Thursday, January 31, 2013

Arsenal Sign Left Back At Deadline

The story is here. Here's the low-down on the new signing, according to a knowledgeable source (here):

The 26-year-old Monreal will fit seamlessly at Arsenal. He has an elegant blend of being a tough tackler and a technically gifted player on the ball. His positioning is excellent, while his decision-making has placed him firmly on the radar of Spain's "big two" for a number of years. 
Good in the air, difficult to knock off the ball, with an eye for a killer ball – that sums up Monreal.
This adds much needed depth to one position on the pitch, but in the near term it merely compensates for the loss of Keiran Gibbs to injury for (at least) three weeks, and avoids the need to start the defensively hapless Andre Santos.

It appears to be a good get for Arsenal. But is it enough to get the club closer to a fourth-place finish in the Premiership this season? I imagine that most Gunners fans were, like me, hoping for more in the way of reinforcements.

Wenger Is Still Whistling Past the Grave Yard

Today is the final day of the January transfer window, and Arsene Wenger is still standing pat with his pair of threes, while other, better teams are trying to improve on straights and threes-of-a-kind (see here). After yesterday's draw at home against Liverpool, which saw the Gunners claw their way back from a 2-0 deficit, Wenger declared his side "fantastic." This morning, word comes that they have lost starting left back Kieran Gibbs for up to three weeks. The only existing options for replacing him are (a) the ever-woeful Andre Santos or (b) pulling one of the center backs, Vermaelen or Koscielny, out to the left. Neither option is acceptable for a side that still hopes to compete for a Champion's League place, let alone an FA Cup title.

Still, Wenger still appears happy to stand pat with his pair of threes. He has declared that he will only enter the transfer market if he can find a player who can really strengthen his squad. If he cannot find, anywhere in the world, a player who is an improvement on Andre Santos, then either the soccer world is bereft of talent or Wenger needs better glasses.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Armstrong Interview

Cyclingnews has a new, exclusive interview with Lance Armstrong (here). Here's the bottom line of his defense:

My generation was no different than any other. The 'help' has evolved over the years but the fact remains that our sport is damn hard, the Tour was invented as a 'stunt, and very tough mother f**kers have competed for a century and all looked for advantages. From hopping on trains a 100 years ago to EPO now. No generation was exempt or 'clean'. Not Merckx's, not Hinault's, not LeMond's, not Coppi's, not Gimondi's, not Indurain's, not Anquetil's, not Bartali's, and not mine.
Whatever you think of Armstrong as a person, the fact of the matter is that he's right. Cycling is, and always has been, a sport for "tough mother f**kers," looking for any advantage they could find in a "damn hard" sport. It's even true among the higher ranks of amateur cycling, where stories of doping abound (see, e.g., here).

Armstrong should, of course, be held responsible for his doping and for his misconduct towards others (including the Andreus), but he should not be deemed uniquely responsible, or even substantially more
responsible than many, many others, for besmirching the previously pristine reputation of the sport.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Cautionary Note About Public Opinion Polls of Climate Change

Many supporters of climate legislation are pointing to favorable public opinion polls as reason for optimism about prospects for the current legislative session in Congress (see, e.g., here, here, and here). However much I might want to believe that we will get some meaningful climate legislation this term, I am skeptical.

National polls do not reveal much about the likelihood of legislative enactment because laws are not enacted by legislators elected by the country as a whole. Rather, they are enacted by law-makers elected from congressional districts and, in the case of Senators, individual states, where the support for climate legislation may deviate greatly from the findings of national polls.

If you really want to determine with some accuracy the prospects for climate legislation in the current legislative session, you need to conduct state- and district-level polling, and then assess the results against the majority-approval requirement in the House and the Senate's super-majority-approval (60-vote) requirement. Regardless of national polls showing strong support for climate legislation, my starting point is one of skepticism that those favorable poll numbers can translate into even modest  climate legislation passed by both houses of Congress.

Does the US Need a Second Republican Party?

In his column in today's New York Times (here), David Brooks says we do because the current crop of anti-government Republicans will never garner a national majority and are incapable of changing the way they think.

I found this column a real head-scratcher. First, how would such a "moderate" wing emerge in a party that has gerrymandered congressional districts to the point where only extremists need apply? Anyone who runs as a traditional conservative, let alone a moderate, is bound to face a primary challenge from the right. And that's true even for Republican politicians running at the state level - witness Richard Lugar's primary loss to Richard Mourdock.

Second, why would Republicans want their party split into more parts, even if that could be achieved? The Republicans already are (at least) two parties: the neo-conservatives and the paleo-conservatives (including most Tea Partiers). Indeed, one might argue that a group of anarcho-libertarians, represented by the Paul family, for example, constitutes a third wing of the party. I would love to think there is room for a new group of moderate Republicans (does anyone remember George H.W. Bush circa 1970?), but outside of a few states in the extreme Northeast of the country, that is an extinct species of Republican. And, even if they could be cloned back into existence, could they compete against Clinton-style "New Democrats"?

Ordinarily, I consider David Brooks as more or less a realist. But today's column falls under the heading of "wishful thinking." And I'm not even sure it makes sense for him, as a Republican, to wish for what he's thinking.

Arsene, Your Window Is Closing!

Three days left in the January transfer window and, as usual, Arsenal have not yet made a move. Arsene Wenger usually likes to wait until the last moment, when (he thinks) better bargains are to be had. As always, rumors have been flying about Arsenal's interest in this or that player, but to date no one has been signed.

The manager has made clear that he will only sign a player in January if he finds someone who he really believes can make his team better. He was recently quoted in The Telegraph (here) as saying, "If someone else can strengthen our squad, we will do it of course, but we have the resources inside to do well." I find this statement very worrying. If by "do well" he means he has the quality on the bench to finish in the top four in the Premiership for a Champion's League spot, but not win any trophies, he may be right, but even that conclusion requires a fair bit of optimism on the evidence of play so far this season.

Let's put it this way: Manchester United, currently in first place in the League and 19 points ahead of Arsenal, have made a signing, indicating that they believe players were available that could strengthen their squad. That fact alone would mock any decision by Wenger to stand pat with the squad he currently has. It would be like a poker player standing pat with a pair of threes, while his opponent, already possessing three of a kind, takes two new cards.

An Interesting and Provocative Sentence

John A. Robertson, of the University of Texas Law School, knows how to grab the reader's attention. This is the first line of the abstract of his new article, "Paid Organ Donation and the National Organ Transplant Act:"
A person can buy a handgun for self-defense but cannot pay for an organ donation to save her life because of the National Organ Transplantation Act’s (NOTA) total ban on paying “valuable consideration” for an organ donation.
Here is the complete abstract:
A person can buy a handgun for self-defense but cannot pay for an organ donation to save her life because of the National Organ Transplantation Act’s (NOTA) total ban on paying “valuable consideration” for an organ donation. This article analyzes whether the need for an organ transplant, and thus the paid organ donations that might make them possible, falls within the constitutional protection of the life and liberty clauses of the 5th and 14th amendments. If so, government would have to show more than a rational basis to uphold NOTA’s ban on paid donations.
The article begins with an examination of Flynn v. Holder, a 2012 9th Circuit case, that found that NOTA ban paying for bone marrow donations by aspiration was constitutional under rational basis review, even though bone marrow was renewable tissue and donation involved comparable risks to the paid blood, sperm, and egg donations which are excluded from NOTA’s ban. 
It then argues that some form of heightened scrutiny should apply to laws banning paid bone marrow, kidney, and cadaveric donations as well as bans on paid kidney and cadaveric donations. It bases that argument on the resurgence of constitutional interest in self-defense seen in the Second Amendment handgun cases and in a substantive due process right to life and liberty. Together those developments form the basis of a constitutional right of medical self-defense (a negative right to use a safe and established medical treatment when reasonably necessary to protect a person’s life), despite the narrow test for recognition of new rights contained in Washington v. Glucksberg and Abigail Alliance v. Eschenbach. 
Applying heightened scrutiny to four situations involving paid organ donation, the article shows that banning paid donation may be rational based on speculation or conjecture about harm to donors, unsafe organs, crowding out of altruism, exploitation of the poor, or moral distaste at paying for body parts. But those concerns hardly satisfy the heightened scrutiny that interference with a person’s right to life should require. A highly regulated private system of paying donors should be found constitutional when government is unwilling to act.
The full text can be downloaded here.

As an organ donor myself, I remain baffled by the myopic focus of moralists on the evils of markets, preferring to allow thousands to die each year from needless shortages of organs caused by  government rules that prevent supply from meeting demand.

