Tuesday assorted links

1. Swedish “Future Skills” podcast: “Tyler Cowen – Economist and Master Generalist on: Economic Outlook, Social Change, and Future Cities.”

2. My 2006 take on Jane Jacobs.

3. Joshua Rothman interviews Knausgaard (New Yorker).

4. Kim and Kanye hire private firefighters.

5. A day in the life of Crystal City.

6. Profile of ByteDance.


#4: As expected, TMZ didn't really provide any insights into this but I find the idea interesting. For someone who really knows nothing about wild fires, it is mind boggling that we cannot really control these things better. Shouldn't we be using more helicopters against these? Can't the military do something in a way of setting up barriers (especially when a particular important issue is when fires "cross the road")? I don't know, it just sounds insane that so much property is lost to these things and even more insane that dozens of people die too...

Helicopters are too expensive to do much on a statewide scale. California probably needs a much more aggressive controlled burn strategy.

'California probably needs a much more aggressive controlled burn strategy.'

Pretty hard to do well when the fire is basically using grass and scrub for fuel in the same place you want to protect. Case in point, Ventura County.

Not all the fires in California involve forests by any means. And of course, no one would have been doing a controlled burn under the current conditions in southern California. Or possibly pretty much any time during what has turned out to be an extended drought.

"And of course, no one would have been doing a controlled burn under the current conditions in southern California."

California restarted controlled burns a few years ago. So your comment is factually wrong.

"Calfire currently has a goal of burning 20,000 acres a year, a goal put into place in 2016.

Last year.. Calfire came close with 19,000 acres control-burned. But two years ago, only 13,000 acres were burned while the previous three years each saw only around 3,000 acres burned.

“If we had made this investment 10 or 20 years ago we would have seen – in some areas – smaller, less damaging fires.”"


Is it a consensus that controlled burns are our best hope here? This again sounds surprising to me... isn't there any fire suppressant tech that could help? If helicopters are indeed too expensive (are they??? even after considering the huge real estate cost we are talking about here???) aren't there any other delivery methods that we could use? Is this a US-specific problem?

Helicopters actually shouldn't be so expensive in California due to the inmate population.

"Is this a US-specific problem?"

It's a California problem. There aren't a lot of areas in the world that can match the areas high winds, dry conditions and high population and real estate prices.

"If helicopters are indeed too expensive (are they???"

California has a grand total of 11 fire fighting helicopters.


What you all are missing is that the core problem is the wind. These areas have burned for millenniums. When the dry fall winds happen a spark becomes an uncontrollable fire. The sparks and pieces of burning material can be carried for miles jumping over highways and controlled burn areas. Houses "can" be made resistant to fire from wind blown sparks, etc. But most homes were not. These fires can travel 20 miles in less than 24 hours and they can skip over man made fire controls. The wind is the biggest factor and there is little defense against it.

"Of the approximately 33 million acres of forest in California, federal agencies (including the USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service) own and manage 19 million acres (57%)."

So, burn management of 20,000 out of 14,000,000 acres of State land per year.

What is the Trump administration goal for burn management in the 19,000,000 Federal forests acres?

Of course, the problem in California is weak zoning and too few restrictions on housing development which makes forest management too costly to impossible. Much tougher building codes would help to ensure structures survived wildfires with minimal damage. Put the money into building structures, not paying high insurance premiums for hundreds of years.

'So your comment is factually wrong.'

Well, actually I meant during a 50 mph wind which has caused so much of the ferocity of fires in Ventura County, but possibly that should have been made more explicit. You do controlled burns under the best possible conditions - for not having the fire get out of control. Which is the opposite of current conditions in Ventura County.

You keep referencing northern California - what is going on in Ventura County has basically nothing to do with forest management, nor a build up of fuel over the years (not counting the drought meaning extremely dry fuel at this point).

California a very big state, and what is happening in Ventura County is quite different from what is going on in the forested areas of northern California.

The largest fire currently burning in California is in the north.


Sure - and the largest evacuations were connected to the fire in the south. And the Woolsey fire is only 40% contained, and if the winds pick up again, it will continue to burn more over a larger area than the 150 sq miles it already has.

Granted. However, clearly if controlled burns had prevented the fire in north California then there would have been far more assets to control the fires in the south.

I'm not really sure what you are arguing against. Even the governor and the state of California admits that they haven't been doing enough controlled burns and that it will take years of sustained work to make up for decades of neglect.

As regards controlled burns .. seems to me .. and maybe this is just me .. that "forests" have trees.

Sure, you can prevent all fires, by not having any forests.

Lots of what makes forest fires more extreme is the buildup of flammable undergrowth. Trees can survive low level fires, so you can burn away undergrowth before it reaches a critical level that can turn into a catastrophic fire. Prescribed burns for this purpose are common practice.

Is that seriously true, that you burn *forests* for undergrowth?

By the way, I've heard that the Christmas decoration industry just rolls through private and public land, stripping undergrowth for wreaths, holly, and so forth. Heard it from a property owner who stumbled on a team doing it to his land.

It's very easy to avoid wildfires: don't live in exurbia. But the precedent with hurricanes is not "don't build in the beach" and instead we need FEMA and perhaps a weather machine. Poor Miley Cyrus is homeless though--not even enough left to take a Wrecking Ball to.

My girlfriend watching tv: "Why don't they send more helicopters! Send more helicopters!"

She is much the same watching the kids play soccer. Except "kick it!"

(It's a hard sell to have so much slack capacity waiting for "the big one" but perhaps now .. easier.)

