Friday, May 31, 2013

Guns and Ricin

Fox News is reporting (here) that ricin-tainted letters sent to President Obama and New York Mayor Bloomberg were in response to their support for minor gun control legislation that would merely broaden existing gun registration requirements. Other gun registration opponents have sent death threats to legislators (see here). 

The resort to ricin-tainted letters and death threats says something, I think, about the quality (really, the lack of quality) of arguments against universal gun registration. While all other rights in the Bill of Rights are subject to balancing against the needs of public safety - for instance, you can't cry "fire" in a crowded theater (unless there actually is a fire) - at least some gun-control opponents decry any balancing of the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. They want it to remain as unbalanced as they themselves appear to be. 

I wonder whether Wayne LaPierre and his fellow gun salesmen at the NRA will speak out against attempts to kill President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg and death threats against legislators. If not, we can only assume that they consider violence and threats of violence as legitimate forms of argumentation.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

SHARES - Amsterdam

On my way to Amsterdam today for a SHARES Seminar on Shared Responsibility in International Law. The conference announcement is here. And the preliminary program is here. I'll be talking about problems of "state responsibility" under international climate law.

A number of prominent international legal scholars have been promoting the idea that countries harmed by climate change, particularly those suffering from sea-level rise, might sue major emitting countries such as the US and EU. My paper raises a number of issues relating to such potential claims, including: (1) causation-proof problems given continuing disagreements over climate-sensitivity models, and the difficulty of allocating responsibility among anthropogenic and natural drivers of climate change; (2) the arguable unforeseeability of harm from emissions before the IPCC's "unequivocal" determination that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases were driving climate change; (3) the absence of liability provisions in the climate treaties; (4) the chilling effect on "framework conventions" that would result from applying the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change against ratifying parties, such as the US; (5) the fact that the US is not a ratifying party of the Kyoto Protocol; (6) the dearth of precedents, and consequent lack of development of the "no-harm" principle of customary international law; (7) questions as to whether the climate treaties preempt the "no-harm" principle under the principle of lex specialis; and (8) the extreme unlikelihood that major emitting countries would accede to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice or an arbitral tribunal (unless they strongly believed they could establish a strong negative precedent).

Of course, I'm in no way an international law expert (thought studying climate law forces me to dabble in it). I have some trepidation about how real international lawyers will receive my paper. On the other hand, I tend to find that they, like other lawyers, tend to overestimate the value of courts and litigation for social problem-solving.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bowles and Choi on the Rise of Private Property in the Early Holocene

A very interesting article in the PNAS (here, gated): Samuel Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi, "Coevolution of farming and private property during the early holocene," PNAS 110:8830-8835. Here is the abstract:
The advent of farming around 12 millennia ago was a cultural as well as technological revolution, requiring a new system of property rights. Among mobile hunter–gatherers during the late Pleistocene, food was almost certainly widely shared as it was acquired. If a harvested crop or the meat of a domesticated animal were to have been distributed to other group members, a late Pleistocene would-be farmer would have had little incentive to engage in the required investments in clearing, cultivation, animal tending, and storage. However, the new property rights that farming required—secure individual claims to the products of one’s labor—were infeasible because most of the mobile and dispersed resources of a forager economy could not cost-effectively be delimited and defended. The resulting chicken-and-egg puzzle might be resolved if farming had been much more productive than foraging, but initially it was not. Our model and simulations explain how, despite being an unlikely event, farming and a new system of farming-friendly property rights nonetheless jointly emerged when they did. This Holocene revolution was not sparked by a superior technology. It occurred because possession of the wealth of farmers—crops, dwellings, and animals—could be unambiguously demarcated and defended. This facilitated the spread of new property rights that were advantageous to the groups adopting them. Our results thus challenge unicausal models of historical dynamics driven by advances in technology, population pressure, or other exogenous changes. Our approach may be applied to other technological and institutional revolutions such as the 18th- and 19th-century industrial revolution and the information revolution today.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Tragedy of the Sacrareligious Commons

I used to teach that Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" (the over-consumption of scarce resources under conditions of non-property/open-access) could be averted by a number of institutional devices, including not only the conventional methods of private ownership/markets, government regulation, and common-property management, but also by strong social or religious norms against resource abuse. I used the example of cattle, which are not in danger of becoming extinct in either the US or in India, but for very different reasons.