Gerrymandering Is Not Just for American Politicians

See here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nearly the Most Powerful Short Story I've Ever Read*

It's only January, but already Joel Lovell, writing in the New York Times (here), has confidently declared that "George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You'll Read This Year." I believe Mr. Lovell might be right.

I don't usually read books based on reviews (although they sometimes help me avoid reading certain books), and I hadn't read any of Saunders' earlier stories, but I couldn't pass up such a strong recommendation. I've been reading his new collection, Tenth of December (Random House 2013).

Last night I read the fourth story in the volume, "Escape from Spiderhead," and all I can say is WOW!!! 

Thank you Mr. Lovell for your great review, and thank you Mr. Saunders for amazing me.

*On balance, I'd say J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" remains the single most powerful short story I've read (though, admittedly, I'm not really a connoisseur of the form). My favorite short story, however, is the opposite of powerful; it is Thomas Mann's lyrical, "A Man and His Dog."

Keeping New Year's Resolutions Is Easy...

... if you pick the right resolutions. For instance, my resolution to put on some weight this year is going very, very well.

Other resolutions that are easy (for most people) to keep:

1. Exercise less
2. Spend more time being lazy
3. Watch more tv
4. Let other people do more stuff for you
5. Buy more stuff you like

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Best Definition I've Read of "Gerrymandering"

Instead of voters choosing elected officials, elected officials choose their voters.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to Get Climate Legislation Through Congress?

If President Obama was serious in his inaugural address about seriously dealing with the problem of climate change (and, no, I do not take him at his word), then the question becomes, how does he expect to get legislation through Congress. Over at (here), Jonathan Zasloff offers the  intriguing suggestion of a horse-trade: in exchange for approving the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, something Republicans (and some Democrats) desperately want the President to do, would they be willing to drop their opposition to a climate bill of approximately the same type the House passed in 2010?

Generally speaking, I like the idea of such a compromise, but I have a hard time believing it would work. In the first place, it's not obvious to me that either side is willing to compromise. The Republicans, in particular, think that they win no matter what President Obama decides on Keystone XL. If he approves the pipeline, they get what they want: cheap, incredibly dirty oil from Canada. If he doesn't approve the pipeline, many Republicans believe Obama would take a substantial political hit, which they also want because it would weaken support for the rest of his ambitious agenda. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are adamantly opposed to the permitting of Keystone XL and would likely denigrate as too weak any climate law that Congress might pass in exchange for Obama's approval of the pipeline. That is to say, even if room existed for compromise, there would likely be so much disagreement over the respective values of the quid and the quo that no deal would be struck.

Despite my pessimism, I hope that someone in Washington is paying attention to Zasloff's suggestion because it's exactly the kind of practical horse-trading that has become far too rare as the nation's capital has become increasingly polarized ideologically.

Does David Brooks Really Believe Republicans Are Market-Oriented?

In his most recent column in the New York Times (here), David Brooks correctly observes that President Obama's second inaugural address set forth a highly progressive agenda focused on big government initiatives, ignoring both the potential for government failure and the fact that, throughout its history, America has prospered thanks to the "decentralized genius" of its markets, private universities, and local communities. But he lost me when he contrasted the "party that talks of government," and "one that talks the language of the market." I'm pretty sure the first party he had in mind was the Democratic Party, but I'm not sure what party in the US "speaks the language of the market"?

Is it the Tea Party, which refers to Obamacare as socialism, while demanding that the government leave Medicare alone, as if spontaneously emerged, fully formed, from some Hayekian dream? Surely, he cannot have meant the Republican Party, which ardently supports corporate welfare, i.e., using government to subsidize favored industries, such as fossil fuels and agricultural, while seeking to limit the freedom of gay people to marry and of women to make choices in health-care markets.

It is useful to bear in mind that pro-market is not necessarily the same thing as pro-capitalist. As Adam Smith recognized more than 200 years ago, every market seller is a would-be monopolist, who would seek special favors from politicians to obstruct competition. I'm pretty sure the Republican Party is pro-capitalist; I'm not so sure it's pro-market.

Brooks is quite right about the absence of any party in the middle that talks about both government failures and markets failures. But who would be naive enough to expect to find a political party that, instead of seeking votes in highly competitive political markets, actually spent its efforts pissing off almost all segments of the woefully under-educated electorate by trying to actually solve complex problems in a second-best world, where all of the available mechanisms for resolving social dilemmas fail to one extent or another.

A FURTHER THOUGHT: David Books was too hard on President Obama's inaugural address. It's true that the president focused exclusively on things government can do; but if you look at the issues on which he focused - climate change, immigration reform, reducing discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens, etc. - these are problems that require more public, rather than private, entrepreneurship. A stable climate, for example, is a public good that would be systematically under-provided by private markets. Immigration reform means change to an existing system of laws, something private markets cannot possibly do. And issues concerning the legal status of citizens is another chore that is inherently governmental. We might usefully debate the level of governance at which these various issues would best be treated. But they are simply not the kind of issues that Wall Street or Main Street would ever likely resolve on their own. At least the president was not supporting all kinds of government policies for issues that are better left to private actors in economic markets.

The Independent Has Gone Behind a Pay Wall

So my sources of news from the UK are down to The Guardian, The Telegraph, and the BBC. That's good enough for me.

Wayne LaPierre Gets It Bass-Ackwards

According to a story at (here), the NRA chief, in a speech in Reno, Nevada yesterday, referred to President Obama as one of the "'self-appointed arbiters of what freedom really means.'" Actually, the President is a democratically elected arbiter of what freedom means - the only such arbiter whose constituents include every eligible voter in the United States. LaPierre himself more closely fits the description of a "self-appointed arbiter" of freedom.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course. We are all, at least potentially, self-appointed arbiters of freedom, with some ability (however limited compared to the leaders of mega-lobbies like the NRA)  to influence our elected representatives, including the President. 

Meanwhile, the self-appointed (by virtue of Marbury v. Madisonfinal arbiters of freedom sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. They will have the last word (probably several last words over many decades or even centuries) on the meaning of the "Second Amendment," in which no variant of the word "freedom" actually appears, but is implied by the word "right." 

Lip Syncing Is American as Apple Pie

At least Beyonce doesn't use (or need to use) Auto-Tune, which is a truly evil technology.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Better than the Founders Imagined?

David Rothkopf, CEO of the FP group (which publishes Foreign Policy), makes the argument at (here), in reflecting on President Obama's second inaugural address:
The great beauty of the speech was not in any particular phrase, but in that the man in question and the country he leads were in so many ways far beyond what the Founders could have imagined. And that, despite our natural tendency to glorify our origins, that this America was in virtually every way better than the one they offered up to us.
I think he's entirely right. But I'd also like to think that at least some of the founders hoped not only that their experiment would succeed, but that it would transcend the political limitations they confronted.

Pardon Me for Not Being a Christian

Why is it okay for invocations and benedictions at US presidential inaugurations to be religiously specific and exclusive, explicitly invoking the name of Jesus or referring to the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"? Does that not tend to elevate (dare I say "establish"?) one religion over others? Are Jews, Muslims, and Atheists such imperfect Americans that we should be deliberately and casually excluded from such benedictions?

(By the way, I know that some on the religious right would be more than happy to answer that last question in the affirmative. But the question is directed not at them but at our political leaders, including our Constitutional Law Professor-in-Chief, who presumably have a better educated appreciation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Or do I presume too much?)

New Report on Intergenerational Discounting

An important new report by a panel of highly esteemed experts on cost-benefit analysis and discounting recommends declining discount rates for long-run environmental (and other) policies, where the future rate of growth in mean consumption is subjectively uncertain. However, they do not recommend a specific schedule of declining discount rates either because the EPA did not ask them to tackle the politically hoary (and ultimately subjective) task of estimating the values that would comprise the Ramsey equation (including the pure rate of time preference and the coefficient of relative risk aversion, plus a process for generating the certainty equivalent of future growth in the mean rate of consumption) or because they could not reach consensus on those values.

