committee reports, and blog posts (like this one).

Even if the electricity (and with it the internet) were to go out, I could still prepare PowerPoint slides for class on my laptop until the battery ran dry. If need be, I could even resort to my BlackBerry for longer battery life. And when all the batteries have run dry, I could simply read by candlelight.

The rest of society may not consider academics to be very productive, but at least we are not rendered substantially less productive by short-term weather events (aside from truly extreme events like tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods).

Democratic Revolutions Often Lead Back to Dictatorship

It is easy for Americans to support the ongoing revolution (which is precisely the right word for it) in Egypt. After all, we love democracy (whatever we think that word means), and we love to pull for the underdog, in this case the Egyptian people. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that "the Egyptian people" are, as a monolith, all fighting for the same ideal of liberal-democratic government that we possess. We should also pay attention to the lessons of history, about which Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe reminds us in an essay in The New Republic (here). As Joffe notes, democratic revolutions more often than not lead to anti-democratic ends:
Imagine yourself as a pundit in Paris at the start of the French Revolution, the mother of them all. In August of 1789, you would have celebrated the “General Declaration of Human Rights,” an ur-document of democracy, as the dawn of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Yet, four years later, the Terreurerupted, claiming anywhere between 16,000 and 40,000 lives. In 1804, one-man despotism was back. Except its name was not “Louis,” but “Napoleon.”

In the Russian Revolution of 1917, a halfway nice man by the name of Alexander Kerensky pushed out the Tsar, only to be replaced by Lenin and Stalin. And then, some soothsaying from Berlin in 1918: Who would have thought that the first German republic would be done in by communists and Nazis? Shift forward to Cairo in 1952. A genuine people’s revolt drives King Farouk into exile. Yet democracy takes a fall, too—toppled by Egypt’s officers’ caste. Egypt has been a military dictatorship in civilian garb ever since.

Let’s move to Tehran in 1979. The Shah flees for his life, semi-liberal Mehdi Bazargan officiates for a few month, and then, the iron fist of Khomeinism closes around the country. It is still there 32 years later, prevailing in a long civil war and shrugging off the democratic revolt of 2009.
The fate of democratic revolutions is often the opposite of democracy. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and their advisers, surely understand this better than the media pundits who are so enthusiastic about the Egyptian people's revolution. The Administration seems to realize that the American revolution and the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe were historical exceptions, rather than the rule. The lessons of history must curb a naive presumption that the end of Egypt's revolution will be government of, by, and for the people.

Does this mean the Obama Administration should not support the protesters in Egypt, and should simply sit on its hands? Not at all. What history requires is a sense of modesty about our, or anyone else's, ability to understand, let alone control, fast-moving events on the ground. We need to appreciate that the Egyptian public, like any large group of people, is comprised of disparate interest groups, each of which may have a different end-state in mind. We need to think imaginatively and plan several steps ahead for different possible end-states precisely because history has taught us a democratic revolution by no means ensures a liberal-democratic government.

Hat tip: The Browser.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January Cycling Totals

Given the abominable weather in January, you might well think this post is a joke. But I actually managed to ride 257 miles. Unfortunately, they were all indoors on the trainer. Still, the total is a lot higher than I usually manage in the first month of the year.

February is not getting off to a good start with today's ice storm. But I'm hoping that we'll get a break a some point this month. All I'm asking for is a few days of dry roads and temperatures above freezing.

Arsenal 2 - Everton 1

Once again, the Gunners showed great resilience today, as they came from behind at home to defeat Everton. In the first half, Arsenal were playing against 13 men, rather than 11, as they had to contend with a referee and one linesman who might as well have been wearing Everton jerseys. The Toffees took the lead on a fine goal by Louis Saha. The only problem was that Saha was at least one, maybe two, yards offside when the ball was played to him. The fact that an Arsenal defender got a foot on the pass as it was coming through could not have put him onside. But the linesman's flag stayed down.

In the second half, it was pretty much all Arsenal, especially after they tied the match 1-1. Fabregas played a lovely ball over the top that second-half substitute Andrei Arshavin calmly collected and volleyed into the back of the net. Arshavin is clearly beginning to rediscover his form, and the timing couldn't be better, especially given that Nasri is out for at least two or three weeks with a pulled hamstring. Eventually, Arsenal took the lead for good on a corner kick, when Everton failed to mark Laurent Koscielny at the far post, who had an easy header to earn the victory for the Gunners.

The home win secured Arsenal' second place position, 5 points behind Manchester United. Arsenal are now 4 points ahead of third-place Manchester City. Chelsea are a further point behind in fourth, having done more than any other team to strengthen their squad during the January transfer window.

Next up for Arsenal, a trip to Newcastle on Saturday.

Revised Working Papers on SSRN

I have revised and updated versions of two working papers on the Social Science Research Network. They will both be published later this year in Daniel H. Cole and Elinor Ostrom, Property in Land and Other Resources (Cambridge, Mass.: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2011):

"The Variety of Property Systems and Rights in Natural Resources" (with Elinor Ostrom) (available for download here).

"Property Creation by Regulation: Rights to Clean Air and Rights to Pollute" (available for download here).