Category: Law

The parrot culture that is British the First Amendment is underrated

British newspapers can legitimately mock parrots and compare them to psychopaths, the press regulator has ruled, after an unsuccessful complaint that the Daily Star misrepresented the emotions of a pet bird.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) rejected the complaint after the tabloid mocked a “pain-loving parrot” which it Photoshopped with a flat cap to look like a violent character from the TV show Peaky Blinders.

Here is enough more, via Michelle Dawson.

Collective reputation matters for firms

This paper uses the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal as a natural experiment to provide evidence that collective reputation externalities matter for firms. We find that the Volkswagen scandal reduced the U.S. sales of the other German auto manufacturers—BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Smart—by about 105,000 vehicles worth $5.2 billion. The decline was principally driven by an adverse reputation spillover, which was reinforced by consumer substitution away from diesel vehicles and was partially offset by substitution away from Volkswagen. These estimates come from a model of vehicle demand, the conclusions of which are also consistent with difference-in-differences estimates. We provide direct evidence on internet search behavior and consumer sentiment displayed on social media to support our interpretation that the estimates reflect a reputation spillover.

That is from a new NBER Working Paper by Ruediger Bachmann, Gabriel Ehrlich, Ying Fan, and Dimitrije Ruzic.

The Venetian electoral college

For more than five centuries (from 1268 to 1797) the procedure to elect the doge (chief of state) did not change.

  1. Choose 30 members of the Great Council by lot.
  2. These 30 people are reduced by lot to 9.
  3. These 9 people choose 40 other people.
  4. These 40 are reduced by lot to 12.
  5. These 12 people choose 25 other people.
  6. These 25 people are reduced by lot to 9.
  7. These 9 people choose 45 other people.
  8. These 45 people are reduced by lot to 11.
  9. These 11 people choose 41 other people.
  10. These 41 people elect the doge.

Funny that many Americans blame their electoral system for being complicated. You may think what you want about the Venetian system but it guaranteed what was probably the most stable government in the history of mankind.

That is from Alexey Tereshchenko on Quora, cited in this excellent post on the success of Venice.

My Conversation with Kwame Anthony Appiah

Here is the audio and transcript.  We covered Ghana, Africa more generally, cosmopolitanism and the resurgence of nationalism, philosophy and Karl Popper, Lee Kuan Yew, the repatriation of cultural objects, Paul Simon, the smarts of Jodie Foster, sheep farming in New Jersey, and the value of giving personal advice.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Take Pan-Africanism. Do you think, in the broader course of history, this will go down as merely a 20th-century idea? Or is Pan-Africanism alive and well today?

APPIAH: Pan-Africanism involves two different big strands. One is the diasporic strand. The word Pan-Africanism and the Pan-African Congresses were invented in the diaspora by people like Sylvester Williams in Jamaica and W. E. B. Du Bois from the United States and Padmore.

That idea of a diasporic African identity seems pretty lively in the world today, though it doesn’t produce much actual politics or policy, but the sense of solidarity of people of African descent, of the African diaspora seems pretty strong to me.

COWEN: But strongest outside of Africa in a way, right?

APPIAH: Yes, where it began. In Africa, I think, on the one hand, that most contemporary sub-Saharan Africans do have a sense of themselves as belonging to a kind of Black African world. But if you ask them to do something practical about it, like take down borders or do more political integration, I don’t know that that is going to go anywhere anytime soon, which I regret because I think, for lots of reasons, it would be . . .

My sister and her husband live in Lagos. If they want to go to Accra by road, they have to cross the border between Nigeria and Benin, the border between Benin and Togo, the border between Togo and Ghana. And at each of those borders, they probably have to interact with people who are going to try and extract an illegal tax on them.

COWEN: Easier to fly to London, right?

APPIAH: Much easier to fly to London and back to Accra. That’s crazy. And we’ve had these weird things. On the one hand, there’s probably a million Ghanaians in Nigeria, living Ghanaian citizens.

And:

COWEN: Is cosmopolitanism not only compatible with nationalism, but in a way quite parasitic upon it? And in a sense, the parasite is being ejected a bit? Think back to your boyhood in Kumasi. You have all these different groups, and you’re trading with them. You see them every day, and that works great, but there’s some central coherence to Ghana underlying that.

You go to Lebanon today — that central coherence seems to have been gone for some time. You could call Lebanon a cosmopolitan place, but it’s not really an advertisement for Lebanon the way it’s worked out. Are we just moving to a new equilibrium, where the parasitism of cosmopolitanism is now being recognized for what it really is?

