Volcano monitoring

I do believe that volcano monitoring is very much a legitimate
function of government
.  Furthermore, like Richard Posner, I think
we do not spend enough time and energy worrying about extreme
disasters, including volcanos and also problems from
Yellowstone National Park.  That said, I would like to point out that, from what the web indicates, the private sector started doing volcano monitoring before the public sector did:

Perhaps “modern” volcanology began in 1912, when Thomas A. Jaggar, Head
of the Geology Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
founded the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), located on the rim of
Kilauea’s caldera. Initially supported by an association of Honolulu
businessmen, HVO began to conduct systematic and continuous monitoring
of seismic activity preceding, accompanying, and following eruptions,
as well as a wide variety of other geological, geophysical, and
geochemical observations and investigations.

A lot of cutting edge volcano monitoring is done at universities; many of them are public universities but they are not acting in their public capacity.  They may be receiving public sector grant money.  Here are blogs about the history of volcanology.  Here is a good essay on contemporary volcano monitoring.  Here is a catalog of all the current methods used.  Here is how GPS is used to monitor ground deformationsInteroferometric synthetic aperture radar has become very important.

It is possible that some animals are better volcano monitors than we are, but I do not blame the public sector for this differential.  


Link to problems from Yellowstone?

Check out and join the Facebook Volcano Monitoring group! Because no one wants to be surprised by a volcano.

But what government should raise funds, analyze grant proposals and distribute money, and monitor progress? The federal government?

Or maybe a joint effort of pacific rim states? Why indeed should Lousiana pay for that? Why should Colorado politican get to direct those funds to his local college for geology department bondoggles?

Hey Bob_Murphy, why don't you remind us what's so bad about cap-and-trade (CT) again?

IIRC, your argument is that it's bad because it's not a market solution, and it's not a market solution because politicians will mess it up, and the fact that it, um, uses markets is irrelevant, becuase you know with concrete certainty no free market would ever assign tradeable, capped pollution rights, even has you agree it could do exactly that for river pollution, and even as you scoff at the idea tha you would ever possibly know how the free market would handle tricycle production.

Did you ever figure out, by the way, if a slave auction counts as a market solution? Or are you still making the rookie mistake of confusing your emotional attachment to terms with their literal meaning?

Hey, I've done my best to figure out the logic behind your position, but maybe, just to be safe, you could keep quiet about the environment so as to avoid letting out what you really think about the tradeoffs between brown people and cheap oil.

When did being a public good become not only a necessary, but also sufficient, reason for government action/spending/involvement?

Travis, ever hear of Coase?

Now the transactions costs and contracting issues may be such that it needs to be handled by a government; however, I thought Coase taught us it wasn't a foregone conclusion.

I haven't, but I'll check him it. Thanks

"Why wouldn't the government be responsible for public goods?"

They suck at it.

If the government were to be responsible for public goods, I'd take it.

I would venture that Cap and Trade makes the government the owner of air quality, as well as the market for it. With a cap, we can't make a tradeoff between higher growth and higher "pollution." At least that tradeoff is controlled by the government. Why not have a progressive charge for more "pollution" rather than a cap? What is pollution, really? Democrats decide?

Yes, the politicians would mess it up.

If AIG has to go bankrupt because a volcano destroys a major metropolitan city before 2010, count me surprised.

As a pre-condition to federal monies, banks should be required to build their headquarters on the slopes of volcanoes.


The government built the levees, the governemnt monitored the levees.

Market failure.

It's interesting that a business association funded the first volcano monitoring, yes. That hardly refutes Krugman's point about free-riders in an established, proven system.

Is Jindal a goofball? I don't doubt it. But Krugman is likewise in archetypical form. It looks like when government fails it's because the Republicans were in charge. When the Democrats fail, those dang Republicans underfunded the program.

I can imagine excluding and even price discrimination for volcano warnings.

Bronze service: E-mail alert, 75% confidence and 4 hour head start

Silver service: E-mail/text alert, 75% confidence and 12 hour head start

Gold service: E-mail, cell, text alert, 95% confidence and 24 hour head start

Platinum service: We pick you up.

It would seem that volcano research would reasonably be funded Federally. Monitoring has to be based somewhere, presumably on a volcano. This supplies jobs. Presumably people don't have to live on a volcano, so people who live on volcanoes might fund the volcano monitoring, perhaps through local government. When they get the bill, they might move. Crazy.

How is it legitimate for a gang of thugs to steal our money and spend it monitoring volcanoes (or monitoring anything for that matter)? Tyler shoots himself in the foot constantly with statements like these, where he points out that private organizations are providing a public good (before, and better than, the public sector). Let's just admit it: there's nothing legitimate about a coercive organization that rules by force!

