Monday, December 31, 2012

Misunderestimating the Colts

I love it that so many pundits who didn't expect the Colts to win more than three or four games this season are now discounting their 11-5 regular-season record because most of their victories were by small margins against teams with losing records. Statistically, the Colts are not among the better teams in the league. Statistically, Andrew Luck was not among the league's top quarterbacks (though it's worth noting that he did not have the kind of run support or defenses from which RGIII and Russell Wilson benefited in Washington and Seattle, respectively, and he was playing in an offense that fired the ball downfield from week 1). They just managed to win 11 games (most of which they were not supposed to win), apparently with smoke and mirrors.

Now, maybe the Colts will beat the Ravens next weekend in Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs, and maybe they won't. But I certainly won't be taking the pundits' word for it that the Colts are doomed because their statistics say so.

Noodges Who Nudge

Since Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler popularized, in their 2009 book Nudge, the behavioral economics notion of improving individual (self-interested) choices, e.g., by altering default options, providing better information, improving choice architectures, etc., the idea of nudging has gained a great deal of currency, although controversy remains over whether governments should begin implementing nudges on a large scale. Libertarian scholars, in particular, seem uncomfortable with the very idea of "libertarian paternalism" that Sunstein and Thaler suggest nudging represents (see, e.g., here).

In reality, nudging is not a new idea. What is marketing about, if not to "nudge" consumers toward certain purchasing decisions? This rhetorical question raises what is, I think, an understudied aspect of nudging, which is who does it to whom, and to what effect.

The theory of nudging requires a corresponding theory of noodges (a word of Yiddish/Polish derivation referring to those who nag and pester). Perhaps it's time for Sunstein and Thaler to write a follow-up book called, Noodges: Those Who Seek to Influence our Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Various chapters might be devoted to prelates, yentas, marketing firms, admen, salesmen, ideologues, influence peddlers, public intellectuals, con men, psychiatrists, hypnotists, economists, and Sunstein's own "norm entrepreneurs."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Arsenal 7 - Newcastle 3

This was a thrilling, end-to-end match notable for poor defensive efforts on both sides. Fortunately, Arsenal displayed deadlier firepower on the offensive end. Theo Walcott was particularlly brilliant today, scoring three goals (the third of which was a brilliant solo waltz through Newcastle's defense), set up a fourth, and still find time to squander one or two other clear-cut chances. Olivier Giroud, who came on as a second-half replacement for the excellent Oxlade-Chamberlain (scorer of the first goal of the second half), had no trouble getting into the flow of the match, scoring two central striker's goals within his first five or ten minutes on the pitch (and striking the post towards the close).

If Walcott could only bottle today's form and become a more consistent player and goal-scorer, I'd urge Wenger to overturn the club's wage structure and open the bank book for him. I'm still not convinced, however, that Walcott is the center forward of Arsenal's future. Admittedly, he has been playing better in recent weeks, since Wenger moved him to that role. He now Arsenal's leading goal scorer on the season.

This is arguably the toughest time of the season for the Gunners, who have now won three league matches on the trot. They are starting to play their best football of the season and (knock on wood) avoiding injuries. Fourth place now looks a realistic possibility. Arsenal still could use another striker, a defensive midfielder, and a left-sided defender, if quality players at those positions are available during the January transfer window. But the Gunners' near-term future is looking much much brighter today than it did a few weeks ago.

My Favorite (Material) Gift of the Holiday

Alan Ryan, On Politics (Norton/Liveright 2012). Ryan is among my favorite political historians and theorists. His two early books on property theory - Property (Minnesota 1987) and Property and Political Theory (Blackwell 1986) -  have been basic secondary sources in my Property Theory Seminar for many years.

Here is the publisher's overview of his new book:
Three decades in the making, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive histories of political philosophy in nearly a century. 
Both a history and an examination of human thought and behavior spanning three thousand years, On Politics thrillingly traces the origins of political philosophy from the ancient Greeks to Machiavelli in Book I and from Hobbes to the present age in Book II. Whether examining Lord Acton’s dictum that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” or explicating John Stuart Mill’s contention that it is “better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied,” Alan Ryan evokes the lives and minds of our greatest thinkers in a way that makes reading about them a transcendent experience. Whether writing about Plato or Augustine, de Toqueville or Thomas Jefferson, Ryan brings a wisdom to his text that illuminates John Dewey’s belief that the role of philosophy is less to see truth than to enhance experience. With this unparalleled tour de force, Ryan emerges in his own right as one of the most influential political philosophers of our time.
My only regret is that I haven't yet gotten Ryan's other brand new book (my, isn't he prolific?), The Making of Modern Liberalism (Princeton 2012). That regret will be remedied soon enough.

Friday, December 28, 2012

It Bears Repeating: President Obama's Plan Would Not Raise Anyone's Taxes Beyond What They Would Be By Default After Jan. 1, 2013

As Richard Posner pointed this past week (see here), a massive tax increase on virtually all Americans is set to go into effect this January 1, by operation of law, when the Bush tax cuts automatically expire, along with payroll savings tax reductions that were enacted as part of the Obama Administration's economic stimulus package. Therefore, it makes little sense to argue, as many Republicans are, that the Obama Administration's plan for averting the so-called "fiscal cliff" involves a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans.

The President's plan to avert the "fiscal cliff" would not raise taxes on anyone as against the default (automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts and various other tax deductions and benefits), but would merely reinstate tax cuts and deductions for the vast majority of taxpayers, families earning less than $400,000 or $250,000 (depending on which Obama plan is enacted). Those who earn more would not receive a new (or renewed) tax deduction; their taxes would be approximately the same the default, i.e., if Congress and the President do not agree a plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff." Their taxes are scheduled to go up by operation of laws enacted by both Republicans and Democrats that set expiration dates for the Bush tax cuts. They will not be raised by virtue of any agreement Republicans and the President might now hammer out. The real source of the disagreement is that the Republicans want the tax cuts for the wealthy renewed (and made permanent). The president opposes renewed tax cuts for the wealthy. It is inaccurate to characterize his position as promoting a tax increase. Again, their taxes are going up (along with everyone else's) even in the absence of agreement.

We need to get beyond the false tax-increase rhetoric and focus on what the actual fiscal cliff negotiations are really about. They are not about raising taxes (above what they otherwise will be) on  anyone. Rather, they are about avoiding (a) raising taxes on those who can least afford the hit, and (b) the depression (not recession, depression) that likely would ensue from a combination of across-the-board tax increases (currently slated to take effect) and the kind of fiscal austerity measures that have completely obstructed economic recovery in Europe.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who Would Want Lisa Jackson's Job?

Lisa Jackson is stepping down as EPA Administrator (see, e.g., here). In my view, she did a tremendous job getting through regulations that are important both for protecting public health and for reducing the tremendous social costs associated with pollution, despite outright hostility from Republicans in Congress and tepid support, at best, from the White House. Highlights of her tenure at the agency will include promulgation of a long overdue regulation on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and, of course, a spate of greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, which made her the single most effective US government official ever to deal with the problem of climate change (although, admittedly, that's not saying very much). Her worst moment had to be when President Obama strung her out to dry on the promised reconsideration of the Bush Administration's new rules on ozone emissions. Carrying out a campaign promise candidate Obama made, Jackson convinced the courts to let EPA fix the rule before they did, only to have President Obama pull the rug out from under her at the last minute, based on political cost calculations heading into the 2012 election campaign.

She's going to be a hard act to follow. But, really, who would want job anyway? With a House of Representatives run by a Party that insanely wants to abolish the EPA, and drags the Administrator through unproductive, inquisitorial hearings on a regular basis, with a Senate where even Demos seem scared by the phrase "environmental protection," and with a White House that can be counted on for support only so long as the polls are favorable, I cannot imagine the number of applicants would be very high. On the other hand, I had a hard time imagining that anyone would want the EPA job under W. after the well-meaning Christy Whitman had taken enough abuse (from her own team). And yet, there always seems to be some faceless, spineless, career bureaucrat who will step up to the plate just to get the title, even if it means being a sucker, a prevaricator, and/or a whipping post.

Lisa Jackson deserves better of her successor, and so do the rest of us. 

