Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween in the Low Density Suburbs: No Walking Door to Door

The "cost of sprawl" literature continues to search for outcome measures. Does sprawl contribute to air pollution, to climate change, to obesity? Today the New York Times reports that sprawl has not destroyed Halloween for kids in exurbia. It could have because the low density homes are too far apart for kids to walk house to house.

Fortunately, the brainy parents have come up with a co-ordinated solution. They drive their vehicles to a big parking lot and the kids go from SUV to SUV to pick up their sugar snacks.

While I'm impressed with the ingenuity and co-ordination here, this is mildly funny.


October 31, 2006
Trunk or Treat! Halloween Tailgating Grows
By FERNANDA SANTOS
GARRISON, N.Y., Oct. 29 — The 6-year-old scarecrow packed his pumpkin-shaped felt basket to the rim with what seemed like a pound of sugary candy before his mother could say, “Happy Halloween.”

With a straw collar over a green shirt and orange pants, the scarecrow, Keifer Convertino, picked up a Reese’s peanut butter cup from a black Honda Pilot. Then, he grabbed some candy corn from a silver minivan and a box of Milk Duds out of the bed of a 1986 Chevy pickup truck, which was filled with six bales of hay.

“I want to go trunk-or-treating!” Keifer called out as he scampered around the school parking lot here Saturday afternoon.

“You go trick-or-treating when you go to people’s houses to get candy,” he explained for the uninitiated. “You go trunk-or-treating when you go to people’s cars to get candy, and that’s much better because you can go around the cars a million dozen times and you don’t even get tired.”

Here in Garrison, and in suburban and exurban communities across the country, trunk-or-treating is the latest twist on the quintessentially American ritual of door-to-door candy-collecting, bringing Halloween from the uncertain streets to the safety of church and school parking lots, turning the backs of minivans and sport utility vehicles into the new front porch.

Trunk-or-treating — also known as Halloween tailgating — solves the rural conundrum in which homes built a half-mile apart make the simple act of ringing doorbells require some physical fortitude. Where neighbors are strangers, these community events substitute family-friendly entertainment for the unwanted risks of what lies behind each door.

And for churches that had disdained Halloween as a pagan ritual, trunk-or-treating has become a safe alternative for parents — and pastors — who wish to keep a watchful eye on children, often encouraged to dress as biblical characters.

“We live in the country, so our kids don’t have the chance to open the door and hand out candy to another kid because no one comes to your front door on Halloween,” said M. J. Martin, P.T.A. president at the Garrison Union Free School, who had purple bat wings protruding from the back of her head for the festivities. “This is a way to celebrate Halloween with the whole family without any of us parents having to worry about whose house our kid is going to, or if the kid will get hit by a car or get lost in the woods.”

Organizers of this and several other trunk-or-treats do not know for sure how the idea came about, or where and when the first event of its kind took place. But the fad has exploded this year, with scores of communities posting open invitations on the Internet or in local newspapers.

In El Cajon, Calif., near San Diego, classic car enthusiasts decorated their rides with dangling spiders and cobwebs on Sunday, the city’s first trunk-or-treating night. In Ridgeland, Miss., a quaint city of 20,000 some 10 miles northeast of Jackson, the state’s capital, the chief of police, Jimmy R. Houston, urged parents at a radio show last week to forgo traditional trick-or-treating in favor of trunk-or-treating on Tuesday night instead.

In Graeagle, Calif., an unincorporated town of 800 residents northwest of Lake Tahoe, trunk-or-treating has been a Halloween fixture at a local church’s parking lot for at least a decade. “My wife got the idea from an article in a Christian magazine,” explained Mike Preston, pastor of the Graeagle Community Church, “and we thought of it as a way to reach out to the community and scratch an itch.”

Here in Garrison, a Putnam County hamlet 50 miles north of New York City where unpaved roads snake through thick woodlands, across steep ranges and along rushing streams, parents had for years resigned themselves to driving their costumed children for miles, trolling for treats in sparsely populated towns. Then, last year, the school — which has about 200 students from kindergarten to 8th grade — offered its first trunk-or-treat, drawing a modest, subdued crowd.

“We had about 15 cars, and not nearly as many decorations,” said Cyndi Westerhuis, 36, the P.T.A. secretary who helped spread the word about this year’s event.

By 2 p.m. on Saturday, twice as many vehicles packed the parking lot, which lay surrounded by mountains tinged orange-gold by the fall foliage. A recurring track of bone-rattling screams resonated from a white S.U.V. Smoke poured through the window of a Jeep populated by a family in military fatigues. Squeaky plastic rats with thin, long moustaches adorned the edges of a pickup truck.

