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Instant runoff voting - pro and con
What is instant runoff voting?
From the faq of the Center for Voting and Democracy - advocates of the procedure:
The Center for Voting and Democracy provides the following talking points - here. Much more information is available at their site here: "Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)".
Who could be against this?
Iain Murray is opposed to this procedure. See his November 28 article in USA Today: "Consider democratic ideals"
John Rawls, Harvard philospher, died last Sunday. Here are some more memorial posts (to supplement the list I posted on 11-25):
The Pilgrims and the "tragedy of the commons"
Caroline Baum, at Bloomberg.com, has an economic lesson for Thanksgiving: "The Economic Story of Thanksgiving ". (Next month: "The Deadweight Loss of Christmas" (by Joel Waldfogel, American Economic Review, 1993).)
I learned about Baum's column at the weblog of Mindles K. Dreck. Let me also refer you to Mindle's posting on what really passed between the Pilgrims and the Massachusetts Indians: "A Thanksgiving Toast: To Accurate History and Inspiring Myth". Mindle doesn't think Thanksgiving is based in 17th Century history, asks if it really matters:
Administration land policy plans
The Twin Falls, Idaho, Agweekly online reports on a visit by Interior Department officials to the Idaho Cattle Association's annual convention. The story suggests the range of changes the Department is considering, including changes to the regulations promulgated under the Taylor Grazing Act, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and the Endangered Species Act.
"'It takes awhile to turn the ship," he added, "but we now do have a window of opportunity -- in which we need to move.'"
Why are forest fires worse?
Good article in the Ventura County Star surveying theories about the increasing severity of forest fires: "Dispute rages over increase of wildfires in West".
Is it due to fire suppression over the last century?
I learned about this from the web site of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. A good source of land management news stories from across the country.
Forest Planning Regs Proposed
The Forest Service proposed new regulations today to govern land use planning in the national forests under the 1974 National Forest Management Act. If adopted, this will be the fourth set of regulations proposed under this act (the others came in 1979, 1982, and 2000). All sides seem to agree that these rules will streamline the planning process compared to the 2000 Clinton rule - not everyone thinks this is a good idea. The proposed regulations may be found here: Ecosystem Management Coordination.
Robert Pear has a story in New York Times here: "Bush Plan Gives More Discretion to Forest Managers on Logging (free registration required).
"For each national forest, the government prepares a formal plan, similar to a zoning ordinance. The plan identifies areas suitable for recreation, grazing and timber harvesting and specifies what must be done to protect rare species, prevent floods and reduce wildfire hazards.
"Under the rules issued by the Clinton administration, the government must assess the effects on the environment whenever it revises a forest plan. The proposed rules would not require such assessments."
"The proposal, overturning regulations issued by President Bill Clinton two months before he left office, would give local forest managers more leeway in complying with a 1976 law mandating the preservation of diverse plant and animal species. The rule, now open for public comment, will not take effect for at least nine months.
"Administration officials say the change is needed to speed up an overly burdensome, time-consuming process in which it is too difficult to make justified changes in national forest policies. Environmentalists say the proposal will eliminate important safeguards against unwise policy changes -- and invariably lead to more mining, drilling and logging in forests -- by reducing the number of scientific reports and the opportunity for public comment."
The Economics of War With Iraq
A short one from the Washington Post: Robert Samuelson column - "Figuring the Costs of War".
A long one from the New York Review of Books (cited by Samuelson): William Nordhaus - "Iraq: The Economic Consequences of War". A longer version of the Nordhaus study (to be published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences can be found here: "The Economic Consequences of a War with Iraq". Nordhaus draws on a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study, "Estimated Costs of a Potential Conflict with Iraq," available from the CBO web site here: Congressional Budget Office.
Another one from Slate: Robert Shapiro - "The Cost of Toppling Saddam. Will an Iraq war hurt the economy?".
This article in the Economist reports on a study released this week by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and also mentions the Nordhaus analysis. "Calculating the consequences".
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies study was connected with a day-long workshop on the economic consequences of a war held by the Centre on November 12. Various conference related papers may be found here: Centre home page.