On the Banality of Annual Rankings of "Best" and "Worst"

It's that time of the year again - the holiday season when political and other "news" is hard to come by -   that the news media start putting out their various best and worst lists, rankings, etc. As I've noted previously, I don't like rankings that pretend to be objective (see here and here). I have no problem with individuals having (subjectively) favorite recordings, books, concerts, whatever. I have them myself, although I don't much see the point of specifying annual favorites. The best book I read in 2012 may or may not have been authored in 2012. And my favorite composer is unlikely to change from one year to the next (although longer-term changes in preferences certainly are possible).

I do have a fairly clear idea of what were the worst events of 2012 in my own life: unquestionably the top three were the loss of my dear friends Lin Ostrom, Karl Raynor, and my melanoma diagnosis last Spring. In many respects, those three events dominated my entire year, leaving me more than ready for the 2013 ball to drop in Times Square. I'm sure some good things happened for me in 2012 as well (e.g., surviving the cancer scare, growing closer with my Workshop colleagues, and just enjoying the company of my family), but the bad always seems to overshadow the good (as in Kahneman and Tversky's theory of loss aversion, see here).

Aside from personal misfortunes, I'm very bad at retrospective assessments of mundane or even sublime events over any particular period of time. I tend to be more myopically focused on what I haven't yet read, seen, heard. So, I'll leave others to pronounce on the best and worst books, concerts, films, recordings, people, cars, bikes, computers, tablets, phones, weapons, sports performances, airlines, art exhibitions, celebrity miscues, judicial decisions, news stories, pharmaceuticals, parties, cookies, etc., of 2012.

But here's one exception (if only to prove Emerson's adage that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds): Lionel Messi dominated his sport to such an extent that even Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky would be envious. The world is highly unlikely to see his record of 91 goals in a single calendar year broken, unless Messi himself does it, for another 20-30 years, if ever. In a sport where scoring a single goal is an incredibly difficult feat, Messi makes it look so easy - of course, it helps to play with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. He is without question the greatest footballer of 2012, and perhaps ever (with all due respect to Pele, Cruyff, Eusebio, and Maradona).

Finally, listings, rankings, pronouncements, etc., are the stock in trade of public intellectuals, and as a blogger, it might be assumed that I hold myself out as such. Even if that were the case, I don't think public intellectuals have an obligation to construct artificial (and often misleading) lists and rankings. More to the point, I do not consider myself a public intellectual; certainly, I've never aspired or pretended to be one. This blog is more in the nature of public musings of a private intellectual (assuming I qualify as "intellectual").

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lawrence M. Krauss Raises a Very Good Question

From (here):
Why must it be a natural expectation that any such national tragedy will be accompanied by prayers, including from the president, to at least one version of the very God, who apparently in his infinite wisdom, decided to call 20 children between the age of 6 and 7 home by having them slaughtered by a deranged gunman in a school that one hopes should have been a place or nourishment, warmth and growth? ....
Let me be clear that there may be many grieving families in Newtown and around the country who have turned to their faith for solace in this difficult time. No caring person would begrudge them this right to ease their pain. But the question that needs to be asked is why, as a nation, do we have to institutionalize the notion that religion must play a central role at such times, with the president as the clergyman-in-chief?
The answer to Krauss's question is, of course, that the president would have been politically excoriated, if  not impeached, had he failed to include a large dose of supposedly comforting god-talk in his otherwise commendable memorial comments. Jefferson's imaginary wall between church and state has always been more porous than solid. At least the president did not favor one religion over another in his comments, although he did implicitly rule out non-monotheistic religions, as well as athiests, like me, who are simply beyond the political pale.

The Blizzard of 2012

Here's the view outside our front door first thing this morning. About 10 inches or so on the ground so far; expecting another 4 inches or more before the snow clears out this evening.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Charles Dickens on Christmas as a Memorial Holiday

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstance connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday. Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days, that can recal to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!
Do you know the book from which these wonderful sentences emanate? It's not A Christmas Carol, Dickens' most famous writing on the holiday, but his sublime, funny (sometimes to the point of farce), touching, and ultimately uplifting, The Pickwick Papers (Penguin Classics edition, 1999, p. 361).

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Obama's Plan Will Not Raise Anyone's Taxes

So say's Richard Posner at the Becker-Posner blog (here):
The President has proposed to avert the fiscal cliff by replacing the fiscal cliff law with a new law, the main provision of which would be to rescind the Bush tax cuts for anyone earning less than $250,000 a year. This is opposed by conservative Republicans on the ground that the President is proposing a tax increase for everyone earning $250,000 or more. That is incorrect. Their taxes will rise beginning on January 1 if the fiscal cliff is not averted; the President’s proposal therefore does not alter their tax liability, as the law would go into effect the same day that the fiscal cliff (if not replaced by his proposed law) would raise everyone’s taxes. 
Posner's logic is, as usual, air-tight, but does he overestimate the ability of logical argumentation to alter the minds, and votes, of tea-party Republicans devoted to Grover Norquist's utopian vision of anarcho-capitalism?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

7 General Reasons for the Lack of a Coherent National Climate Policy in the US

The reasons are not listed in any particular order.

1. Anti-science ideology. First, the scientists displaced earth from the center of the universe; then they displaced god from the story of human creation. Now they claim, based on nothing more than mountains of scientific evidence, that human activities, mainly involving the burning of fossil fuels, are altering the earth's climate in ways that are dangerous for humans and the ecosystems in which we live. The anti-science ideologues, who are mainly to the right ideologically (although, ironically, they receive some aid and comfort from the emergence on the left of "post-normal science"), are a menace not only on specific issues such as climate change but to the general project of enlightenment, which has been ongoing since the 17th century and has contributed almost immeasurably to the material improvement of human life on earth.

2. Educational impoverishment. This is as much a source of the first reason as it is a reason in itself. The vast majority of Americans are simply incapable of understanding even the simplest aspects of climate science, let alone its messy and uncertain implications for social welfare, without the intermediation of the popular media. The problem there is that individuals increasingly are tuning in ideologically-biased news sources that are more interested in indoctrinating and reinforcing than educating the views of their customers (which Richard Posner, in his book Public Intellectuals, refers to as "solidarity value").

3. Lack of political leadership. Because climate change is (relatively) difficult for people to understand, especially given the more or less willful ignorance of a large part of the electorate, the issue requires an exceptionally high level of political leadership, which has been missing. In his first term, President Obama saved most of his political capital for the fight over healthcare (certainly an important issue, however one comes down on it), which left him more or less bereft when it came time to push for climate legislation in the Senate, after it had already passed, thanks (I can't believe I'm saying this) to the strong leadership of Nancy Pelosi, in the House. Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, climate policy remained on the back-burner; no one seem inclined to talk about it. And with the current, politically-invented crisis over the so-called "fiscal cliff," it seems unlikely that climate policy will move to the front burner any time soon. One caveat: the Obama Administration has at least allowed EPA to move ahead with greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act (which is hardly an ideal vehicle for controlling emissions for reasons I've posted on earlier, see, e.g., here). Those regulations are currently in the hands of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. However the judicial review concludes, it could redirect pressure back to the legislative process, where the President's leadership skills will once again be put to the test.

4. Fossil-fuel money. When it comes to politics, I've always maintained that votes are more valuable than dollars, which explains for example why groups with the most money do not always prevail on policy issues before Congress. For members of Congress, money is just a (very important) means of gaining votes for reelection, which is the ultimate end. In any conflict between votes and money, votes usually will prevail. But those are rare cases, so money may often determine votes. And when it comes to money, few groups have more of it than the fossil-fuel industry, which has contributed millions, if not billions, of dollars funding studies by climate skeptics and deniers (which sometimes go horribly awry, see, e.g., here) and lobbying Congress, several members of which appear to treat the industry as their primary constituency (perhaps along with the NRA).

5. Climate scientists are a crappy lobby. First of all, they have no money. Second, and consequently, they have no influence. Unfortunately, there is no well-heeled and powerful interest group with a large material stake in supporting strong climate policy. There is, of course, a broader "public interest" in a stable climate, but we can hardly expect that to drive policy.