APPIAH: I don’t like the metaphor of the parasite.

[laughter]

APPIAH: But yes, I do want to insist that cosmopolitanism . . . Look, cosmopolitanism, as I said, does not only require, or the right kind of cosmopolitan requires a kind of rootedness, but its point, precisely, is that we are celebrating connections among different places, each of which is rooted in its own something, each of which has its distinctive virtues and interest, each of which has its own history. And we’re making connections with people for whom that place is their first place, just as I am in a place which is my first place.

So yes, cosmopolitanism requires, I think, a national sense of solidarities that are not global. That’s why, as I say, you can be a cosmopolitan patriot. Now, if the nationalist says, “Okay, but why do we need anything beyond national citizenship?” The answer is, we have a world to manage. The economy works better if we integrate.

There is much, much more at the link, self-recommending…

More on street-by-street zoning

A number of commentators on my recent column have suggested that allowing street-by-street zoning would lead to more restrictionist outcomes than under the status quo.  It might well be true that the improvement will be zero, but if new construction already is constrained at zero perhaps matters won’t get much worse.  I see two reasons, however, for believing a number of streets would be willing to make bold or at least modest experiments in the direction of more development.

First, if you are considering more development for a larger area, say half of a county, you might worry that traffic problems will become much worse and thus the veto rights will prevail.  In contrast, if a street of say thirty homes decides to add three homes more, they probably are less worried about the net traffic impact of that very small decision (unless running kids over in that very street is the main worry).  Of course, if every street makes a matching decision, aggregate traffic still will go up a lot.  But in essence, by breaking the problem down street by street, the traffic veto motives are weakened in prisoner’s dilemma-like fashion.

Of course you might think all that extra traffic and development is a bad thing, but that is a different and indeed opposite critique from fearing excess restrictionism.

Second, a lot of streets just aren’t up to making these decisions across a long series of legally complex variables.  I can well imagine that generalized holding companies spring up to represent individual streets in their negotiations with the municipality/county/developer — whatever.  Imagine negotiating companies funded by the developers, whether directly or indirectly, which in turn fund additional amenities for the street whenever new revenue is generated by a micro-local decision.  Coase!  “Well…if you will accept these five new homes, the developer will donate some money to park maintenance and a scholarship at the K-12 school.”  It might not even amount to illegal bribery.

I don’t think street-by-street zoning is “the answer” to NIMBY, rather it is one idea worth experimenting with on a limited basis.  If it works well, it can spread.  If you start trying it in already NIMBY-dysfunctional areas, I just don’t see the downside.

*Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century*

By George Packer, I thought this book would be dull, but in fact it is interesting throughout.  Holbrooke, if you don’t already know, was a lifetime American diplomat, but much more than that too.  Here is one excerpt:

After the evacuation of dependents and the arrival of ground troops in 1965, South Vietnam became a vast brothel.  But even before there were half a million Americans, sex was an elemental part of the war.  “I have the theory that if the women of Vietnam had big copper spoons through their noses and looked like Ubangis,” a reporter once said, “this war wouldn’t have lasted half as long, and maybe wouldn’t have even started.”  The whole scene repelled the Boston Puritan Henry Cabot Lodge.  “I not only don’t wanna,” he said, “I don’t wanna wanna.”

A vivid passage to be sure, but two points.  First, why call the one sensible guy a “Puritan”?  (Yes, the Puritans in fact were great, but I don’t think the remark is to be taken in that spirit.)  Second, it seems to me that many Ubangi women are likely quite beautiful, and probably I saw some of them while in Ethiopia.  Furthermore, at least these days, it is optional whether they wish to take on the famed “lip plate.”

In any case, I would describe the book as “rollicking.”  You can order it here.

For the recommendation I thank Mr. C. Weber.

Street-by-street zoning

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, think of it as a new way to push for YIMBY.  Here is one excerpt:

I call this idea “street by street zoning,” and it has been outlined in a recent paper by John Myers, co-founder of London YIMBY. The basic idea is simple: Let each street decide on its own how it wants to zone commercial activity, including construction. Of course, in some contexts the deciding entity won’t be a street but rather a block or some other very small neighborhood area.

