Results for “pollution”
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There is No Such Thing as Development Economics

I used to think there was such a thing as development economics. There are still richer and poorer countries, of course, but is there a “development economics,” a special type of economics for poor countries? I don’t think so. Maybe there once was. In the twentieth century, divergence in per-capita GDP increased big time and it was a burning question why poor countries weren’t on the same development path as the developed nations. Starting around 1990-2000, however, we have seen convergence. Most countries are now on the same path. Poorer countries and richer countries are becoming more alike, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. I tweeted the following news headline recently:

Image

Notice the commentary on NYC infrastructure but also the man bites dog angle. In Pakistan people on social media are apparently sharing videos of flooding in the New York subway to complain about the poor state of infrastructure in Pakistan!

My own anecdote fit the pattern. This week I am in Delhi and due to a series of unfortunate supply chain shocks at my house-build in the US, for the first time in 3 weeks I have running hot water and reliable internet access!  Not only that but although India has sadly fallen for the paper straw nonsense the top hotels remain free from flow constrictors so the water gushes out of the shower with elan just as God intended. Civilization is  truly moving back east.

More generally, poorer and richer countries face many of the same problems today: infrastructure, low-skill workers and technological change, climate adaption and so forth. Is the latest paper on cash transfers, pollution, or corruption about a poor country or a rich country? It’s hard to tell. Poor countries still have their own unique problems, of course, but those problems are best analyzed by country rather than by income category. India is not the same as Thailand or Peru. I see little that unites poor countries under the rubric development economics.

Sunday assorted links

1. “Our results suggest that the degree to which Twitter is political has likely been overstated in the past.

2. When do ideas get easier to find? Hard to excerpt, but important piece.

3. The economics of stadium names.

4. Pollution from car tire wear.

5. The Swedish history of not feeding other people’s children.

6. The 1993 ferry sinking off the coast of Jeremie, Haiti had a high death toll — some sources say over one thousand (does anyone know the proper final toll?).  Yet the incident doesn’t seem to have its own Wikipedia page.

7. Ann Turner Cook, original Gerber baby, dies.

Tuesday assorted links

1. New CBA for the child allowance, showing basically a 10x benefit to cost ratio.

2. New survey of the non-health effects of air pollution.

3. The importance of teaching frontier knowledge.

4. Marcus Rediker’s tips for historical writing, excellent and also of more general interest.

5. The current state of nuclear brinksmanship (NYT).

6. “Companies are marketing polygenic risk scores as part of IVF…”  And more here.

7. UCLA will pay that adjunct after all.

Thanksgiving assorted links

1. Why do frozen turkeys explode when deep fried?

2. “Former South Korean military dictator Chun Doo-hwan has died at age 90. This means all living former South Korean Presidents are currently in jail.”  Tweet link here.

3. David Wallace-Wells on the tragedy of regular ol’ air pollution.

4. The case against the Trump-Biden tariffs (NYT).

5. New dating terms.

6. Walmart “cancels” children’s toy that swears and sings in Polish about doing cocaine.

7. Georgia politician stands by giant topiary chicken that got him ousted as mayor.

8. Long list of things to be thankful for.

Yglesias on CRT

Matt Yglesias has an excellent post on schooling and politics emphasizing three points. First, there is a lot of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) nonsense which the schools are using to train teachers and administrators. Second, at the same time the school administrators/teacher’s unions are generally ignoring the very real cost to children and parents of the school closures, including the costs of a widening racial gap. Third, the schools are stigmatizing testing under the guise of promoting equity but in reality because the teacher’s unions know that when you test children you learn that not all teachers are equally capable.