6. Mismatched Time Horizons. Politicians operate on 2-, 4-, or 6-year election cycles; the climate operates on time frames (decades or more) that are far longer. This fact really should not impede the enactment of (at least ineffectual) climate solutions. Politicians are usually adept at making difficult decisions that only take effect long after the date of enactment (placing the onus on future generations of politicians to amend or repeal their efforts). Typically, however, politicians will enact such forward-operating policies only when they can internalize immediate political benefits while externalizing future political costs. And given the all the problems noted earlier (from anti-scientist ideology to disparities in lobbying prowess of interested groups), the current generation of politicians fail to see any clear present political benefits of present legislative action on climate change.

7. Anti-internationalism. At a time when the Senate cannot even ratify an international treaty that simply reflects the existing state of US law and contains no enforcement mechanisms of any kind because of claimed concerns with eroding US sovereignty (see here), it's not really surprising that US politicians might reject out of hand any issue that is high on the international agenda, especially one like climate change that is strongly supported by a (gasp) United Nations process. Don't look for any kind of rationality here; it is simply pathological.

Any other reasons?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wigan 0 - Arsenal 1

After looking like falling apart, Arsenal have taken full points in their last three games, including two on the road. Arsenal never like traveling to the Northwest of England, and the playing conditions for today's match did not portend the kind of offensive output the Gunners achieved at Reading. Nevertheless, it was a strong team performance, in which the defense held their form and cleared their lines well. And Mikel Arteta clinically took the penalty after Walcott was bundled over in the box.

True enough, Wigan fielded a defensive side, and only threatened the Arsenal goal on a couple of occasions. Equally true, Wigan are among the bottom dwellers in the league. But they are a better team than their record shows, and they gave Arsenal a very tough match.

For a few hours, at least, the Gunners are sitting in third place in the league table. By the end of the weekend, they will likely be back in fifth.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (Chicago 2010). Brilliant, well written, even humorous assessment of the "demarcation problem," i.e., how to tell real science from junk science, psuedoscience, "almost science," and superstitious nonsense. One of the best books I've read on the issue, except in one respect: it displays a subtle (in some cases, not so subtle) left-wing bias. For example, in his discussion of think tanks in Chapter Five, Pigliucci focuses his criticisms only on right-wing think tanks, despite the fact that left-wing think tanks are just as often driven by ideology rather than data. And his own ideological bent shows through in a couple of places, for instance where he criticizes the Competitive Enterprise Institute's advocacy for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (a policy I personally oppose) in part because "it would [not could, but would] cause a major environmental disaster." Perhaps, for a more balanced view, Pigliucci's book is best read together with Dick Taverne's, The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism (Oxford 2007), which focuses more on the anti-scientism of environmental "fundamentalists."

C. Reinold Noyes, Economic Man: In Relation to His Natural Environment (Columbia 1948). As a big fan of Noyes' first book, The Institution of Property (Longmans, Green 1936), I found his subsequent work hugely disappointing. In Economic Man, Noyes seeks to completely reinvent economics on a new, highly abstract model based on a combination of physics and biochemistry, which in the end tells us little either about human interactions or their effects on the natural environment. I was looking for a precursor for modern law and economics; instead I found a verbose and almost useless two-volume meditation on first principles. The only saving grace (and scant consolation it was) is a single excellent sentence from the second volume: the environment "represents the stage upon which economic life is played."

J.K. Rowling, A Casual Vacancy (Little, Brown 2012). Her Harry Potter books were, of course, filled with big ideas, larger-than-life characters, and lively writing containing many profound, as well as mundane, insights into the human condition. Perhaps in reaction, Rowling's first non-Potter book, A Casual Vacancy, is a small book, not in size (it's nearly 500 pages long), but in scope and tone. The tightly woven story about the small community of Pagford is almost pedestrian in both ambition and execution; virtually all the characters that inhabit it are both ordinary and unlikable, with few redeeming features. If her intent was to write an anti-Potter tome, Rowling succeeded all too well. The book is almost as hard to like as the Potter books are to dislike. It's as if Rowling wanted to write a whole book about the worst sort of Muggles. She remains a gifted writer, but I hope she will not tether her considerable talents to such meager stories of such mean people in future works.

Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (Princeton 1977). I started reading this book a few weeks ago, shortly before Hirschman passed away, to gain some insights into how Hume's philosophy (I've been reading his Treatise on Human Nature) relates to works of his contemporaries, such as Montesquieu. Hirschman's is a lovely, concise treatment of some very big issues in philosophy, brimming with confident interpretations of enlightenment era thinking, which paved the way for, among other things, the displacement of mercantilism with (relatively) free markets.

Has the World Ended Yet?

"New age" (whatever the hell that means) types around the world having been touting supposed predictions that the world would end today, based on utter misunderstandings of Mayan writings (see here). They found willing accomplices in the so-called "news" media, which has for a long time been regressing to the tabloid model of the National Enquirer, leaving self-labeled "fake" newsman John Stewart as the "most trusted" newsman in America (see here). The increasing mediocrity and venality of the "legitimate" news media could explain why politicians and even the news media itself increasingly mistake The Onion's fake news stories as real (see here).

Of course, no one in the press really believed the world was going to end today (I don't think they actually believe in anything aside from their shows' ratings and their personal celebrity), even as they expressed a faux journalistic neutrality on the issue. But we might reasonably expect our journalists to question: (a) the scientific basis of such predictions; (b) the predictive power of a people who failed to predict their own demise, many centuries before the suppose "end of the world" (which they did not in fact predict); and (c) the intelligence and reliability of  "New Age" and religious nuts who gathered at various self-determined "sacred" sites waiting for end to come. The New Agers must be terribly disappointed. And I feel a little bad for them that it did not end ... for them. (Just kidding.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Putting the Fall 2012 Semester Into the Rear-view Mirror

I finished grading Law & Economics today, and about halfway through grading the Seminar in Institutional Analysis and Development, which mainly entails re-reading and providing comments on all of the student papers prepared for the "mini-conference," with which we ended the semester. I also plan to re-read and provide detailed comments on all the papers visiting scholars in the Workshop prepared for the "mini-conference."

After I'm done with the remaining papers, and finish up a couple of other chores, including drafting a letter for the tenure file and a research assessment report for the Canadian Social Sciences and Research Council, I may be able to take a couple of days off work before turning my attention to the Spring 2013 semester, during which I'll be teaching first-year Property and Climate Law and Policy (both in the law school). I haven't taught Property in a few years, and will be teaching some stuff in the course I haven't taught for more than a decade (one of my colleagues talked me into teaching the Rule Against Perpetuities, the recording system, and other subjects that I had long-ago discarded). So, it will involve a good deal of prepping. Little rest for the wicked over the holidays, I'm afraid.

Reading 2 - Arsenal 5

Arsenal got off to a very good start in this wide-open affair, with a goal within the first eight minutes from Podolski, who did well to control a cross from Gibbs with his right foot and then shoot it with his favored left foot past the keeper. That early goal will have settled the nerves of Arsenal players and fans alike. And Arsenal kept up the pressure on the Reading goal, with Reading posing virtually no threat at the other end of the field, until after the 25th minute. Arsenal really should have scored a second, when Theo Walcott wasted a great chance after being put in one-on-one against the goalie. When Reading did finally start mounting an offensive threat later in the half, Arsenal looked a bit fragile on defense (as usual), but also posed danger on the counterattack. Eventually, Arsenal ripped open the Reading defense for a second time, when Podolski crossed from the left and Santi Cazorla, the smallest man on the pitch, scored with a low header from right in front of goal. Again, it was nice play by the Gunners, but Reading was giving them acres and acres of space. Just a couple of minutes later, Cazorla doubled his pleasure, when he took a short pass inside the six-yard box with his back toward goal and had plenty of time turn and fire. Reading were barely putting up a fight on defense. 3-0 at halftime, the game seemed done and dusted. The match commentators referred to it as one of the most one-sided halves they'd ever witnessed.