The New York Review of Books home page: The New York Review of Books.
Who's going to get the disaster relief?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a political agency. Do presidents and congressmen use it as a giant slush fund to advance their political objectives? Not entirely, say Thomas Garrett and Russel S. Sobel in a recent Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis working paper, "The Political Economy of FEMA Disaster Payments."
What is FEMA
FEMA is the federal government's disaster relief agency:
"On average, FEMA provides annual relief expenditures of about $3 billion for about 50 declared disasters each year. Relief varies greatly from year to year, however, and hit a high in 1994 when FEMA disaster expenditures exceeded $8 billion...
"The vast majority of FEMA operations and expenditures are undertaken under the rules and processes established by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act..., hereafter referred to as the Stafford Act. This act establishes the process for requesting a Presidential disaster declaration, defines the types of relief that are available for relief expenditures, and also the conditions for obtaining assistance."
They collected data on FEMA disbursements by state for the years 1991 to 1999 and combined it with information on the scale of disasters by state, other state characteristics, and information about state politics. They then did two statistical analyses, one to determine the rate of presidential disaster declarations, and one to determine the level of federal disaster disbursements by state.
What did they find?
I think I remember reading another article on government fund allocation - this dealt with the allocation of funds among endangered species, arguing that, when criteria were vauge, the allocation of these disbursements reflected the preferences of the people who made the disbursements rather than more scientific criteria. I'll try and find the source for this.
The Washington Post is worrying today about the allocation of foreign aid under the administration's new aid initiative:
I assume the original title for this was "Hu's on first?"
"Secret Transcript, Not For Dissemination".
I learned about this at the blog of William Burton.
The U.S. has proposed that the world's countries on all industrial and consumer goods by 2015. The Economist reports tonight "Can America kickstart the Doha round?".
"Yet the boldness of the latest proposal, which follows an equally ambitious American plan to eliminate agricultural export subsidies, is enough to make many of America’s closest industrial partners pale. America is not proposing unilateral reductions, after all—the commitment to reduce and then abolish tariffs involves all 144 WTO members. And developing countries, whose tariffs tend to be much higher than those of rich countries, and which would therefore have to make much bigger tariff reductions, are more likely to see America’s plan as brazen hypocrisy on Mr Bush’s part."
Development and environmental goals collide in Asia
Alan Boyd reports on the severe environmental problems associated with economic growth in Asia in the Asia Times: "Environmental cost of Asia's Development".
"River systems contain four times as much pollution as the global average, while lead emissions are above safe proportions in most large cities. Per capita forest cover is 65 percent below world standards, and falling fast. "Environmental degradation in the region is now pervasive, accelerating and largely unabated," the bank stated, adding that "resources that underpin long-term economic development are at risk"...
New Source Review
Paul Krugman writes about the Administration's change, last week, in the Clean Air Act's new source review rules: "Every Breath You Take". (New York Times, November 26, 2002, free registration may be required).
Bush Administration Foreign Aid Initiative
Last March the Administration proposed a program of foreign aid dispersal designed to direct money towards countries adopting plausible development policies: the Millennium Challenge Account. Now the administration has proposed lodging fund administration in a new agency - deliberately separated from the State Department to reduce expenditure pressure based on political considerations. See Tuesday's Washington Post: "Bush to Call for New Foreign Aid Agency".
"By choosing to create a stand-alone Millennium Challenge Corp., the White House rejected other options, including putting the fund under the State Department or under AID. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell pushed hard for keeping the fund under his purview, according to sources familiar with the debate, but a compromise was reached in which he will chair a board consisting of other Cabinet-level officials who will make the final recommendations to the president about the countries to receive funding."
"The real worry with the administration's thinking is that its break with past aid policies may not be radical enough. As well as being distorted by foreign policy considerations, traditional aid has been captured by U.S. domestic lobbies that deliver food, medical supplies or other aid under contract. The U.S. Agency for International Development's Web site has boasted, scandalously, that close to 80 percent of its contracts and grants goes directly to American firms. If the Bush administration is serious about wanting to make aid effective, it must free poor countries to spend aid dollars on the most efficient suppliers -- including suppliers who themselves come from poor countries. It must also avoid burdening aid recipients with onerous conditions and reporting requirements; the well-governed countries eligible to receive the new dollars are by definition capable of spending the aid responsibly."
