Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thoughts on today's TdF Prologue

1. Why do they call it a "prologue," rather than a stage, when it counts the same as a stage, and indeed, has a greater potential impact (in terms of time differences) on the GC than sprint stages?

2. Did anyone really think anyone other than Cancellara would win it, on the same course as his initial stage win in the 2004 TdF?

3. Does anyone truly believe that Frank Schleck can be a contender for the GC in a TdF featuring three individual time trials, including today's prologue?

4. Did Brad Wiggins send a warning shot across the bow of Cadel Evans and the other GC contenders today?

5. Is Evans looking over his shoulder at his young teammate, and future GC contender, Teejay van Gaarderan, who came in 4th in today's prologue?

6. Ryder Hesjedal had a good ride today, coming in 15th. Can he possibly contend for the TdF GC, having won the Giro just two months ago?

7. Kudos to Jensy. The oldest man in the race came in 18th, only 17 seconds slower than Cancellara. Watch for Jensy taking lots of pulls at the front of the peloton, as Radio Shack protect Cancellar's yellow jersey over the next few days.

Saturday Intervals

I usually do a longer ride on Saturdays, but I got a bit of a late start this morning, so I decided to do an hour of hill repeats instead. After warming up on the rollers of Bethel Lane, I rode three times up each side of Griffy Lake - approximately a mile of climbing each way, with a max grade of 15% heading south and 17% going north. Total distance for the ride was only about 15.5 miles, but with 1660 feet of climbing, a normalized power reading of 235 watts; and a training stress score of 80 (in 1 hour, 3 minutes). I feel like I was out there for at least a couple hours, which is a good sign that I did my work. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

RIP Vincent Ostrom (1919-2012)

Vincent Ostrom died this evening at the age of 92, having survived his wife Lin by just a couple weeks. While Lin's work received so much recognition and glory, she would never allow Vincent and his work to be eclipsed, insisting that they were a team. He was, in fact, a very important and original, if underrated, political theorist, whose work is only just being rediscovered by later generations of political scientists (thanks in large part to the ongoing publication of his collected works, edited by Barbara Allen, see here and here). His influence on Lin, her work, and that of all other Workshoppers is almost immeasurable.

Best known for his work on "polycentric" governance (see here), with which the so-called "Bloomington School of Political-Economy" has become identified (see here), Vincent was a scholar sui generis, who could never be pigeonholed into simple and convenient categories, such as "conservative" or "liberal." When conducting research, he generally eschewed the existing secondary literature, focusing on primary sources to which he gave his own, always insightful and sometimes idiosyncratic, interpretations. He was among the founders of the Public Choice movement, but he was also a political moralist, who believed deeply in the ability of individuals to cooperate effectively for mutual benefit.


Vincent deplored the tendency of academic disciplines, including his own, to shut themselves into separate silos, and was alienated by the tendency of his colleagues in Political Science to write about "the State" or "the government" as if it were a real, autonomous actor, rather than an abstraction. In reaction, he (along with Lin) founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis in 1973. Recently renamed in honor of both Ostroms (see here), Vincent chose the "Workshop" label deliberately to reflect the collaborative and artisanal nature of the work being done there - just like the furniture he and Lin collaborated in building for their own house in a local Bloomington woodworking shop - by scholars from various disciplines using multiple methods. 


I did not become involved with the Workshop until Vincent had already mostly retired. He still came to many of the weekly Workshop colloquia, before his hearing finally gave out a couple of years ago. I recall how much he enjoyed engaging presenters in earnest but constructive bouts of contestation. Indeed, Lin Ostrom's most important book, Governing the Commons, is dedicated to Vincent "for a lifetime of love and contestation."  


Because Vincent was retired and not a regular presence around the IU campus, his death may not be felt quite as keenly as Lin's, but it is a huge loss for the university and for the disciplines of political science, political philosophy, political economy, and public policy, not to mention for all Workshoppers around the world.


For more particulars on Vincent's long and productive career, see herehere, and here.

Still Flying Under the Radar

Over at SCOTUS Blog (for the uninitiated, "SCOTUS" stands for Supreme Court of the United States), Joshua Matz provides (here) an almost comprehensive guide to the wall-to wall coverage of yesterday's Supreme Court's ruling in the Affordable Care Act case. His compilation of sources is really quite an impressive feat; the guy must be a hell of a policy wonk. He must spend even more hours flitting around the webosphere than do I. Either that, or his Google Reader subscription list is even longer than mine. Poor guy  probably hasn't been outside in ages.

I'm sure there are a number of sources, besides my blog, that didn't receive a mention in his media/blogosphere round-up, and I can't imagine it has anything to do with the inexpert quality of my analysis or my lack of reverence for the SCOTUS and its legislative enactments, err, judicial decisions. I'm happy enough flying under the radar and keeping my friends (and my two other readers) semi-informed and slightly amused.

Ready for the TdF?

The Tour de  France starts tomorrow with a prologue time trial, followed by two stages in Belgium, before the racers cross the border into France. With Alberto Contador serving a drug suspension and Andy Schleck out injured, the race is more wide-open than it has been in a long time. Cadel Evans must be top-favorite, I suppose, for the general classification, followed by Brad Wiggins, who has really come into his own as a GC rider this year, having won Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, and the Criterium du Dauphine this year. Also in with a shot are (in no particular order) Vicenzo Nibali, Levi Leipheimer, Alejandro Valverde (who is back riding strong after a two-year drug suspension), and Frank Schleck (Andy's older brother). I might be tempted to replace Schleck's name with that of his Radio Shack teammate Andreas Kloden. I think it will either one or the other, whoever is best positioned after the first week to ten days of the race.