That might sound a little crazy, like a 1960s hippie commune dream. Yet the idea has hidden potential. If streets chose their own zoning, city-level zoning rules could be quite general and open-ended, opening up the possibilities for more construction and also for more mixed-use neighborhoods. With that liberalizing backdrop, residents on any given street always have the option of more restrictive zoning.

The upside is that street-by-street zoning would allow so much room for experimentation. Some zoning reforms might increase home values; a street might decide to allow for multiple dwellings on a lot (an in-law apartment in a backyard barn?), or make it easier to “upzone” by making it easier to rebuild. And what about allowing, say, a small Sichuan restaurant on each residential street — would that boost home values? Maybe not, but at least there’d be a way to find out.

And:

Some of these problems may be a feature rather than a bug. If outside developers find local communities easier to manipulate than a city-wide board, it may actually result in more new construction. If neighbors on some streets really are not sure what they want, maybe it’s not a bad thing if they are nudged toward approving more new construction.

Imagine dealing with the developers on Coasean terms.  There is much more analysis at the link.

John Maynard Keynes, “National Self-Sufficiency,” 1933

That was then, this is now:

There may be some financial calculation which shows it to be advantageous that my savings should be invested in whatever quarter of the habitable globe shows the greatest marginal efficiency of capital or the highest rate of interest. But experience is accumulating that remoteness between ownership and operation is an evil in the relations among men, likely or certain in the long run to set up strains and enmities which will bring to nought the financial calculation.

I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel–these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national. Yet, at the same time, those who seek to disembarrass a country of its entanglements should be very slow and wary. It should not be a matter of tearing up roots but of slowly training a plant to grow in a different direction.

For these strong reasons, therefore, I am inclined to the belief that, after the transition is accomplished, a greater measure of national self-sufficiency and economic isolation among countries than existed in 1914 may tend to serve the cause of peace, rather than otherwise. At any rate, the age of economic internationalism was not particularly successful in avoiding war; and if its friends retort, that the imperfection of its success never gave it a fair chance, it is reasonable to point out that a greater success is scarcely probable in the coming years.

And here is Keynes anticipating Dani Rodrik:

But I am not persuaded that the economic advantages of the international division of labor to-day are at all comparable with what they were. I must not be understood to carry my argument beyond a certain point. A considerable degree of international specialization is necessary in a rational world in all cases where it is dictated by wide differences of climate, natural resources, native aptitudes, level of culture and density of population. But over an increasingly wide range of industrial products, and perhaps of agricultural products also, I have become doubtful whether the economic loss of national self-sufficiency is great enough to outweigh the other advantages of gradually bringing the product and the consumer within the ambit of the same national, economic, and financial organization. Experience accumulates to prove that most modem processes of mass production can be performed in most countries and climates with almost equal efficiency. Moreover, with greater wealth, both primary and manufactured products play a smaller relative part in the national economy compared with houses, personal services, and local amenities, which are not equally available for international exchange; with the result that a moderate increase in the real cost of primary and manufactured products consequent on greater national self-sufficiency may cease to be of serious consequence when weighed in the balance against advantages of a different kind. National self-sufficiency, in short, though it costs something, may be becoming a luxury which we can afford, if we happen to want it.

Here is the full text, whether or not you agree this is interesting throughout, and the prose is lovely too.

Every era’s monetary and financial institutions are unimaginable until they’re real

That is the column subtitle, the actual title is “The Lesson of Bretton Woods.”  Note that yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the signing of the final agreement.  Here is one excerpt:

The Bretton Woods arrangements also seemed highly unlikely until they were in place. They involved a complicated system of exchange rate pegs, capital controls and a “gold pool” (and other methods) to control gold prices and redemption ratios. What’s more, the whole thing was dependent on America’s role as global hegemon, both politically and economically. The dollar still was tied to gold, and the other major currencies tied to the dollar, but as the system evolved it required that no one was too keen to redeem dollars for gold (the French unwillingness to abide by this stricture was one proximate cause of the collapse of Bretton Woods).

I don’t think a monetary economist from, say, 1890 could have imagined that such an arrangement would prove possible, much less successful. Yet the Bretton Woods arrangements had a wonderful track record, as the 1950s and 1960s generated strong economic growth for both the U.S. and Western Europe.

At the same time, once Bretton Woods ended in the early 1970s, few people thought it was possible to turn back the clock. The system required the U.S. to be a creditor nation, to hold much of the world’s gold stock, and for countries such as France to defer to American wishes on gold convertibility. Once again, the line between an “imaginable” and “unimaginable” monetary arrangement proved to be a thin one.