Why its worthwhile studying Lyndon Johnson
Robert Caro has won the National Book Award for Master of the Senate, the third volume of his Lyndon Johnson biography, covering Johnson's career in the U.S. Senate. Why is Johnson worth the time? Caro is quoted:
John Rawls dead
Harvard philosopher John Rawls died yesterday (Sunday, Nov 24) at age 81. Rawls argued (in A Theory of Justice) that we should adopt a rule that policy changes and different states of society should be judged by the status of the worst-off members of that society. Main stream economics looks for (a) policy changes that make at least one person better off without making anyone worse off, or (b) policy changes where the people who benefit are benefited enough so that they could, theoretically, compensate the people who are not made better off (whether or not the compensation is paid). A Rawlsian rule would judge policy changes by the impact on the worst-off in society.
"But how could people agree to structure a society in accordance with these two principles [the "least advantaged" principle and another dealing with liberty - Ben]? Dr. Rawls's response was to revive the concept of the social contract...
"For people to make the necessary decisions to arrive at the social contract, Dr. Rawls introduced the concept of a "veil of ignorance." This meant that each person must select rules to live by without knowing whether he will be prosperous or destitute in the society governed by the rules he chooses. He called this the "original position."
"An individual in the "original position" will choose the society in which the worst possible position — which, for all he knows, will be his — is better than the worst possible position in any other system.
"The result, Dr. Rawls argued, was that the least fortunate would be best protected. The lowest rung of society would be higher. Though inequalities would not be abolished by favoring the neediest, they would be minimized, he argued."
How should we vote?
Apparently not like we do. Voting is an important way of allocating scarce resources among competing ends, so how we vote - the method we use to aggregate the votes and determine the result - is important. We can do this in different ways. Science News has a nice article by Erica Klarreich about alternative voting systems on their web page, here: "Election Selection. Are we using the worst voting procedure?".
I learned about this item at the ArgMax Economics Weblog.
Can we reduce our dependence on foreign oil by driving less?
Addressed here at The Volokh Conspiracy: "WHEN YOU DRIVE ALONE YOU DRIVE WITH SADDAM".
The Jane Galt Tax Plan
What changes would you make in the Federal tax system if you ruled the world? How do they compare to the changes Jane would make? :"The Jane Galt Tax Plan".
I never really understood, or cared to understand, macro- or international economics until I started reading some of Paul Krugman's popular books (Peddling Prosperity for example, and, more recently The Return of Depression Economics), and begin visiting Brad DeLong's website (another posting sometime). My understanding's still weak, but I care now and I'm trying to improve it.
Krugman knows the theory, knows the real world, brings each to bear productively on the other, is a good writer, and a talented teacher. His books had an agreeably tart "suffer no fools" quality. There was passion and indignation. More recently (since Janaury 2000) he's been writing economic columns in the New York Times. These are also worthwhile, but he doesn't like the Bush Administration, he doesn't like it a lot, and this influences almost every paragraph.
Krugman is the subject of an article by Nicholas Confessore in the November Washington Monthly magazine. You can access the web version here: "Comparative Advantage. How economist Paul Krugman became the most important political columnist in America".
Are different people willing to pay different amounts to change the risk of death?
In a democracy you'd think you'd want decisions to reflect the values of the people. You'd be interested in the values people placed on different impacts of policy decisions. Now many policy decisions will inevitably affect health risks and the risk of dying. A wide range of environmental decisions do so (air pollution, water pollution, toxic waste disposal, fishery management regulations that affect the risks faced by fishermen, and so on). A wide range of job safety, transportation (cell phone use in cars) and other decisions do so also. So, there should be an interest in the values people place on changes in different health and mortality risks.
