Sunday assorted links

by on July 23, 2017 at 4:32 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

I would like to see building deregulators pay more attention to this aspect of the problem:

The next step would be transferring ownership of these assets to what Detter and Fölster call an “urban wealth fund”. Ideally, all publicly owned assets in a given city would be placed in the fund, regardless of whether they technically belong to the county, the city, the school system, the state or some other entity. The local governments would each have shares in the fund proportionate to the value of the assets they contributed. These shares would be reported as assets on the municipal balance sheets.

Independent managers with experience in real estate and finance would be charged with maximising the value of the portfolio. Cities would receive dividends from their stakes in these commercial properties and have the option to borrow against or sell their shares if desperate for cash.

Public officials would then have to decide whether it makes sense to pay fair market rents to stay in their properties. Moving offices might be inconvenient for government workers but the potential gains for taxpayers and citizens who depend on government services would be far greater. Leasing space in subway stations to shops might detract from the “historic” character of the US’s barbarous public transit systems, but the revenues could fund needed improvements, such as ventilation, without the need for debt or higher passenger fares.

That is from Matt Klein at the FT.  Note that profit maximization does not have to be the sole goal of such funds.

NYC pet-sitting is now illegal

by on July 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm in Law | Permalink

Pet lovers are barking mad over a little-known city rule that makes dog-sitting illegal in New York.

Health Department rules ban anyone from taking money to care for an animal outside a licensed kennel — and the department has warned a popular pet-sitting app that its users are breaking the law.

“The laws are antiquated,” said Chad Bacon, 29, a dog sitter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the app Rover. “If you’re qualified and able to provide a service, I don’t think you should be penalized.”

Here is the full story, via the excellent Mark Thorson.  Ostensibly the purpose of the regulation is to ensure the health and safety of pets.

Saturday assorted links

by on July 22, 2017 at 12:30 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Adam Ozimek asks me:

How should we think about this in a meta-rational sense? https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/20/16003766/elon-musk-boring-company-hyperloop-nyc-philadelphia-baltimore-dc

…What should we make of it?

To be clear, I have never had interaction with Elon Musk, so I intend these as general possibilities, rather than as commentary on his individual personality:

1. There are some people who on Twitter will just “fuck with us.”  Precisely because they have done a lot in the so-called “real world,” they just don’t take Twitter that seriously.

2. Some very successful people are programmed to rhetorically overreach.  This makes them the center of attention and furthermore keeps them motivated.  They don’t apply the same kind of “reality filter” to their rhetoric that a scientist might.

3. Sometimes exaggeration is used to distract from pending failures, a’la Trump, and this process may include self-distraction.  (Tesla?)

4. Exaggeration is a way to keep the hyperloop on the agenda and in the mindset of the nerdy public.  Eventually that will help make the hyperloop possible.  Speakers with this motive often think of themselves as bootstrapping the reality, rather than “making stuff up.”

Most of talk isn’t about reporting the truth! In this sense the tweet isn’t surprising at all.

And what the heck is “verbal government approval” in a world with federalism, multiple layers of environmental review, NIMBY homeowners, and courts of varying jurisdictions? I like to think the tweet might be an act of sarcastic protest, or Straussian meta-commentary born out of frustration, but somehow I suspect neither of those is the case.

I am in Delaware only briefly.  I have not covered the state before, so here are some of my picks:

1. Chemicals manufacturer: I think that one has to go to the Duponts, I enjoyed the Gerard Zilg biography of the Dupont family and history.

2. Economic historian: Alfred Chandler.

3. Monetarist who studied policy instruments and uncertainty: William Poole.

4. Semi-libertarian journalist: Dave Weigel.

Hmm…music?  I don’t like George Thorogood.  A quality novelist?  How about a painter or sculptor?  Some big time NBA star?  Biden is my favorite of Obama’s VPs.  It is claimed that the movie Fight Club is set in Delaware.  So many special dishes too, in the local cuisine.