The title of the report is, "How Should Benefits and Costs Be Discounted in an Intergenerational Context? The Views of an Expert Panel." The authors are Kenneth Arrow, Maureen Cropper, Christian Gollier, Ben Groom, Geoffrey Heal, Richard Newell, William Nordhaus, Robert Pindyck, William Pizer, Paul Portney, Thomas Sterner, Richard Tol, and Martin Weitzman. Here is the abstract:
In September 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency asked 12 economists how the benefits and costs of regulations should be discounted for projects that affect future generations. This paper summarizes the views of the panel on three topics: the use of the Ramsey formula as an organizing principle for determining discount rates over long horizons, whether the discount rate should decline over time, and how intra- and intergenerational discounting practices can be made compatible. The panel members agree that the Ramsey formula provides a useful framework for thinking about intergenerational discounting. We also agree that theory provides compelling arguments for a declining certainty-equivalent discount rate. In the Ramsey formula, uncertainty about the future rate of growth in per capita consumption can lead to a declining consumption rate of discount, assuming that shocks to consumption are positively correlated. This uncertainty in future consumption growth rates may be estimated econometrically based on historic observations, or it can be derived from subjective uncertainty about the mean rate of growth in mean consumption or its volatility. Determining the remaining parameters of the Ramsey formula is, however, challenging.

Climate Change in Obama's Second Term

I heard he referenced climate change in his second inaugural address (see, e.g., here). Let's hope it is the beginning, rather than the culmination, of his commitment to fight for a sensible national climate policy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Good-News Cycling Story for a Change: First Big Race of the Year and Jens Attacks (What Else Is New?)

The story is here at Velonews.

An Arsenal Hiatus

Depending on what Arsenal do (or not) during the remainder of the transfer window, I may decide to take a break from providing detailed game reports. I'm just not sure it's the best use of my time at this point to keep filing detailed game reports on what is, on any objective analysis, a mediocre Arsenal side.

It's becoming tiresome for me, and no doubt for anyone who bothers to read what I write (if there is such a person), to keep posting the same basic complaints from one game to the next. In particular, I'm tired of complaining about Theo Walcott's poor passing and generally inconsistent play; and he's Arsenal's leading (lately, almost their only) scorer.

So, unless and until Arsene Wenger adds some midfield support for his beleaguered defense and upgrades his attacking options, I'm going to stop complaining, which basically means I'm going to stop writing detailed match analysis. Which is not to say that I'll stop watching or caring.

Chelsea 2 - Arsenal 1

The big question for today was which Gunners team would show up at Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea: the timid side that lost at home to Man City last weekend? or the dynamic attacking team that defeated lower-level competition in a mid-week FA Cup tie?

Chelsea started the day in third place, eight points ahead of sixth-place Arsenal (although Arsenal have a game in hand). Unlike Arsene Wenger, who usually enters the January transfer market (if at all), only at the tail end of the month, when (he believes) prices are lower, Chelsea already have made a new signing to strengthen their squad (at least on paper), bringing center-forward Demba Ba from Newcastle. Both teams have re-signed an existing player who had been threatening to move, Theo Walcott for Arsenal, and for Chelsea, much despised former-Gunner Ashley Cole.

It was snowing at the start of the match, and Arsenal's side was weakened by the absence with Lucas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both ruled out with illness. That meant a rare start for Francis Coquelin in midfield, with Giroud leading the attack in the middle with Walcott and Cazorla on the wings. In fact, Cazorla dropped back, as he did last week, into more of an offensive midfield role of distributor-in-chief, while the very-much in-form Jack Wilshire filled in to Dennis Bergkamp's old role, filling the gap just behind the central striker.

Chelsea started the game on the front foot, getting behind the Arsenal defense far too easily; but Arsenal nearly scored first, when Walcott slid a pass to a clear Olivier Giroud, who shot wide. Chelsea responded immediately, with Juan Mata scoring in the 6th minute to put the Blues ahead. Play should have been halted at midfield before the goal for a clear foul against Francis Coquelin; nevertheless, Chelsea too easily played their way through the Gunners' defense.

Ten minutes later, Chelsea doubled their pleasure, when Szczesny was adjudged to have brought down Mata in the box. Replays showed that he actually slipped and Mata fell over him. At least the ref was content to show the Polish goal-keeper only a yellow card. Chelsea complained that it should have been red; Arsenal were aggrieved that a penalty was awarded. In any case, Frank Lampard dispatched the penalty with aplomb. Less than 16 minutes into the match, and Arsenal were down 2-0 at Chelsea, in the snow. If ever a team's character was tested, it was Arsenal's for the final 75-80 minutes of this match.

As the first half wore on, they were failing the test. The match commentators observed correctly in the 28th minute that there was only one team in the match. The action was in one direction (Chelsea had fully 60% of possession during the first half), every time Chelsea attacked, they looked a threat to score. Especially down the left side of Arsenal's defense, where Cazorla was having trouble tracking back on defense (to be fair, left wing is not his accustomed position). When Arsenal did get a spot of possession in Chelsea's final third, they lacked a cutting edge, and seemed lost for ideas on how to break through Chelsea's defense. For the most part, they passed the ball around the perimeter until, eventually, someone would attempt a tight entry pass, which Chelsea would intercept to regain possession.

All told, Arsenal were lucky to go in at halftime without conceding a third (or fourth) goal. A two goal deficit with a half to play is hardly insurmountable, but it was hard to see Arsenal getting back into the match, they were being so thoroughly outplayed.

Arsenal made a brighter start to the second half (how could it have been otherwise?), and almost got an early goal, as the ball fell sweetly at the feet of Mertesacker in the middle of the Chelsea box, but the big German defender could only sweep it into the waiting arms of Cech. Two minutes later, Cech was forced to make another save, this time from a tight-angled shot by Theo Walcott, who for once was onside when he received the ball in a dangerous area. He was onside again the next time he received the ball in the box, in the 58th minute, and this time Walcott scored from Santi Cazorla's inch-perfect pass into the right-hand channel. It was Walcott's 15 goal of the season in all competitions. As the match commentator said: game on.

Walcott's goal spurred Arsenal's confidence; and they kept up the pressure on Chelsea's goal, leaving themselves vulnerable to counterattacks, but needs must when trailing by a goal. The Gunners looked a completely different team from the lethargic and downhearted side of the first half. No doubt, whatever Wenger said at halftime deserves some credit for that. (But, then, does he also deserve blame for their passionless start to the match?)

As the second half wore on, it was almost as one-directional as was the first half, only this time it was Arsenal with more of the attacking possession. On the few occasions when Chelsea threatened at Arsenal's end, they failed to create real scoring opportunities, except the one time Chelsea substitute Demba Ba was played clear on the Arsenal goal in the 84th minute. He should have scored after playing the ball around the hard-charging Szczesny, but his shot cleared off the line by Vermaelen, who chased back very hard to get into position to make the play. Against the odds, Arsenal were still only a goal away from taking a point from the match. Just three minutes later, Vermaelen nearly seized the point himself, when he took a free kick from just outside of Chelsea's penalty box. His hard, low shot traveled just beyond Cech's far post.

As the game entered stoppage time, Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure, earning three or four corner kicks in the final minute or two. They came close but couldn't manage to put the ball into Cech's net. Ultimately, Arsenal simply ran out of time.

For the second week in a row, against top-flight Premiership competition, Arsenal played a very good second half after going down by two goals in the first half. For the second week in a row, manager Wenger will credit his team's grit, determination, and character when playing from behind. And for the second week in a row, Arsenal will have no points to show for it. Indeed, from their last seven games the Gunners have taken just one point.

What are we to make of this seemingly schizophrenic Arsenal squad? The first-half Gunners appeared completely incapable of competing against the better teams in the Premiership. That squad might not be Europa League contenders, let alone Champion's League contenders. But the second-half Gunners looked like they could compete against any team in the UK, in any competition.

At least as long as Jack Wilshire is on the pitch, they would seem to have a chance in any match. More than any other current Arsenal player, he seems capable of carrying the team on his back (when necessary), and willing his teammates to raise their play. He is the best kind of leader, one who leads by the example of his play. His re-signing, far more than the much ballyhooed new contract for Theo Walcott, is the key to Arsenal's future as a competitive club in the Premier League.

Arsene Wenger certainly knows that Theo Walcott's re-signing is not the key to turning the club's fortunes this season. Much more help is needed, especially on attack and in defensive midfield. Arsenal's defense looked fragile once again, particularly in the first half, but I suspect that had more to do with the lack of help Vermaelen and Mertesacker were receiving from Coquelin, Diaby, Gibbs, and Sagna, all of whom were more or less constantly pushing forward on offense.