"Furthermore, like Richard Posner, I think we do not spend enough time and energy worrying about extreme disasters, including volcanos and also problems from Yellowstone National Park."

But we should _not_ worry so much about terrorists. Got it.

The Republican Party is officially on the extinct list.

The Republican Party is officially on the extinct list.

"Than again, cheap intellectual salvos seem to be all that Krugman and DeLong do with their lives."

Jindal, by giving the impression that he didn't even know what volcano monitoring is(!), was firing an anti-intellectual salvo. That he's being mocked by characterising his words as having involved economic reasoning behind them that needs to be countered, is a surprisingly gentle response.

my cousin died in a volcano and didn't complain, so it might not be so bad.

Yada yada yada. Krugman is off-base.

No, we don't agree the "government should provide public goods." First off, we need to first determine if they should be provided at all before we go about classifying them as public goods and whether the government is efficient at providing them.

It's not unexcludable, it's not nonrival, it's not clear that we were better off with government coordination on Katrina (although a lot of guns were confiscated, so that pleases some folks), we have the public employment system and went off the spoilage system recently, so I'm not convinced Democrats would do better. went off the

Volcano monitoring is not like national defense. Foregoing volcano monitoring for a bit doesn't result in volcanoes plotting their surprise attack. There are many parts to human action in response to volcanoes. Everything from research to disaster response. Is Krugman interested in parsing each step? Doubt it. He's as dogmatic as Jindal, at best.

At $150M the case hasn't been made that it's better than alternatives (like disease research or nuclear power) or is stimulative. Are there a lot of idle volcano experts? I know there were a helluva lot of volcanoes at my elementary school science fairs.

Volcano monitoring is not like national defense. Foregoing volcano monitoring for a bit doesn't result in volcanoes plotting their surprise attack.

The landlocked midwest is probably not going to be facing enemy invaders any time soon. However, an earthquake along the New Madrid fault line would absolutely devastate Missouri and the surrounding states. This last happened in the early 19th century before the area was heavily settled. It may not happen again for several centuries but we don't really know that. But let's just say earthquake preparedness is not high on the list of priorities in the Midwest.

Ad to Tobia Mill at 3:20
I suspect Krugman never read the essay Coase wrote on lighthouses:
Coase, Ronald H. (1974). "The Lighthouse in Economics". Journal of Law and Economics 17 (2): 357–376.
How embarassing.

You may read these. Coase was not accurate.
Zandt, David E. van, (1993): The Lessons of the Lighthouse: "Government" or "Private" Provision of Goods. The Journal of Legal Studies, vol. 22, n. 1 : 47–72.
Taylor, James, (2001): Private Property, Public Interest, and the Role of the State in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Case of the Lighthouses. The Historical Journal, vol.
44, n. 3 : 749–771.
Bertrand, Elodie, (2006): The Coasean analysis of Lighthouse Financing: Myths and Realities. Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 30, n. 3: 389–402.
Barnett, William a Walter Block, (2007): Coase and Van Zandt on Lighthouses. Public Finance Review, vol. 35, n. 6 : 710–733.

All the old Senators said: "Ohhhh, you said you need money to study erUPtions!"

Nathan, I don't think impossible means what you think it means. And I'm pondering how I benefit from information about volcanoes. I'll come up with something, I guess.

Note also that the actual funding item in question is a lump sum for the USGS, with volcano monitoring as just one of suggested USGS activities.
"The conference agreement provides $140,000,000 for Surveys, Investigations and Research instead of $135,000,000 proposed by the Senate and $200,000,000 proposed by the House. The Survey should consider a wide variety of activities, including repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades including stream gages,seismic and volcano monitoring systems; national map activities; and other critical deferred-maintenance and improvement projects which can maximize jobs and provide lasting improvement to our Nation’s science capacity."

I have no particular knowledge of USGS hardware, but if they've been as starved as NSF agencies have, they almost certainly have a backlog of obsolete equipment to replace; I can imagine buying new precision deployable GPS units, outgassing monitors, etc., as being stimulative - purchases of high-tech mostly-commercial products.

I have a soft spot for vulcanolgy. Its predictions are even less reliable than those of macro-economics; and vulcanologists admit they don't know.

But on disater prediction in general, I guess it is too important to be left to a monopoly supplier; public or private. So it is reassuring that the big re-insurers (who bear a lot of the risk from major disasters) will find it worth their while to invest in it; particularly at those points which the public bureaucracy neglects.

We are out of our vulcan minds!

Wouldn't we be better off accepting that disasters happen and there will be one. Then, we have a disaster response plan. But, since plans don't work, it basically amounts to people willing to respond and maybe train part-time as they go about their normal lives. Lo and behold, a 15 second google search shows that FEMA has such people, and they recently requested a budget to take them from part-time to permanent employees. There is no thing so permanent...

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