But they played the second half anyway. It started with Reading dominating position but posing no real threats. Then, Aresenal reasserted control and Santi Cazorla completed his hat-trick in the 61st minute from a cross by Podolski that culminated a beautiful flowing move reminiscent of Arsenal's glory days. Then, inexplicably the Gunners just switched off the concentration and started giving away chances to Reading. Kieran Gibbs basically gave away Reading's first goal, when, under no pressure at all, he simply passed the ball into the path of a Reading player breaking in on goal. Readings second goal, minutes later, came after they broke Arsenal's offside trap. All of a sudden, it looked like Reading were going to make a game of it. But then, normal service was resumed. Arsenal's fifth and final goal came courtesy of a fine pass from player-of-the-match Santi Cazorla, who played Theo Walcott on goal. Walcott took the ball with his right foot, ducked inside a defender and finish clinically with his left foot. It was a fine goal by a player who was finally getting his chance to play central striker. On the evidence of such a wide-open game, it's hard to pass judgment on his performance in that role. He missed a couple of clear chances in the first half; did reasonably well holding the ball with his back to goal on a couple of occasions; but was always second choice to win balls in the air. Anyway, I fully expect Walcott to sign an advance contract with a Manchester club or Chelsea next month. Although Arsenal needs to stop losing its best players to other clubs, I do not consider Walcott to be in the same league with others that have left over the past two years, and his departure could constitute addition by subtraction, creating more opportunities for Oxlade-Chamberlain to develop.

Anyway, this game was just what the Gunners needed for their confidence. It marks their second straight win in the league, giving them much needed momentum; and it catapults them into 5th place in the league table, just two points out of fourth. They are third in the league in goal differential.

The Gunners generally seemed more relaxed today playing away from the Emirates (a little bit too relaxed on defense in the middle of the second half). Or was it just that Reading gave them plenty of room to maneuver?  Reading were disappointing, particularly in the first half (in previous home games they have given top clubs a very tough time). But Arsenal did display some quality football today, which had been missing in recent matches. Perhaps the home fans might be able to reduce the pressure a bit next time they take the field at the Emirates.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Ride

I felt surprisingly good today after suffering from a migraine-like headache yesterday evening. Dr. Jim and I rode the Forest route (Old 37 to Anderson, up Beanblossom to the Forest Road, back out to Old 37, and home). 25 miles averaging 17.5 mph, with about 1400 feet of climbing, normalized power of 228, and a TSS of about 80.

Defending Lance

Sally Jenkins, here, in the Washington Post. I was wondering when she'd speak out about Lance Armstrong's fall from grace. Yes, she's biased. She co-authored two books with Lance. But she makes some damn good points about the (largely feigned) surprise and anger directed at the 7-time Tour de France winner.

(I know, they've taken supposedly away Lance's victories, but you can't really change history after the fact. Perhaps I'd be persuaded to accept Lance's excision from the record books if they ever went back and systematically take away the victories of all the other drug cheats, including by admission Fausto Coppi, who were not caught through in-competition testing.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Volokh's Thought(less) Experiment

I have been hesitant to write anything about yesterday's school shootings in Connecticut because they are just so abominable and inexplicable that I have a hard time getting my head around them. Of course, like other welfare-consequentialists, I wonder how crazy people so easily manage to get control of dangerous weapons in this country, and why gun advocates cannot acknowledge the obvious fact that it is much harder to commit mass slaughter with a knife than with a gun. An article appearing today at The (here) makes the point plainly:

In 1996, a gun massacre in a Scottish school in Dunblane killed 16 children and one teacher. The political impact was significant. The next year the Firearms Amendment, which prohibited private ownership of cartridge handguns, was passed. Security in British schools quickly improved, too. 
As it happens, halfway around the world, on the same day, a deranged man attacked primary-school students at a school in China’s Henan province. He had a knife. Twenty-two students were wounded. None died.

As I said, I wasn't going to write anything about this tragic episode. But then I saw that, over at the Volokh Conspiracy (here), Eugene Volokh conjured up a "thought experiment" positing the policy prospect that elementary school teachers might be armed. On the continuum of arguments about gun control, this position represents the opposite extremity from the position that all private ownership of guns should be banned (an argument that is a non-starter, which virtually no one makes). The unstated presumption is that crazy people will think twice about entering schools with murderous intent if they suspect the teachers might be armed. It's a simple application of John Lott's dubious "more guns, less crime" argument (see here). Professor Volokh's "thought experiment" ignores the sizable empirical literature testing Lott's hypothesis (see, e.g., here and here).

Professor Volokh's appallingly simplistic "thought experiment" is symptomatic of knee-jerk, casual responses to complex social problems, which have become all too common in the academy and, especially, in the blogosphere (not necessarily excluding this blog). Although his "analysis," is not really worthy of any kind of thoughtful response (either supportive or critical), it's clear that Volokh failed even to reflect on a couple of obvious rejoinders before hitting the "publish" button:

First, the notion that a crazed individual, who is perfectly content to take his own life after taking many others, would be deterred by the knowledge that teachers in the school might have guns (presumably secured against the possibility that students might gain access to them) is more than a little presumptuous.

Second, even a rational, cold-blooded killer, rather than being deterred, might simply walk in, shoot the teacher(s) first, then go about the rest of his abominable business. He might eventually be taken down by an armed teacher from another classroom, but how much death and destruction might he cause before that happens? And how many teachers would be willing to enter the fray, especially given the fact that students (or others) might be caught in the crossfire?

I could go on, but I've already spilled more ink on Professor Volokh's thoughtless "experiment" than it deserves. Notice that I have not argued for any specific policy response to this senseless tragedy (although I do think it would be wise to make it more difficult at least for the demonstrably pathological to get their hands on guns). Those are debates for the coming months.  For now, like every other feeling person writing about this immense tragedy, my thoughts and condolences go out to all the victims, their families, friends, and neighbors in Newtown, Connecticut. It can only be scant consolation for them to know that we all share in their loss.

UPDATE: Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas, one of Congress's craziest members (and that's saying something),  wants to implement Prof. Volokh's "thought experiment" as policy (see here). Enough said.

EPA's New PM Standards

EPA has just announced revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter (PM, essentially dust and soot) under the Clean Air Act. Based on new science showing special danger from inhalation of very fine particles (2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller), especially for the youngest and oldest Americans, EPA has reset the annual standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter (down from 15 micrograms per cubic meter). The EPA is retaining  existing hourly concentration standards for fine particulates. The general fact sheet for the rule is here; and the complete text of the rule is here.

According to the EPA's Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) (here), the new rule is expected to provide total net benefits ranging between $3.3 billion and $9 billion per year (and those net benefits are insensitive to the use of 3% or 7% discount rates). It should be noted that 90% of the estimated benefits come from easy-to-quantify mortality reductions; harder-to-quantify environmental benefits are excluded. Thus, the estimates inevitably understate the actual net benefits to society of the new regulation.

Predictably, the headline at, which is a virtually official mouthpiece of the Republican Party, reads:
'It begins': EPA imposes controversial new rule on soot pollution
(See here). The "It begins" preamble is a reference to predictions that a second Obama term would lead to a massive and socially-costly wave of regulations. The article quotes the US Senate's lead climate change denier and energy-industry shill, James Inhofe, as referring to the new soot regulation as 'the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy.'" Apparently, Senator Inhofe didn't bother to read the RIA for the rule, or just doesn't believe it (just as he doesn't believe climate science). The Fox News article totally disregarded the EPA's RIA for the new rule, not even bothering to mention the estimates of economic costs and benefits, but focused heavily on employment effects, as if jobs are worth more than human lives.

As NYU Law School Dean Richard Revesz observed in his recent Max Weber Lecture at the European University Institute (here):
The idea of “job killing” regulations is based on a one-sided model in which regulatory benefits are completely excluded. Under this approach, it is better to be dead than unemployed, because a regulation that eliminates a job should not be adopted even if it saves a life.
The point is that, while unemployment effects of regulations are costs for the effected individuals (but not for the firms that might otherwise have employed them), and those costs should be incorporated into cost-benefit analyses, they are hardly the only costs or benefits that should matter. The primary concern must be for net social-welfare consequences.

I don't suppose the Obama Administration is overly worried about the immediate political response to the EPA's new PM rules from the likes of the American Petroleum Institute, its henchmen in Congress, and their marketing agents in the press. Past experience indicates that rules strongly supported by cost-benefit analyses, meeting "best practice" standards, are politically robust; efforts to overturn them in Congress always fail, and usually fail quickly. Ironically, this seems especially true for rules (such as National Ambient Air Quality Standards under the Clean Air Act) that are, by law, supposed to be set without regard to economic costs and benefits.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How Much Scientific Credibility Do Climate Deniers Possess?