A FINAL PLEA TO ARSENE WENGER (whom I'm sure does not know of the existence of this blog, let alone read it or pay attention to anything written on it): STOP ALLOWING THEO WALCOTT TO TAKE CORNERS AND FREE KICKS. NO MATTER HOW HAPPY YOU ARE TO HAVE RE-SIGNED HIM, HE IS AMONG THE SQUAD'S LEAST RELIABLE PASSERS. (He took Arsenal's first three corner kicks of the match, and seemed intent on playing kick-and-catch with Chelsea goalie Petr Cech.)

Guns Don't Injure People; People at Gun Shows Injure Other People at Gun Shows (with Guns)

I don't mean to make light of the fact that five individuals were injured in three separate incidents at guns shows/sales in Ohio, Indiana. and North Carolina (see here), but it does make an important point: people are harmed by guns, even when they are handled by experienced, well-meaning users.

Here are some statistics on accidental shootings from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (here):
In 2010, unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people.
From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings.
Over 1,300 victims of unintentional shootings for the period 2005–2010 were under 25 years of age.
People of all age groups are significantly more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries when they live in states with more guns, relative to states with fewer guns. On average, states with the highest gun levels had nine times the rate of unintentional firearms deaths compared to states with the lowest gun levels.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In Praise of Being Whelmed

Over the holidays, my daughter and I had a conversation during which we agreed that one key to living well is to be whelmed far more often than either overwhelmed or underwhelmed by events and circumstances.

Based on the frequency with which the modified forms of word are used (compared to the unmodified form), people are too often overwhelmed or underwhelmed by life's experiences. We want to promote, as a virtue, a purer form of being whelmed - allowing ourselves to be swept up in (or engulfed by) life's precious moments, but only in moderation. That is what it means to be whelmed.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What I Learned Durng the First Week of the New Semester

I'm teaching first-year Property for the first time in several years, along with Climate Law & Policy, which makes for a busy semester requiring an unusually high number of hours of class preparation each week.

Here are the two lessons/reminders I learned during this first week of classes:

(1) First-year law students are really fun to teach (even when the prof is suffering with a virus);

(2) Climate science is hard (both to do and to teach), but not as hard as climate social-science.

Neither observation is especially surprising, but they are what struck me most from the first week of the semester.

Walcott Signs New Contract with Arsenal

Arsenal's sixth or seventh best player has now become it's highest paid player. As I've said before, Wenger had put himself in a tough position, having lost so many top players in the transfer market over the past couple of years, he was more or less forced to prove that he could keep a player who isn't nearly as good as any of the players he lost.

Walcott has certainly improved this year as a goal-scorer, but he remains frustratingly inconsistent.  I cringe every time I see him standing over a corner or free kick. I understand that Wenger couldn't risk losing Theo go mainly to reduce anxiety that his club was becoming nothing more than a "feeder" team for more well-heeled and competitive clubs. But he is paying above market price for a player who would not start on any team above Arsenal in the league table.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why I Won't Be Watching Oprah's Interview with Lance Armstrong

First and foremost, I will not be watching because it doesn't deserve all of the attention its receiving relative to other, real tragedies going on around the world. God forbid the media should spend a minute talking about climate change, for example.

I will not be watching because of the hypocrisy and vindictiveness of the media, professional cycling organizations, the IOC and others, who are treating the Armstrong case as a tragedy or betrayal on the scale of murder or treason. If they were insipid enough to believe that Armstrong was pure as the driven snow, while his competitors, year after year, were doping and getting caught, they should be taking a good hard look in the mirror. So should the organizers of the Tour de France, who made huge money off of Armstrong's drug-assisted heroics.

Granted, some individuals, like Betsy and Frankie Andreu have personal reasons for seeking vindication against Amstrong. I leave them to it. But the idea that Armstrong was uniquely responsible for the drug problem in cycling, or sports in general, is laughable. Would he have won seven Tours de France in a row without the dope? Who knows. But as between him and the other top competitors for the GC, the playing field was pretty level.

But tearing down champions has become almost a sport in its own right, ever since Jim Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic medals for having played two years of semi-pro baseball (for meager wages); and he was only caught because, unlike most college athletes who played semi-pro ball in the summers, he failed to adopt a pseudonym.

I have no interest in supporting or defending what Armstrong did during his professional career; I've never met the man, and have no interest in meeting him. Frankly, he doesn't seem like the nicest, friendliest guy you'd ever come across. He may well deserve everything that has happened to him, including both winning and being stripped of his 7 TdF titles, and all of the insults and lawsuits he is going to have to endure over the next several years (at least). But I don't for a minute buy the smug, holier-than-thou attitudes of all his accusers and critics, most especially other cyclists who themselves were drug cheats.

UPDATE: Apropos of what I've written here, I highly recommend the op-ed column at National Geographic (of all places) (here), by Roff Smith.

FURTHER UPDATE: I heard that Lance did not apologize during the interview with Oprah to many of the individuals he threatened or intimidated during his increasingly manic efforts to hide his doping. While I believe he owes people like Frankie and Betsy Andreu public apologies; I hope that, at the very least, he intends to apologize to them in private, and at least try to make amends. I'm not confident that he's a sufficiently sincere and self-reflective person to do what is necessary. Having gained a reputation as cycling's version of Voldemort, he has not yet shown any real remorse.

3d UPDATE: According to Frankie Andreu (here), Lance Armstrong has called him privately to apologize to he and his wife, Betsy. He said that Lance sounded sincere. It's difficult for me to imagine that anyone, other than Lance's family, would know what a sincere Lance sounds like.

Unlimited Private Gun Ownership or Tyranny: The NRA and the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle

According to the NRA, any amount of gun control either constitutes tyranny or a long step down a very slippery slope leading inevitably to tyranny. To that organization and its more rapid supporters, guns = freedom = democracy. If you do not have a virtually unlimited constitutional right to bear arms, then you live under a tyrannical dictatorship. There is no plausible or acceptable middle ground.

So, we should all extend our deepest sympathies to the tyrannized masses living in chains under "dictatorships" in places like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, which do not constitutionally protect the right of private individuals to bear arms. The citizens of those countries may not realize they're tyrannized - the poor dupes may have been brainwashed by their overlords and suffer from the deluded belief that they live in relative freedom - but trust the NRA, they are unfree peoples.

Now that Grover Norquist and his "freeedom = no tax increases" mantra have been taken down a peg or two in the rankings of most powerful interest groups, the biggest impediments our country now faces to making progress on important issues to save lives and the economy are (1) the NRA and it's mission to arm every American to the teeth and (2) the AARP and its disingenuous argument that entitlement programs are not part of the debt problem our country faces. If Congress can ever get past the extreme, self-interested positions of those two interest groups, then maybe, just maybe, there's a chance we can deal with the farm lobby on ethanol and other subsidies that make farmers rich, sometimes even if they grow nothing at all. But let's not hold our breaths.

James Madison was certainly right about the dangers factions pose in a democratic society; it was among the reasons he championed republicanism over other, purer forms of democratic governance (see Federalist 10). [And, of course, the same James Madison drafted the deplorably ambiguous Second Amendment to our Constitution.] It's worth wondering, under current circumstances, whether he was right in asserting that the structure of government in the US would keep factions under control by having a large and populous enough federal republic to ensure that many factions would be competing for attention and power, and to some extent cancelling one another out. Did Madison fail to foresee the rise of mega-factions, like the NRA and AARP, which are huge, single-interest groups that can virtually buy politicians? Of course, factions become mega-factions for a virtuous reason: they attract (through various mechanisms, some of which are not so virtuous) many supporters, suggesting that they represent a sizable plurality (though almost certainly not a majority) of the population. Nevertheless, that such mega-factions can actually control, at least in some cases, the legislative agenda of Congress seems to cut against Madison's assertions in Federalist 10, and supports the more pessimistic assessment of interest groups offered in the second half of the 20th century by Mancur Olson (see here) and other Public Choice theorists. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

FA Cup: Arsenal 1 - Swansea 0

I didn't see the match (sometimes teaching gets in the way of even the highest priorities). Apparently, Jack Wilshire, who was just about the only Gunner who played a good match this past weekend again Man City, put on another man-of-the-match display, and scored the game winner in the final minutes. I hope to watch a replay this evening. According to reports I read, the entire Arsenal squad played better;  but (a) they could hardly have played much worse (at least compared to the first half of the Man City match), and (b) it's easier to play well against lower-level opponents.

Next up for Arsenal in the FA Cup is a trip to Brighton.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Markets and Politics

ThinkProgress is carrying a story (here) about a shop owner in Utah who charges "liberal" customers higher prices than "conservative" customers for smoothies.