[The DC Public Schools] also recommend that people read a bunch of Robin DiAngelo books and brag that “more than 2,000 DCPS staff have participated in Courageous Conversation training.” But is Courageous Conversation training a good idea? This NYT Magazine profile of the company and its founder made it sound pretty bad:

Singleton, who holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford, and who did stints in advertising and college admissions before founding what’s now known as Courageous Conversation in 1992, talks about white culture in similar ways. There is the myth of meritocracy. And valuing “written communication over other forms,” he told me, is “a hallmark of whiteness,” which leads to the denigration of Black children in school. Another “hallmark” is “scientific, linear thinking. Cause and effect.” He said, “There’s this whole group of people who are named the scientists. That’s where you get into this whole idea that if it’s not codified in scientific thought that it can’t be valid.” He spoke about how the ancient Egyptians had “ideas about how humanity works that never had that scientific-hypothesis construction” and so aren’t recognized. “This is a good way of dismissing people. And this,” he continued, shifting forward thousands of years, “is one of the challenges in the diversity-equity-inclusion space; folks keep asking for data. How do you quantify, in a way that is scientific — numbers and that kind of thing — what people feel when they’re feeling marginalized?” For Singleton, society’s primary intellectual values are bound up with this marginalization.

I don’t think Frankfurt School Marxists are going to take over society by injecting these ideas into K-12 schools or anything like that. What I so think is that time and money is being wasted on initiatives that are run by people who are somewhere between stupid and fraudulent.

And it’s important to take that seriously, not just because someone somewhere may take these goofy ideas seriously (see prior commentary about Tema Okun), but because fiscal tradeoffs are real. Dollars spent on DEI trainings that come with zero proof of efficacy are dollars that can’t be invested in things like D.C.’s successful teacher bonus pay program, updating school air conditioning, improving school lunches, reducing kids’ exposure to air pollution and lead poisoning, or any of the other various interventions that have decent evidence behind them.

Of course when I say that investing in higher quality school lunches is good for kids’ learning, what I mean is that it’s good as measured on standardized tests.

Standardized testing has become a weird discourse flashpoint, but I think everyone agrees that you can, in principle, assess someone’s competence in a given subject area with a test. And if you want to compare different people, you need to give them the same test. It’s only by making comparisons across classrooms and across time that we are able to persuasively demonstrate that particulates are bad for school performance, healthy meals are good for school performance, and air conditioning improves school performance in the summer.

All this would be uncontroversial, I think, except teachers’ unions don’t like the idea of assessing teachers based on their job performance.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to Slow Boring.

How the game of *Life* evolved

The game underwent numerous updates over the years. The early emphasis on money to determine the winner had been “indicative of what sold in that era,” George Burtch, the former vice president of marketing for Hasbro, which acquired Milton Bradley in 1984, said in a phone interview.

As times changed, so did the game, with players encountering midlife crises and being rewarded for good deeds, like recycling the trash and helping homeless people.

“Reuben was very receptive to the changes — in fact he was often the impetus for them — because he was a businessman,” Mr. Burtch said.

“He understood that the Game of Life was not just the game that he invented; it was a brand,” he added. “And for a brand to remain viable, it has to evolve. It has to reflect the market conditions of the time.”

But as Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker in 2007, the redesign teams always had a hard time addressing the fundamental criticism of the game — that the only way to reward a player for virtuous acts was with money: “Save an Endangered Species: Collect $200,000. Solution to Pollution: $250,000. Open Health-Food Chain: $100,000.”

And so the company’s 2007 overhaul, the Game of Life: Twists & Turns, was almost existential. Instead of putting players on a fixed path, it provided multiple ways to start out in life — but nowhere to finish. “This is actually the game’s selling point; it has no goal,” Ms. Lepore wrote. “Life is … aimless.”

That is from an excellent NYT obituary of Reuben Klamer, who invented the game of Life, in addition to numerous other achievements.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Mike Makowsky good career advice for those economists (and others?) coming out of non-elite schools.

2. Bryan Caplan on his home schooling experience.

3. BBC covers EV India winner and his fight against air pollution.

4. Why young Koreans are doing so well in classical music.

5. Art Blakey and Lee Morgan in concert.

6. Guardian Fall books preview.  And Vulture Fall books preview.

What should we regulate *more*?

Since the Biden team does not seem too favorably disposed to deregulation, perhaps it is worth asking in which areas we should be pushing for additional regulation.  Here are a few possible picks, leaving pandemic-related issues aside, noting that I am throwing these ideas out and in each case it will depend greatly on the details:

1. Air pollution.  No need to go through this whole topic again, carbon and otherwise.  Remember the “weird early libertarian days” when all air pollution was considered an act of intolerable aggression?

2. Noise pollution.  There is good evidence of cognitive effects here, but what exactly are we supposed to do?  Can’t opt for NIMBY now can we!?