The bottom line: Small wonder it is!

Friday assorted links

by on July 21, 2017 at 11:51 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

As outlined by the blog Random Critical Analysis, U.S. health-care expenditures go well beyond what the U.S.’s relatively high per capita GDP might lead us to expect. But viewed through the lens of consumption behavior, American health-care spending is typical of this nation’s habits and mores. Relative to GDP, Americans consume a lot more than Europeans, and our health-care spending is another example of that tendency.

And to channel Megan McArdle:

Furthermore, we shouldn’t take the lower health-care spending in many European nations as a sign of better health-care policy. It’s a reflection of a broader cultural difference. If the U.S. someday did move to a single payer system for health care, it probably would be a relatively expensive version of that idea. The U.S., of course, does have a partial single payer system through Medicare, and it is still more expensive per beneficiary than its European equivalents.

Keep in mind that high consumption expenditures also help explain various “anecdotes of outrage,” such as billings for $400 band-aids and the like.  To some extent such charges are fraud, and to some extent they are simply an unusual allocation of fixed costs.  Both practices are more likely in a non-Spartan society keen on spending a lot of money on health care and the very latest.

A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards.

Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job.

“I thought they were talking about an escalator,” Astl told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours.

Astl’s wife, Gail Rutherford, says the stairs have already been a big help to people who routinely take that route through the park. “I’ve seen so many people fall over that rocky path that was there to begin with,” she said. “It’s a huge improvement over what was there.”

The city says the stairs are unsafe and has cordoned them off, banning their use:

“We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”

Here is the article, with photos, via Rob Gray.

What I’ve been reading

by on July 21, 2017 at 12:20 am in Books | Permalink

1. Robert Knapp, The Dawn of Christianity: People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles.  Jews, Christians, and polytheists, mostly in the first century after the birth of Christ.  Strongly conceptual, rather than a string of hard-to-remember facts and citations.  Here is a useful summary review.

2. Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream.  A well-known Argentinean novel, finally available in English.  A kind of ghost story, imagining wondering if the soul of your dying child really has been transferred to another person.  Short and very powerful.  Here is one very good review.

2. Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers.  Plenty of libertarian thought in here, and many historical tidbits of interest, for instance Julia Caldwell-Frazier, “The Decisions of Time” (1889) p. 486:

What obstacles and failures Prof. Morse encountered when he completed his rough model of the recording electro-magnetic telegraph; but see of what inestimable value his invention has been to mankind! Was not public opinion opposed to the telephone?—styled it “a useless thing.” But within a decade the telephone has become the most patronized means of urban intercommunication. Through all the innumerable obstacles and oppositions, we see, by the decisions of time, science tracing the wild comet in its vast eccentric course through the heavens; we see science bringing down the very lightning from the clouds, making it a remedial agent and a messenger, quick as light, to carry our thoughts.

Here is useful NYT coverage.  There is also:

Michael Vatikiotis, Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia, a useful introduction to why that part of the world has not turned into paradise.

Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, is a quality treatment of its topic material.

Jesse Eisinger, The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, is a useful look at why so many cases are leveled against the company rather than the CEO. I found the book worthwhile, but don’t think he offered much of an argument as to why that should be bad.

Bradley M. Gardner, China’s Great Migration: How the Poor Built a Prosperous Nation, is a good introduction to what the title promises.

Thursday assorted links

by on July 20, 2017 at 12:49 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The largest city in North America has done away with one of the biggest hidden subsidies for driving: minimum parking requirements.

Mexico City eliminated requirements that force developers to build a minimum number of parking spaces in each project. The city will instead cap the number of parking spaces allowed in new development, depending on the type and size of the building. Existing parking spaces can also be converted to other uses.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Mancera signed the new regulations into effect last week.

The policy change applies to every land use and throughout the entire city of 8.8 million residents. It promises to make housing more affordable, reduce traffic, and improve air quality.

…The old rules mandated parking even though only about 30 percent of Mexico City residents own cars and the city has a well-developed subway system.

