Results for “pollution”
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China fashion markets in everything

Fashionistas no longer have to choose between looking stylish and protecting their lungs.

Next week, Beijing- and Hong Kong-based designer Nina Griffee, owner of face-painting and body art company Face Slap, will introduce a new line of outfits that incorporate face masks on the runway as part of a collection at Hong Kong Fashion Week.

Even the designer, who was born in England, admits that the eight outfits she’s created to launch the line – which look something like burkas for the space age – might not be everyone’s cup of tea. “There’s a fine line between fashion and costume,” she says. “I’m not entirely sure we made it completely into the fashion category.”

Though it isn’t the first time models will have appeared on stage wearing masks, it appears to be the first time the effect is so deliberate.

The outfits incorporate Vogmask pollution masks—already a choice among many of the pollution cognoscenti as the most stylish face coverings—attached by a zipper to shawls, dresses and ponchos. The zipper allows the wearer to remove the mask to dine, for instance, while retaining the high-fashion look.

There is more here, with good stylish photos too.

How good a climate change solution do we need?

Responding to the recent Henry Paulson piece, Paul Krugman writes today:

In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.

I would put it this way: climate change is like neither the financial crisis nor the Obama health care plan, but above all it is an international problem requiring an international solution.  And it’s not like banning land mines, where most countries have little reason to continue with the practice.  It is also not like ozone, where a coordinated solution is relatively low cost, more or less invisible to voters, threatens few jobs, and involves few incentives for defection.  A climate change solution requires a lot of countries to turn their back on coal-generated pollution long before we did (as measured in per capita income terms) and long before the Kuznets curve suggests they otherwise are going to.  A climate change solution, if done the wrong way, will look to China like a major attempt to unfairly deindustrialize them and, if it is backed by trade sanctions, it will look like an act of war.  Trade agreements do best when most or all of the countries already wish to act cooperatively toward much lower tariffs.  For a green energy solution, China (among others) in fact has to want to solve the problem, as do we.  And the already-installed or in-process coal base in China is…forbidding.

The problem isn’t just coming up with “something better.”  Think of today’s fossil fuels as a stock in the ground.  The problem is coming up with something “better than the lower and falling prices for the fossil fuel stock once some countries start going green.”  That’s really tough, because it means competing against a lower fossil fuel price than what we see today.  What will Africa choose?

In other words, a climate change solution has to involve a relatively cheap form of energy, relative to the status quo.  Not just cheap to citizens because it is subsidized, but cheap to governments and cheap at the national level too.  Alternatively, you could regard all of this as reason to be pessimistic.  But in the meantime, it is entirely reasonable to insist on solutions which can generalized, and that means solutions which are relatively cost-effective.

Why am I reminded of The Clean Air Act of 1963?

Here is one very brief history:

Each state was given primary responsibility for assuring that emissions sources from within their borders are consistent with the levels designated by the NAAQS. In order to achieve these goals, each state is required to submit a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to the EPA to ensure the implementation of primary and secondary air quality standards…Since many states failed to meet mandated air quality standards first set by the Clean Air Act, Congress created the 1977 amendments to aid states in achieving their original goals.

That is just one bit of course.  More broadly, people focus on The Clean Air Act of 1970, but of course the original legislation was from 1963 and it was extremely ineffective because it had inadequate popular support and the issue was not yet a major concern.  It had to be revised/amended in 1965 and 1967 and 1970 and then also 1977 and 1990.  Yet the 1963 act did set definite standards for stationary (but not mobile) pollution sources and mandated a timetable for adoption, albeit with a lot of state flexibility for meeting the new standards.  All of that went nowhere.  And that was an act passed directly by Congress, not just an Executive Order.  Even in those days, a lot of actual progress in the fight against air pollution came through the replacement of dirty coal by natural gas, a process which had started in the 1920s and spread through America in successive waves.