I think this is just fine. In fact, I can see advantages to such political price discrimination for the same reason I'm happy to know how owners of businesses like Chick-fil-A, Olive Garden, and Anthropologie use their businesses to try to influence social policy.

In both cases, potential customers are fully informed of the political and economic implications of patronizing various businesses. If you choose to dine at Olive Garden (part of the Darden Restaurants chain), some of the money you spend there will further efforts to overturn or water-down "Obamacare." If you buy clothes at Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters, you will be supporting (to some extent at least) a corporate CEO with strong anti-gay political opinions. In short, the more we know about the politics of business owners and managers, the more individual customers can exercise their own political and social preferences through their buying decisions in markets with lots of choices.

Thus, a person who slightly prefers eating at Chick-fil-A to eating at KFC, might nevertheless decide to eat at KFC if their support of gay marriage tips the balance. I have no idea whether, or to what extent, the political views of corporate leaders actually influences consumer buying decisions. According to recent reports, business was down at Olive Garden and other Darden restaurants following its threats to cut hours for employees so that it could avoid compliance with the Affordable Health Act (see here).  It stands to reason that a CEO's support of controversial political positions (in either direction, relative to their customer base) could hurt profits. We wouldn't expect a smoothie bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts to last very long if it charged Liberals more than Conservatives. But, in Utah, such a pricing policy might actually maximize profits. CEOs of national companies, especially  publicly-traded, companies probably need to be even more careful about the political positions they stake out, to ensure that their politics don't harm the bottom line.

In any case, I think consumers-as-citizens tend to benefit in general from information provided by politically discriminatory pricing policies, as well as corporate statements of political positions.

A Question of Morality or Coasean Social Cost?

Ronald Coase has sometimes been criticized for treating all problems as economic, when some are plainly moral. (See, e.g., here). I don't think those arguments are fair to the extent that Coase is an economist, not a philosopher, purporting to explain the economics of (successful or failed) transacting, not whether certain activities or transactions are morally right or wrong. Moreover, the notion that murder is morally wrong is not inconsistent with the Coasean presumption that murderers are virtually always the lower-cost avoiders of the harm resulting from their interactions with victims.

All this came to mind this morning, as I was leafing through the Stanford alumni magazine, reading a profile of recent Nobel laureate (in economics) Alvin Roth. The article addresses Roth's fascination with what he calls "repugnant transactions," and references the following case: France has banned, apparently on moral grounds, the "sport" of "dwarf-tossing." According to Roth, a dwarf unsuccessfully challenged the ban before the UN Human Rights Committee, claiming that it infringed his human rights by restricting his employment (see here).

Whatever one thinks of dwarf-tossing as an activity, I have to think Coase would enjoy reading about the case, which exemplifies how even apparently clear moral issues can also be joint- or social-cost problems. No doubt, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel would find this appalling (see here), which is fine by me.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Welcome to Governor Pence's "Brown" Indiana

Among his first acts after taking the oath of office today was to carry out a campaign promise by imposing a moratorium on pesky regulations, including environmental regulations, that hurt business by preventing them from poisoning the air and water Hoosiers breath and drink. The important thing, in his view, is to create more jobs no matter how much they cost in money, human health, or even human lives. This is, after all, the same man who in 2010 earned a lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters of 4% (see here), putting Pence in the bottom 10% of 435 House members when it came to protecting the environmental health and safety of Americans.

Based on that stellar record of environmental neglect, my fellow Hoosiers have now elected Pence to govern our state, which in 2007 ranked 49th (out of 50, for readers who might not know how many US states there are) on the Forbes list of "Greenest" states (see here). Four years later, Indiana improved by one spot on a similar USA Today list (see here). Put differently, Indiana is among the  "Brownist" states in the country. Don't look for that to change during a Pence administration. Although, with just a little effort he could make us #1 in pollution! What a coup that would be.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Some Not-Really-So-Bold Predictions and Observations About Arsenal FC

1. No way they finish in the top 4 this season.

2. With respect to resigning Walcott, they're damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they don't resign him, the media and some supporters will complain that Arsenal continue to lose their best players to better-funded clubs (even though Theo is nowhere close to Arsenal's best player). If Arsenal do resign him, they'll be breaking their wage structure for a player who is as good now as he ever will be, and that's not good enough. If he left to join some other club among the top four or five, he would mostly ride the pines. I believe he knows it, and that's why he's willing to stay at Arsenal, so long as he gets paid.

3. Arsenal need a thorough restructuring to compete in future years, including:

     (a) up front, where the group of Giroud, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Podolski just aren't good enough. Of that four, only Oxlade-Chamberlain seems to have potential to impove. Point of comparison: The incomparable duo of Henry and Bergkamp.

     (b) in midfield, they must rebuild around Cazorla and Wilshire. The others need replacing. Arteta appears to have lost pace and agressiveness, and he's certainly out of his comfort level playing defensive midfield. Rosicky is past his prime. Abu Diaby is too often injured, and appears lackadaisical (if not simply slow) when not injured. Ramsey has a terrific work rate and heart, but he misses far too many passes and never scores. He is still young enough to improve, so he might be kept on the roster. Point of comparison: Viera, Pires, Lunbjerg, et al. 

     (c) in defense, I don't think so many changes are required. Vermaelen's game has fallen off this season (ironically, since he became team captain); he seems to be caught out of position more than in past seasons. But there's no reason to think he cannot regain his form. Koscielny and Mertesacker have both proven capable partners for Vermalen. Koscielny, who was the most improved player on the team last season, has seen his form drop this year, perhaps somewhat due to injury. Meanwhile, Mertesacker has improved this season; his positional play in particular has been excellent (which is crucial given his cumbersomeness). At the full-back position, Gibbs is sound when healthy, and Sagna is among the best right-backs in football (arguably, the only player on the current squad who might have cracked the best 11 of "The Invincibles," and even that's a close call with Lauren). Arsenal also have a promising young deputy for Sagna in Carl Jenkinson; but they lack any decent back-up for the frequently injured Gibbs. Point of comparison: Arsenal's famous back four of the 1980s and '90s.

    (d) In goal, Szczesny has his occasional miscues, but he's among the best stoppers in the Premiership, and his public pronouncements show that Arsenal is in his heart. I'm not so convinced by Manone as back-up. But the goalie position is not among Arsenal's weakest spots at this point. Point of comparison: David Seaman.

4. Finally, Arsene Wenger is a genius, who has revolutionized how footballers train and play in the UK. The English game is now more open and offensive than it ever was before Wenger arrived in London. But he has been slow to realize that other clubs have caught up with his advanced training and nutrition programs. He can no longer rely on a cadre of younger, lower-paid, but more fit and better trained, players to compete for titles. The question is whether Wenger's infamous stubborn streak will continue to prevent him from recognizing that what worked ten years ago will not work today. Winning silverware will require more than minor tinkering around the edges. Before the team can adapt and improve, the manager needs to prove that he can adapt to the new realities of football in the Premiership.

Arsenal 0 - Mike Dean, err, Man City 2

The referee decided the match in the 9th minute. Koscielny let Dzeko get behind him, put his arms on him, and Dzecko collapsed to his knees as if a gorilla had landed on his back. Judged to be the last man preventing a goal-scoring opportunity, even though Man City still got a decent shot away, Mike Dean awarded a penalty and sent off Koscielny with a red card. Game over.

Szczesy actually saved Dzeko's penalty shot, with an assist from the far post which rebounded the ball back into the goalie's arms. But Arsenal were down to 10 men against one of the best teams in the world. Yes, they were at home. Yes, they had the depth to bring on Per Mertesacker to replace Koscielny in the center of defense (requiring the sacrifice of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on offense).

Clearly affected by the combination of bad luck, poor defense, and dubious officiating, Arsenal were all over the place for the next 20 minutes of the first half, ceding virtually all of the possession to Man City. In the 23d minute, City pressed home their advantage, when Milner scored on a terrific shot, after Vermaelen failed to track his run into the box. Ten minutes later, Dzeko made up (sort of) for his penalty miss with a tap in, after Szeszny had done well to parry a late deflection by Tevez. The ball went straight to the unmarked Dzeko, who could not possibly have missed from one yard out.

After that, there seemed not way back for the under-manned Gunners (especially given their willingness to allow the usually errant Theo Walcott to take free kicks in the third). Out shot 12-2 in the first half, it remained to be seen what kind of reorganization Arsene Wenger could possibly pull off at half time that could make any difference.