3. Something around chemicals?  How about more studies at least?

4. Housing production.  You can look at this as more or less regulation depending on your point of view.  But perhaps cities of a certain size should be required by the state government to maintain sufficient affordability.

5. Mandates for standardized reporting of data?  For example, the NIH requires that scientists report various genomic data in standardized ways, and this is a huge positive for science.  What else might work in this regard?

6. Federal occupational licensing, in lieu of state and local.

7. Software as a service from China?

8. Animal welfare and meat production.

9. Is there a useful way to regulate to move toward less antibiotic use?

10. Should we have more regulation of AI that measures human emotions?  How about facial and gait surveillance in public spaces?

11. How about regulating regulation itself?

What else?

I thank an MR reader for some useful suggestions behind this post.

A Foreign Policy Disaster in the Making

NYTimes: A lethal, fast-paced second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has brought India’s health care systems to the verge of collapse and is putting millions of lives and livelihoods at risk.

On Sunday and Monday, the country recorded more than 270,000 and 259,000 cases, respectively, of Covid-19, a staggering increase from about 11,000 cases per day in the second week of February. Reported coronavirus infections shot up from about 20,000 per day in mid-March to more than 200,000 by mid-April.

The newspapers and social media are scrolls of horror and failure of the health system. There are reports of lines of ambulances with patients waiting outside the largest Covid facility in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat because ventilator beds and oxygen had run out.

On Friday in the northern city of Lucknow, Vinay Srivastava, a 65-year-old journalist, shared his falling oxygen levels on Twitter, tagging government authorities for help. Overburdened hospitals and laboratories wouldn’t take calls from his family. The last tweet from Mr. Srivastava’s handle described his oxygen saturation level at 52, way below the 95 percent, which is considered normal. Nobody helped. He died on Saturday.

When I left India in February of 2020 I feared that COVID would rip through its dense, urban populations which were already under stress from some of the world’s worst air and water pollution. I feared that COVID would overwhelm India’s weak public health care system and leave its low-capacity state flailing. As it happened, I should have worried more about America’s poorly cared for nursing home populations, its high obesity rate, and its low state-capacity. It was the US state that ended up flailing, as it and the public became absorbed by media spectacles, impeachments and scandals du jour even as thousands died daily. The virus mocks us all.

All of this will require some rethinking. Today, however, I want to point to a foreign policy disaster in the making. America’s role as the guarantor of a globalized, mostly peaceful, and orderly world–already deeply hurt by four years of “America First,”–is now under further threat by an increasing perception that we are vaccine hoarders. Conspiracy theories are running wild in India on WhatsApp and elsewhere that we have hundreds of millions of spare doses. It isn’t true, of course. We ordered more doses than we needed because we didn’t know which vaccine would work and so we smartly placed multiple bets. Our advance-purchases from Pfizer and big investments in Moderna and related parts of the vaccine supply chain have paid off big time. As the US is vaccinated, our investments will benefit the entire world. Our investments in Novavax, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson were also smart investments but those bets have yet to pay off in a big way. We don’t have hundreds of millions of doses stockpiled but maybe tens of millions of some AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

We have, however, used the Defense Production Act to prioritize American vaccine manufacturing at potentially great cost to India. As The Economist reports:

Production lines in India, making at least 160m doses of covid vaccine a month, will come to a halt in the coming weeks unless America supplies 37 critical items.

A shutdown of vaccine production in India would be a disaster for India and also for the United States. Our image in Asia will be tarnished at a time when we want to be making allies to counter Chinese influence. Moreover, the US benefits tremendously from a globalized world. Indeed, the US cannot supply its own vaccine needs without inputs from the rest of the world so flouting the rules will boomerang, leaving us and everyone else worse off. Autarchy is very bad for vaccine production.

The Biden Administration has some leeway. We have over 60 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on hand and more arriving every day. We do not need to pause our own vaccination efforts to help others. We can donate what AstraZeneca stockpiles remain at no cost to us. A I said in my testimony to Congress, forget being humanitarians, there are health, economic and political reasons to vaccinate the world.

So let’s make it clear that we have an American plan to vaccinate the world before perceptions solidify that we are the villain and not the hero of the story.