Here is a typical paragraph about early policy ineffectiveness, from a useful essay:

By 1970, it was “abundantly clear” to Congress that federal legislative efforts to fight air pollution were inadequate. State planning and implementation under the 1967 Act had made little progress.Congress attributed this “regrettably slow” progress to a number of other factors including the “cumbersome and time-consuming procedures” in the 1967 Act, inadequate funding at the federal, state, and local levels, and the lack of skilled personnel to enforce pollution requirements. Commentators have also suggested that federal legislation prior to 1970 failed because of both an inability and an unwillingness on the part of the states to deal with air pollution.

When I read about the new Obama plan, I am reminded of 1963, and also 1965 and 1967.  For all of the hullaballoo you are hearing — whether positive or negative — keep this in mind.

Addendum: Most of the best sources on the 1963 Act are off-line.  But here is an interesting essay about some of the federalistic issues behind the enforcement of the various Clean Air Acts, mostly post-1963.  Here is the text of the 1963 law, for one thing it is amazing how short it is.

Should the Future Get a Vote?

Philosopher Thomas Wells argues that future citizens need the vote today:

…future generations must accept whatever we choose to bequeath them, and they have no way of informing us of their values. In this, they are even more helpless than foreigners, on whom our political decisions about pollution, trade, war and so on are similarly imposed without consent. Disenfranchised as they are, such foreigners can at least petition their own governments to tell ours off, or engage with us directly by writing articles in our newspapers about the justice of their cause. The citizens of the future lack even this recourse.

The asymmetry between past and future is more than unfair. Our ancestors are beyond harm; they cannot know if we disappoint them. Yet the political decisions we make today will do more than just determine the burdens of citizenship for our grandchildren. They also concern existential dangers such as the likelihood of pandemics and environmental collapse. Without a presence in our political system, the plight of future citizens who might suffer or gain from our present political decisions cannot be properly weighed. We need to give them a voice.

But how can we solve this problem? Wells has some very good insights:

If current citizens can’t help but be short-sighted, perhaps we should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way. They would need to be credibly motivated to defend the basic interests of future generations as a whole, rather than certain favoured subsets, and they would require the expertise to calculate the long-term actuarial implications of government policies.

But then his solution turns laughable:

Such voters would have to be more than human. I am thinking of civic organisations, such as charitable foundations, environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks.

Well’s solution (give these groups votes) is so tied to his conception of what the “enlightened” future will bring that it clearly fails the far-seeing, impartiality, credibly motivated and expertise requirements that he outlines as desirable. We need not conclude, however, that Well’s plea is disingenuous or impossible but we do need a better implementation.

Robin Hanson’s government of prediction markets (“futarchy“) is a better approach. It is know well understood that relative to other institutions prediction markets draw on expertise to produce predictions that are far seeing and impartial. What is less well understood is that through a suitable choice of what is to be traded, prediction markets can be designed to be credibly motivated by a variety of goals including the interests of future generations.

To understand futarchy note that a prediction market in future GDP would be a good predictor of future GDP. Thus, if all we cared about was future GDP, a good rule would be to pass a policy if prediction markets estimate that future GDP will be higher with the policy than without the policy. Of course, we care about more than future GDP; perhaps we also care about environmental quality, risk, inequality, liberty and so forth. What Hanson’s futarchy proposes is to incorporate all these ideas into a weighted measure of welfare. Prediction markets would then be used to predict and make policy choices based on future welfare. Incorporated within the measure of welfare could be factors like environmental quality many years into the future. 

Note, however, that even this assumes that we know what people in the future will care about. Here then is the final meta-twist. We can also incorporate into our measure of welfare predictions of how future generations will define welfare. We could, for example, choose a rule such that we will pass policies that increase future environmental quality unless a prediction market in future definitions of welfare suggests that future generations will change their welfare standards. It sounds complicated but then so is the problem.

In short, more than any other form of government, futarchy is based on far seeing, impartial, expertise driven and credibly motivated predictions of future welfare and it is flexible enough to allow for a wide definition of welfare including taking into account the interests of future generations.

Hat tip: Carl Close.

Shanghai notes

Very good dumplings and noodle soups can be had on the streets in small restaurants for a dollar or two.  When you look further afield I can recommend Yi Long Court, a very fine Cantonese restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel.  Lost Heaven is a very good Yunnanese restaurant, get the Ti dishes, I enjoyed both branches of this place.  For Shanghai dishes, go to Jesse.