There are now parking maximums in place instead of minimums…

Within the central city, the new rules also require developers to pay a fee if they build more than 50 percent of the maximum parking allowed…

Revenues from the parking fee will be used to improve transit and subsidize housing.

Here is the story, via John Chamberlin.  Here is my earlier NYT column on this topic.

Here is the abstract of a new paper by Davide Cantoni, Jeremiah Dittmar, and Noam Yuchtman:

The Protestant Reformation, beginning in 1517, was both a shock to the market for religion and a first-order economic shock. We study its impact on the allocation of resources between the religious and secular sectors in Germany, collecting data on the allocation of human and physical capital. While Protestant reformers aimed to elevate the role of religion, we find that the Reformation produced rapid economic secularization. The interaction between religious competition and political economy explains the shift in investments in human and fixed capital away from the religious sector. Large numbers of monasteries were expropriated during the Reformation, particularly in Protestant regions. This transfer of resources shifted the demand for labor between religious and secular sectors: graduates from Protestant universities increasingly entered secular occupations. Consistent with forward-looking behavior, students at Protestant universities shifted from the study of theology toward secular degrees. The appropriation of resources by secular rulers is also reflected in construction: during the Reformation, religious construction declined, particularly in Protestant regions, while secular construction increased,especially for administrative purposes. Reallocation was not driven by pre-existing economic or cultural differences.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Chad R. asks me:

Which of our public policy institutions are working well right now?

It seems there are plenty of takes about *why* our institutions are under extreme stress, but precious few about which are still working properly.

The Supreme Court comes to mind…

I say plenty of them are working well:

1. The CBO remains independent and effective, even though I think they are treating the health care mandate incorrectly and overestimating its impact.

2. As for the courts, they remain powerful and effective.  But note: while I strongly disagree with Trump’s travel ban, some of the lower courts overstepped their bounds by taking away too much power from the executive, relative to law.  It’s as if the courts have become too strong — perhaps optimally so — in a kind of overshooting model.

3. The Senate.  Even though one party controls all branches of government, a variety of bad health care bills have come to naught, and that is after many earlier votes to repeal Obamacare.  It is less clear to me how the House is working, but that’s why we have bicameralism.  I don’t care how stupid you might think the process is, so far it is generating acceptable results.  Yum, yum, yum, I just love that democracy!

4. The media as investigators have been excellent, though as summarizers of what is really going on I see their performance as much weaker, due to selective reporting.

5. Think tanks: the lack of Trump infrastructure at this level has raised my estimate of think tank importance.  That said, I am not sure how many think tanks are influencing policy right now, but if nothing else the inability to have or assemble a good think tank is indeed important.

6. The bureaucracy, for the most part, including the Fed.  Admittedly, some parts of the bureaucracy, such as the State Department, are being throttled by the Executive branch.

What’s not working well?

I say the executive branch and the White House.  Destroying or limiting the value of alliances is one of the easiest things for a blundering president to do.  I also see a significant opportunity cost from not having a legislation-oriented, detail-savvy White House.  Still, they are doing a good job on regulatory reform and an excellent Supreme Court appointment has been made.

Most of all, the appointments process is not working well, some of that being the fault of the Senate too.

The main lesson?  American government isn’t quite the train wreck you might think, and I haven’t even touched on the states, counties, and cities.

On a recent episode of the popular podcast Chapo Trap House, co-host Will Menaker used a memorable metaphor in addressing calls for unity on the left. “Republicans in control of politics, that’s the problem,” he began. “However, to the pragmatists out there and the people who don’t like purity in politics, yes, let’s come together. But get this through your fucking head: You must bend the knee to us. Not the other way around. You have been proven as failures, and your entire worldview has been discredited. You bend the knee to us and then let’s fucking work together to defeat these things, not with fucking means testing or market-based solutions but with a powerful social democratic message.”

That is reported by Jeet Heer at The New Republic.