Green energy vs. green jobs

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the opening bit:

One of the most disturbing trends in recent economic thought is the view that green energy should be viewed as a source of good jobs. Such attitudes are bad for our polity and for our economy.

To be clear, the need for greener energy policies is imperative. Honest observers may disagree about the best paths forward, but a simple example illustrates the point about jobs.

Let’s say America’s energy supply was composed primarily of solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear power, mostly automated with a few workers for oversight and a dog to guard the factory gate.

The biggest obstacle to green energy is not that American voters love pollution and carbon emissions, but rather people do not wish to pay more for their gasoline and their home heating bills. If we insist that green energy create a lot of good jobs, in essence we are insisting that it have high labor costs, and thus we are producing a version of it that will meet consumer and also voter resistance.

That would be close to ideal, even if it involved fewer jobs on net than the current energy infrastructure. Ideally, we should be striving for an energy network that hardly provides any jobs at all. That would be a sign that we truly have produced affordable and indeed very cheap alternatives to energy produced by fossil fuels.

The issue of cost is all the more urgent because climate change is a global problem, not just a national one. We could make North America entirely green, but climate change would proceed apace, due to carbon emissions from other countries, most of all China and eventually India.

So what we need to produce are very cheap renewable technologies, ones so cheap that the poorer countries of the world will adopt them as well. If we insist on packing a lot of labor costs (“good jobs”) into our energy technologies, we will not come close to achieving that end.

And I suspect my colleague Don Boudreaux would remind us all of Bastiat’s excellent Candlemakers’ Petition to the Sun, relevant here in its very specifics.

I really have not seen Democratic economists pushing back against the Biden administration on this point.  #thegreatforgetting

The age of polarization ended some while ago

The coronavirus-relief bill racing through Congress contains a fair amount of economic relief as well as a wide array of unrelated measures that were thrown into the bill with little or no public debate. Included in the latter category is something shocking: a huge package of energy reforms that will result in major greenhouse-gas reductions.

How big a deal are the climate provisions? The World Resources Institute has called the bill “one of the most significant pieces of climate legislation that Congress has passed in its history.” Grant Carlisle, a senior policy adviser at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says, “This is perhaps the most significant climate legislation Congress has ever passed.”

To be sure, the “most significant climate legislation Congress has ever passed” designation is a little bit misleading. Congress hasn’t passed much climate legislation. The climate provisions in the coronavirus-relief bill might add up to more than President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill, which included $90 billion in green-energy subsidies and helped seed the boom in wind, solar, batteries, and other tech over the past decade. They likely won’t be as significant as the 1970 Clean Air Act, which created the regulatory authority that does most of the heavy lifting in reducing carbon pollution.

But the amount of good climate policy in this bill is shocking, especially given the fact that it is about to be signed by Donald J. Trump. The major provisions include: a $35 billion investment in new zero-emission energy technology (including solar, wind, nuclear, and carbon-capture storage); an extension of tax credits for wind and solar energy, which were set to expire; and, most significantly, a plan for phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, a small but extremely potent greenhouse gas used as a coolant.

The rhetoric, however, will continue.  That article is from Jonathan Chait.  And here is my March 2019 Bloomberg column on polarization:

If I had to describe 2019 so far, I would characterize it as The Year Political Polarization Started to Erode. I know that sounds counterintuitive — aren’t partisans at each other’s throats on social media all the time? — but bear with me.

There is some data to support my point. A recent poll about regulating the tech industry, an issue which could prove to be one of the most important of our time, asked: “Do you agree or disagree that tech companies have too much power and should be more regulated?” Some 16 percent of Republicans said they “strongly agree,” while 13 percent of Democrats did. And combining those who “strongly agree” and “somewhat agree” gives an identical figure for both parties — 46 percent. This is the near-opposite of polarization.

More generally, both parties also seem to have converged in thinking that fiscal deficits are fine and more government spending is a good thing.

Ahem.

Progress on Nuclear Power

In the last year two new nuclear reactor designs have been approved, the first time this has happened in a generation. In September, the NRC approved NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) and a few days ago they approved GE-Hitachi’s SMR. The Trump administration has also invested billions in nuclear power research and in 2018 passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act.