As I point out in the piece, today’s arrangements of fiat currencies and (mostly) floating rates were unimaginable to most previous thinkers, including Keynes.  Here is the column’s closing bit:

So as you consider the legacy of Bretton Woods this week, remember that core lesson: There will be major changes in monetary and institutional arrangements that no one can even imagine right now. Assume the permanency of the status quo at your peril.

Air Pollution Kills

In recent years I have substantially increased my estimate of the deadly nature of air pollution. It’s not that I had a contrary opinion earlier but the number and range of studies showing surprisingly large effects has raised this issue in relative importance in my mind. I would not have guessed, for example, that the introduction of EZ Pass could reduce pollution near toll booths enough to reduce the number of premature and low birth weight babies. I also find the following result hard to believe yet also hard to dismiss given the the accumulating body of evidence. Diane Alexander and Hannes Schwandt find that Volkswagen’s cheating diesel cars increased the number of low birth weight babies and asthma rates. Here are some details:

In 2008, a new generation of supposedly clean diesel passenger cars was introduced to the U.S. market.These new diesel cars were marketed to environmentally conscious consumers, with advertising emphasizing the power and mileage typical for diesel engines in combination with unprecedented low emissions levels. Clean diesel cars won the Green Car of the Year Award in 2009 and 2010 and quickly gained market share. By 2015, over 600,000 cars with clean diesel technology were sold in the United States. In the fall of 2015, however, it was discovered that these cars covertly activated equipment during emissions tests that reduced emissions below official thresholds, and then reversed course after testing. In street use, a single “clean diesel” car could pollute as much nitrogen oxide as 150 equivalent gasoline cars.Hereafter, we refer to cars with “clean diesel” technology as cheating diesel cars.

We exploit the dispersion of these cheating diesel cars across the United States as a natural experiment to measure the effect of car pollution on infant and child health. This natural experiment provides several unique features. First, it is typically difficult to infer causal effects from observed correlations of health and car pollution, as wealthier individuals tend to sort into less-polluted areas and drive newer, less-polluting cars. The fast roll-out of cheating diesel cars provides us with plausibly exogenous variation in car pollution exposure across the entire socio-economic spectrum of the United States. Second, it is well established that people avoid known pollution, which can mute estimated impacts of air pollution on health (Neidell, 2009). Moderate pollution increases stemming from cheating diesel cars, a source unknown to the population, are less likely to induce avoidance behaviors, allowing us to cleanly estimate the full impact of pollution. Third, air pollution comes from a multitude of sources, making it difficult to identify contributions from cars, and it is measured coarsely with pollution monitors stationed only in a minority of U.S. counties. This implies low statistical power and potential attenuation bias for correlational studies of pollution (Lleras-Muney, 2010). We use the universe of car registrations to track how cheating diesel cars spread across the country and link these data to detailed information on each birth conceived between 2007 and 2015. This setting provides rich and spatially detailed variation in car pollution.

We find that counties with increasing shares of cheating diesel cars experienced large increases both in air pollution and in the share of infants born with poor birth outcomes. We show that for each additional cheating diesel car per 1,000 cars—approximately equivalent to a 10 percent cheating-induced increase in car exhaust—there is a 2.0 percent increase in air quality indices for fine particulate matter (PM2:5) and a 1.9 percent increase in the rate of low birth weight. We find similar effects on larger particulates (PM10; 2.2 percent) and ozone (1.3 percent), as well as reductions in average birth weight (-6.2 grams) and gestation length (-0.016 weeks). Effects are observed across the entire socio-economic spectrum, and are particularly pronounced among advantaged groups, such as non-Hispanic white mothers with a college degree. Effects on pollution and health outcomes are approximately linear and not affected by baseline pollution levels. Overall, we estimate that the 607,781 cheating diesel cars sold from 2008 to 2015 led to an additional 38,611 infants born with low birth weight. Finally, we also find an 8.0 percent increase in asthma emergency department (ED) visits among young children for each additional cheating diesel car per 1,000 cars in a subsample of five states.

Another surprising result is that on a global scale air pollution reduces life expectancy more than smoking. In part, because a single individual can’t quit air pollution.