In a sense, I hope neither man from Radioc Shack mounts a serious challenge for the GC, which will give Jens Voigt more opportunities to attack in what is likely (but not certain) to be his final TdF. It would be great for Jens to go out with a bang, in the form of a stage win, which would add to the two stages he has won previously (not including a team time trial).

Here's the map for this year's race:

The 2012 map of the Tour

Best Laid Plans

I was planning on getting out on the bike this morning for a 30-mile before the heat of the day sets in - it's supposed to hit 105 or so here in Bloomington this afternoon. But between emails and blog posts, I've pretty much squandered the opportunity - it's already in the 90s. Looks like I'll be relegated to riding on the trainer in the basement later this afternoon.

I've got to learn to get out of the house early, and delay e-mails and blog posting until I get back.

EPA Proposes New Dust Regulations

Today, EPA has proposed altering national ambient air quality standards (NAAQSs) for fine particles (2.5 micrograms or smaller) under the Clean Air Act. The agency wants to reduce the annual primary standard from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter. The 24-hour standard would remain at its present level of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The main purpose of the change is to provide additional health protection for children and at-risk adults, who suffer from respiratory ailments such as asthma.

As always, when setting NAAQSs, the agency is not permitted to consider regulatory costs, but must set the standards only with regard to public health effects. However, EPA is required by other statutes and executive orders of the president to prepare a cost-benefit analysis of its proposed regulations. And it has done so in this case. The chief economic benefits of the rule change would include fewer hospital visits and less time off work. According to the agency's analysis, the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis depends on whether the new standard is set at 12 or 13 micrograms per cubic meter:


Standard
Estimated Benefits
(millions $)
Estimated Costs
(millions $)
12 μ/m3
2.3 – 5.9
69
13 μ/m3
88 - 220
2.9


Given the estimated range of costs and benefits (that is, assuming it does not change substantially as a result of comments received during the notice and comment period), I am virtually certain that EPA will settled on the 13 microgram per cubic meter standard, notwithstanding the CAA's injunction against cost-considerations entering into the determination of NAAQSs. As we learned most recently from the Obama Administration's debacle over the revised NAAQSs for ozone (O3) (see here), in this day and age EPA must be able to defend its regulations to Congress and in the popular press on economic grounds to avoid political criticism and potential annihilation, no matter what the Clean Air Act formally requires.

Supreme Games

Several right-wing commentators (see, e.g., here and here) are congratulating Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts today for his savvy and stealthy decision upholding "Obamacare." Even as he upheld the statute, they contend, he out-foxed and co-opted the Court's "liberal" members to achieve longer-run "conservative" goals. In particular, his majority opinion appears to constrain congressional use of the Commerce, Necessary and Proper, and Spending Clauses, even as it expands the utility of the Taxing Clause to cover cases where Congress claims merely to be penalizing certain conduct. 


How might this be a long-run victory for "conservatives"? First and foremost, the Commerce Clause is the most often used and expansive basis for claims of congressional authority to legislate. By asserting that the Commerce Clause could not have served as a proper constitutional basis for the health care law (a claim doubted by other judicial authorities, including Judge Posner here), Judge Roberts, it is argued, has (with the acquiescence of the concurring "liberals," excepting Justice Ginsburg who wrote a separate concurrence in which she stated that she would have upheld the Act under the Commerce Clause as well) substantially constrained Congress' ability to legislate. Second, by ruling that Congress could not coerce the states to comply with federal health mandates by cutting off all Medicaid funding (it can still cut off funding relating directly to the areas of non-compliance), Justice Robert's enhanced state rights as against the federal government.


But didn't he give it all back to Congress by expanding (unreasonably, according to the dissenters) the scope of the Taxing authority? The argument here is that the Taxing power has become an almost impossible power for Congress to exercise in the current political climate. By funneling legislation from the commerce power to the taxing power, the Court presumably would put a substantial dent in the rate and scope of national legislation. This presumes (perhaps heroically), of course, that Congress will abide by the Court's ruling and not pretend (as it did in this case) to avoid the word "tax" in describing its legislative mandates. Indeed, Justice Roberts has, perhaps unwittingly, created incentives for Congress to continue using the Commerce Clause as an explicit justification for legislation because it now can count on the Court to provide a different  constitutional justification (e.g., the Tax Clause) should its ostensible basis fail. Simply put, Congress doesn't have to call a tax a tax to pass legislation supportable under the Taxing Power.


And that's not the only respect in which Chief Justice Roberts may have outsmarted himself. Without question, the decision on Medicaid funding does restrict Congress' ability to use the spending clause as a stick to coerce state implementation of federal programs. On the other hand, as some legal commentators (and not just "liberals") already have claimed, sections of Roberts' opinion relating to the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses are "mere dicta" (see here and here), which means incidental language, unnecessary to the ruling, which should not serve as binding precedent for lower courts or future cases before the Supreme Court. Other scholars have weighed in on the other side of the dicta-or-precedent argument (see, e.g., here). But the very fact that the issue arises (and will no doubt be debated in the law reviews for some time to come) creates an opportunity for "liberal" justices in subsequent cases to prevent or limit any Commerce Clause "damage" that might otherwise stem from CJ Roberts' majority opinion.  

