Month: February 2007

How Green are Cities?

Ed Glaeser writes:

Manhattan, not suburbia, is the real friend of the environment.  Those
alleged nature lovers who live on multiacre estates surrounded by trees
and lawn consume vast amounts of space and energy.  If the environmental
footprint of the average suburban home is a size 15 hiking boot, the
environmental footprint of a New York apartment is a stiletto-heeled
Jimmy Choo.  Eight million New Yorkers use only 301 square miles, which
comes to less than one-fortieth of an acre a person.  Even supposedly
green Portland, Ore., is using up more than six times as much land a
person than New York.

New York’s biggest environmental
contribution lies in the fact that less than one-third of New Yorkers
drive to work.  Nationwide, more than seven out of eight commuters drive.

I get the point but I don’t quite buy this.  Manhattan sells services, most notably finance and entertainment, to the rest of America, and in turns draws upon industrial outputs, which of course include steel and glass.  It is also no accident that Gary, Indiana is near Chicago and those rather aesthetically thrilling factories off the New Jersey Turnpike are right outside New York City.  Try the other boroughs as well, they don’t call Staten Island a big garbage dump for nothing.  Praising Manhattan is a bit like looking only at the roof of a car and concluding it doesn’t burn much gas.  Manhattan supports its density only by being surrounded by a broader load of crud.

Perhaps a better question concerns the margin.  If we tax Peoria and subsidize Manhattan an extra bit, and induce some migration, does the total environment footprint of mankind go up or down?  For instance building up rather than out saves space but it also costs more construction energy and attracts more commuters and leads to more surrounding crud. 

If you think the big problem is humans grabbing more and more space, you might prefer to tax suburbs and subsidize cities.  If you think the big problem is humans using more and more energy, the opposite conclusion might follow.  Suburbs are bad for burning gas, but they are an especially efficient place to work, buy things, and raise children. 

A subsidy to 5th Avenue is also a subsidy to Port Newark.  Think of Manhattan as a place which outsources its pollution, simply because land there is so valuable.

Implementing Michael Kremer’s vaccines idea

…finance ministers from at least three Western countries are scheduled to meet in Rome next week to announce a pilot program for delivering next-generation vaccines more rapidly to poor nations.  An official for the GAVI Alliance, an international vaccines group, confirmed that the project would be the first step of a controversial plan to pay qualifying vaccine makers a higher price than they would ordinarily receive for their products in impoverished areas hard hit by infectious diseases.

Here is the full story.  Here is Alex on Kremer’s idea.

Arnold Kling’s Principles

1. We weave a thread of self-reliance into a sturdy fabric of interdependence. By respecting the law, we reinforce impersonal justice. By competing intensely and fairly in an impersonal global market, we raise our standard of living through specialization and innovation. By upholding Constitutional principles for limited government, we sustain our individual freedom.

I am not sure I have grasped what it all means.

2. We are creative and pro-active in helping one another. We do not have the patience to wait for government, nor do we want to be lulled into passivity by the promise of government. Instead, to solve those problems that require collective action, we form voluntary associations, including civic groups, corporations, clubs, standards-setting bodies, consumer information services, and charitable foundations.

Agree fully.

3. Government must be kept in its place. We hold government officials to high standards of competence, honesty, and fairness. However, we do not confuse government with family. We do not confuse government with religion. We do not confuse government with business. We are conscious that any expansion of government responsibility, however well-intended, crowds out those institutions that are the true bulwark of our society.

I disagree with the last sentence.  Many expansions of government, for instance tax incentives and foundation law, boost civil societyRelative to current political debates, however, I am on Arnold’s side.

4. We celebrate the successes of others. We are glad when an entrepreneur becomes wealthy by finding a way to fill a customer need. We are glad when an immigrant family climbs the ladder of success. We are glad when people living in other countries make economic progress and spur us to innovate and improve.

Fully agree.

Ethical Principles

5. Government cannot legislate morality, but it does mess with the incentives. Those incentives should never be tilted against the institution of the family whose mission is to raise children to be fine, upstanding citizens.