Outside her dark minivan, Christine Driscoll, 36, greeted treat-seekers with a gravely voice, her face hidden behind a Darth Vader mask.

“This is great for the kids, but I’ll tell you, the parents end up having just as much fun,” Ms. Driscoll said as she wiped chocolate smears off the face of her youngest son, Terence, 2, who was dressed like the diminutive Jedi master Yoda. (Her two other boys, Denis, 4, and Henry, 6, were dressed, respectively, as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett, also of “Star Wars” fame.)

Two parking spots away, Aina and Erik Lismanis, both 37, chatted with a man in a Batman costume. The Lismanises wore colorful getups of indecipherable nature, a slapdash crossing between a clown and a rag doll. Meanwhile, their 7-year-old daughter, Anna, strutted around in knee-high platform boots and a red shirt emblazoned with a glittery skull.

“I’m a punk rocker,” Anna volunteered, and then sauntered away to get more candy, holding her best friend, Sarah Kelly, by the hand.

By then, Keifer, the scarecrow, had bounced around the parking lot at least twice, loading up his basket with as many treats as his skinny arms could carry.

Keifer’s mother, Liz Keifer, who plays Blake in the CBS soap opera “The Guiding Light,” looked at him half-disapprovingly when he asked if he could empty the basket in the car and start gathering treats all over again.

“You have enough chocolate there to last you a whole month,” Ms. Keifer exclaimed.

Her son frowned and replied, a hint of childish defiance in his voice, “I got enough candy to last me just two days.”

Abby Gruen contributed reporting.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Massachusetts Vehicle License Applications Offer a "Freakonomics" Data Set Opportunity

My Massachusetts drivers license expires next February. Looking over my application for a new license, I see that I am asked to report my current zip code, my sex, my social-security number, my age and whether I have had a sex change. The question asks "Check here if sex designation has changed. Change sex designation to Male, Female"

How could a creative economist use this data, if she had a representative sample of say 10 million data points? Let's suppose that this researcher used the social security number to merge IRS tax data to this drivers' license application.

1. One could study the relationship between having a sex change and personal income. I would presume that richer people are more likely to have a sex change but I don't know how much of a subsidy the state provides. If the IRS offered several years of tax returns, do incomes rise for women who become men? Even if you couldn't merge this data to the IRS data, you could use average zip code income levels to crudely test some hypotheses.

2. After a sex change, do people move from "conservative" zip codes (based on voting percentages in the 2004 election for Bush) to "liberal" zip codes? Or do people who live in such conservative communities, never have sex changes?

3. At what age are sex changes most likely to take place?

4. Do tall men avoid having sex changes (all else equal)?

I'm not sure what would be the public policy implications of this study but I have a feeling that people would want to know the answers to these questions.

On second thought there is one final question here on the license application that has public policy implications.

"Do You want to be an organ donor?"

5. I would use this information to test some altruism hypotheses. Are richer people more likely to be organ donors? Are people who live in "liberal" zip codes more likely to organ donors?

London's Policy Exchange to publish "Living for the City" Next Week

London's Policy Exchange will publish a good book next week. It is titled "Living for the City". I know its good because the book includes an essay of mine that builds on some of my Green Cities' book key themes.

Here is their blurb (for more details see http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/)

LIVING FOR THE CITY: A new agenda for green cities

Michelangelo claimed he loved cities above all, finding no salvation in nature. For many people today, though, cities mean the social problems of pollution, congestion, overcrowding and robbery. They are a fact of life, to be accepted rather than questioned, endured rather than understood.

But how do we live in cities today? How does city design affect our lives? How can we make cities healthier and more pleasant places to live for all their inhabitants?


“Living for the City” addresses these important issues. It questions the basic assumptions on which much recent British government policy has been based. And it argues for a crucial and unexpected linkage between three things: “direct democracy” or greater citizen participation in community action and local decision-making; greener, healthier and safer city environments; and improved economic growth. In so doing, it sets the scene for a new centre-right agenda for cities.

Here is an exciting event that I won't be able to attend.
"We are holding a launch event at Policy Exchange in Westminster at 6.30 pm on Monday, 6 November 2006, with speakers including Rt Hon John Gummer MP, Co-Chair of the Quality of Life Policy Group and Kate Davies, Chief Executive of the Notting Hill Housing Trust."