My Left Brain Made Me Do It

A fine piece over at Psychology Today (here) wonders aloud something I have been wondering silently for a long time: why has the right brain-left brain myth persisted for so long? 

When I was a college student, I worked as a research assistant for a Psychology professor who was conducting a meta-analysis of the then-fashionable split-brain research to test how the brain's two hemispheres function, when the main connection between them, the corpus callosum, has been severed (usually for medical reasons, e.g., to relieve symptoms of epilepsy). With that connection severed, researchers presumed (without a great deal of warrant) that communication between the two hemispheres would be slowed enough to allow testing of separate hemispheric function through a process known as stochastic laterality testing (involving extremely brief flashes of signals to one half the vision field of one eye). 

The results of these tests, while both interesting and indicative of hemispheric differences, have often been  over-exaggerated. Among other things, those who exaggerated results (and even some of the experimenters themselves) either failed to observe or simply ignored the fact that after the corpus callosum is severed three other significant bundles of nerve fibers still connect the two hemispheres (the anterior commissure, the posterior commissure, and the hippocampal commissure). In many cases, it was simply presumed that stochastic laterality tests were quick enough to avoid inter-hemispheric communication via those channels.

As Christian Jarrett points out in his Psychology Today article, a small set of initial findings from split-brain research - the left hemisphere is responsible for logic and language, the right is responsible for creativity and emotion - became a virtual dogma once pop psychologists got their hands on the findings. But the reality of hemispheric interrelations is, and always has been, far more complex, as indicated for example in tests showing that when one side of the brain is substantially disabled, the other side learns to compensate, taking over some of the functions previously performed on the other side.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In a Rare Reversal, Congress Holds Someone Else in Contempt

Today, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over papers subpoenaed in connection with the "Fast & Furious" arms sale program (on which see here). He is the first sitting Attorney General in US history to be held in contempt of Congress.

I certainly understand the politics of this decision, especially on a day that dominated by bad news for Republicans from the Supreme Court's ruling in the Affordable Care Act case. What I don't understand is the decision to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt for failing to turn over subpoenaed papers that his boss, President Obama, had ordered him not to turn over on a claim of Executive Privilege. Whatever one thinks of the president's decision, once it was made it seems Holder had no choice. 


Juan Williams of Fox News (yes, Fox News) explains here exactly why the contempt citation is mere political theater.

The Supreme Court Upholds All of Affordable Care Act by 5-4 Vote

I'm happy (and more than a little lucky) to say that I correctly predicted (here) that the Court would uphold the statute, including the individual mandate (which it upheld as a lawful tax), but I was off on the vote. In an unusual combination Chief Justice Roberts joined the "liberals" in the majority, but Justice Kennedy did not. I thought that the Chief would join the majority if and only if Kennedy did (hence, my prediction of a 6-3 outcome).* That Justice Roberts penned the majority decision upholding the statute over a dissent in which Justice Kennedy resided is, perhaps, the most surprising aspect of the Court's ruling.

The ruling, including Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion, Justice Ginsburg's concurrence, a dissent co-authored by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas, and a separate dissent by Justice Thomas, can be read in full here. Needless to say, I haven't read the whole thing yet (and probably will only do so later in order to see whether it has any truly significant implications for environmental regulation). I did, however, scan the dissent just for fun. It does mention broccoli (as I predicted here). It denigrates as "feeble" the petitioners' arguments supporting the individual mandate as a tax, and contends that the majority's decision upholding it as such amounts to a "rewriting" of the statute. Overall, I was perversely disappointed not to find more vitriol in the dissent. Perhaps Justice Scalia (who was not, after all, its sole author) was constrained by the need to keep Justice Kennedy on board, or maybe he was just shy of attacking a majority decision by his Chief (although the later possibility seems remote, given Scalia's outsized ego). All of the dissenters would have held not just the individual mandate but the entire statute unconstitutional.

We can now sit back and enjoy weeks, months, and years of scholarly exegesis and criticism along with public expressions of joy, condemnation, and portents for the future of the republic.
-----------------------------------------
* I was delighted to discover late today that Judge Posner predicted precisely the same outcome (see here).

Another Supreme Prediction

Over at the Daily Beast (here), unrepentent liberal Michael Tomasky offers his own Supreme Court prediction. He reasonably expects the life-appointed politicians on the Court to rule 5-4 against the ACA, but on the narrowest possible grounds, based on their combined desire to (a) inflict as much damage as possible on the President, (b) minimize his ability to fight back, and (c) minimize institutional damage to the Court.