In the US, cattle are protected by the combination of private ownership and markets; the profitability of privately-owned cattle ensures their survival as a species into the conceivable future. As long as Americans demand cattle-related products and private ownership of livestock is guaranteed, the risk that cattle might become extinct remains trivially low.

In India, cattle are protected not by private ownership and market demand, but by religious sanction the cow is a sacred animal which may not be harmed, including by eating. Hindus do not eat beef. Mahatma Gandhi reportedly referred to protection of the cow as the most important outwatd manifestation of Hinduism. It is a common sight to see unowned cows roaming freely around India, including in cities - an estimated 40,000 cows populate Dehli - where they block traffic and tip over garbage cans (not to mention creating a huge waste problem of their own) (see here). Despite the problems they cause, under the strong religious sanctions of Hinduism unowned cattle in India are as ensured of continued existence as their cousins in the US, which are protected by the combination of property rights and markets.

But all this may be changing. Hinduism doctrine is losing its hold on at least some segments of the Indian population. Consequently, the rate of beef consumption is rising, and lack of property rights in free-roaming cattle has given rise to a market in cattle-rustling. According to a story in today's  Times of India (here), cow "theft" (really, illegal appropriation of unownable cows), and killing of cows, which is illegal under state law in most of India, are on the rise. Gangs of wranglers are rounding up free-roaming cows, and selling them for meat and leather. The economics are simple:
Typically, the rustlers creep into the city at night. When the criminals spot stray cattle and few onlookers they stop the truck, push out a ramp and use a rope to lead the cow to its doom.
The thieves can usually fit about 10 cows on a truck, and each fetches 5,000 rupees — about $94. In a country where more than 800 million people live on less than $2 a day, a single night's haul of more than $900 represents serious temptation.
Meanwhile, an estimated 3000 illegal beef slaughterhouses have sprung up around India to process the increased supply of beef.

Do changing mores in India portend a "tragedy" of the cattle-commons? What kind of institutional changes might be required to prevent that from happening? And would such changes, possibly including privatization of cattle, accelerate the erosion of religious norms that have protected cattle for millenia? These are all deeply interesting questions. At the very least, they will force me to add some dynamic complexity to the simple story I have been teaching about the sustainability of cattle in India and the US.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reason Enough for Cyclists Not to Switch to Electrical Gear Shifting Systems

"Mechanicals" are bad enough; who needs the additional headaches of "electricals." See this article at BikeRadar.com.

Monday, May 20, 2013

SELE - Tel Aviv

I'm off today to the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Society for Environmental Law and Economics (of which I am a co-founder) at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. Oren Perez is hosting the event this year, and we have a great set of presentations. This year, for the first time, we have presenters coming from South America (specially, Chile) and Japan. SELE is developing into a truly global, if still small and informal group, of legal scholars, economists, and political-economists.

I'll be presenting some preparatory (pre-writing) work from the "Program in Institutional Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems" (PIASES), which is an effort to improve and combine Lin Ostrom's two major diagnostic and analytical frameworks: The Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework and the Social-Ecological Systems (SES) Framework. My presentation will focus on how an improved version of the SES Framework applies to Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons," and I'll give just a glimpse of the new PIASES Dynamic Framework.

After Tel Aviv, I head to London to spend a few days with my daughter, who is finishing up the school year at the University of Canterbury. And then on to Amsterdam for an international law conference, which I'll post about later.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Arsenal Make It Back to the Champions League

Arsene Wenger says it's like winning a trophy. Of course, it's not at all like winning a trophy, but it is worth a good deal of money, and it is a great mark of consistency that Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League (CL) for the 16 year running. And it was a run of consistency during the Premier League run-in that enabled the Gunners to capture the last CL place just ahead of arch-rival Tottenham.