Instead, next monday I'll be speaking at Penn State. Ed Coulson was kind enough to invite me to give a seminar there.

Media Bias? Why Aren't Academic Economists Being Quoted on Climate Change Policy?

Climate Change mitigation and adaptation policies are in the news. Below, I give a link for a long UK report. Today, the New York Times has a long front page article about the challenges for achieving "green innovation" to reduce greenhouse gases per dollar of world GNP.

The Times article is interesting but I was surprised by the lack of discussion of how we are judge what is "good public policy" here. Very few economists were quoted here yet this looks like a classic incentives issue.

Over the last couple of days, the New York Times has argued that we are under-investing in preparing for a flu epidemic and today it argues that we are under-investing in green technologies. To take the next step in this public goods debate requires analyzing what is the right way for the government to offer incentives to scientists? Should there be a prize system? "Anyone who comes up with a great idea gets a Billion dollars from U.S taxpayers"

Alternatively, we could give more money to the National Science Foundation and this Foundation could make larger grants to academic engineering schools. Alternatively, we could attempt to pre-commit to higher energy prices and wait for the free market to enage in "induced innovation".

What incentives are most cost efficient at greening our economy? What is the political economy of implementing such incentives or will some interest group block them from being implemented?



http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm

New York Times
October 30, 2006
The Energy Challenge
Budgets Falling in Race to Fight Global Warming
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

DENVER — Cheers fit for a revival meeting swept a hotel ballroom as 1,800 entrepreneurs and experts watched a PowerPoint presentation of the most promising technologies for limiting global warming: solar power, wind, ethanol and other farmed fuels, energy-efficient buildings and fuel-sipping cars.

“Houston,” Charles F. Kutscher, chairman of the Solar 2006 conference, concluded in a twist on the line from Apollo 13, “we have a solution.”

Hold the applause. For all the enthusiasm about alternatives to coal and oil, the challenge of limiting emissions of carbon dioxide, which traps heat, will be immense in a world likely to add 2.5 billion people by midcentury, a host of other experts say. Moreover, most of those people will live in countries like China and India, which are just beginning to enjoy an electrified, air-conditioned mobile society.

The challenge is all the more daunting because research into energy technologies by both government and industry has not been rising, but rather falling.

In the United States, annual federal spending for all energy research and development — not just the research aimed at climate-friendly technologies — is less than half what it was a quarter-century ago. It has sunk to $3 billion a year in the current budget from an inflation-adjusted peak of $7.7 billion in 1979, according to several different studies.

Britain, for one, has sounded a loud alarm about the need for prompt action on the climate issue, including more research. [A report commissioned by the British government and scheduled to be released today calls for spending to be doubled worldwide on research into low-carbon technologies; without it, the report says, coastal flooding and a shortage of drinking water could turn 200 million people into refugees.]

President Bush has sought an increase to $4.2 billion for 2007, but that would still be a small fraction of what most climate and energy experts say would be needed.

Federal spending on medical research, by contrast, has nearly quadrupled, to $28 billion annually, since 1979. Military research has increased 260 percent, and at more than $75 billion a year is 20 times the amount spent on energy research.

Internationally, government energy research trends are little different from those in the United States. Japan is the only economic power that increased research spending in recent decades, with growth focused on efficiency and solar technology, according to the International Energy Agency.

In the private sector, studies show that energy companies have a long tradition of eschewing long-term technology quests because of the lack of short-term payoffs.

Still, more than four dozen scientists, economists, engineers and entrepreneurs interviewed by The New York Times said that unless the search for abundant non-polluting energy sources and systems became far more aggressive, the world would probably face dangerous warming and international strife as nations with growing energy demands compete for increasingly inadequate resources.

Most of these experts also say existing energy alternatives and improvements in energy efficiency are simply not enough.

“We cannot come close to stabilizing temperatures” unless humans, by the end of the century, stop adding more CO2 to the atmosphere than it can absorb, said W. David Montgomery of Charles River Associates, a consulting group, “and that will be an economic impossibility without a major R.& D. investment.”

A sustained push is needed not just to refine, test and deploy known low-carbon technologies, but also to find “energy technologies that don’t have a name yet,” said James A. Edmonds, a chief scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute of the University of Maryland and the Energy Department.

At the same time, many energy experts and economists agree on another daunting point: To make any resulting “alternative” energy options the new norm will require attaching a significant cost to the carbon emissions from coal, oil and gas.