Tomasky's prediction is probably better than my own (see here), but I think he over-estimates the ability of some Supreme Court Justices - most notably Antonin Scalia, but also the Chief and Justice Alito - to moderate their tones (and their egos) in order to minimize the political backlash and inflict maximize harm on the president. I can't imagine Scalia, for example, saying (as Tomasky suggests), "gee, we are deeply sympathetic to the problems inherent in the health-care system, but regretfully, we simply can't endorse this method under our reading of the Constitution." He's more likely to say something like, 
Our constitution does not permit, indeed it requires, that we overturn the individual mandate (and perhaps the entire ACA) to prevent a slide down the slippery slope into totalitarian socialism. At no time in the annals of American history - aside from several notable exceptions which I'll conveniently ignore - has the federal government required individual consumers to make purchases in a specific market, a mandate which bears no relation to the government's power to tax. If the government can make you buy health insurance today, it can make you buy and even eat broccoli tomorrow. Our decision today is mandated by the plain text of the constitution and the original intent of the framers, and any contrary interpretation is mendacious and idiotic. Indeed, even the majority opinion to which I am adding this concurring opinion, is idiotic. In failing to decide issues that are not presently before the court, it displays a weakness of will that is deplorable in a Supreme Court. Finally, should Congress ever have the temerity to wade once again into the waters of health care reform, I will still be here to overrule them.

A Banner Day for Con Law Scholars

Many of my colleagues who teach and write in the area of Constitutional Law are peeing their pants this morning in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Affordable Care Act case, which should be handed down within the next couple of hours. Whatever the outcome, many thousands of pages will be written (already are being written) about the myriad ways in which the Court screwed up. After all, it's the latest, greatest opportunity for a bunch of "pointy-headed academics" (among other assorted policy wonks) to show how much smarter they are than the Supreme Court Justices (smarter, at least, than the Justices with whom they disagree).

I don't mean to diminish the importance of this case - for all its many limitations, the Affordable Care Act is probably the most important pro-social welfare enactment since the pollution control legislation of the early 1970s. That's precisely why the level of interest in the Court's decision is so high. It took Congress about a century to enact even a modest version of the health safety net Teddy Roosevelt first envisioned. The very possibility that the Supreme Court might undo that work in one fell swoop, based on an inherently contestable interpretation of ambiguous constitutional language drafted more than 200 years ago is almost breathtaking. It is the greatest drama that can play out in the usually mundane world of policy-making.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Ostrom Workshop Gets a New Sign

DC Circuit Rejects Challenges to EPA's Greenhouse Gas Rules

The Court (in a per curium opinion appearing below) rejected on the merits challenges to the "endangerment finding" (see here) and the "tailpipe rule" (see here), and, somewhat more surprisingly, it held that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the tailoring rule (see here).

As I've written previously (here), the tailoring rule stands on pretty shaky legal ground under the Clean Air Act because it actually ignores plain statutory language (application of which would lead to much more stringent and expensive regulatory standards) to achieve its regulatory end. However, the court avoided dealing with the issue on the merits by finding that the petitioners lacked standing based on their failure to establish any injury from the "tailoring rule," which, as the court points out, actually reduces the regulatory burden they otherwise would have sustained. Given that, it is difficult to see what potential plaintiff might satisfy standing requirements to challenge the "tailoring rule" on the merits. Perhaps environmental groups, arguing for a more restrictive set of regulations than EPA has provided pursuant to its rule; but they seem unlikely to bring such a suit because, if the "tailoring rule" is thrown out on the merits, the EPA, even under a Democratic president, would be unlikely to replace it with something more to their liking. (On the other hand, environmentalists sometimes seem to be willing to sacrifice marginal environmental improvements in their quest for what Prof. Lawrence Friedman has labeled "total justice." Witness their challenge to AB 32 in California). The various legal scholars over at Legal Planet suggest (here) that some businesses that are subject to regulation under the regulation may be able to get standing arguing that it puts them at a competitive disadvantage to other firms that are just under the emission floor for regulatory application. This seems plausible.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Supreme Court at the Center of Political Attention

All major news networks are drooling with anticipation (and predictions) about the US Supreme Court's impending decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate (and possible the entire statute). It is, after all, a decision with important political overtones.

I don't have much to add to all the crap (and frankly, most of it is just that) out there, including hand-wringing  over how legal expectations changed in the wake of oral arguments. As I previously blogged (here), I believe the pundits have put way too much stock into the questions Justices asked during oral arguments. Justices may ask provocative questions for a variety of reasons. They may believe the questions are central to deciding the case; they may intend their questions to signal their own prior determination of the case based on the briefs filed by the parties and amici, without any particular interest in the answers provided by counsel; or they may simply be grandstanding or playing their accustomed roles as actors in the theater that is the courtroom.

I have no more insight into where the Court will come down on the Affordable Care Act than anyone else, and while I believe the outcome may have important near-term political ramifications, I don't believe the future of the republic depends on it. I still think it's more likely than not that the Court will uphold the statute, including the individual mandate, by a 6-3 or even 7-2 vote. And if the Court strikes the individual mandate, I think there's very little chance that it will condemn the entire statute (though the implications of striking the individual mandate for the rest of the statute will be very significant). 

Whatever the Court decides, it should at least be clear by now that the ruling is not compelled by any language in the constitution. It inevitably will be as much a political decision as a legal one, rendered by what Judge Richard Posner insists is an inherently political Court (as opposed to lower federal courts, which are more traditional courts of law, see here). Moreover, the implications for the presidential election of the Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act are not obvious to me. Indeed, a decision overturning the Act, or even just its individual mandate, might be more political valuable to the Obama campaign, than a decision upholding the statute. 