As I've said before, I almost rather Arsenal had not qualified for the CL for next year. Almost. It would have put more pressure on Wenger and the bosses to change their ways. But, of course, I'm relived the Gunners have made it back into the top club competition in world football.

There is much work to do during the coming summer to improve the squad for next season, especially in defensive midfield, where Alex Song's position remains essentially unfilled, and up-front, where despite a decent return on investment from Olivier Giroud in his debut season with the Gunners, more scoring threats are needed. Overall, Arsenal need to improve their team speed (seems a strange thing to say with the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) in the squad. But especially in the midfield, the Gunners are not especially fleet of foot.

We'll see what happens when "the Professor" goes shopping this summer. In the past, he has always focused on the bargain bins. Hopefully, this summer he'll have the funds and the incentive to spend  big bucks on of the really flash items in the shop windows.

Sunday Afternoon Ride

It's starting to get hot out there folks. 84 degrees (F) by the time Dr. Jim and I finished the Forest ride today. After yesterday's jaunt around Lake Monroe my legs were still tired, and the climb up Beanblossom today seemed twice as long as usual (and hot).

Anyway, 63 miles and over 3000 feet of climbing for the weekend isn't bad, and I'll have plenty (really, too much) time to rest my legs all day tomorrow flying to Tel Aviv for the annual meeting of the Society for Environmental Law & Economics.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saturday Ride

Dr. Jim and I cycled the roads south of B-town today, making a nice circuit around Lake Monroe that featured several tough climbs (including "The Alps" and Ramp Creek Rd.). 38 miles, around 2000 total feet of climbing, at an average speed of 16.2 mph (would have been faster, but I slowed us up a bit on a few of the climbs).

I hope to get in another good ride tomorrow, which will be my last opportunity before 10 days of conference travel.

Ezra Klein Interviews Bill Gates

About the practical economics of health care in poor and rich countries. Here, at the Washington Post's WonkBlog. Really interesting.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

JENS!!!!!

He created the decisive break in the peloton when the wind changed direction, then he bolted from the leading group with 5 km to go, just before the turn downhill into Avila Beach in the Tour of California. Just goes to show what a wise 41-year-old pro can do.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Evening Recovery Ride

Local racer Chris Kroll has started a Monday evening recovery ride, which leaves from the tennis court parking area on Fee Lane (near the Bypass) at 6 pm. This evening was the first opportunity I had to join the ride. There were only five of us; last week, Chris said, there were a dozen, and he expects the group to get as large as 30 over the course of the summer.

The route was nice - a bit lumpy, but it's hard to avoid that around B-town. We rode up Hinkle past Griffy Lake to Bethel, over to Old 37, down Firehouse hill to Sample, up Sample hill and across 37, a quick jog down to Bottom Road, and back into down via Vernal Pike and 19th St. I struggled to keep up on the climb up Sample, but otherwise, felt pretty comfortable (heck, I'm surprised I was able to keep up on the two other big hills).

We rode 20 miles and averaged 15 mph. Of course, riding to and from the ride gave me a couple of extra climbs, once up either side of Griffy, and five extra miles. I totaled 1580 feet of climbing. Seems a bit much for a recovery ride, but that's what you get around here.

I highly recommend Chris' Monday evening recovery ride for all local cyclists, regardless of ability or fitness level. It's a no-drop ride, and (as I discovered this evening), they do regroup at the tops of climbs. Even if you think a 15-mph average is a bit much for you, come on out. On Mondays, everyone's happy to ride slow. If some (relative) novices or "older & wiser" riders join the group, the average speed will come down to suit them.