None, according to a quantitative study by James Lawernce Powell, a former member of the National Science Board (appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush I), presented at the DESMOGBLOG.COM. Here is the pie chart he derives from his analysis of the peer-reviewed climate science literature, 1991-2012:

A New Low for Arsenal

Normally, Arsenal virtually ignore the League Cup (now known as the Capital One Cup), which is the second-sister to the far more prestigious FA Cup. Usually, Arsene Wenger fields a team of second-tier players, and they normally get to the advanced stages of the competition before bowing out to stronger competition.

This year is different. The Gunners have gone without silverware for so long now that they cannot afford to overlook any opportunity, however meager the prize. So, yesterday, Wenger fielded one of his strongest sides against League Two (which is actually the fourth tier of English football after the Premiership, the Championship, and League One). And they lost on penalty

There's an old saying from American football that "on any given Sunday," any team can beat any other team. But this would be like the New England Patriots losing to Iowa State University (which is not intended to insult either ISU or Bradford City).

This season Arsenal's critics have been trying to figure out where to lay blame for their poor performances (despite a reasonably strong, on paper, roster). Some have pointed at the lack of goal-scoring; others on the "fragile" defense; others on the manager, who they claim has "lost the plot," and still others on the owner and general manager who control the purse-strings. A loss such as this clarifies that responsibility falls at the feet of everyone associated with Arsenal football club, including supporters who do not demand better.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

World's Greatest (and Most Artistic) Athlete, By Far

A nice appreciation of Lionel Messi in the New York Times (here). The author is right, Messi needs to be seen to be believed, and even when seen it's difficult to believe the magic of his play. UPDATE: As for 12/12/12, Messi has 88 goals in 67 matches played (for Barcelona and Argentina) in this calendar year.

RIP: Albert Hirschman 1915-2012

Sad news today about the death of Albert Hirschman, one of the most important economists (if not the most important) not to have been awarded a Nobel Prize. He wrote many excellent books, two of which are particularly important: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970) and The Passions and the Interest (1977). I'm currently re-reading the later book in connection with Hume's Treatise on Human Nature. Hirschman's clear and concise explanations make Hume easier to understand, especially in relation to the views of his contemporaries, including Montesquieu.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kyoto Redux

The Parties to the United Nation's Convention on Climate Change just concluded  their 18th annual meeting in Doha. I haven't been blogging about the daily progress of the conference because it's just too depressing. Now that the conference is over, and the smoke is clearing from the hard negotiations, it's worth picking through the achievements, such as they are.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

First, the Kyoto Protocol, which was scheduled to expire at the end of this year, has been reauthorized for another seven years, with a second compliance period. However, only about three dozen countries (including the EU), responsible for only 12-15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, have signed on to Phase 2 of Kyoto, which requires  reductions of 25-40% below 1990 levels. Other major emitters that ratified the Kyoto Protocol, including Russia, refused to sign on to the new commitments, despite the fact that the new treaty permits parties to carry-over excess emissions allowances ("hot air") into the new phase. Russia and other East European countries hold millions of dollars worth of "hot air." However, the treaty limited the extent to which purchasing countries could use the "hot air" to meet their obligations, in order to preserve the environmental integrity of emission reduction targets, and several signatory countries, including most importantly the EU, vowed not to purchase any "hot air." The US, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, also did not sign on to the new treaty.

Meanwhile, all of the other features of the Kyoto Protocol, which contributed significantly to its failure as a mitigation treaty in the first place, have been preserved, including the odious Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows developed countries to meet their emission-reduction obligations by paying developing countries to reduce emissions (basically, whether they actually do so or not). Fortunately, the CDM's negative impact will be limited when new EU restrictions go into effect next year. Because the EU is by far the biggest purchaser of CDM credits, those restrictions should significantly reduce the volume of CDM projects.

In place of the failed Copenhagen and Durban Accords (from the 2010 and 2011 conferences), we now have a new "Doha Climate Gateway," which is intended to lead to a full replacement mitigation treaty by 2015, five years before the end of the new Kyoto compliance period. But don't hold your breath. We're also supposed to see progress by then on agreements to finance adaptation assistance for developing countries and a compensation fund for countries damaged by climate change. But don't hold your breath on those agreements either. Nor should you stop inhaling oxygen while awaiting commitments by major-emitting developing countries, such as China and India, to binding emission-reduction targets. Their existing promises to reduce the carbon intensity of production already amount to more serious action than the US has promised at the international level.

I may have more to write about the Doha climate talks as more details emerge, but so far every indication is that it's just another signal that the UN process for climate change negotiations has reached a dead end (which it simply delays conceding at each year's meeting). If real progress is to be made on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, it will likely come from outside the UN process, i.e., from "bottom-up," which in the international context means linked domestic policies. We already are beginning to see some action at this level in the recent agreement between Australia's and the EU, linking their emissions trading systems. Slight hope exists that the US might eventually become interested in linking with larger markets (in order to take advantage of economies of scale that could reduce regulatory compliance costs) if (a) the DC Circuit validates EPA's initial spate of GHG regulations under the Clean Air Act, (b) California's own carbon market takes off, and (c) firmer caps are imposed in the Northeast's the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Again, don't hold your breath.

Arsenal Once Again Look to Their Past for Help

"Henry Close to Arsenal Return" the headlines announce.

Thierry Henry is widely acknowledged as the best player in the history of Arsenal Football Club (though I would put him just behind Dennis Bergkamp). He is now 35 years old and plies his trade for the New York Red Bulls in the MLS. Last year, when Arsenal were struggling, Henry joined them on loan from the Red Bulls and helped them to right their season. Once again, Arsenal are struggling (less explicably, given their roster), and the call has gone out to Henry to ride to the rescue again, now that the MLS season has ended.

Can he help? Sure. While he has lost a step or two (or three), Henry remains a player of great confidence (something sorely lacking at The Emirates) and quality. But that Arsenal should require his services for a second year running is just sad.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Arsenal 2 - West Brom 0

"If you're not cheating, you're not trying." Lance Armstrong took that old adage very much to heart, but it's also endemic in soccer, most notably in the form of diving for penalties. A textbook example occurred in  the first half of today's game, when the admirably gifted Santi Cazorla stole a penalty kick, which Mikel Arteta converted, via an obvious and shameful dive in the penalty box.

The second half saw one more goal, again on a penalty. This time, it was warranted, as Popov clearly took down Oxlade-Chamberlain in the box. However, Oxlade-Chamberlain himself appeared to commit a foul before the penalty when he first acquired the ball. Once again, Arteta converted the penalty.

Arsenal deserved to win the match, dominating possession thoroughly and creating (and spurning) numerous chances some of which were clear-cut. West Brom, on the other hand, created very little; I'm not sure they had even one shot on goal. The sad fact remains, however, that both Arsenal goals were controversial, the first because it was a blatant dive, the second because it resulted after a foul was not given. But Gunners fans will take the win, which our team desperately needed. And we should celebrate a fairly strong team performance against a good side. But we should also deplore Cazorla's dive, which (though I hate to say it) deserves a ban.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Most Important Question of the Day

Forget the looming fiscal cliff, whether Europe needs more austerity or a big dose of stimulus, or what to do about Syria. Those issues all pale in comparison to the banner headline appearing in today's The Independent (here):
"What If Kate Middleton's Baby is Ginger?"
England's top scientists have been hard at work on an answer. So far, all they have come up with is that its first or middle name will have to be "Weasley."

Thursday, December 6, 2012


My new paper of that title, co-authored with Maria Damon, Thomas Sterner, and the late Elinor Ostrom is now available for download from the Social Science Research Network (here).
Abstract: “Grandfathering” grants preferential treatment to existing polluters and resource users over new entrants based on prior use. It typically is justified as a doctrine to appease incumbents when passing costly regulations. It is based on conceptions of first-in-time or prior appropriation. The principle is applied in a very broad range of issues including environmental and resource use contexts ranging from the distribution of water rights, agricultural support, domestic pollution control, and international regimes, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which imposes obligations based on percentage reductions from historical baselines. This paper defines the concept universally and synthesizes legal, economic, and political science perspectives as well as interdisciplinary viewpoints on common property resource (CPR) use. We also explore, analytically and empirically, the dynamic incentives created by grandfathering and their implications for long-term resource use. Grandfathering removes incentives for individual users to anticipate stricter regulations and quite notably does the opposite, particularly when it forms the status quo distribution mechanism under new regulations or management systems. Using a series of case studies we analyze institutions ranging from long-enduring CPRs to global climate negotiations to demonstrate examples of how grandfathering can be detrimental to long run sustainability, and to discuss alternatives for avoiding or resolving the problems it creates.
My own sense is that our abstract is somewhat misleading in that it suggests that grandfathering always is welfare reducing (on net). In the paper itself, we note that grandfathering is not always detrimental. Much depends on the circumstances. My co-authors and I welcome comments and criticisms of the paper, as we prepare it for final publication.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Can the World's Oldest Person Die?