Another Day on the Trainer

Having suffered from a locked-up SI joint for the past week, I'm only just getting back on the bike. With all the hills around B-town, it's hard coming back from back problems, so this weekend I'm restricted to the much less pleasurable experience of riding on the trainer in the basement. At least I've got the Euro 2012 championships to watch while pedaling. After riding for just the first half of yesterday's Spain-France match, today I plan to ride for the entire 90+ minutes of the England-Italy match (which should be a largely defensive snoozer). Hopefully, I'll be back on the road this coming week.

Bloomington Crit

I don't race, but I have lots of friends and acquaintances who do (or have kids who do), and it was nice to see several of them at yesterday's Bloomington Criterium. Chris Kroll (close friend of Coach Bob) won with Master's race, blowing the field away in a sprint finish. Emma Caughlin (daughter of Dr. Jim), Jennifer Cvar (my former Nebo Ridge teammate) and Rebecca Zink (another former Nebo Ridge teammate) all rode strong in the Women's 1-2-3 race. Emma was taken down on the last turn of the final lap by a rider who took a bad line into the corner, but was uninjured. Young Matt Green (son of my buddy Ken) finished 5th in the Cat 3 men's race. And the equally young Graham Dewart (son of my friend Mark) went on an brave (Jens-like) solo attack in the Pro-1-2-3 race, leading four or five laps on his own and building a 20-second advantage before the hard-charging field eventually chased him down with just a few laps to go. He still managed to finish eighth. After the race, the race-announcer reported that the Pro-1-2-3 riders averaged 28 mph, which is really impressive for a course that features 6 tight corners.

All in all, a great day of race-watching and visiting with friends.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lance Armstrong's Legal Eagles Respond to USADA Allegations

In this18-page letter, Armstrong's lawyers call on the Review Board to demand that USADA immediately produce evidence in support of its claims (so far, all its done is make the allegations); if USADA fails to do so, the Review Board is asked to summarily dismiss the allegations.

How Much Does Environmental Regulation Cost the Economy?

That's actually the wrong question. The right question is, how much does environmental regulation save the economy. Each year the President's Office of Management and Budget reports to the the President on the costs and benefits of new regulations from executive branch and independent agencies. The most recent report from  2011 is here. Table 1-1 of that report estimates the total costs and benefits of all major federal rules, by agency, from Oct. 1, 2001 through Sept. 30, 2010 (in billions of 2001 dollars). Here are the figures for the Environmental Protection Agency:

Number of major new rules               Benefits                         Costs           
                  32                                   81.8 to 550.7                23.3 to 28.5

The benefit-to-cost ratio ranges between 2.9:1 and 23.6:1. Anyway you look at it, environmental protection has been and continues to be a great economic investment. No other federal agency on the OMB's list generates nearly the kinds of economic returns that EPA regulations provide. Rather than threatening to shut down the agency, conservatives should be holding it up as a model of good governance.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

South Central Indiana REMC Opposes Even Modest CO2 Regulation

Today, I received an unsolicited email from the CEO of my electricity provider, the South Central Indiana Rural Electric Membership Corporation (SCI REMC) advocating against the EPA's recent proposed rule to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants (see here), and urging me to use the provided link to let EPA know that we stand united against it. 


As readers of this blog will know from my earlier posts, including on this very rule, I have my doubts about the wisdom of EPA's approach to regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act mainly because the Act itself provides such a poor vehicle for rational regulation of substances like carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, I deplore the fact that the same power companies that lobbied against special climate legislation are now making misleading arguments in an effort to convince their customers that EPA's proposed CO2 regulation is ruinously expensive.


The e-mail message I received from Kevin Sump, CEO of the SCI REMC, made two main arguments: (1) the regulations essentially outlaw the burning of coal to produce electricity; and (2) if adopted, this rule will lead to even more burdensome and expensive regulations down the road. The first argument is largely hyperbole; the second is just a slippery-slope claim of the following variety: we shouldn't allow the EPA  to do something reasonable now later it might do something unreasonable. 


EPA's proposed rule, if finally adopted, would require new (but not existing) power plants to meet CO2 emissions standards that would require either the installation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which is currently very expensive, or switch to burning natural gas, which virtually all new plants are doing anyway for purely financial reasons. The rule will not lead to significant changes in the average electricity customer's bill, unless and until natural gas prices rise significantly. By that time, the cost of CCS may be substantially reduced. In the meantime, new plants that burn natural gas meet the new standard without any special pollution-control technologies. Meanwhile, the switch from coal to natural gas substantially reduces the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from electricity production because natural gas produces less CO2


I'm very disappointed that the utility providing electricity to my home is simply parroting the kind of fear-mongering hyperbole promoted anti-regulatory, anti-think tanks like the Heritage Foundation (see here). Even the Wall Street Journal, which certainly is no shill for the EPA, has a more reasonable perspective than my local utility on the proposed rule. 
Some power companies expect the cumulative impact of federal regulations to raise electricity rates for consumers in areas where coal is a big part of the generation mix, such as the Midwest. But the new rules by themselves shouldn't have a huge impact on prices, because utilities had relatively few new coal-fired plants on the drawing board, and natural-gas prices are near 10-year lows.
The rules will simply reinforce the existing trend in power generation: Cheap natural gas is the favored fuel for new electricity generation, often edging out coal and nuclear power. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projected natural-gas power plants to be the main source of new generation capacity in the next two decades even before the rule was announced. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stephen Pinker Cogently Unpacks and Challenges the Trendy Notion of "Group Selection"