The more developed parts of Shanghai feel much more like the United States than any part of Beijing does, yet many traditional neighborhoods remain and there is plenty of good architecture from the early 20th century.  If not for the air pollution, this would be one of the best cities in the world.  It’s not that cheap, though, once you get past food and taxis.

The long, tree-lined alleys of Chinese neighborhoods have led to a superior reconceptualization of the outdoor shopping mall.

There are policemen who seem to be there to teach drivers how to back into spots using parallel parking.

For eleven years I’ve been writing about “Markets in Everything,” but here in Shanghai I transacted in one of those markets for the first time.  I went to “More Than Toilet,” a cafe/restaurant with a toilets theme.   Your chair is designed to look like a potty, and I was served my watermelon juice in a model of a urinal, with an elaborate straw, $6 for the experience.  (Who knows what I will try next?)  The food that was passing by looked horrible, like Chinese Denny’s on steroids.  I had blogged the original Taiwan branch of the place some time ago.

The luxury malls do not seem to have benches to sit down on and check your email.  But since hardly anyone is shopping in most of those malls, perhaps that doesn’t matter very much.

The commons are still tragic

Kevin Grier reports:

Paul Krugman points us to the success story of the rebound of US fish stocks. He then makes an amazing leap to climate change saying, “Fighting climate change isn’t really all that different from saving fisheries; if we ever get around to doing the obvious, it will be easier and more successful than anyone now expects.”

I actually agree with the first part, and the Vox article that Krugman links to makes the point pretty well, just not in the way Paul wants it to be made.

Now the big caveat: Yes, US fisheries seem to be recovering. But that’s not true for much of the rest of the world. And, given that the United States imports around 91 percent of its seafood, this is a pretty crucial caveat.

All told, the best-managed fisheries around the world — the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland — only make up about 16 percent of the global catch, according to a recent paper in Marine Pollution Bulletin by Tony Pitcher and William Cheung of the University of British Columbia.

By contrast, more than 80 percent of the world’s fish are caught in the rest of the world, in places like Asia and Africa — where rules are often less strict. The data here is fairly patchy, but the paper notes that many of these nations are less likely to follow the UN’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and there’s evidence that “serious depletions” may be occurring…

In other words, overfishing, like climate change, is a global problem that the US can’t fix on its own. Our fish stocks are rebounding, and our carbon emissions are falling, but much of the rest of the world is moving in the wrong direction on both issues.

The full post is here.

Assorted quotations

1. “Only a few authors have bothered to approach the disintegration of America in an innovative way.”

2. “They estimated that without antibiotics, one out of every six recipients of new hip joints would die.”

3. “The urban refugees come from all walks of life — businesspeople and artists, teachers and chefs — though there is no reliable estimate of their numbers. They have staked out greener lives in small enclaves, from central Anhui Province to remote Tibet. Many are Chinese bobos, or bourgeois bohemians, and they say that besides escaping pollution and filth, they want to be unshackled from the material drives of the cities — what Ms. Lin derided as a focus on “what you’re wearing, where you’re eating, comparing yourself with others.”  The link is here.

4. “It is the first time that the West has lost a soft power contest with Russia.”

5. “I do take painting seriously,” he said. “It’s changed my life.”

Hayek’s liberaltarian essay “”Free” Enterprise and Competitive Order”

I’ve been preparing a class on Hayek for, and I was struck by my reread of this essay, which was presented at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting of 1947 (it was later published in Individualism and Economic Order, pdf of the book here).

In this piece Hayek argues the following:

1. It is not enough for classical liberals to seek to limit the state, they also must outline what governments could and should do better.

2. Monetary policy should be used to limit unemployment, albeit in a rules-based framework.

3. Eminent domain is an essential function of government, especially in urban cities, and it needs to be thought through more carefully.

4. Many of the biggest dangers of monopoly stem from patent law and intellectual property protection, rather than from monopoly of the traditional “sole seller” sort.  On this issue Hayek sounds like Alex or Larry Lessig.