“A price incentive stirs people to look at a thousand different things,’ ” said Henry D. Jacoby, a climate and energy expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For now, a carbon cap or tax is opposed by President Bush, most American lawmakers and many industries. And there are scant signs of consensus on a long-term successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the first treaty obligating participating industrial countries to cut warming emissions. (The United States has not ratified the pact.)

The next round of talks on Kyoto and an underlying voluntary treaty will take place next month in Nairobi, Kenya.

Environmental campaigners, focused on promptly establishing binding limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases, have tended to play down the need for big investments seeking energy breakthroughs. At the end of “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary film on climate change, he concluded: “We already know everything we need to know to effectively address this problem.”

While applauding Mr. Gore’s enthusiasm, many energy experts said this stance was counterproductive because there was no way, given global growth in energy demand, that existing technology could avert a doubling or more of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide in this century.

Mr. Gore has since adjusted his stance, saying existing technology is sufficient to start on the path to a stable climate.

Other researchers say the chances of success are so low, unless something breaks the societal impasse, that any technology quest should also include work on increasing the resilience to climate extremes — through actions like developing more drought-tolerant crops — as well as last-ditch climate fixes, like testing ways to block some incoming sunlight to counter warming.

Without big reductions in emissions, the midrange projections of most scenarios envision a rise of 4 degrees or so in this century, four times the warming in the last 100 years. That could, among other effects, produce a disruptive mix of intensified flooding and withering droughts in the world’s prime agricultural regions.

Sir Nicholas Stern, the chief of Britain’s economic service and author of the new government report on climate options, has summarized the cumulative nature of the threat succinctly: “The sting is in the tail.”

The Carbon Dioxide Problem

Many factors intersect to make the prompt addressing of global warming very difficult, experts say.

A central hurdle is that carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere like unpaid credit card debt as long as emissions exceed the rate at which the gas is naturally removed from the atmosphere by the oceans and plants. But the technologies producing the emissions evolve slowly.

A typical new coal-fired power plant, one of the largest sources of emissions, is expected to operate for many decades. About one large coal-burning plant is being commissioned a week, mostly in China.

“We’ve got a $12 trillion capital investment in the world energy economy and a turnover time of 30 to 40 years,” said John P. Holdren, a physicist and climate expert at Harvard University and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “If you want it to look different in 30 or 40 years, you’d better start now.”

Many experts say this means the only way to affordably speed the transition to low-emissions energy is with advances in technologies at all stages of maturity.

Examples include:

¶ Substantially improving the efficiency and cost of solar panels;

¶ Conducting full-scale tests of systems for capturing carbon dioxide from power plants and pumping it underground;

¶ Seeking efficient ways to generate fuels from crops;

¶ Finding new ways to store vast amounts of energy harvested intermittently from the wind and sun.

Carbon dioxide levels will stabilize only if each generation persists in developing and deploying alternatives to unfettered fossil-fuel emissions, said Robert H. Socolow, a physicist and co-director of a Princeton “carbon mitigation initiative” created with $20 million from BP and Ford Motor.

The most immediate gains could come simply by increasing energy efficiency. If efficiency gains in transportation, buildings, power transmission and other areas were doubled from the longstanding rate of 1 percent per year to 2 percent, Dr. Holdren wrote in the M.I.T. journal Innovations earlier this year, that could hold the amount of new nonpolluting energy required by 2100 to the amount derived from fossil fuels in 2000 —a huge challenge, but not impossible.

Another area requiring immediate intensified work, Dr. Holdren and other experts say, is large-scale demonstration of systems for capturing carbon dioxide from coal burning before too many old-style plants are built.

All of the components for capturing carbon dioxide and disposing of it underground are already in use, particularly in oil fields, where pressurized carbon dioxide is used to drive the last dregs of oil from the ground.

In this area, said David Keith, an energy expert at the University of Calgary, “We just need to build the damn things on a billion-dollar scale.”

In the United States, the biggest effort along these lines is the 285-megawatt Futuregen power plant planned by the Energy Department, along with private and international partners, that was announced in 2003 by President Bush and is scheduled to be built in either Illinois or Texas by 2012. James L. Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the Bush administration was making this a high priority.

“We share the view that a significantly more aggressive agenda on carbon capture and storage and zero-pollution coal is necessary,” he said, adding that the administration has raised annual spending on storage options “from essentially zero to over $70 million.”

Europe is pursuing a suite of such plants, including one in China, but also well behind the necessary pace, several experts said.