And economists have responded to this need, looking for ways to make inferences about the values people actually place on changes in these risks. Perhaps the most important source of information is gained by looking at decisions people make in the work place. Economists compare wages and job risks, holding other factors constant, and make inferences from these behavioral decisions. But one drawback of this work is that it looks at decisions made by a subset of the population - heathy working people between maybe 21 and 65. Are the values held by this group appropriate for all other population segments?
A Resources for the Future (RFF) working paper from last April, "Does the Value of a Statistical Life Vary with Age and Health Status? Evidence from the United States and Canada" (by Anna Alberini, Maureen Cropper, Alan Krupnick, and Nathalie B. Simon) looks at this question, and finds:
Why do we get along so well with dogs?
"It may not be news to dog owners, but now it can be said with some scientific assurance: Selective breeding over the centuries has created an animal that in some respects, at least, understands us even better than our closest primate cousins do."
Gulf Wars Episode II: The Clone of the Attack
"Gulf Wars Episode II: The Clone of the Attack"
Thanks to The Volokh Conspiracy for the "heads up."
Sorry for the delay
Sorry for not updating the blog since 11-11. I've actually been posting, but couldn't get Blogger to deliver the posts to the web site. The composition page would tell me the posts had been published - I wouldn't get an error message - but nothing had happened.
First step in solving the problem was joining (this afternoon) the "Blogger_user_support" discussion group sponsored by Yahoo.
Second step was finding the following post by "veeda00" (phil) on November 13. Phil had had exactly the same problem and had figured out the solution:
Good advice about figurative expressions
Eugene Volokh has the advice on figurative expressions from a textbook he's writing on "Academic Writing for Law Students" here:"AVOID THE FIGURATIVE, BUT NOT LIKE THE PLAGUE". Danger c(iii) of figurative writing is:
Bush Administration Environmental Policy
Monday's Washington Post has an article by Eric Pianin and Helen Dewar on the impact of the Republican victories in the recent elections on upcoming environmental issues in Congress: "Oil, Air, Energy Laws in Play.
Environmentalists Fear New Senate ".
Economics for Public Managers
"Economics for Public Managers," (PADM 293) is the UAS MPA ten week economics introduction/review (covering micro and macro). The distance class is one of the options for students to meet their economics proficiency prerequisite. Note that you must have met the economics proficiency prerequisite before taking "Economics of Public Policy" or "Public Budgetary Process." This class is normally offered every other summer, and comes up next in the Summer of 2003.
We set the dates and times at a faculty meeting yesterday. In 2003, the class will begin on Tuesday, May 13, and meet every Tuesday through Tuesday, July 15 (by starting a little earlier in 2003, we should all be able to get about six weeks of uninterrupted summer before the fall semester). Class meets from 6 PM until 9 PM.
The textbook is The Economic Way of Thinking by Heyne, Boettke, and Prychitko - 10th Edition. Students will want to get the associated workbook. I haven't decided whether or not to have an ancillary text in 2003.
In Thursday's New York Times, Alan Krueger surveyed studies on intergenerational changes in income levels and found that mobility in the U.S. is less than had been thought, in fact:
"Anders Björklund of Stockholm University and Markus Jäntti of the University of Tampere in Finland, for example, find more economic mobility in Sweden than in the United States. Only South Africa and Britain have as little mobility across generations as the United States."
L. Frank Baum
Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz and many other children's books is the subject of a new biography, reviewed favorably by Brooke Allen in today's New York Times here: "'L. Frank Baum': The Man Behind the Curtain".
Third, much of what is written in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Baum’s other children’s books is inconsistent with the allegorical interpretation. Fourth, much of what has been interpreted as political or economic symbolism in the book can be traced to other sources." (page 257)
Federal work rules
Howard Kurtz wonders, in today's Washington Post "Media" column,
"If federal personnel rules are so restrictive that Bush demanded they be waived for his new agency, why are they okay for the rest of the government?
"Why isn't it a huge problem at the Treasury or the Justice Department or the Energy Department or the EPA?
"In short, why is it so hard to fire lousy federal employees?