According to ABC News (here), the world's oldest person has died. The tense of this assertion strikes me as philosophically problematic. It's certainly possible that the person who was the world's oldest has died. But the person who is the world's oldest (assuming we really can identify who that might be) cannot die. That person can certainly die, but upon their death they cannot be said to be the world's oldest person. In other words, the world's oldest person can never die because there is always, at every moment, a world's oldest person. Like monarchical succession and the law of property ownership, the category of "world's oldest person" abhors a gap in occupancy.

The point I'm making is, of course, trivial. But, hey, you can't expect deep philosophical insights from the departure lounge waiting on a delayed aircraft.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Off to the Big Apple

The Institute for Policy Integrity (IPI) at NYU Law School is hosting its Fourth Annual Workshop on Cost-Benefit Analysis and Issue Advocacy this Thursday. Here's the notice from IPI's website (here):
In December, the Institute for Policy Integrity will once again bring together leading practitioners, government officials, and academics for our annual workshop on cost-benefit analysis. The early sessions of the day will offer an introduction to economic analysis and its role in the regulatory process to those new to the material or in need of a refresher. The later sessions will take a more nuanced look at the regulatory system under President Obama and what the results of November’s election will mean for government regulation over the next four years.
These are very useful workshops designed to (a) convince environmental groups (among other advocacy organizations) them that cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is not just a tool for anti-regulatory interest groups and (b) teach them about how CBAs are done. This year, I'll be on a round table panel discussing the problem of making environmental policy in a hyper-partisan era. I have been proud to serve on the Advisory Board of the IPI since its inception four years ago.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Ride

I was planning to head up to Indy rain or shine. If it rained, Coach Bob was going to run an indoor training session. But the rain was out of the area early this morning, temperatures were balmy (for December), and SW winds were gusting up to 20 mph (and higher). So, we headed WSE from Traders' Point to Jamestown and back. On the way out, into the wind, I reclaimed my "office" at the back and left the pulling to the stronger riders (everyone but me) while I struggled just to hang on. We averaged 17.6 mph for the first half of the ride, which was almost entirely into headwinds and crosswinds.

The second half of the ride, coming back, was far more civilized. Aided by strong winds mostly at our backs, we averaged over 22 mph, although I had to slow the group down a couple of times after we were riding some miles at 27 or 28 mph. For the 46-mile ride as a whole, we average 19 mph.

Thanks to Dr. Wilkes for organizing the ride, to Bob, Jim, and the rest of the gang for slowing down for me a couple of times. The ride itself was hard work and good fun; but mostly I enjoyed seeing some of the old gang again. I don't get up to Indy for rides as often as I'd like. I only wish more of the gang had been able to make today's ride. Part of that wish is selfish - a larger group could have insulated me even more from that nasty wind on the way out.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Arsenal 0 - Swansea 2

This was a thoroughly depressing match not simply because Arsenal lost, and at home, but because they never seemed likely to win. The players looked tired; their movement was sluggish; and their plan of attack was thoroughly predictable. Swansea - the poor man's Arsenal (which I mean as a compliment to their style of play) - actually created all of the real chances in the match. That they didn't capitalize on more of them is down to some wonderful goalkeeping by Wojciech Szczesny, who seemed the only Gunner in good form on the day.

But it only takes one goal to win, and with the score 0-0 in the closing minutes of the match, Arsenal were piling on the pressure, while Swansea bided their time looking opportunities to counterattack. On one such occasion, Szczesny made a brilliant save; but he had no chance on the second, which came in the 88th minute, when Michu was played through clear, and simply curled the ball around Arsenal's Polish keeper into the net.

Swansea sealed the victory in extra time, when Carl Jenkinson was dispossessed in the middle of the pitch, and Michu found himself with another one-on-one opportunity against the goal-keeper, which he took clinically.

The less said about this sad Arsenal performance, the better. Unless reinforcements arrive in droves in January, Arsenal's chances of returning to the Champion's League for an eighteenth consecutive year in 2013-14 seem increasingly remote. The strange thing is, on paper Arsenal appear to have a much stronger team than they have shown on the field. Or have players like Wilshire, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Arteta, and others been overrated? I've long thought that to be the case with respect to Walcott. But others are clearly not performing up to their potential either. Is it the scheme? Is it lack of motivation? Has the manager lost the plot (as more and more Arsenal fans seem to believe)? All of the above?

Saturday Ride

Dr. Jim came up with a new route for today's ride. See below. According to my iBike unit, the ride was just over 33 miles (rather than the 34.94 indicated by MapMyRide), with about 1450 feet of climbing. Average speed was 17.1 mph.

Find more Bike Ride in Bloomington, IN

Friday, November 30, 2012

Room for a Deal to Avert the Fiscal Cliff?

With more Republican senators and representatives announcing that they might be willing to vote in favor of tax hikes on the wealthy in exchange for long-term entitlement reform, the makings of a compromise are on the horizon. Whatever he said on the stump, President Obama must recognize that entitlements (i.e., social security and medicare) are unsustainable between now and the demise of the baby-boom generation (which includes me). So, some reforms are inevitable, and the looming "fiscal cliff" provides an excellent opportunity to establish a schedule for phasing in those reforms in exchange for Republicans' agreement to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the highest income earners.

I'm not suggesting that Obama cave to Republican preferences for partial or complete privatization of social security - such fundamental changes are probably not necessary to ensure the solvency of the system going forward. All that may be required is some amount of means-testing and/or raising marginally the age of eligibility, which seems sensible in any case as more Americans are now working into their late '60s and '70s  partly because they are living longer, healthier lives (but also partly because they have to in order to make ends meet).

This is a real opportunity to solve (or take major steps in the direction of resolving) together two major social issues the country confronts, but are difficult to resolve individually because of vested political interests. In this case, the public may be willing to accept the lesser evils of increased taxes on the wealthy and marginal adjustments to entitlements instead of the economic disaster that likely would ensue after plunging off the "fiscal cliff."

It's not a slam dunk, of course. Nothing is in the current dysfunctional state of politics in Washington (or the US more broadly). But both sides have something to gain by giving something in return. If the Republicans give on tax revenues and the Democrats give on entitlements, both sides will be able to claim a measure of victory for averting the "fiscal cliff."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Representative Democracy Works in the Lab

That is my too-simplistic summation from a cursory reading of an important new paper (what paper authored by the likes of John Nash and Reinhard Selten would not be important?) appearing in PNAS (here). The full citation is John F. Nash, Jr., Rosemarie Nagel, Axel Ockenfels, and Reinhard Selen, "The agencies method for coalition formation in experimental games," PNAS Early Edition, pnas.1216361109 (Sept. 20, 2012). Here is the abstract:
In society, power is often transferred to another person or group. A previous work studied the evolution of cooperation among robot players through a coalition formation game with a non-cooperative procedure of acceptance of an agency of another player. Motivated by this previous work, we conduct a laboratory experiment on finitely repeated three-person coalition formation games. Human players with different strength according to the coalition payoffs can accept a transfer of power to another player, the agent, who then distributes the coalition payoffs. We find that the agencies method for coalition formation is quite successful in promoting efficiency. However, the agent faces a tension between short-term incentives of not equally distributing the coalition payoff and the long-term concern to keep cooperation going. In a given round, the strong player in our experiment often resolves this tension approximately in line with the Shapley value and the nucleolus. Yet aggregated over all rounds, the payoff differences between players are rather small, and the equal division of payoffs predicts about 80% of all groups best. One reason is that the voting procedure appears to induce a balance of power, independent of the individual player's strength: Selfish subjects tend to be voted out of their agency and are further disciplined by reciprocal behaviors.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Cost of International Climate Negotiations

The 18th conference of climate negotiations has just started in Doha, and no one seems very excited about them despite the fact that the Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of this year and no extension, let alone a successor treaty, has yet been agreed. Over at Vox (here), the prominent climate economist Richard S.J. Tol comes out in favor of letting Kyoto expire:
Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UNFCCC should close that chapter and try something new.
Unfortunately, Professor Tol does not recommend any new and better path (or, in the parlance of climate wonks, "architecture"). He opposes binding emission reduction targets (which, after all, haven't proven very binding). But he implicitly supports the continuation of global negotiations under the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, which itself calls for binding emissions reduction targets. We might reasonably ask why abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol's approach does not also require abandonment of the UNFCCC. After all, it the UNFCCC process goes forward (either continuing the Kyoto approach or moving in some other direction), the annual global meetings, which Tol estimates now cost in the neighborhood of $130 million dollars per year, are bound to continue.