Globally, the AQLI reveals that particulate pollution reduces average life expectancy by 1.8 years, making it the greatest global threat to human health. By comparison, first-hand cigarette smoke leads to a reduction in global average life expectancy of about 1.6 years. Other risks to human health have even smaller effects: alcohol and drugs reduce life expectancy by 11 months; unsafe water and sanitation take off 7 months; and HIV/AIDS, 4 months. Conflict and terrorism take off 22 days. So, the impact of particulate pollution on life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, twice that of alcohol and drug use, three times that of unsafe water, five times that of HIV/AIDS, and more than 25 times that of conflict and terrorism.

The threat is stronger than the execution, installment #437

A Pennsylvania school district is warning that children could end up in foster care if their parents do not pay overdue school lunch bills. The letters sent recently to about 1,000 parents in Wyoming Valley West School District have led to complaints from parents and a stern rebuke from Luzerne County child welfare authorities.

The district says that it is trying to collect more than $20,000, and that other methods to get parents to pay have not been successful. Four parents owe at least $450 apiece.

And worse yet:

The district’s federal programs director, Joseph Muth, told WNEP-TV the district had considered serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students with delinquent accounts but received legal advice warning against it.

When I was a kid, we considered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a privilege.

Here is the full story, via Garance Franke-Ruta.

Are the Contents of International Treaties Copied and Pasted?

Most accounts of international negotiations suggest that global agreements are individually crafted and distinct, while some emerging scholarship suggests a heavy reliance on models and templates. In this research, we present a comprehensive test of whether new international treaties are heavily copied and pasted from past ones. We specify several reasons to expect widespread copying and pasting, and argue that both the most and least powerful countries should be most likely to do so. Using text analysis to examine several hundred preferential trade agreements (PTAs), we reveal that most PTAs copy a sizable majority of their content word for word from an earlier agreement. At least one hundred PTAs take 80 percent or more of their contents directly from a single, existing treaty—with many copying and pasting 95 percent or more. These numbers climb even higher when we compare important substantive chapters of trade agreements, many of which are copied and pasted verbatim. Such copying and pasting is most prevalent among low-capacity governments that lean heavily on existing templates, and powerful states that desire to spread their preferred rules globally. This widespread replication of existing treaty language reshapes how we think about international cooperation, and it has important implications for literatures on institutional design, policy diffusion, state power, and legal fragmentation.

That is from a new paper by Todd Allee and Manfred Elsig, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Zoning Out Shade

Is it too hot to walk around the block? Sure, blame global warming, but in many parts of the country there is also a noticeable absence of shade. Why? As Nolan Gray, a city planner in New York, argues one reason is that shade has been zoned out.

…vernacular architecture in the U.S. was often designed around natural climate control. In the humid Southeast, large windows and central corridors encouraged airflow. In the arid Southwest, thick facades and small windows kept cool air inside. In both cases, most houses were packed tightly together to cast shadows over streets, with awnings, balconies, and roof overhangs used to protect indoor spaces from direct sunlight.

These design elements survive and thrive in cities built before air conditioning, like New Orleans, but are conspicuously absent from most modern Sun Belt metros. With houses sitting squat and far back from the street, and most commercial spaces sitting behind a veritable desert of parking, shade in cities like Phoenix and Atlanta is few and far between. 

The irony here is that the cities that most need shade are the least likely to have it…Older, urban cities with mild summers—think Boston—have shade in spades, while our newer Sun Belt cities —think Las Vegas—have virtually no shade at all, resulting in an unhealthy dependence on air conditioning. 

Why did this happen? A big reason is the way we started planning cities in the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1910s, planners declared a war on shade as a means of responding to slum conditions and high-rises. As described by researcher Sonia Hirt, early land-use planners were inspired by the vision of the detached single-family house on a large lot—a development pattern that’s fine for cloudy Massachusetts, but spells trouble for sunny Florida. Assuming no shade as the ideal, the framers of modern zoning set out to design a system of regulations that make many naturally cooling design elements practically illegal.

…In most suburbs, for example, houses are legally prevented from sitting close to the lot line by setbacks, which prevent any shade from being cast on sidewalks or neighboring homes. 

Strict rules surrounding building heights and density cap most suburban buildings at a standard height of 35 feet, well below what could potentially cast a cooling shadow. And shadows from high-rises are treated as an unambiguous evil in planning hearings, even in otherwise dense urban environments like San Francisco.

The criminalization of shade goes beyond land-use regulations; it extends to the way we design public spaces. Despite more and more cities encouraging street trees as a valuable source of shade, many state transportation offices continue to ban them, privileging ease of maintenance over outdoor comfort.

Trees in particular would not only create more shade but also reduce air pollution.