Here, at Edge. To summarize:
The idea of Group Selection has a superficial appeal because humans are indisputably adapted to group living and because some groups are indisputably larger, longer-lived, and more influential than others. This makes it easy to conclude that properties of human groups, or properties of the human mind, have been shaped by a process that is akin to natural selection acting on genes. Despite this allure, I have argued that the concept of Group Selection has no useful role to play in psychology or social science. It refers to too many things, most of which are not alternatives to the theory of gene-level selection but loose allusions to the importance of groups in human evolution. And when the concept is made more precise, it is torn by a dilemma. If it is meant to explain the cultural traits of successful groups, it adds nothing to conventional history and makes no precise use of the actual mechanism of natural selection. But if it is meant to explain the psychology of individuals, particularly an inclination for unconditional self-sacrifice to benefit a group of nonrelatives, it is dubious both in theory (since it is hard to see how it could evolve given the built-in advantage of protecting the self and one's kin) and in practice (since there is no evidence that humans have such a trait).
None of this prevents us from seeking to understand the evolution of social and moral intuitions, nor the dynamics of populations and networks which turn individual psychology into large-scale societal and historical phenomena. It's just that the notion of "group selection" is far more likely to confuse than to enlighten—especially as we try to understand the ideas and institutions that human cognition has devised to make up for the shortcomings of our evolved adaptations to group living.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Ride: 3 Climbs, 50 minutes

Only a short, solo ride for me today. But I didn't go easy. I rode up Boltinghouse and both sides of Griffy Lake. That's 1219 feet of climbing in a 12.5 mile, 50-minute ride. Now, for some ice cream...

A Different Understanding of "Father's Day"

From my wife: "It's the one day each year when father has to do what his family wants him to do."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Talk About Impossible Shoes to Fill...

For many years Lin Ostrom taught a Seminar on Institutional Analysis and Development each fall in the Workshop for graduate students and visiting scholars, This fall, I will be running the seminar in her place. It's a tremendous honor and challenge. I'll have access to Lin's notes and teaching materials, as well as lots of assistance from other Workshoppers. Honestly, I'll need all the help I can get.

Polska, Wstyd

Poland have crashed out of their own party, losing to the Czech Republic in Wroclaw (my wife's beautiful hometown) in the last match of the group stage of Euro 2012, which Poland is co-hosting with Ukraine. After testing the Czech defense in the first half, the Poles came out completely flat in the second half, and hardly saw any of the ball. Their lack of intensity was truly baffling.

Poland's economy has been a great European success story the past few years, avoiding the recession that engulfed the rest of the EU, but the Poles have been unable to find similar success on the football pitch. For a country of 40 million people, they are woeful. Today, they were defeated by a county one-quarter their size.* Where are the Latos and Bonieks of today?
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*It's worth noting that Russia was knocked out of the tournament by a country, Greece, with a population less than 1/10th its own. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two-Wheel Therapy

At the end of another rough week in what has been a pretty rough year overall I finally got out on my bike yesterday and today. Both days I rode what I call the "Shiloh Circuit," which goes from my house to Old 37, north to Boltinghouse, but instead of going up the (insane) Boltinghouse hill, I turn back north on Earl Young, which feeds into Lentz Hill. Above the hill, I take a right onto Nehrt which ends at Robinson, which takes me over to Tunnel Rd, which takes me, finally, to Shiloh. If you've never ridden Shiloh, Southeast to Northwest is definitely the direction you want to go. It's more downhill than uphill that way, and it's a fun, curvy road to ride. Eventually, Shiloh ends at Anderson Road, which gives an option of a longer ride up Beanblossom into the Morgan-Monroe State Forest, or back to Old 37. The later option result s in a compact 20-mile ride, with 1450 feet of climbing. That's what I did both yesterday and today, and today my son Stefan joined me for the ride. Very therapeutic.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The "New" USADA Allegations Against Lance Armstrong

At first glance, it seems to me that the US Anti-Doping Agency has simply picked up the ball that was dropped several months ago by federal investigators after grand jury hearings into a conspiracy by the former US Postal Service Cycling team (see, e.g., here). Here is the letter officially notifying Armstrong and others of the allegations (from ESPN, here):

Armstrong Charges

The only new evidence in the allegations against Lance Armstrong are blood samples extracted in 2009 and 2010 which are said to be "consistent with" use of EPO. Frankly, I'm not sure about the significance of the "consistent with" language. But I can imagine how a good defense attorney might cross-examine a toxicologist about such an assertion. All of the other evidence against Armstrong is based on testimony from teammates, and the effectiveness of their testimony will turn on credibility. I cannot imagine that the attorneys for USADA would be stupid enough to rely very heavily on testimony by Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, or other convicted dopers with axes to grind (and books to sell). Eyewitness testimony from someone like George Hincapie, on the other hand, could be extremely damaging to Armstrong.

All in all, I think Armstrong has less to fear from this new prosecution than Johann Bruyneel and the doctors. The allegations against them seem to be much more firmly based on physical evidence. Again, this is just my "first glance" take on this latest set of allegations. Stayed tuned for more details, as they emerge.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Aurelian Craiutu on "Loving the Democratic State Moderately"

A wonderful blog post (here), extolling the "courageous virtue" of moderation, and invoking the Ostrom Workshop as a place where self-government is celebrated as a viable option to Leviathan.