In the second half, Arsenal played with great heart. And Mike Dean pretended to even things up by issuing an equally dubious red card to Vincent Company for a supposed two-footed tackle, after Company had clearly won the ball. But it was too little, too late. Arsenal created a few chances, and really should have scored when substitute Olivier Giroud had an open header five feet from the goal. But the combination of Manchester City and Mike Dean were simply too much of an obstacle to overcome.

Man of the match: Referee Mike Dean. He completely dominated the match and determined its outcome, issuing two red cards and six yellows. If the best refereed game is one in which the referee is hardly noticed and makes no controversial decisions; this was one of the worst refereed games ever witnessed. The FA ought to show Mike Dean a red card, sit him out for a few games, and make him review the rule book as well as videos of well-refereed games.

Just one other thing: Jack Wilshire has enormous heart. He was nearly kicked off the park by Man City (according to one report I read he suffered more fouls today than any player in the league has all summer); and he did a fair amount of kicking of his own. He represents the best of the past and the  future of Arsenal Football Club.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

First Ride of 2013

I hadn't even been on the trainer yet this year because of a bug that has laid me low since the holidays. But the weather was just too nice this morning for me to pass up the opportunity to get out. Needless to say, I didn't push it. I rode just 20 miles and minimized my climbing to just under 1,100 feet. Still, there's still no such thing as an easy ride around Bloomington.

Based on the weather forecast for tomorrow, I expect to be inside on the trainer during the Arsenal match against Man City.

Lance to Admit Doping on Oprah. So What?

Calls for Lance Armstrong to "come clean" have been increasing lately (according to my own unscientific observation of media stories). I have no idea why people (if those who write in the media are, indeed, people) are so intent on Lance's confession, as if it would change any fact in the world. We already know he doped; he already knows he doped. Is some socially-demanded cleansing ritual, akin to going to church on Sunday? Actually, I think there's something to that, but I'll circle back to this point later.

Apparently, Lance is about to admit doping (how shocking!) before the nation's highest tribunal and chief confessor, Oprah Winfrey. According to several media outlets, he will admit doping but give no details. No surprise there. His lawyers must have warned him about serious legal liability he would face for perjury based on past testimony in various courts. Indeed, it's not entirely clear that he won't face legal action for merely admitting doping.

Aside from the stuff that only lawyers (and potential defendants) really care about, why is Lance doing this at all? And why now? One answer to the first question can be dismissed out of hand: he is not admitting doping out of remorse, to clear his conscience, or in an effort to "clean-up" cycling. Sometimes, cyclists (and other dopers) claim those reasons, but they are liars. (Have you noticed that none of them ever "comes clean" before they are either caught or many years out of the sport?)

I believe Lance is admitting doping because it is a necessary step in his eventual (uncertain but likely) rehabilitation as a champion. But is he doing it too soon? The timing strikes me as premature. The wounds (for those who chose to believe that Lance did not dope) are too fresh and raw. He cannot possibly expect that his confession next week will lead to forgiveness and resurrection in the near-term. Indeed, I'd wouldn't be surprised if it took at least 20 years for his name to be restored to a place of glory in the annals of sport.

However, I do believe it will eventually happen. In a sport where virtually have used performance-enhancing (as well as performance-detracting) drugs of one kind or another since money was first put on the table, it would be awfully difficult, as well as unfair, to single out Lance Armstrong (or any other particular cyclist) as a drug cheat. But society cannot possibly forgive Lance without making him suffer first. His "conviction" by the USADA and his upcoming confession are only the first stages in the kind of "cleansing ritual" I mentioned earlier that Lance must endure as part of his rehabilitation. It's like a 12-step program (although I can't tell you how many steps it actually involves) and, ironically, not unlike the kind of suffering he had to go through (drugs or no drugs) to prepare for a win the hardest bicycle race in the world seven years in a row. But where the suffering of training and racing was physical, the suffering Lance is required to endure now is moral and psychological. He has to become something he has never been: a contrite and flawed human (more like the rest of us than he has ever believed).

Once he does that, and a sufficient amount of time passes (as determined by unknown arbiters), Lance will once again acknowledged as the greatest overall cyclist of his era.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Stewart, Oppenheimer, and Rudyk on "Building Blocks for Global Climate Protection"

The authors recommend a club-based approach to achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as a byproduct of collaborating on other, mutually profitable opportunities. It's the latest in a line of climate literature searching for solutions to climate mitigation that do not rely predominantly on globally negotiated treaties. Unlike other contributions (including my own, here), which basically describe laundry lists of what national, regional, and local governments as well as some private actors have actually done to reduce emissions, while international negotiations have stalled, Stewart, Oppenheimer, and Rudyk offer a more structured approach premised on three plausible effective strategies for cooperation: clubs, linkages, and dominant market-actors. Here is their abstract:
The paper presents an innovative institutional strategy for global climate protection, quite distinct from, but ultimately complementary to the stalled UNFCCC climate treaty negotiations. The building blocks strategy relies on a variety of smaller-scale transnational cooperative arrangements, involving not only states but sub-national jurisdictions, firms, and NGOs, to undertake activities whose primary goal is not climate mitigation but which will achieve greenhouse gas reductions as an inherent byproduct. This strategy avoids the inherent problems in securing an enforceable treaty to secure the global public good of climate protection by mobilizing other incentives — including economic self-interest, energy security, cleaner air, and furtherance of international development — to motivate such actors to cooperate on actions that will also benefit the climate. The paper outlines three specific models of regime formation (club, linkage and dominant actor models) which draws on economics, international relations, and organizational behavior to create transnational regimes that are generally self-enforcing and sustainable, avoiding the free rider and compliance problems that are endemic in a climate treaty. These regimes will contribute to global climate action not only by achieving emissions reductions in the short-term, but also by creating global webs of cooperation and trust, and by linking the building block regimes to the UNFCCC system through greenhouse gas monitoring and reporting systems. In these ways, the building blocks regimes will help secure eventual agreement on a global climate treaty.
The full working paper is available for download here.

I have my doubts about how effective such "building blocks" can be, if their GHG emissions reductions are only byproducts (that is, positive externalities); and I wonder whether they might more usefully be envisioned as ancillaries to larger scale, negotiated regimes. Those larger scale regimes might increase incentives to mitigate by increasing the economic value of emissions reductions not merely as byproducts of other profit-seeking opportunities. Nevertheless, it is a very valuable contribution to the burgeoning literature on sub-global level efforts at mitigating GHGs.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Weitzman on Geoengineering Governance

Is it just me, or does Marty Weitzman seem to have a new working paper about every month? The latest one (to my knowledge) is an NBER working paper (here, behind a pay wall for nonsubscribers). Here is the abstract:
Climate change is a global "free rider" problem because significant abatement of greenhouse gases is an expensive public good requiring international cooperation to apportion compliance among states. But it is also a global "free driver" problem because geoengineering the stratosphere with reflective particles to block incoming solar radiation is so cheap that it could essentially be undertaken unilaterally by one state perceiving itself to be in peril. This paper develops the main features of a "free driver" externality in a simple model based on the asymmetric consequences of type-I and type-II errors. I propose a social-choice decision architecture based on the solution concept of a supermajority voting rule and derive its basic properties. In the model this supermajority voting rule attains the socially optimal cooperative solution, which is a new theoretical result around which the paper is built.
Weitzman's model is, as he admits, "heroically abstract," but he's hoping it might provide a good starting point of necessary discussions of options for a geoengineering governance regime. Even if we discount his proposed super-majority voting rule as either politically unrealistic (he uses the term "naive") or insufficient, his paper is, as usual, full of creative and useful ideas and insights, including his novel (to my mind anyway) concept of "free-driving" (e.g., overprovision of geoengineering) as a counterpart to the familiar "free-rider" problem (e.g., underprovision of climate change mitigation). If climate change is "mother of all externalities," Weitzman informs us, then geoengineering to avoid climate change catastrophes could prove, in the absence of an effective governance regime, to be the "father of all externalities."

Weitzman also usefully reminds us that what amounts to a pure public good for some people under some circumstances might amount to a pure public bad for other people under other circumstances. He provides a new term of art, "gob" (which I presume is an acronym for "good or bad") to describe such variable goods/bads. In a future world threatened by climate change, in which some countries might seek to use geoengineering on a unilateral basis, geoengineering becomes a "pure public gob."

Marty Weitzman is a wonderful mathematical modeler, but it's the consistently high quality and creativity of his thinking that are the real wonder.

Arsenal About to Break Wage Policy?