Might it finally be time to abandon the global, roving cocktail party known as the "Conference of the Parties" (or CoP) in favor of a more "bottom-up" approach involving negotiations between a much smaller number of major emitting countries, including the US, EU, certain EU member states including Germany and the UK, Russia, China, India, Canada, and Australia? This is the approach George W. Bush favored after he repudiated the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 (I never said he was wrong about everything).

Shutting out the rest of the world, including most developing countries and NGOs, is far from ideal, but the universal-participation approach has been tried and found wanting. Perhaps a smaller number of countries, including some that already have skin in the game, such as the EU and its member states, could achieve greater success cobbling together a set of agreements leading to the foundation of institutions that could get the ball rolling in the right direction, actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then expand over time to incorporate new participants.

Having said all that, I expect the parties at the Doha CoP to try to save face, and the UN's process, by extending the Kyoto Protocol, with or without new binding emission-reduction targets. If they succeed, we are likely to see continued dithering for the rest of the present decade. Failure might be a better option.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Really Good Sentence

From James Meek's excellent new novel, The Heart Broke In (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux 2012):
"The human race pretty much told evolution where to shove it when we invented the barbeque."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Aston Villa 0 - Arsenal 0

This was a hard fought battle, which the weather won. It looked a perfectly miserable day to be out on the pitch with the rain pelting down hard throughout the entire 90 minutes. Villa defended high and strong, giving Arsenal players little time on the ball. Both sides struggled to create scoring chances; yet either side might have won the game - Villa on a tremendous shot from outside the box by Holman, which Szczesny managed to paw against the crossbar and out; and Arsenal on a cross to the inside post by Oxlade-Chamberlain, which Ramsey couldn't manage to direct onto the goal.

All in all, both sides probably deserved a point, which is a bit disappointing for Arsenal fans, given the two preceding performances during the past week. However, the effort and belief were clearly there, and that is all we can really ask for. In particular, Giroud deserves special credit for his play today. He seemed to be everywhere on the pitch; he held up the ball well with his back to goal; distributed with assurance and even finesse, and helped back on defense. He clearly has grown into his role on the squad.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Acemoglu and Robinson Defend Extreme Simplification

In responding to Jeffrey Sachs's negative review of their book Why Nations Fail? (see my post on Sachs's review here), Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (A&R) mount (here) the following defense of their highly simplified framework  - extractive institutions v. inclusive institutions - for understanding why countries succeed or fail:
We think, and perhaps Sachs disagrees, a framework that says there are 17 factors, each of them hugely important is no framework at all. The power of a framework comes from its ability to focus on the most important elements at the exclusion of the rest and in so doing in providing a way of thinking about these elements, how they function, how they have come about, and how they change. For us those elements were related to institutions and politics, and we have focused on them.
I think A&R are mostly wrong about this. Simple models of the world certainly have an important place in social science. After all, the simple models of neoclassical economics explain quite a bit (though not nearly all) of the human behavior we observe; it gives us a lot of bang for the buck, so to speak. But simple models take us only so far. As Elinor Ostrom continually reminded us, the world is a complex place, and it is populated by complex human actors. To understand how humans interact with one another (not just as governors and citizens) and with the ecological systems they inhabit, scholars need to embrace complexity, not reject it in favor of simple (and simplistic) nostrums. See, for example, Lin's 2005 book Understanding Institutional Diversity, her Nobel Prize address (here) and her more recent articles, e.g., here, and here, elaborating a Social-Ecological Systems Framework comprised of approximately four dozen variables.

If A&R are right that a framework with 17 variables cannot be a framework, then everything Lin Ostrom thought she was doing since the publication of her landmark study, Governing the Commons (1990), was a fool's errand. Heck, she didn't even understand what constitutes a proper analytical "framework." But Lin was no fool, and she had a far richer and better grounded understanding of analytical frameworks and models than A&R display. Indeed, Lin's approach to solving collective action problems to improve material welfare of individuals and the social and ecological communities they inhabit is not only more ambitious and hopeful than A&R's simple dichotomy of "extractive" and "inclusive" institutions (which is redolent of recent political distinctions between "producers" and "moochers"); it is also more productive.

A&R's simple model hardly advances the ball beyond work done over the last generation by Douglass North and other political-economic historians. As far as I can tell, it basically relabels what North, Wallis, and Weingast refer to as "natural states" v. "open-access societies," with a bulk of additional stories to support the simple dichotomous model. If anything, Acemoglu and Robinson's approach holds even less hope for fundamental institutional change in "extractive" societies than North's approach. Indeed, reading Acemoglu and Robinson, one might easily conclude that the emergence of "inclusive institutions" is mostly a matter of historical luck or accident, rather than the conscious decisions of human actors interacting in various constitutional, collective-action, and operational arenas. In their "framework," the UK and France are both "inclusive" societies, and little if any basis exists for assessing (or preferring) their very different roads to that end. As for "extractive" societies, it seems A&R have little to offer but the sage advice to become "inclusive" by extending and protecting property rights, freeing markets (with reliable contract enforcement), and establishing the rule of law. What is novel about any of that? And yet, A&R don't seem to appreciate the complexities involved in doing any of those things. As Lin showed in Governing the Commons (and many other works), establishing a property regime is one thing; establishing one that actually works in the local circumstances is quite another.

A focus on a wider array of lower-level variables can at least indicate areas where marginal improvements might be politically feasible (via collective action). And marginal improvements in one area might facilitate further improvements in other areas, leading over time to larger-scale institutional change. Moreover, with a wider variety of variables, it is possible to construct a wider variety of specific models (under the framework) that can be tested in experiments and in the field, and to code data more precisely for purposes of more precise quantitative analysis, which would be a valuable addition to the thickly descriptive approach, albeit one focused exclusively on higher state structures, A&R take in their book.

Thanksgiving Day Ride

In what was probably the last really nice day (of a really nice week) for riding for a while - 53 degrees when I left the house, 60 degrees by the time I got back - Dr. Jim and I had time for just a shortish ride out Old 37 to Sample, over to Chalmers Pike, to Bottom Rd., and back via Kinser Pike, the Cascades, 19th St., and Fee. Including a few warm-up miles, I totaled 23 for the day, which gives me about 92 for the week. I'll likely hit 100 tomorrow, but it will almost certainly be indoors on the trainer. After highs in the mid-60s today, a front is coming through tonight and tomorrow. By Saturday, the higher temperature is expected to be 35. It's that time of year, but I've been spoiled this week by the unlikely combination of balmy weather and time to ride, which I haven't had for most of the semester. I guess I should be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A day for giving thanks for all the good things in our lives. A day for gathering family together and remembering family who are not with us. A day for watching football. A day to kick off the holiday shopping season. And, most of all, a day of gluttony without apology.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Arsenal 2 - Montpellier 0

Arsenal secured their place in the first knock-out round of the Champion's League with a comfortable 2-0 win at home to French champions Montpellier. The match started slowly, with Arsenal missing a number of passes, and the first half finished with neither side mounting much of a sustained attack on the other's goal. Arsenal did, however, look the more dangerous side.