Tomorrow, I may ride into school, or just spin for a couple of hours on the training while watching the Arsenal match in the afternoon (or both). I need to get my miles in this week before heading to Israel next Monday for conferences in Tel Aviv and, the following week, in Amsterdam.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Weekend in Cycling

I haven't had much time for riding this past week or this weekend because of a paper I have to finish for an upcoming conference. On Saturday, I just got out for a few late evening hill repeats up and down each side of Griffy Lake. Today, Dr. Jim and I rode out to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest and back. Temps were only in the low fifties, and winds were gusting to 23 or 24 mph out of the West. We rode plenty hard (for me), and averaged 17 mph.

In other news, we're a week into the Giro d'Italia, some of which I've managed to catch in the morning, while working away. I was very pleased to see Adam Hansen get a stage win off a great breakaway effort the other day. He's among my favorite riders in the pro Peloton, an often unrecognized hard man  - indeed, the only man to ride all three major tours last year. In addition to the Giro, the Tour of California started today, which'll give me something to watch while spinning on the trainer in the late afternoon this coming week.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Forget Solyndra and Benghazi; the IRS Scandal is the Real Deal

Say goodbye to hopes for sensible gun-control, Republican compromise in budget negotiations, or any broader hope for a return to moderation in the GOP. Any designs the Obama Administration had of getting anything done in a second term may just have gone out the window with the admission that the IRS was targeting conservative groups that were seeking tax-exempt status. 

Unlike the other so-called "scandals" the Republicans have tried to exploit since Obama became President, this one sounds very, very real. It smells positively Nixonian. And arguments that it was not politically motivated just don't wash. It's hard to imagine an outcome that does not permanently tarnish, and reduce the ability to govern, of the Obama White House. 

The IRS scandal is bound to dominate national politics at least through the midterm elections in Nov. 2014. Whoever authorized this boneheaded move has cost the White House dearly. For the rest of us, it's a reminder (not that we needed one) that the Republican Party does not have a monopoly on venality.

Wigan: Going Down in Style

Wigan may (or may not) be relegated from the Premier League this season, but if so, they're going down in style. Today, they won for the first time in club history the F.A. Cup, the world's oldest cup competition, beating one of the richest and most powerful clubs in the world, Manchester City. It's a great David-beats-Goliath story, and it couldn't have happened to a more beastly Goliath. Congrats to Wigan Athletic and all its fans.

By the way, I don't know why the telecast was delayed in the US until this evening, but I'm not happy about it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dani Rodrik's Sensible Take on the Furor Over the Rogoff-Reinhart Paper

Here, at Project Syndicate.

Skidelsky Cuts Through the Nonsense

In a brief essay in the Washington Post (here) Lord Skidelsky brilliantly explains Keynes' thinking about austerity v. stimulus and present jobs v. future jobs. In the process he not only debunks Niall Ferguson's pathetic and ignorant psycho-biographical explanation of Keynes' thinking (see here),* but also puts the anti-Keynesians austerity-hawks on the back foot.

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*It's hard to believe that he's the same Niall Ferguson who authored the magnificent two-volume history of the House of Rothschild and The Cash Nexus.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Finally, a 100-mile Week

Fortunately, the rain held off long enough this morning for me to get out for a recovery ride - or what passes in Bloomington for a recovery ride - after yesterday's endurance ride with Tim and Larry. I rode a short, relatively easy circuit (less than 1000 feet of climbing) down Old 37, up Robinson to Tunnel, 45 to Bethel, and back home. Only 14 miles, but, except for the long, hard slog up Robinson, it allowed me to spin out my legs, and it put my weekly mileage just over 100 for the week for the first time this year. I hope it's a sign of more to come.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Best (and Longest) Ride of the Year (So Far)

Thanks to Larry and Woz for coming down to ride with me today around the hills north of Bloomington. Despite the threatening forecast, it turned out to be an ideal afternoon for riding, with mild temps, thinly overcast skies, and (relatively) light winds. We rode about 44 miles including both shores of Lake Lemon, Shiloh Rd., and Beanblossom, before heading back up Old 37 to Bethel and home. Larry and Woz were kind enough to ride at my pace, which made it an easy day for them (Woz said it was a "good rest day"), though plenty tough for me, with a total of about 2200 feet of climbing.

