Results for “pollution”
167 found

Sao Paulo is banning outdoor advertising

Imagine a modern metropolis with no outdoor advertising: no billboards,
no flashing neon signs, no electronic panels with messages crawling
along the bottom. Come the new year, this city of 11 million,
overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to
press the “delete all” button and offer its residents an unimpeded view
of their surroundings…

The outsized billboards and screens that dominate the skyline,
promoting everything from autos, jeans and cellphones to banks and sex
shops, will have to come down, as will all other forms of publicity in
public space, like distribution of fliers.

The law also
regulates the dimensions of store signs and outlaws any advertising on
the sides of the city’s thousands of buses and taxis.

Here is the full story.  As far as I can tell (my last visit was eight years ago, however), most of it is not down yet.  In any case I suspect the city is more attractive with the commercial angle.  The underlying buildings are mostly ugly, so a fanciful clutter will do better than an attempt at sleek postmodernism.

By the way, it was already the case that most of Sao Paulo’s 13,000 or so outdoor billboards were installed illegally.  The goal is to clear the space entirely, so that any single offender sticks out very obviously and can be prosecuted.  But of course the tipping point matters.  Whatever change ends up in place, I expect a slow creep back towards the status quo ex ante.

Why do people in New York City smoke so much?

I was up in NYC for only a few hours, but it struck me once again.  Manhattanites smoke much more than the people in northern Virginia.  I can imagine a few hypotheses:

1. Social networkers head to Manhattan, and social networkers smoke.

2. In Manhattan it is more important to signal you are cool. 

3. Air pollution is higher, so the marginal health cost of smoking is less.

4. New York is colder, and that makes cigarettes more enjoyable.

5. The "artsy" variable is doing most of the work; of course this is related to #1 and #2.

6. NYC life is more stressful, and smoking calms some of these people down.

7. Many of them are poseurs, and these smokers don’t have such valuable human capital.

I’d bet first on #2, and also on #7, but I don’t have a good theory that will explain the rest of the cross-sectional evidence.

Tax the Envious

Tyler, Greg and Brad all forget the Coase theorem – all externalities are dual.  The solution to envy is not to tax the rich but to tax the envious.  To be envied is unpleasant.  People want to be admired but not envied.  To be envied is one step from being hated.  (Consider how much crime is motivated by envy.)  It’s envy which imposes an externality on the rich.  Make the envious pay for their ugly preferences.

Surprising analysis?  Not really – should gays be taxed because they make some people uncomfortable?  Hell no.  Tax the bigots for making gays feel unwelcome. 

The Work Vacation

I am toying with a new concept, namely The Work Vacation.  Pick some exotic locale and bring your laptop.  Write your book and blog as usual.  Go out every now and then to see some sights.  In essence seeing sights replaces the time at home you would spend doing chores and taking care of family.

I find the idea of The Work Vacation appealing.  I am convinced many people don’t find their vacations that much fun in the first place.  ("What are vacations for anyway?," I can imagine Robin Hanson’s voice echoing in my head.)  People are losing the feeling of flow, and of accomplishment, from their workplace.  Often they argue more with their spouses when together all day.  They feel stress at coping with regular decisions and unfamiliar languages (of these, only the loss of work and flow describes me, I might add, but that is significant).

Perhaps many people take vacations for social reasons, to accommodate their spouses, to signal what kind of person they are, for memories, or to check countries off a list.  A Work Vacation would accommodate (some of) these motives to considerable degree.

I love Indian cities, but if only for reasons of air pollution, I don’t want to spend most of the day outdoors running around.  And many interesting and worthwhile parts of India don’t have many tourist sites but are still worth a bit of time.

Natasha finds the concept of The Work Vacation deeply distressing.  First, it suggests I can leave home without abandoning work.  Second, it implies it is permissible to work on vacation.

Surely the Coase Theorem can solve these problems.

Chiswick refutes Chiswick

Barry Chiswick, head of the economics department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a respected scholar of immigration, had a surprisingly poorly argued op-ed in the NYTimes.  Here’s the opening paragaraph:

It is often said that the American economy needs low-skilled foreign
workers to do the jobs that American workers will not do. These foreign
workers might be new immigrants, illegal aliens or, in the current
debate, temporary or guest workers. But if low-skilled foreign workers
were not here, would lettuce not be picked, groceries not bagged, hotel
sheets not changed, and lawns not mowed? Would restaurants use
disposable plates and utensils?

On the face of it, this assertion seems implausible.