5. It is not enough to defend “freedom of contract” in the abstract, rather the details of the law really matter.

6. Hayek questions whether limited liability for corporations is always the right way to proceed.

7. Finally, although inheritance taxes have in the past sometimes been abused, “…inheritance taxes could, of course, be made an instrument toward greater social mobility and greater dispersion of property and, consequently, may have to be regarded as important tools of a truly liberal policy…”

You will recall that in other settings Hayek endorsed the idea of a social welfare state and also the taxation of pollution.

Assorted links

1. My quasi-debate with Greg Mankiw (Korean language account, imagine a dialogue between Average is Over and his JEP essay on inequality).  There is more here, and here, both in Korean.  There are brief excerpts in this Korean news video.

2. Robert Graboyes on supply-side innovation in health care.

3. Brasilia 1967+ Kraftwerk.

4. Trauma as a major medical issue in Africa.

5. Which are the world’s worst cities for air pollution?  More provincial than you might think.

6. Can a famous jeweller become a great philosopher?  By the excellent Oliver Burkeman.

7. Michael R. Strain reviews Average is Over at National Review.

Earth orbit debris: an economic model

That is a 2013 paper by Adilov, Alexander, and Cunningham, here is the abstract:

Space debris, an externality generated by expended launch vehicles and damaged satellites, reduces the expected value of space activities by increasing the probability of damaging existing satellites or other space vehicles. Unlike terrestrial pollution, debris created in the production process interacts with firms’ final products, and is, moreover, self-propagating. Collisions between debris or extant satellites creates additional debris. We construct an economic model to explore private incentives to launch satellites and to mitigate space debris. The model predicts that, relative to the social optimum, firms launch too many satellites and under-invest in debris mitigation technologies. We discuss remediation strategies and policies, and calculate a socially optimal Pigovian tax.

While we are on this topic, I very much liked the movie Gravity, which although it has some dialogue hearkens back to the silent classics of the past.  It has spectacular visuals, a “great stagnation” element, a don’t try to be Icarus, live in the mud, and be reborn and baptized in the water element, a reinterpretation of The Book of Job, and a “who builds the best infrastructure anyway?” theme.  On top of all that, it is subtle running commentary on the 1969 film *Marooned* and how much the world has, and hasn’t, changed since then.

Assorted links

1. More on the Morlocks of Singapore.

2. Who are (were) the top American communists?

3. Long profile of Leszek Kolakowski.

4. How badly are the formal arts hurting?

5. Will the Chinese attempt to clean up air pollution result in much higher carbon emissions?  And debt in China and what they are doing about it.

6. Matt Yglesias reviews Average is Over.

7. Brainpicker on Angela Duckworth and grit.

China’s experiment with cap and trade

Dirk Forrister and Paul Bledsoe report from the NYT:

China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has begun its effort in the southern city of Shenzhen, paving the way for a national Chinese market in a few years. Like Europe, which voted to extend and improve its emissions market, and Australia and New Zealand, Shenzhen chose a carbon market as the most efficient way to lower its greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the Shenzhen program, the government will set limits on carbon dioxide discharges for 635 industrial companies and 197 public buildings that together account for about 40 percent of the city’s emissions. Polluters whose emissions fall below the limit can sell the difference in the form of pollution allowances to other polluters. These companies must decide whether it is cheaper to reduce emissions or pollute above their limit by buying allowances, whose price will be set by supply and demand. But the pressure will be on, because the limits will decrease over time. Six more regional pilot programs are planned over the next year.

This piece offers some further details, including this:

The caps require the emitters to collectively cut their carbon intensity by 6.7 per cent a year between this year and 2015.

After reading multiple sources, however, it seems that all these numbers involve fudges.  And over the longer run the cap is defined relative to gdp:

Beijing has not agreed to binding caps on its emission volumes, but has set a target to cut emission intensity – carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product – by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 from the 2005 level.

Here is further analysis from The Economist, which reckons that actual binding carbon caps will take ten years to evolve.  This will be one good way to study whether these regimes are time consistent, noting that Europe’s regime has been in place for about ten years and still doesn’t work.

China estimate of the day

A government policy to promote coal use in Northern China has cut the life expectancy of some 500 million people by more than five years, on average.