My Obituary for Lin Ostrom

It's now published in The Guardian, here (presumably in the paper version tomorrow morning).

Libecap on ITQs for Whales

Over at the Hoover Institution's blog site (here), Gary Libecap has an interesting recommendation of using individual tradeable quotas (ITQs) for whales, which would in effect create a legal market in entitlements to take (or conserve) whales. Based on previous experience with ITQs for fisheries, Libecap argues that a similar system would reduce the political heat over whaling while conserving more whales.

My only concern with Libecap's proposal relates to monitoring, which is necessary to ensure compliance with quota limits. Compliance monitoring for coastal fisheries is one thing, but much whaling takes place on the open seas, where monitoring becomes more difficult. However, as with other fisheries, whaling ships ultimately must bring their catch into port, and as long as adequate monitoring occurs at the docks, then Libecap's recommendation is likely to be both economically feasible and effective for conserving whale populations, at least so long as the caps (i.e., quotas) are properly set (which itself is likely to become a political pressure-point).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Dear Colleague and Friend Elinor Ostrom Has Passed Away

IU already has set up a webpage in her honor, here. My IU, SPEA, and Workshop colleague, Burney Fischer, has been interviewed about Lin's passing, here. Berkeley law professor Dan Farber mourns her loss, here. And NYU law professsor Richard Epstein has blogged about Lin's passing here. I am in the process of drafting an obituary to be published in the next day or two in The Guardian.

Just today, Lin published a popular article at Project Syndicate, here, on the upcoming Rio+20 international environment and develop summit. Several more scholarly papers on which she was working at the time of her death, including one on which I am a co-author, will be published over the next couple of years.

Peter Boettke, a former student of both Ostroms, and a political economist at George Mason, posted the following on his blog yesterday, which I think really captures Lin's legacy perfectly:
Lin leaves behind a tremendous intellectual legacy.  We have much work to do, and we will honor her by getting on with that task.  She also leaves us with a lasting impression as a personal role model for how to pursue one's career as a teacher and mentor to future citizen/scholars, and also as a scholar in the field of political economy seeking to understand the foundations of social cooperation across time and place in collaboration with other intellectually curious scholars across academic disciplines.  Vernon Smith once summed up Lin's personality as "humble and hard-working", and I can only add to that she was "gracious and giving".  Think about how much can be accomplished when the very best of us exhibit such traits and set the example for all the rest of us to strive to emulate.
All I can add is that I owe so much to Lin, both personally and professionally; her loss is quite overwhelming. Her influence was global and entirely positive (just like her attitude towards everything in life).

Here is a video from her last trip abroad, to Mexico City, just last month:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rowell on Double-Discounting and the Undervaluation of Willingness-to-Pay to Avert Pollution Harms

I belatedly read Arden Rowell's (Illinois) terrific article, "The Cost of Time: Haphazard Discounting and the Undervaluation of Regulatory Benefits," 85 Notre Dame L.Rev. 1505 (2010). She argues convincingly that regulators systematically underestimate individuals' willingness-to-pay to avert mortality risks from pollution and other harms by, in effect, double-discounting. In willingness-to-pay surveys, analysts ask how much people would pay to avoid a future risk of harm (e.g., cancer risks from exposure to toxic chemicals), but they do not ask when those people would pay. That is to say, the surveryors fail to assess the extent to which surveyed individuals are providing already discounted present values of risks. If surveyed individuals already discount their own valuations of future harm, when analysts aggregate the data and then apply a discount rate of 7% or 3%, as OMB rules require, they are in effect double-discounting, and therefore grossly underestimating actual aggregate willingness-to-pay, leading to systematic under-regulation of risks. Rowell's article makes an immense contribution to the cost-benefit literature, which should be read by every scholar working in the field, not to mention the regulators, who should make changes in the way surveys are conducted and analyzed to avoid any double-discounting that inevitably would lead to socially inefficient under-regulation.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Is Climate Adaptation Only About Environmental Justice?

"Environmental justice" is an important advocacy movement of environmental law scholars focused on the distribution of environmental costs and benefits among what the Supreme Court referred to, in its famous Footnote 4 of Caroline Products, as "discrete and insular minorities," which are most likely to be harmed by majoritarian bias in legislative processes.

This morning I attended a conference-session on climate change adaptation, which "environmental justice" advocates dominated ("high-jacked" would be too strong a word). The session focused almost entirely on domestic issues relating to the poor and minorities in the US, even though adaptation is a far more pressing concern for far greater numbers in developing countries. The discussion following the presentations devolved into a strategy session for how "environmental justice" advocates could "leverage" climate adaptation issues to increase federal funding to the groups they represent.

I recognize that disadvantaged groups in the US will suffer climate adaptation-related costs, but it is equally clear that the US possesses a level of adaptive capacity where it is at least possible to "leverage" their claims into greater financial assistance. That is not true in many developing countries that lack any significant level of adaptive capacity, mainly because their per capita income levels are so low and their economies are so heavily reliant on agriculture and other climate-sensitive industries. I was very disappointed that none of the panelists, or the audience for that matter, seemed very concerned about the need to build adaptive capacity in developing countries around the world.