… If the number of low-skilled foreign workers were to fall, wages would increase.  Low-skilled American workers and their families would benefit…

Bizarrely, the rest of his op-ed explains why these statements are mostly wrong!  First, the lettuce:

A farmer who grows winter iceberg lettuce in Yuma County, Ariz., was
asked on the ABC program "Nightline" in April what he would do if it
were more difficult to find the low-skilled hand harvesters who work on
his farm, many of whom are undocumented workers. He replied that he
would mechanize the harvest. Such technology exists, but it is not used
because of the abundance of low-wage laborers. In their absence,
mechanical harvesters – and the higher skilled (and higher wage)
workers to operate them – would replace low-skilled, low-wage workers.

In other words, if the number of low skilled workers were to fall the lettuce would no  longer be (hand) picked and low-skilled American workers would not benefit from an increase in wages!

What about lawn mowing and hotel cleaning?

Facing higher costs, some homeowners would switch to grass species
that grow more slowly, to alternative ground cover or to flagstones.
Others would simply mow every other week, or every 10 days, instead of

Few of us change our sheets and towels
at home every day. Hotels and motels could reduce the frequency of
changing sheets and towels from every day to, say, every third day for
continuing guests, perhaps offering a price discount to guests who
accept this arrangement.

And how about this for a pathetic attempt to get the environmentalists on board the anti-immigration bandwagon?

Less frequent lawn mowing and washing of hotel sheets and towels would reduce air, noise and water pollution in the bargain.

Note how reduction in services, denied in paragraph one, has now become a virtue!

Chiswick also points out that:

With the higher cost of low-skilled labor, we would import more of some
goods, in particular table-quality fruits and vegetables for home
consumption (as distinct from industrial use) and lower-priced
off-the-rack clothing.

That is correct, but this is another reason why restricting the immigration of low-skilled workers will not much increase the wages of low-skilled Americans.

Chiswick makes statements in his op-ed like the "increase in low-skilled workers has contributed to the stagnation of wages for all such workers."  But unlike my Open Letter he never tries to quantify these assertions.  Yet he surely knows that an 8% decline is on the high end of such estimates and a zero percent decline on the low-end.

Quantifying, however, would put the immigration and wages issue in perspective which is that immigration is at worst a small contributor to the decline in the wages of low-skilled workers.  Indeed, economists are agreed that technology, not immigration, is by far the more important force which is why any serious attempt to raise the wages of low-skilled workers must begin with efforts to raise skills.

In my TCS article I said:

Immigration makes immigrants much better off. In the normal debate
this fact is not considered to be of great importance — who cares
about them? But economists tend not to count some people as worth more
than others, especially not if the difference is something so random as
where a person was born.

Chiswick, however, lets the economists down.  He never once mentions the benefits of immigration to the immigrants.

Economic boom, coronary bust

Panel data econometric methods are used to investigate how the risk of death from acute myocardial infarction (AMI) varies with macroeconomic conditions after controlling for demographic factors, fixed state characteristics, general time effects and state-specific time trends. The sample includes residents of the 20 largest states over the 1979 to 1998 period. A one percentage point reduction in unemployment is predicted to raise AMI mortality by 1.3 percent, with a larger increase in relative risk for 20-44 year olds than older adults, particularly if the economic upturn is sustained. Nevertheless, the much higher absolute AMI fatality rate of senior citizens implies that they account for most of the additional deaths. This suggests the importance of factors like air pollution and traffic congestion that increase with economic activity, are linked to coronary heart disease and may have particularly strong effects on vulnerable segments of the population, such as the frail elderly. AMI mortality risk quickly rises when the economy strengthens and increases further if the favorable economic conditions persist. This is consistent with strong effects of other short-term factors on heart attack risk and with health being a durable capital stock that is affected by flows of lifestyle behaviors and environmental conditions whose effects accumulate over time.

Here is the paper.

Global Warming and the US Economy

Laurie David, comedy developer turned environmental activist, writes in the Huffington Post:

Last week at the G8, President Bush restated his favorite global
warming canard: that mandatory curbs on fossil fuel pollution will “cripple the U.S. economy.”

I wish there was an even bolder bold on this computer to emphasize how
insane this logic is. Non-stop flooding, killer heat waves, energy and
food shortages: what will these do to the economy?