Here's a photo of Larry and I finishing the climb up Beanblossom:





















And here I am with super-climber Woz at the top:


Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations, 2003-2012

These estimates come from a new draft report to Congress from the President's Office of Management and Budget (see here, p. 19), an agency which many environmentalists and environmental law scholars believe possesses an anti-regulatory bias (see, e.g., here, p. 86, n. 165). Note that these figures are for all major federal agency rules, not just EPA's environmental regulations.

Table 1-3: Total Annual Benefits and Costs of Major Rules by Fiscal Year, (billions of 2001 dollars)

Fiscal Year
Number of
Rules
Benefits
Costs

2003
6
$1.6 to $4.5
$1.9 to $2.0
2004
9
$8.8 to $69.7
$2.6 to $2.8
2005
12
$27.9 to $178.1
$3.8 to $6.1
2006
6
$2.5 to $5.0
$1.1 to $1.4
2007
12
$28.6 to $184.2
$9.4 to $10.7
2008
12
$8.6 to $39.4
$7.9 to $9.2
2009
15
$8.6 to 28.9
$3.7 to $9.5
2010
17
$18.6 to $85.9
$6.4 to $12.4
2011
12
$34.3 to $89.5
$5.0 to $10.1
2012
14
$53.2 to $114.6
$14.8 to $19.5

Broken down by agency, EPA issued 32 major rules between Oct. 1, 2002 and Sept. 30, 2012. The OMB estimated aggregate benefits of those regulations at $112 to $637.6 billion (2001 dollars). Estimated costs were $30.4 to $36.5 billion (2001 dollars). The benefit-cost ratios ranged from approximately 4:1 to more than 200:1.

For those who are unfamiliar with the process of benefit-cost analysis, it is common for estimates of benefits to have a much wider range than cost estimates mainly because nearly all costs of regulations arise in markets, which makes the process of cost estimation much easier. Many benefits of regulations arise outside of markets, which makes estimation a much less precise business. It should also be noted that in conducting benefit estimates, administrators typically focus only on relatively easy to measure categories, such as human health effects. Purely environmental benefits often are ignored. So, if anything, the OMB's calculations are likely to systematically under-estimate the extent to which social benefits of environmental regulations exceed social costs.

In any case, the OMB's draft report serves as a strong reminder that strong environmental protections are good for the economy (even if conventional measures of economic growth, such as GDP, fail to grasp them). Of course, so-called "Conservative" opponents of EPA and its environmental regulations will studiously ignore the actual data and continue to rant about "overly expensive" and "job-killing" regulations.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ideology Matters for Energy Conservation

In a new article appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (here), Dena M. Gromet, Howard Kunreuther, and Richard P. Larrick report on a very interesting, but also troubling, empirical finding that conservatives are actually less likely to buy energy-saving lightbulbs if they are marketed as environmentally friendly. Here is the abstract:
This research demonstrates how promoting the environment can negatively affect adoption of energy efficiency in the United States because of the political polarization surrounding environmental issues. Study 1 demonstrated that more politically conservative individuals were less in favor of investment in energy-efficient technology than were those who were more politically liberal. This finding was driven primarily by the lessened psychological value that more conservative individuals placed on reducing carbon emissions. Study 2 showed that this difference has consequences: In a real-choice context, more conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy-efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled. These results highlight the importance of taking into account psychological value-based considerations in the individual adoption of energy-efficient technology in the United States and beyond.
I'm disturbed, but not particularly surprised, to learn that ideology can lead so-called "Conservatives" to waste resources simply in order to declare their opposition to policies they (wrongly, in this case) consider to be "Liberal."