I appreciate that, unlike me, many of my colleagues in environmental law are "advocate-scholars." Their scholarship is aimed at achieving certain substantive and distributional outcomes through environmental law and policy decisions. Such "advocate-scholars" have a long and honorable tradition in the legal academy, not only in environmental protection but also in fields such as civil rights and housing law. That said, I think it would be nice, and even productive, if such scholars could at least occasionally cabin their myopic distributional focus to think about social-cost problems from a broader social-welfare perspective. They might even find that a social-welfare approach actually could promote the interests for which they advocate.

Friday, June 8, 2012

AALS Workshop on Torts, Environment, and Disaster

I'm off to Berkeley this morning for the Association of American Law Schools Mid-Year Meeting. I'll be making two presentations at the Workshop on Torts, Environment, and Disaster, neither of which are directly related to law. One will be a somewhat hypothetical talk about how the so-called Precautionary Principle might practically be reconciled with Cost-Benefit Analysis (which I have previously blogged about here). My other talk is on the basics of discounting and some controversies over selecting a social discount rate. The brochure, containing the complete agenda, can be viewed here.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thursday Afternoon Ride

I'm getting ready to head off to a conference in Berkeley tomorrow, where I'll be making two presentations on different panels (more on that later). I've been very busy trying to get those presentations ready, while taking care of various smaller projects that were due this week (P&T letters, article edits, etc.). But I really needed to get a good ride in before leaving town for the weekend.

Dr. Jim and I took off around 3 pm on a 38 mile ride out on Old 37 past Hindustan to Morgan-Monroe State Forest; up the Forest Road and down Beanblossom (is there anything more fun for a big rider, like me, than riding down Beanblossom?); around Lake Lemon; south on 45 to Robinson; down Nehrt and Lentz to Boltinghouse (but not up that damn hill); back to Old 37, up Firehouse Hill, and home. Just about 2.5 hours and just over 2900 feet of climbing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Happy 50th Birthday Coach Bob

Yesterday, Coach Bob celebrated his 50th birthday (in part) at the regular Tuesday evening Nebo Ridge training ride, followed by a party (with cake) at a local watering hole. Happily for me, Bob, his girlfriend Lynn, and old friend Chris Kroll (like me a denizen of Bloomington) decided to have an easy (for them) ride with the "C" group, which only averaged 19-20 mph for the 26-mile ride. It was nice for me to ride with the old Nebo group again - the first time I had been up for one of the training rides in about a year. And the party after the ride was even nicer, though I could not stay long.

Here are a couple of nice photos taken by Dr. Larry of Bob on his specially modified (by Larry) Specialized, standing in front of his birthday tribute and rolling along with caution sign on the back and streamers on the bar ends:



Stephen Colbert on North Carolina's Efforts to Outlaw Sea-Level Rise

Monday, June 4, 2012

Schelling et al., on Solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts

How many decades has it taken for someone to finally recognize and suggest the application of social-science techniques as a method of making progress in the Middle East? Leave it to Schelling (and his co-authors Schlomo Ben-Ami, Jerome M. Segal, and Javier Solana), here in yesterday's New York Times.

Posner on Comparative Institutional Analysis

Over at the Becker-Posner Blog (here), the pragmatic Richard Posner has an elegant post that eschews the usual comparisons of evil capitalism with ideal socialism, or vice versa. Instead, he more realistically compares inevitably flawed systems of resource-entitlement allocation. Here's a sample:
The institutional structure of the United States is under stress. We might be in dangerous economic straits if the dollar were not the principal international reserve currency and the eurozone in deep fiscal trouble. We have a huge public debt, dangerously neglected infrastructure, a greatly overextended system of criminal punishment, a seeming inability to come to grips with grave environmental problems such as global warming, a very costly but inadequate educational system, unsound immigration policies, an embarrassing obesity epidemic, an excessively costly health care system, a possible rise in structural unemployment, fiscal crises in state and local governments, a screwed-up tax system, a dysfunctional patent system, and growing economic inequality that may soon create serious social tensions. Our capitalist system needs a lot of work to achieve proper capitalist goals.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Bleg on Scitovsky Reversals

I have always understood Scitovsky's main claim from his famous 1941 article ("A Note on Welfare Propositions in Economics") to be that Kaldor efficiency (or Hicks efficiency), used alone, is subject to reversals, such that a move from allocation-state A to allocation-state B is socially efficient and so is a subsequent move back to allocation-state A. This is obviously problematic from the perspective of social-welfare calculation. But I also understood Scitovsky to assert that an allocation-state that is Kaldor-Hicks efficient (that is, meets both the Kaldor and Hicks criteria*) is not subject to reversal. Am I wrong about this? I sometimes come across economists, usually writing in the cost-benefit analysis literature, who claim that Scitovsky reversals are a problem for the combined Kaldor-Hicks criteria. Which of us is misunderstanding Scitovsky?
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*A (re)allocation is Kaldor efficient if those who gain could, in theory, completely compensate the losers without completely depleting their gains. A (re)allocation is Hicks efficient if the losers could not bribe the gainers into foregoing their gains without suffering a loss.

SELE 2012

Today and tomorrow I'm hosting the annual meeting of the Society for Environmental Law and Economics here at IU, co-sponsored by the Maurer School of Law and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. We have a very strong set of presentations this year. Here is the agenda:

 Meeting of the Society for Environmental Law and Economics.final Schedule.30may2012