Actually Laurie, and PGL of Angry Bear who links to David, the best study of the issue indicates that global warming is most likely a net benefit to the US economy.  Carbon dioxide and greater temperature makes plants grow faster.  The author, Yale economist Robert Mendelsohn writes:

Climate change is likely to result in small net benefits for the United States over the next century. The primary sector that will benefit is agriculture. The large gains in this sector will more than compensate for damages expected in the coastal, energy, and water sectors, unless warming is unexpectedly severe. Forestry is also expected to enjoy small gains. Added together, the United States will likely enjoy small benefits of between $14 and $23 billion a year and will only suffer damages in the neighborhood of
$13 billion if warming reaches 5C over the next century. Recent predictions of warming by 2100 suggest temperature increases of between 1.5 and 4C, suggesting that impacts are likely to be beneficial in the US.

Speaking personally, I have undergone a greater shift in mean temperature by moving from Canada to the US than will occur in 100 years of global warming and I like it!  My fellow Canadians, still stuck in the frozen north, will be glad to know that in the future they too can have warmer temperatures without giving up their prized health care system.

For the developing world the effects of climate change are most likely negative but not so negative that further development – combined with some modest changes in first-world technology, such as greater use of nuclear power – is not the best solution.

The AEAs

I have just returned from the annual meeting of the American Economic Assocation.  I was mostly stuck in a hotel room interviewing job candidates but what David Warsh reports about the conference I can also say was true of our interview candidates.

When historians look back on economics in the last quarter of the 20th century, one of its more striking features will be the explosion in the quantity and quality of empirical work that was done…

[T]he advent of the desk-top computer made it possible to make a distinguished career doing something besides theory, namely sorting through the rich details of the real world in hopes of illuminating underlying mechanisms that are supposed to exist, or even finding relationships whose existence was unexpected.   

That much was on conspicuous last week when the American Economic Association and its many affiliates held its annual meeting here….

Work was presented on all kinds of of practical topics. For example: cars,  gas and pollution policies; downtown parking and traffic congestion;  kidney exchange; private funding in china’s education system; patent examiners impact on enforcement;  rural and urban poverty in Africa; the sources of racial differences in health care in the United States; the relationship between wealth and democracy; the U.S. gender pay gap; the growing population of postdoctoral students in U.S. universities; the question of who receives IPO allocations and why  — all of them buttressed by careful empirical work….

And in the forthcoming spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, David Colander of Middlebury College reports the results of a survey of students in seven top graduate schools of economics that he conducted, first in the early 1980s, then again last year….

The proportion of those reporting a belief that empirical work was very important had doubled (to 30 percent), while those describing excellence in math as vital to a successful career halved (to 30 percent). 

Environmentalism and Wealth

Daniel Ben-Ami has a nice essay at spiked-online about environmentalist thinking (click here). He notes that since the Enlightenment people have thought that human progress comes from mastery over nature and from being more productive, but many environmentalists think that human well being is harmed by being more productive. It’s an important point that leads to some real policy differences. If you think that we have too many green house gases, then you have two choices: stop manufacturing or learn to manufacture without as much pollution. Too many environmentalists opt for the first choice, which is bad because so much of the world’s poor look to gain from industry. Ben-Ami notes this as a disturbing trend among certain segments of the green movement – too many are calling for roll backs of technology, rather than searching for better and cleaner technology.

One more idea for Bush

Last week I presented twelve ideas for a domestic economic policy Republican vision for a Bush second term. I appreciate all those who wrote with additional ideas, or who suggested they might write in my name for President.

I will add one additional proposal:

13. Cut the number of pages in the daily Federal Register by half.

The American economy is drastically overregulated. But do not get me wrong here. I do not wish to gut important environmental regulations, many of which supply valuable public goods. To take one example, my benefits from the ban on low-quality gasoline probably exceed the costs I pay for all other regulations. Try spending a week in Mexico City in December if you are not convinced.

But I do wish to gut the median regulation issued by the Department of Agriculture, or by the Federal Communications Commission, to name two examples. Browse through a typical issue of the Federal Register to find other candidates for elimination.

It is fair to ask where I would make regulation stronger. First, I would do more to tax pollution. Taxes on purely productive activities should be correspondingly lower.

Animal cruelty also leaps to mind; currently we do very little to limit cruelty to animals in factory farms. I don’t take an extreme animal rights point of view, but animals do count for something. There are billions of them held in captivity, and our treatment of them counts as a great shame.

How much consensus is there in economics?