Arsenal seized control, and settled their fans' nerves, early on in the second half when Jack Wilshire simple slotted the ball into the net following a fine cross from Vermaelen that Giroud nodded down in the box right to Wilshire's boot. Even more impressive was Arsenal's second goal, scored in the 63d minute, when Podoski combined with Giroud on a beautiful move. Podolski passed into the center from the left wing, and continued  his run into the box. Giroud picked him out with perfectly weighted pass over the top of the defense, which Podolski took on the full volley, scorching the ball over the outstretched body of the Montpellier keeper, who looked like he was doing a reverse swan dive. It was reminiscent of some van Persie - Song combinations last year, and it was every bit as good.

After the second goal, Montpellier seemed resigned to the inevitable, and offered little resistance. Arsenal could well have scored one or two more, but they wouldn't have made the win any more comprehensive.

Between them, Giroud and Podolski have now scored as many goals as van Persie had at this point last season. That's a very good sign for the Gunners, who are now almost spoiled for choice with so many players coming back from injury. After two strong matches in a row, the Gunners should be brimming with confidence going into this weekend's Premiership fixture away to Aston Villa, who are lurking in the relegation zone.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Law, Politics, and Cost-Benefit Analysis"

The final published version of my new article of that title is available at the Alabama Law Review's website, here.
Abstract: This Article explores the significant role cost–benefit analysis (CBA) plays in facilitating or impeding legislative and regulatory policy decisions. The Article centers around three case studies of CBAs the EPA prepared under three different presidents: (1) Clinton Administration changes to Clean Air Act air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter; (2) President Obama’s recent decision to suspend the EPA’s reconsideration of the Bush Administration’s air quality standard for ozone; and (3) the George W. Bush Administration’s “Clear Skies” legislative initiative. The first two case studies demonstrate, between them, how well-constructed CBAs can facilitate social-welfare-enhancing and impede welfare-reducing rules, even in cases where explicit consideration of costs is legally prohibited. The third case study tells a more complex story of how CBAs can be manipulated either to promote welfare-reducing regulations or impede welfare-enhancing regulations. When that happens, however, the virtuous transparency of CBAs renders those efforts liable to discovery and disclosure, as in the case of the Bush Administration’s failed “Clear Skies” initiative. The Article concludes with an assessment of the implications of the case studies for our understanding of the role of CBA in political (both legislative and regulatory) processes, and with a call for more qualitative and quantitative empirical research on the use and abuse of CBA as a political tool.

Money v. Math in College Athletics

The Big Ten Conference currently has 13 schools in it; in 2014, it will have 14. So, why doesn't it change its name to the Big Fourteen Conference? It's the math - not the real math, but the economic math. The Big Ten is the oldest Division I college athletic conference, and it is one of the profitable. Moving from the ACC to the Big Ten in 2014 is predicted to double the University of Maryland's annual league revenue to nearly $25 million. Meanwhile, by expanding its network further into the northeast, the conference could earn more than $200 million in additional revenue (see here). Changing the name of the league to reflect the actual number of teams comprising it would result in a loss of "good will," which (simply put) is the difference between the value of a firm's assets and the firm's market value. A well-recognized and -respected brand name has value in and of itself, which means that voluntarily changing a well-recognized and -respected name is costly.

The bottom line (literally, in this instance) is that the label "Big Ten" is worth more to the universities that comprise it than the accuracy of their addition. They are counting dollars, not member schools.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Rare Two-Ride Weekend

Forest Ride with Dr. Jim on Saturday and Orchard Ride on my own today. A total of just under 50 miles. Man and I out of shape, but the weather is glorious, and is expected to continue through the coming week, during which I have no classes because of the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope to make time for at least a short ride (or intervals) each day.

In case you're wondering what else academics like me do during holiday weeks, I have a batch of student essays to read and grade, a final exam to begin drafting, and spring courses to start prepping. In my spare time, I'll be working on one writing project or another.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Governor Pence's First Day in Office

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star (here), Governor-elect Mike Pence of Indiana says that as soon as he takes office he will impose a moratorium on new regulations (except those that are federally mandated); then he will pray for wisdom.

I wish he would pray for wisdom before deciding to impose a moratorium on regulations. Anyway, it seems likely that a Pence administration will continue the Daniels administration's attacks on environmental regulation in the deeply misguided belief that a trade-off necessarily exists between protecting environmental health and safety and economic prosperity.

Arsenal 5 - Tottenham 2

Tottenham dominated the first 17 minutes of the match, during which two events of note occurred: Emmanuel Adebayor scored to put his team up 1-0, and then got himself sent off with a straight red card for a stupidly dangerous tackle on Santi Cazorla. That seemed to take all the steam out of Tottenham. Arsenal were able to take advantage of Tottenham's disarray, dominating possession, piling on the pressure, and scoring three times in the last 30 minutes of the first half: Mertesacker on an excellent header (his first for the Gunners), followed by Podolski and Giroud on a couple of poacher's goals. 

Arsenal came out in the second half sitting back and looking to counter attack. Their fourth goal came on a sweeping move of beautiful one-touch football not seen around the Emirates for the past few years. Cazorla was the beneficiary of a inch-perfect cross by Podolski, and his placement was unerring. The game looked to be comfortably in the back pocket, but then Arsenal, as is their want, let down their guard. Gareth Bale scored for Spurs on a fine shot from just outside the 18-yard box. After that the game was wide open, with 10-man Tottenham creating almost as many chances as they conceded. Both teams might have scored another goal or two. The game might have ended either in a tie or with Arsenal doubling their pleasure. As it happened, on Arsenal were able to take advantage with Theo Walcott scoring in second-half stoppage time.

Walcott played a fine overall game today. It was his speed that opened up the Spurs defense time and time again. But I'll never understand why his teammates or the team manager ever let him take free kicks or corners, especially when the likes of Cazorla and Arteta are on the pitch. Olivier Giroud also continued his run of good form in today's match. He's starting to round into the kind of front man that Wenger thought he was acquiring from Montpellier in the off-season. 

All told, this was a decent, confidence-building result for the Gunners, especially coming against their arch-rivals. But the fact that Arsenal were only able to get into the game after Spurs were reduced to 10 men should temper our enthusiasm; it remains to be seen whether Arsenal can score and defend as well against 11 men. The somewhat sloppy and profligate second-half display suggests that the Gunners still have a lot of work to do.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Flood Insurance as Welfare for the Wealthy

Hurricane Sandy, now ranked as the second most costly natural disaster in US history (after Katrina), provided a stark reminder that living along the ocean can be very dangerous. So, why do people build there? Here are what I think are the top three reasons:

1. The ocean is very beautiful, and sea breezes (as least in summer) are delightful.

2. Property values along the ocean front are high.

3. The federal government subsidizes coastal development by providing below-market flood insurance through FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.

Of those three reasons, the third is far and away the most important. If the federal government did not provide below-cost flood insurance in coastal areas there would be much less building in the coastal zone, property values there would be much lower, and storm surges would cause far less damage.

So, why does the federal government subsidize coastal construction via flood insurance? Because of the political influence of development interests, which demanded the federal government fill the void left by private insurers who refused to provide coverage in flood-prone areas because it made no economic sense to do so. The private insurance industry understood better than members of Congress that it makes no sense to insure construction on shorelines that were under consistently high and measurable risk of inundation and erosion.

FEMA contends that the National Flood Insurance Program was not created to subsidize development of coastal properties but to "control" floodplain development more generally. As evidence, FEMA points to rules that prohibit it from providing flood insuring in certain designated areas. But the incentives created by the National Flood Insurance Program are inconsistent with any expressed desire to curtail coastal development. The fact is that, in the absence of the program, only the most fool-hardy would choose to build in those areas.

As things stand, taxpayers are subsidizing the building and rebuilding of coastal dwellings, and the benefits mainly go to the wealthiest segments of the population. It is a form of welfare for the rich. According to a 2007 CBO report (here), fully 40% of properties protected by national flood insurance had market values in excess of $500.000, and 12% were worth more than $1 million. (According to the CBO report, non-coastal properties protected against floods are worth far less money.) The same segment of the population that benefits from the subsidy of National Flood Insurance (a gift that keep on giving) is most vociferous about the need to reduce the budget deficit by cutting federal aid programs for the least advantaged.

Even before allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, Congress should stop the subsidies that encourage the wasteful cycle of coastal building, destruction, rebuilding, destruction, and more rebuilding along America's coasts.