Absent a major preemptive program of hardening homes and fireproofing lawns, no, there’s eff-all that can be done when dealing with a mile wide flame front consuming bone dry fuels, propelled by 60 mph winds, sending blizzards of embers out a half mile ahead of the flames, and occasionally shooting flamethrowers ahead of itself like solar flares.

Helicopters are toys with thimbles of water in the face of this.

Once the fires have made their initial runs and equipment is positioned, authorities can start following a plan to steer the fire into terrain traps and breaks.

Actually private firefighting crews are common. However they generally are hired by the insurance company at risk if the property is lost.

#2 "She doubted the necessity of the nation-state..." Why not go further and doubt the necessity of the city-state, or the village, or even the tribal krall! Oh and no, NY would be nothing like it is today without the projects and autocracy of Robert Moses. Nation-states psssha! City-states it is!

#3 Does the German version translate to "Mein Kampf"? Has PC spread far enough to prevent a direct translation in the modern age?

#4 Enlightened self-interest takes the day! Indirect-altruism creates trickle-down benefits! Libertarians rejoice!!!

#5 NY and DC suburb...so completely and utterly predictable and unsurprising right?

2. Why did America post-WWII build all those highways through neighborhoods, destroying them in the process? The interstate highway system was justified for national security reasons: to move troops and military hardware if attacked by the Soviets. But the highways served another purpose: to transport the right people to and from the suburbs and far away from you know who.

The interstates were needed because the housing required is at least 5 times. The population is three times, and household half the size. Plus the area per person preference is close to 5 times. That means housing area preferance is 25 times what it was 80 years ago. Supply curves and household income keep that number to perhaps 15 times the housing area per person.

But contrary to economist ideology since Reagan the laws of nature are not external to economics. To access land is no free lunch, you must pay workers with public funds to access land.

The requirement to cut through neighborhoods was a political decision to kill jobs and make workers poorer. By the 70s, "everyone" agreed it was unacceptable, so three options per advocated.
1. Prohibit any response to population growth
2. Blame government for failing to let corporations seize private land owned by individuals
3. Tax and spend lots more paying workers to benefit individuals instead of harm them.

In Boston, it took 40 years, but it did what should have been done in the 50s and 60s, which would have preserved neighborhoods: The Big Dig.

Conservatives call paying $10 billion to workers job killing, but they love the roughly $10 billion in financial rent seeking, ie, debt finance, interest, etc, calling paying interest on debt to distant bond holders local job creating. That's why Trump is a great job creator: debt payments bigger than the military budget (to pay workers) will create more jobs than thee military spending, according to free lunch economics.

Trump's infrastructure plan is based on really high future interest payments, like his real estate developments.

Not on requiring everyone to pay workers to work.

The Big Dig added land to Boston, parks and private commercial land, and increased traffic volume significantly that outside Boston is now much more congested.

The city beautiful movement of the very early 20th century gave America a model of enlightened urbanism and suburbanism.

Cleveland is a wonderful example of a city that beautifully integrated its suburbs with its downtown. They used street cars and rail to move people east and west from the Downtown to the burbs. Cleveland had meaningful public space, civic engagement, public parks, a high functioning broadway and arts scene, museums, and universities.

Their suburbs were walkable, tree lined, European in styling, and DENSE-Brooklyn level density if you will.

Then the post war Corbusier ideology took over-, highwayism, the new deal, super block ideology, urban renewal and twenty years of white flight meant the end of street cars, thriving middle class suburbs and diversity.

The city went into a total tail spin and was subequalty eaten alive by the highways-sprawl suburbs that were subsidized HEAVILY and regulated in to existence by the government.

The only thing in a city like Cleveland’s favor today is it still has those old bones and old neighborhoods on the east and west side. Sixty years later that kind of urbanism is a novelty in the US and the only reason Cleveland continues on in a relaitviely healthier manner to this day.

After this Cleveland was left with a demilitarized for a downtown, surrounded by a dense black ghetto made real by zoning laws, red lining, and transportation decisions....

Once you understand how the interstates were built through Chicago (and other cities), it's hard to travel through the urban sections without wondering about all the people who were displaced.

Next time as you travel through the canyon of pavement, look up and see all the neighborhood streets that dead end at the highway on each side. Then make an imaginary bridge that connects the streets. Then fill it in with brownstones and bars and small stores. A giant scythe swept it all away without a trace.

Private-Firefighters used to be the norm in America ... for very good reason.

the current American government-firefighter-system is vastly overpriced, over-built, and economically very inefficient

Off topic, but I'm wondering how and why Amazon got all of those government subsidies.

"....how and why Amazon got all of those government subsidies." ?

Politicians are for sale. Local politicians are cheaper.

Plenty of "discreet" methods to funnel $$$ and get favorable political decisions. Happens everyday, but not usually on this AMAZON scale.

Cheap local whores? None cheaper than Scott Walker

2. 'She promoted "import substitution," which is now a discredited idea among both left-wing and right-wing economists.' No! In The Economy of Cities (1969) Jacobs obviously understands that people export in order to buy imports. But in a more dynamic sense, she argues that imports play a vital role in spurring innovation when entrepreneurs find ways replacing some of these imports with local resources (e.g. by building a bicycle out of locally produced replacement parts that suits the locals -- and perhaps also foreign consumers -- better than the imported bikes, which creates local multiplier effects). Unlike "import substitution," with which you confuse her concept, her concept of IMPORT REPLACEMENT does not depend on government protectionism or subsidies to operate but is part of the normal process of economic development (i.e. doing new and different things as opposed to doing more of the same thing).

I made a similar comment back in 2006 on the original post. I'm afraid the misunderstanding continues on this point. See in EOC under "import replacement" "import shifting" and the Appendix.

#1 I really enjoyed that podcast a lot. Great

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