"The media have covered this debate as a typical political food fight: President demands new powers, Democrats beholden to labor unions, royal battle ensues (depriving them of credit for a department that, ironically, the Dems had originally demanded and Bush had resisted).
"But is the fact that the government is a management mess so ingrained in the culture of Washington that journalists simply don't find it newsworthy?
"This is not to suggest that the bureaucracy is filled with dead wood, only that it's all but impossible for managers to do any pruning without getting tied up in endless appeals.
"A 1995 survey of 5,700 government bosses by the Merit Systems Protection Board says that "very few federal managers bother" trying to get rid of incompetent staffers because they believe the process is "too complicated, time consuming or onerous." They also believe that upper management will not support them, their decisions will be reversed on appeal or they will be falsely accused of discrimination.
"The result: "Many supervisors believe it is simply not worth the effort to attempt to remove federal employees who cannot or will not perform adequately."
"As one State Department staffer recently wrote The Washington Post's Federal Diary, "by far the most frustrating aspect of my work is putting up with the gross incompetence and downright laziness of some federal employees" who "know they cannot be fired."
"Now there's a real campaign issue. But no one wants to take it on – even Bush was careful to limit his initiative to homeland security, as if everything else is chopped liver – and the media, apparently, could care less."
Moving Federal jobs to the private sector
From the New York Times today: "Government Plan May Make Private Up to 850,000 Jobs""WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 — The Bush administration said today that it would place as many as 850,000 government jobs — nearly half the federal civilian work force — up for competition from private contractors in coming years.
"Officials said the intent was to save money by ensuring the lowest cost for many routine duties like mowing lawns, picking up trash, making eyeglasses and printing paychecks. But the sweeping policy change, which could potentially lead to the shift of many thousands of jobs to the private sector, infuriated union leaders, who are already fighting the White House over labor management rules in the new Homeland Security Department...."
From "This is your brain. This is your brain on a surging stock" by Sharon Begley in today's Wall Street Journal:
"At a lab in Virginia, researchers measure brain activity in subjects who cooperate to maximize financial gain. By comparing it with the activity in people who take the money and run - but wind up with less dough - the scientists are unearthing the neuronal basis for the fundamental trust that underlies financial transactions.
"Welcome to neuroeconomics....marriage of brain science and economics...
Administration systematically pushing on NEPA
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a key environmental law, requiring evaluations of environmental impacts for a wide variety of Federal actions. The Bush Administration has been pushing on a wide variety of fronts to reduce the level of analysis required for actions - the High Country News discussed the Administration's efforts to modify NEPA requirements in transportation planning on October 28: "Bush undermines bedrock environmental law":
"'The transportation executive order follows the same pattern the administration has set for all things NEPA-related," says Rob Perks with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "'Streamlining' to us is just a code word for steamrolling.'"
"From oceans to deserts, the administration is making the case that the National Environmental Policy Act applies only to activities that could potentially cause major environmental damage.
"The Bush administration argues that the 1969 law has become a bureaucratic obstacle to action because it has been interpreted as requiring environmental impact statements even when proposed actions would obviously have no major effect. It says its goal is to cut red tape, streamline decision making and get more done...."
The source for the articles listed here was the Forest Service in the News web page maintained by the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. This is a list of links to environmentally important news stories (and some other items) from a wide range of on-line media. Many important U.S. national and regional newspapers are represented. The page is updated frequently (almost daily?).
How could we not have known? The late bubble
The Washington Post began a series on the 1995-2000 stock bubble yesterday. The theme: How did the bubble happen?
"This week, The Post will explore these questions in a series of stories that focuses on six individuals and companies at the center of the Bubble Economy. The theme running through all of them is that many of the key people involved in the economy got so caught up in the euphoria, so blinded by the financial rewards dangled in front of them, that they stopped doing their jobs -- or convinced themselves that the nature of their jobs had changed."
The Administration's post-election economic agenda
Richard Stevenson has an article on the administration's economic policy plans in today's New York Times: "Bush's Way Is Clear to Press His Agenda for the Economy". The program
"...He and Republicans in Congress have also made clear that they intend to do more to shield companies and doctors from lawsuits, continue to loosen environmental regulations and promote more international trade."