According to a story at The Telegraph (here), Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are now prepared to break the bank and their famously rigid ("socialist," according to the manager) wage structure, giving into Theo Walcott's demand to be paid £90,000 per week. How ironic that, after losing its best players over the past couple of years (in which category I include Fabregas, van Persie, and perhaps Song, but not Nasri), Arsenal finally have going to break open the piggy bank for the mediocre, but still marketable Walcott. Why couldn't they have learned this lesson before losing RvP?

Arguably, Fabregas could not have been kept at any price; he truly wanted to return home to Spain. But does anyone doubt that van Persie would have stayed if Arsenal's wage offer had been anywhere close to Man.U.'s?

Assuming The Telegraph story is accurate, I wonder how much the decision to open the purse for Walcott was influenced by Arsenal's unsuccessful efforts, earlier this week, to prise David Villa away from Barcelona (see here). Of course, no stories about January transfers should be given too much credence before contracts actually are signed.

RIP: James Buchanan, 1919-2013

Over at Marginal Revolution (here), Tyler Cowen is reporting that Nobel laureate James Buchanan has passed away at age 93. Buchanan was, along with Gordon Tullock, Anthony Downs, Mancur Olson, William Niskanen, and Vincent Ostrom, a founder of the Public Choice School of Political-Economy and the Public Choice Society. I never met the man, but I certainly appreciated the import of his work.

While the Public Choice approach sometimes seems to explain nothing by purporting to explain everything (except why individuals vote, which strikes public choice theorists as irrational), no one today can purport to do good positive political analysis without at least a measure of public choice theory, with its skeptical (sometimes cynical) attitude toward "political markets."

That said, I've always found Buchanan's ideologically-based presumptions in favor of polluters and against environmental protection to be deplorable. He basically believed that anyone who favored social-welfare enhancing environmental protection measures was a communist/tyrant in disguise, intent on trampling the property rights of others (presuming, for no reason, that property rights were clearly defined in the first instance). In this respect, Buchanan was among the ideological progenitors of the  largely discredited theory of "free-market environmentalism."

I have published critiques of both Buchanan's presumptions about property rights (here) and "free-market environmentalism" (in Chapter 5 of my Pollution and Property book, see here).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Legal Scholars in Retreat

Each year, just before the start of the Winter (not Spring) semester, the faculty of the Maurer Law School holds a one day retreat at a site away from the law school. Only rarely (I'm told), is the retreat tied to resolving major issues in the law school (curricular reform, etc.). But why then hold a full-day retreat?

It turns out to be a useful mechanism for learning about one's colleagues and their work and building collegiality on the faculty as a whole. Today, the morning session was devoted to the useful issue of how to integrate students into our research for their benefit more than our own. Even for more senior faculty (like myself), who have hired (and even published with) research assistants for many years, it was an interesting exercise to rethink ways in which I might improve the value of the experience for the students. Now that I'm working more closely with grad students and post-docs, in addition to law students, the issue has even greater currency for me.

The afternoon session was devoted to three broadly defined subject-based panels: Family Law, Business Law, and Criminal Law. At each panel, three of my colleagues made a brief presentation of their current work. During the course of the school year, individual faculty members may make "brown bag" lunch presentations to their colleagues, but spending an entire afternoon learning more systematically about the various, unfailingly interesting work my colleagues are doing was both enlightening and made me feel proud to be a member of such a productive and scholarly faculty.

Coming immediately on the heels of the four-day AALS conference in New Orleans, I can't say I had as much energy as I would have liked. My lack of energy did not, however, prevent me from appreciating all the great work my colleagues are doing.

A Sobering Depiction of Rape Statistics

A picture can be worth more than 1,000 words. I saw this at the Washington Post's Wonkblog (here). It was created by the Enliven Project (here), based on statistics US Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010 (here) and the FBI reports.

Waldron on Majority Decision in Courts

The always insightful Jeremy Waldron has a new working paper (available here) on "Five to Four: Why Do Bare Majorities Rule on Courts?" Here is the abstract:
Courts, like the US Supreme Court, make important decisions about rights by voting and often the decision is determined by a bare majority. But the principle of majority-decision (MD) for courts has not been much reflected on. What justifies judges' reliance on MD? In democratic contexts, MD is usually defended either as (i) a way of reaching the objectively best decision or (ii) as a way of respecting the principle of political equality. Howerver, it is difficult to see how either of these arguments works for the judicial case. The only other argument is one of convenience, but that seems an odd basis for majoritarian authority on a court, given the momentousness of their decisions and given that the role of courts is to check popular majorities. The paper reflects on these and other matters and concludes that, at the very least, defenders of judicial authority should be more tentative in their denunciations of democratic majoritarianism.
Waldron's paper does not purport to resolve all the issues relating to majority decision-making in courts, but his discussion of the various problems and arguments is, as usual, clear, convincing, and a just a pleasure to read.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why I Stopped Attending Environmental Law Conferences

As mentioned in my last post, I attended a panel at the AALS this morning celebrating the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Environmental Law Section. Today's panel was retrospective; tomorrow will be a prospective panel.

Today's panel reminded me why I've mostly stopped going to environmental law conferences (and founded, with a few like-minded scholars, the Society for Environmental Law and Economics). The first speaker on this morning's panel was one of the "founding fathers" of environmental law. His talk focused on several themes, one of which was "economics is not a science," although he didn't explain why it was an important theme of the first 40+ years of federal environmental law. In any case, my response would be, so what?

For one thing, even if it's true that economics is not a science (which I doubt), it would have to be equally true of all the other social sciences. Second, what difference could such an assertion make to anything that happens in the real world of environmental policy? If environmental law scholars suppose that we can get rid of economic analysis from environmental policy simply by claiming that economics is not a science, they are delusional. More to the point, it is a misguided goal. The results of completely removing economic analysis from environmental policy would be disastrous. One normative implication would be that society should spend the entire national income to prevent the very first unit of environmental degradation, which is a ridiculous goal supported by no one - not even misguided law professors who profess an irrational hatred of economics.

It's long past time that my fellow environmental law scholars realized that: (1) economic theory is not our enemy - it is not at odds with sensible environmental protection measures (including higher levels of protection than current policies provide); to the contrary, (2) the basic theory of welfare-economics strongly supports internalization of inefficient negative externalities, including units of pollution that generate net social costs; and (3) whatever their utopian environmental designs, arguments about environmental policy that ignore economics are never likely to make headway in the real world.

If environmental lawyers and other advocates seriously want to improve environmental policy, they need to engage in, not denigrate, economic arguments.

FA Cup: Swansea City 2 - Arsenal 2

I followed this game on my cell phone during a panel celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Environmental Law Section of the AALS. The Gunners came back from a 1-0 second-half deficit to take a 2-1 lead, scoring twice in 2 minutes with about 10 minutes left in the match. Apparently, the second goal, scored by Kieran Gibbs, was a real doozy, which I can't wait to see on video replay. Unfortunately, the Gunnres were unable to hold on to their lead, and Swansea earned a replay at the Emirates. Arsenal were lucky not to find themselves booted out of the FA Cup in the third round for the first time in Arsene Wenger's reign.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans

I'm in New Orleans at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, a meeting I don't often attend. As conferences go, I've found it to be not very useful. But this year, they've added substantial value to the conference by offering 1.5-day workshops in empirical methodologies (both quantitative and qualitative). Yesterday afternoon and all day today I'm taking Ted Eisenberg's workshop in quantitative empirical analysis using STATA software. I'm not sure I intend to conduct my own quantitative empirical analyses in future, but this workshop surely will help me interrogate, interpret, and understand the many empirical studies I read. Beyond that, I always find it exciting to actually learn (even if I can only grasp it, at least initially, at an elementary level) a new skill.

Aside from the 1.5 day training session, I'll just be attending a couple of the environmental/natural resources/property sessions on Sunday and Monday morning. I have more to write about those sessions later. In the meantime, I'm just busy relearning some basic statistics, along with learning for the first time STATA commands and procedures. Really, it's more fun than it sounds.

And, of course, being in New Orleans I'm eating a lot of good food. My wife and both kids are with me on the trip, hanging out with my sister and her family, who live here in NO. They know all the great neighborhood eateries that tourists usually never get to, such as Liuzza's, where we ate last night.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Bill of Rights for the UK?