Some economists believe that we should bicker less among ourselves. Instead we should devote more resources to convincing the public on matters where most economists already agree. I have mixed feelings toward this attitude. Even if more instruction would improve economic performance, I am concerned it would damage our long-run ability to track truth. Plus for me it would make economics less fun. I, for one, would not devote my life to being a missionary for the theory of free trade and comparative advantage.

That all being said, how much do economists in fact agree? Check out this paper. The authors survey 1000 economists from the AEA roster; the data cover both 1990 and 2000. Here is one result:

…there was strong agreement with the propositions that restraints on free trade reduce welfare…and that market-determined exchange rates are effective…There was also strong disagreement with the propositions that increasing globalization threatens national sovereignty in environmental and labor standards…that U.S. trade deficits are a result of nontariff barriers…and that the increasing inequality in the U.S. distribution of income is caused by the pressures of a global economy.

What else do we have?

Macroeconomic propositions usually met with “moderate” to “substantial” consensus, but never “strong” consensus (the paper defines these terms more rigorously). And over the last ten years the consensus on macroeconomics has lessened (this result runs counter to my intuitions; I think there is now fairly broad consensus on something between loose price level targeting to mild inflation. Of course that is just monetary policy, not all of macro.) Economists have moved slightly closer to some supply side ideas but are more skeptical about the macro stimulus properties of fiscal policy.

Pollution taxes are very popular, and economists are starting to buy the Card-Krueger argument that minimum wage hikes don’t much damage employment.

Read the whole piece, it has more content than I have presented.

And will the Internet and distance learning drive down the demand for professors? There we see strong disagreement. I might add that I see future demand as more robust than Alex does and I can’t bring him around to my point of view.

Get paid to car-pool

Nuride is Friendster for slugs, i.e. an internet based system for arranging car pools. Drivers input their travel plans online making it much easier to find someone who is going where you want to go at a time that is convenient for you. Why should drivers do this? They and their passengers are paid for their troubles. How does Nuride make a profit? Nuride is selling the reduction in congestion and pollution to local governments. Economists have long pointed out that drivers impose a cost on other travellers – the flip side is that car poolers create a benefit for other travellers. Thus, Nuride is providing a way for governments to implement the optimal Pigouvian subsidy/Coasian transfer.

So far, only a small-scale test of Nuride has been made with employees of AOL but they recently came to GMU to promote the idea and hope to have a fairly extensive Northern Virginia system operating soon. The plan sounds a bit BC (before crash) to me but I’m always happy to see more examples of entrepreneurial economics.

Thanks to Diego Aycinena for the pointer.

Can climate engineering limit global warming?

Maybe so, according to Futurepundit. Here are some options (not all of this represents Futurepundit’s words, some is from his links):

Proposed options for reducing carbon dioxide pollution currently include underground burying of liquefied carbon dioxide; disposal in the sea; fertilising its absorption by marine algae; reflecting the sun’s rays in the atmosphere; and stabilizing sea-level rise. These and other macro-engineering ideas will be evaluated against a strict set of criteria, including effectiveness, environmental impacts, cost, public acceptability, and reversibility. All of these options go beyond the conventional approaches of improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon intensity by using more renewable energy sources, and may be needed in addition to these conventional approaches.

And further out on the limb:

… the scientists backed more way-out systems for reflecting the sun’s rays back into space. Plan A would float thousands of bubble-making machines across the world’s oceans to send huge amounts of salt spray into the atmosphere. The trillions of tiny droplets would make the clouds bigger, whiter, and more reflective — enough, in theory, to shut down several decades worth of global warming.

Plan B would flood the stratosphere with billions of tiny metal-coated balloons, “optical chaff” to backscatter the sun’s rays. Most sophisticated of all, Plan C would assemble giant mirrors in orbit, ready to be positioned at will by a global climate controller.

The BBC reports on 4 major categories of conceivable climate engineering approaches.

* “sequestering” (storing) carbon dioxide, for example in the oceans, by removing it from the air for storage, or by improved ways of locking it up in forests
* “insolation management” – modifying the albedo (reflectivity) of clouds and other surfaces to affect the amount of the Sun’s energy reaching the Earth
* climate design, for example by long-term management of carbon for photosynthesis, or by glaciation control
* impacts reduction, which includes stabilising ocean currents by river deviation, and providing large-scale migration corridors for wildlife.

Here is another article on the topic. I’ll never be competent to assess these proposals, but they could be among the most important scientific innovations we come up with. Global warming may well be real and the result of human activity, follow Chris Mooney. For better or worse I’ll predict the world won’t much cut its CO2 omissions in the near future, so we need to look toward other solutions.