I don’t think all incentives should favor families, for instance higher education should be priced, unlike in much of Europe, and divorce should be fairly easy.

6. We maintain an ongoing conversation about morality and ethics. This conversation is informed by the Ten Commandments and Biblical scripture. It is informed by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s "I have a dream" speech. It is vital to continue the conversation, even when consensus is difficult.

The Ten Commandments are pretty tricky, first there are eleven of them presented in the Bible, second they are presented in three different versions, third I would consider worshipping graven idols.

7. Like new businesses, new moral ideals can revitalize our society, even though many of them fail. For example, we recognize that we are a better people without racial segregation or barriers to the education and career opportunities for women. However, we judge some social experiments to be failures, including eugenics, Communism, and nihilistic cultural relativism.

A mouthful.  What about non-nihilistic cultural relativism?  Does that have a place?  Do arranged Indian marriages count as eugenics?

International Principles

8. Our ideology does not have to be sustained by military suppression. Although it can inspire people to fight against tyranny, ultimately our ideology allows us to live in peace.

What is "military suppression"?  The U.S. military should not have to suppress American citizens but it should try to prevent China from taking over Taiwan.  I doubt if permanent peace is possible, though I wish it were.

9. We believe that people all over the world yearn for liberty, and for them we stand as a beacon and a champion. But we recognize that freedom is not ours to give when community leaders are not ready to seize the opportunity that it offers.

I am never sure how many people really yearn for liberty.  I wish more of them did.

10. When foreign leaders issue threats against us, we take them at their word and act accordingly.

I am not sure words are the best way of reading true intentions.  Many threats are issued for domestic consumption, or are best ignored.  Some real villains stay pretty silent.

This is Tyler answering, by the way, not Tyrone.  I feel what is missing is a more explicit platform about the importance of long-run economic growth, plus there should be greater consideration given to dealing with catastrophic events such as pandemics, natural disasters, nuclear terrorism, and so on.

New ideas in business

The list is from Harvard Business Review, worth a quick read, try this:

An entrepreneurial Japan–which once would have seemed oxymoronic–may ultimately overshadow the much touted start-up cultures in China and India.

A good bet.  Scrolling down to the bottom you will find Clay Shirky and also David Weinberger’s interesting "The Folly of Accountabilism."

The pointer is from Ben Casnocha.

Make pennies into nickels

Mr. Velde, in a Chicago Fed Letter
issued in February, has come up with a solution that would abolish the
penny, solve the excess costs of making nickels, help the poor, keep
the Lincoln buffs happy and save hundreds of millions of dollars for

As Mr. Velde explained in an interview, “We face a
very medieval problem so I took inspiration from the medieval practice
of rebasing.”

He would rebase the penny by having the government declare it to be worth 5 cents.

We would then stop coining nickels at a loss.  Here is more, from Austan Goolsbee.  I am reminded of Neil Wallace’s work from the 1980s on the indeterminacy of equilibrium exchange rates in the absence of legal restrictions.  If we take away government acceptance at par for taxes and the like, is there not an equilibrium where each penny is worth a million dollars?  More ambitiously, if the U.S. government declared that each $20 bill is now worth $100, or each $100 worth $500, would the real exchange rate adjust immediately?

Wagering vs. lab introspection

Instead of forcing subjects to become aware of their own awareness–in the process perturbing the very phenomenon one wishes to measure–wagering is a more implicit, a more indirect, way to assess awareness.  And, an important practical concern, wagering is more natural, more intuitive, for subjects than introspection.

Most intriguingly, Persaud’s method implies that computing expected gains and choosing the more profitable outcome–that is, placing a bet–has a close and intimate connection to awareness…

That is from Nature Neuroscience, February 2007, gated.  The article is "Betting the House on Consciousness," by Christof Koch and Kerstin Presuschoff.  Another relevant piece from the same issue is "Post-decision wagering objectively measures awareness," by Navindra Persaud, Peter McLeod, and Alan Cowey.

Thanks to Neil H. for the pointer.