Last month, the UK's Commission on a Bill of Rights, appointed by the Conservative-Liberal coalition government, released a report (available here) on the desirable of adopting an explicit, written Bill of Rights for the UK. As most readers of this blog will know, the UK has never had an explicit, written constitution or bill of rights, but instead operates a constitutional system based on parliamentary sovereignty (at least in theory), which has not prevented the UK from operating a successful representative democracy at least since the Reform Acts of the nineteenth century. In the late 1980s, Parliament enacted a Human Rights Act (in compliance with EU Directives), which gives its courts authority to declare violations of human rights, but does not restrict parliamentary authority (the UK courts cannot overturn legislation that violates the Human Rights Act or any statute or treaty).

A majority of the members of the Commission on a Bill of Rights, which includes at least a couple whom are Euro-phobes and want to reduce the (supposed) authority over the UK of the European courts, believe that the time is ripe for the UK to adopt a Bill of Rights with super-statutory status, including giving the UK courts power to prevent Parliament from violating whatever rights it enshrines. However, there is little agreement on exactly which rights should be so enshrined and for whom (Only the English? Scots? Welsh? Northern Irish? Manxmen? Falkland Islanders?).

Today, in the London Review of Books (see here), the two dissenters from the Commission's report, Phillippe Sands (an international law professor from University College London) and Baroness Helena Kennedy (a barrister and Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford) have published an article explaining their opposition to the near-term adoption of a UK Bill of Rights. What I find most interesting about their dissenting opinions is that they come from the left (as it were), rather than the right. Rather than arguing on traditional grounds that the UK's constitutional system has functioned relatively well under the long-established system of Parliamentary sovereignty without a written constitution or Bill of Rights, Sands and Kennedy are mainly concerned about the potential political effects of adopting a Bill of Rights on the UK's European commitments. They also observe, quite reasonably, that adopting a Bill of Rights without the context of larger constitutional reforms might have unintended, deleterious consequences even for individuals intended to be the beneficiaries of (supposedly enhanced) constitutional rights.

The ongoing debates over the Bill of Rights and other constitutional developments in the UK (including "devolution" of power to parliaments in Scotland and Wales) are among the most fascinating, and under-reported (outside of the UK), meta-legal battles being waged anywhere in the world in the twenty-first century. Especially given Britain's unique, consequential, and influential history of constitutionalism, it's surprising that so few US constitutional scholars are paying any attention. But then, US Con Law scholars are usually so myopically and parochially wrapped-up in the US constitution and, especially the US Supreme Court's exegeses of it (participating unwittingly in the post-modernist fetish with text) that we really cannot expect them to attend to constitutional developments in  other places, especially in countries (including virtually ever country on earth) that fail to recognize just how superior is our own constitutional system.

Due Process for Suspected Terrorists?

The Atlantic (here) has an excellent explanation of the decision process the Obama Administration uses to target suspected terrorists, including a remarkably clear flow-chart.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Seidman on Constitutional Disobediance

Louis Michael Seidman's a Con Law scholar and an advocate of ignoring the Constitution (at least to some extent). His column in today's New York Times is here. I have at least half a foot in his camp, and wholeheartedly agree that blind and unbending obedience to a 200-year-old document is not the litmus test for whether or not a country possesses a viable constitutional democracy. I'm looking forward to reading Seidman's forthcoming book.

UPDATE: In response to Seidman's op-ed, "Blowhard, Esq." writes (here):

Countries like Britain and New Zealand have systems of parliamentary supremacy and no written constitution, but are held together by longstanding traditions, accepted modes of procedure and engaged citizens. We, too, could draw on these resources. 
Right, but their traditions are not our traditions. What works for Britain and New Zealand might not work here. How’s that democratic flowering going in the Middle East, by the way? Do you think that example might hold some lessons?
It seems to me "Blowhard" has it exactly backwards: the legal, historical, and political traditions of the UK (and New Zealand) are our traditions, and not the traditions of countries in the Middle East, where the combination of overthrowing old tyrants and holding elections hardly constitutes a system of constitutional, representative democracy. US governance institutions, including the constitution itself, have strong roots in British legal institutions and philosophy. Our common law is the English (and Welch) common law, with (mostly) minor adjustments. The presumption that the US would become more like Egypt, rather than, say, Canada, if we did not have our (current) written Constitution is beyond presumptuous; it is ridiculous.

I won't go on to note the many factual assertions Seidman makes about US constitutionalism, which "Blowhard" simply ignores. I wonder, however, what "Blowhard" makes of the frequently articulated (including by the US Supreme Court) trope that the US Constitution is "not a suicide pact" (see here)?

Grover Norquist Agrees that the Fiscal Cliff Deal Raises No One's Taxes

According to Igor Volsky at Think Progress (here):
As the House began voting on the measure, Grover Norquist gave his blessing, tweeting that since the vote took place in the new year — after the Bush tax cuts have technically expired — “Every R voting for Senate bill is cutting taxes and keeping his/her pledge.”

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

David Brooks on the "Fiscal Flop"

One of the curses of having to write two columns a week is that you end up writing a lot of junk to fill up space. No columnist is immune to that problem, including the very smart David Brooks. What separates Brooks from others, however, is that when he really puts his (non-partisan) brain into a column, he's the most sensible and clear-headed pundit we have. His column from today's NY Times on the deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" is here.

Southampton 1 - Arsenal 1

This game perfectly illustrated why it's hard for Arsenal fans to get excited about resigning Theo Walcott. One game after scoring a hat trick (and missing numerous other chances), he was virtually invisible for much of today's game. When seen, he showed himself incapable of holding the ball up in attack; he sprayed passes all over the yard but not to their intended targets; and he shot from distance when a well-placed pass might have carved open the defense. Theo displayed all of the attributes that have made him such a figure of frustration among Arsenal supporters.

To be fair, Theo did have a hand (or a foot, as it were) in Arsenal's lone goal of the match, sending in a cross from a dead ball that a Southampton player kindly dispatched into his own net. To be even more fair, the entire Arsenal squad under-performed today, as if they wore themselves out scoring 7 against Newcastle a few days ago. But that's especially the kind of game in which a real team leader has to step up and save the day (as the gone-but-not-forgiven RvP did so many times last season).

Fortunately, Southampton did not play much better (though any fair-minded neutral would have concluded that they were the better side for much of the contest). A draw was certainly the most Arsenal deserved out of this match. And they were lucky to get that.

Congress (Mal)Functions

I pulled my earlier post about the fiscal cliff negotiations because, upon reading it this morning, I found it too bad-tempered. I don't disavow the sentiments it expressed, particularly about Congress's apparently endemic inability since the 2010 midterm elections (and not coincidentally the rise of the "tea party" as a force within the larger Republican Party) to engage in serious problem-solving, even when the stakes for the country are very high.

Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

While Congress has managed to raise taxes slightly on a small number of very wealthy people (mainly because the President caved on the income level at which tax increases would take effect) and averted draconian spending cuts that would have hurt the military, the middle class, and the poor, it failed to take the opportunity to resolve the debt-ceiling problem or reform entitlements, which threaten the long-run fiscal solvency of the country. They just kicked those cans down the road, as they've done before.

Political Winners and Losers?

Well, the President kept his campaign promise to raise taxes on the wealthy and protect the middle-class, and he sort of accomplished both of those promises. But he also displayed, once again, an ability to negotiate strongly from a position of (relative) power; and he studiously avoided dealing with the messy problem of entitlements, which is not going to go away. If a term-limited president cannot take up the problem, who can?

House Speaker John Boehner is widely cast as a loser, and that may well be true politically: his authority in his own caucus is at a low ebb. But I admire his serious efforts to deal with the combined taxing and spending issues in a serious way, despite the risk to his own position in his Party. Does anyone doubt that, left to their own devices, he and the President could have worked out a much better deal for the entire country? From the first day he became Speaker, Boehner has been hamstrung by extreme ideologues in his own party, who seem more beholden to Grover Norquist (another big loser from the negotiated settlement) than their constitutional oaths.

Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden both come out of the negotiations with credit for getting a deal that averts big problems, and should mollify both Wall Street and Main Street, if only temporarily.

See, the System Does (Ultimately) Work... Or Does It?

This deal, if approved by the House later today, is only a partial solution to problems the most important parts of which (e.g., entitlement reform) have only been temporarily put off. It represents the culmination of negotiations that started when the Obama Administration first took office and completed not at the last minute (before going over the fiscal cliff), but a day after the last minute (again, assuming that Republicans in the House go along). Is this a success story or failure of the American political system? It's worth noting that this was not a constitutional crisis or another kind of extraordinary situation; rather, the problems Congress was trying to resolve were more in the nature of "normal politics." Perhaps there's no such thing as "normal politics" anymore in the USA. Maybe everything's a constitutional (or quasi-constitutional) crisis.