That comes from a big new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, which used a quasi-natural experiment to quantify the health effects of air pollution from coal use.

From Brad Plumer, here is more.

What made Buchanan special as an economist?

Matt asks this question.  I am a bit on the run, so I will do this in link-less form, but all the sources should be easily googled.  Here goes:

1. He developed the “theory of clubs,” which sets out the conditions under which private associations supply excludable public goods at optimum levels.

2. For his time he had the best and most rigorous analysis of the incidence of public debt.

3. With Gordon Tullock he pioneered the economic analysis of voting rules in terms of transactions costs and external costs imposed on others.  Any current blogosphere discussion of say the filibuster will rely on this approach, though we now take it so for granted we don’t realize how impressive it was at the time.

4. He had pioneering economic analyses of bicameralism, logrolling, and other aspects of legislatures, again with Tullock.

5. Along with Harsanyi, he formulated aspects of the “original position” before Rawls did and he was a major influence on Rawls.  By the way, I have seen Buchanan numerous times with top professional philosophers, and he has no problem holding his own or better.

6. He helped pin down, including on the technical side, the economic concept of externality.

7. He provided the most important revision to optimal tax theory since Ramsey, namely the point that supposedly efficient methods of taxation can be too easy to use.  That was in The Power to Tax, with Brennan.  His piece on static vs. dynamic versions of the Laffer curve, with Dwight Lee, is also significant.

8. He provided a public choice analysis of why Keynesian economics would not lead to the appropriate budget surpluses during good times and thus would contain dangerous ratchet effects toward excess deficits.

9. He thought through the conflict between subjective and objective notions of value in economics, and the importance of methodologically individualist postulates, more deeply than perhaps any other economist.  Most economists hate this work, or refuse to understand it, either because it lowers their status or because it is genuinely difficult to follow or because it requires philosophy.  Yet it stands among Buchanan’s greatest contributions even if a) I do not myself agree with his approach, and b) I do not think it is easily summarized or even well-explained.  Buchanan took Knight and Shackle very seriously and he understood that the typical pragmatic dismissal of their caveats was not in fact  well-founded.

10. His Hayekian work on “order defined only through the process of emergence” and “economics as a science of exchange and catallactics” is a very important take-down of the scientific pretensions of much of economics.  It doubted whether the notion of efficiency could be independently conceptualized at all.  Again, this work is disliked or ignored.  Buchanan may be going too far, but it is a very important and neglected perspective.

11. He thought more consistently in terms of “rules of the games” than perhaps any other economist.  This point remains underappreciated and underapplied.  It makes technocracy out to be a fundamentally different endeavor.

12. He did important work in the history of economic thought, reviving interest in the Italian school of public finance and public choice.

13. His late papers with Yoon on the work ethic, increasing returns, and economic growth remain underappreciated.  I also admire his work with Yoon on the anti-commons.

There is more, but that is a start.  Try his article on why pollution should be taxed for Pigouvian reasons.  I could add that Buchanan understood the importance of monetary rules, and favored a regime where the supply of money would be elastic in response to negative economic circumstances.

Beijing notes

It is a gargantuan, imperial city, and while there is always a walking path the point of walking is not always clear.  “The Middle Kingdom does Dubai.”  There is no need to tell me about all the parts of the city which do not look like Dubai, I have seen many of them, and furthermore Dubai has such parts as well.

An iPad, plus Baidu access to Chinese characters, makes it easy to ask questions of strangers.  Hardly anyone speaks even minimal English.  It is less harried than I had expected.  The sky rarely appears, at least in late July.  The contemporary art district, 798, is worth more than one visit.  I am not interested in seeing the Great Wall.  My hotel, rather than having a “Medical Devices” conference, has a meeting on “Australian Property Holdings.”

The main problems here are the air pollution, and that no one, including taxi drivers, seems to know how to get anywhere.  The rate of change is high and many people are from the provinces, so there is a real information gap.

The main upsides stem from what scale enables.  Even if you have been to many places, Beijing will manage to astonish you.

Most of all, I am struck by how Taiwan is more Chinese than is China.