With the Fed all but sidelined, the focus is shifting to tax and spending policy...."
Cindy Skryzcki is back
Cindy Skryzcki writes a column on regulation for the Washington Post. Her column was suspended temporarily last year while she apparently took a sabbatical to write a book on regulation. She started appearing weekly again in October - you can access her recent columns, and some older ones, here: "The Regulators". This site also has links to Post stories on a range of regulatory agencies (CPSC, FCC, FEMA, FERC, FTC, NHTSA, NLRB, and SEC - check the site to find out who is who). Oddly, OSHA and EPA aren't listed.
The Arnold Kling essay linked below has some funny quotes, which reminds me about the "Jokes about economists and economics" web page. For example:
1. Economists are armed and dangerous: "Watch out for our invisible hands."
2. Economists can supply it on demand.
3. You can talk about money without every having to make any.
4. You get to say "trickle down" with a straight face.
5. Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger both studied economics and look how they turned out.
6. When you are in the unemployment line, at least you will know why you are there.
7. If you rearrange the letters in "ECONOMICS", you get "COMIC NOSE".
8. Although ethics teaches that virtue is its own reward, in economics we get taught that reward is its own virtue.
9. When you get drunk, you can tell everyone that you are just researching the law of diminishing marginal utility.
10. When you call 1-900-LUV-ECON and get Kandi Keynes, you will have something to talk about.
A skeptical view of this year's Nobel Economic Prize choices - "saltwater v sweetwater" economists
How should we judge economic theories? By the plausibility of their assumptions? By the accuracy of their predictions? A good and readable article by Arnold Kling in the Tech Central Station: "Sweetwater vs. Saltwater ".
"By these standards, I believe that this year's Nobel laureates fall short. The "experimental economics" that follows Vernon Smith has generated very few predictions about real-world markets that differ from the predictions of standard mathematical models. To the extent that there have been unique predictions, to my knowledge they have not been demonstrated to be valid in any real-world setting."
An interview with Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman shared the Nobel Prize in Economics this year (but see one of the posts yesterday). The New York Times published an article on his work by Erica Goode, and a short interview with him, today: "On Profit, Loss and the Mysteries of the Mind". A nice intorduction to his ideas, his long-time collaboration with Amos Tversky, and implications of his work for economics.
Dealing with global warming
Nations are moving towards a new approach to dealing with global warming - impact mitigation is becoming relatively more important compared to prevention. Sunday's New York Times reports on a global warming conference that closed in New Delhi on Friday: "Climate Talks Shift Focus to How to Deal With Changes"
"The emphasis on adapting is a profound turnabout from the course set a decade ago after President George Bush and other world leaders signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Though that treaty and subsequent addenda contained vague commitments by industrial nations to help vulnerable countries adapt, the emphasis was always about curbing emissions to prevent dangerous changes in the climate system.
"Adaptation got support in New Delhi because it suits both the current Bush administration, which has tried to shift debate away from emissions reductions, and developing countries, which have expressed frustration at the developed world's inertia in limiting its own emissions and its delays in pledged aid.
"At the meeting, poorer countries did not quite say it was their turn to pollute but, led by the host country, they did demand the right to grow out of destitution, a path that will require vast use of existing fuel reserves — mainly coal."
When is a Nobel Prize not a Nobel Prize?
When it's a Nobel Prize in Economics: "Nobel by association: beautiful mind, non-existent prize". (by Yves Gringas at openDemocracy).
Irrigation vs in-river flows on the Klamath River
The Wall Street Journal reports today a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) economist has done a benefit-cost analysis indicating the benefits of reducing the volume of Klamath River water used for irrigation exceed the costs. Recall that water allocation on the Klamath became a national controversy this summer when 30,000 salmon died in the river. Key paragraphs:
"The farms generate about $100 million in revenue a year, compared with almost $800 million generated by recreational activities along the Klamath and its tributaries, the report says. A resurgence in river levels would increase the recreational revenue to abut $3 billion annually by prompting more people to visit more often, the report estimates."