President Donald Trump signed into a law new legislation that will speed up the development of advanced reactors in the United States.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA) eliminates some of the financial and technological barriers standing in the way of nuclear innovation.

It also represents a strong commitment by the government to support the commercial nuclear sector, ensuring that the U.S. maintains its leadership around the globe.

Nuclear pairs extremely well with hydrogen, a carbon-free near pollution-free fuel, and nuclear also works great with solar (to smooth out capacity).

Will President Trump be remembered as the environmental president? Probably not. You can read dozens of pieces on Trump’s environmental policies (“rollbacks,” “reversals”) including this long Wikipedia article that never once mention nuclear, despite the fact that nuclear remains a leading technology for making progress on climate change.

Can we have an Operation Warp Speed for green energy?

Probably not, as I argue in my Bloomberg column.  One problem is that advance market commitments work best when the output is well-defined, more or less homogeneous, and to be distributed according to very clear principles (one shot in the arm for everybody!).  You can’t quite hand out green batteries or small nuclear reactors on the same basis.  There is a case for subsidizing those, but not necessarily through advance purchase methods.  Here is another part of the column:

Operation Warp Speed was also made easier by the internalization of vaccine research within companies or alliances of companies. The pre-purchase agreement limits risk, and within that framework the companies face strong competitive incentives to create a successful product. In the meantime, the work is removed from the public eye and debate, and at the end there is a definitive yes or no decision from the FDA. It is hardly simple, but it could be a lot more complicated.

In contrast, building a new energy infrastructure requires the cooperation of many companies and institutions, including local governments and regulators. One company can’t simply do everything (recall that the attempts of Alphabet to redesign part of Toronto as a new tech-based city met with local resistance and were ultimately put aside). The greater the number of institutions involved, the slower things get. Note that most of those institutions will not be getting pre-purchase funds from the federal government and they will face their usual bureaucratic and obstructionist incentives. When it comes to green energy policy, there are still too many veto points.

A striking feature of vaccine development is just how few social goals are involved. A vaccine should be safe, effective and easy to distribute. In broadly similar fashion, the highly successful Manhattan Project of the 1940s also had a small number of goals, namely a working and deliverable atomic bomb. When it comes to energy, there are already too many goals, and additional ones are often added: job creation, better design and community aesthetics, reductions in secondary pollution, regional economic benefits, and so on.

When I explain Fast Grants to people, and how it worked, it is always striking to me which part of the explanation they understand least.  Everybody gets “we had a preexisting team in place, ready to handle accounting, recordkeeping, and payments.”  Hardly anyone understands — really understands — “the program has two goals: supporting quality research projects that will feed into stopping Covid, and speed.”  On one hand, it sounds self-evident to them, but on the other hand I don’t think they realize how much the intellectual infrastructure of the project really is defined by those goals and no others.  Nothing about meeting payroll, or pursuing other meritorious social goals, or getting grant or donor renewal, or raising the stature of the program in the biomedical community, or…?  What you choose not to pursue is one of the most radical steps you can take, and often it is so radical that other people don’t even grasp or notice it.  They just don’t see you “not doing something.”  That can be a good way to innovate!

Modern Principles, New Edition!

The new edition of Modern Principles is here! We take our title, Modern Principles of Economics, seriously. Other textbooks stick with the market for ice cream year after year but when it comes to new editions we don’t just add a box or two–we rewrite entire chapters with new examples and applications and we cut older material to make way for the new.

In the new edition we introduce platform economics and we use it to explain why Facebook is free; we have new material applying the elasticity of supply to understand why housing is so expensive in some cities; we have rewritten the chapter on trade to take into account the China shock and the China trade-war shock including the implications for politics; we have new material on pollution and a carbon tax; new material on the declining labor force participation rate of men and new material on supply chains and bottlenecks. Of course, there is also new material on pandemics although we had material on pandemics in the very first edition!

Modern Principles of Economics is by far the best textbook for teaching online (or offline!). Not only do you get over a hundred professionally produced videos, like this one on price ceilings and price coordination, you also get Achieve, the excellent new course management system that integrates e-book, tutorials, quizzes, exams, assessment and much more so that you can get up and running online overnight.

I’ll be covering some of the new material in Modern Principles this week.