Even within the Energy Department, some experts are voicing frustration over the pace of such programs. “What I don’t like about Futuregen,” said Dr. Kutscher, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., “is the word ‘future’ in there.”

Beyond a Holding Action

No matter what happens in the next decade or so, many experts say, the second and probably hardest phase of stabilizing the level of carbon dioxide will fall to the generation of engineers and entrepreneurs now in diapers, and the one after that. And those innovators will not have much to build on without greatly increased investment now in basic research.

There is plenty of ferment. Current research ranges from work on algae strains that can turn sunlight into hydrogen fuel to the inkjet-style printing of photovoltaic cells — a technique that could greatly cut solar-energy costs if it worked on a large scale. One company is promoting high-flying kite-like windmills to harvest the boundless energy in the jet stream.

But all of the small-scale experimentation will never move into the energy marketplace without a much bigger push not only for research and development, but for the lesser-known steps known as demonstration and deployment.

In this arena, there is a vital role for government spending, many experts agree, particularly on “enabling technologies” — innovations that would never be pursued by private industry because they mainly amount to a public good, not a potential source of profit, said Christopher Green, an economist at McGill University.

Examples include refining ways to securely handle radioactive waste from nuclear reactors; testing repositories for carbon dioxide captured at power plants; and, perhaps more important, improving the electricity grid so that it can manage large flows from intermittent sources like windmills and solar panels.

“Without storage possibilities on a large scale,” Mr. Green said, “solar and wind will be relegated to niche status.”

While private investors and entrepreneurs are jumping into alternative energy projects, they cannot be counted on to solve such problems, economists say, because even the most aggressive venture capitalists want a big payback within five years.

Many scientists say the only real long-term prospect for significantly substituting for fossil fuels is a breakthrough in harvesting solar power. This has been understood since the days of Thomas Edison. In a conversation with Henry Ford and the tire tycoon Harvey Firestone in 1931, shortly before Edison died, he said: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

California, following models set in Japan and Germany, is trying to help solar energy with various incentives.

But such initiatives mainly pull existing technologies into the market, experts say, and do little to propel private research toward the next big advances. Even Vinod Khosla, a leading environment-oriented venture capitalist who invests heavily in ethanol and other alternative energy projects, said in an interview that he was not ready to back solar power because it did not appear able to show a profit without subsidies.

The Role of Leadership

At the federal level, the Bush administration was criticized by Republican and Democratic lawmakers at several recent hearings on climate change.

Mr. Connaughton, the lead White House official on the environment, said most critics are not aware of how much has been done.

“This administration has developed the most sophisticated and carefully considered strategic plan for advancing the technologies that are a necessary part of the climate solution,” he said. He added that the administration must weigh tradeoffs with other pressing demands like health care.

Since 2001, when Mr. Bush abandoned a campaign pledge to limit carbon dioxide from power plants, he has said that too little is known about specific dangers of global warming to justify hard targets or mandatory curbs for the gas.

He has also asserted that any solution will lie less in regulation than in innovation.

“My answer to the energy question also is an answer to how you deal with the greenhouse-gas issue, and that is new technologies will change how we live,” he said in May.

But critics, including some Republican lawmakers, now say that mounting evidence for risks — including findings that administration officials have tried to suppress of late — justifies prompt, more aggressive action to pay for or spur research and speed the movement of climate-friendly energy options into the marketplace.

Martin I. Hoffert, an emeritus professor of physics at New York University, said that what was needed was for a leader to articulate the energy challenge as President John F. Kennedy made his case for the mission to the moon. President Kennedy said they were imperative, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

In a report on competitiveness and research released last year, the National Academies, the country’s top science advisory body, urged the government to substantially expand spending on long-term basic research, particularly on energy.

The report, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” recommended that the Energy Department create a research-financing body similar to the 48-year-old Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, to make grants and attack a variety of energy questions, including climate change.

Darpa, created after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, was set up outside the sway of Congress to provide advances in areas like weapons, surveillance and defensive systems. But it also produced technologies like the Internet and the global positioning system for navigation.

Mr. Connaughton said it would be premature to conclude that a new agency was needed for energy innovation.

But many experts, from oil-industry officials to ecologists, agree that the status quo for energy research will not suffice.

The benefits of an intensified energy quest would go far beyond cutting the risks of dangerous climate change, said Roger H. Bezdek, an economist at Management Information Systems, a consulting group.

The world economy, he said, is facing two simultaneous energy challenges beyond global warming: the end of relatively cheap and easy oil, and the explosive demand for fuel in developing countries.

Advanced research should be diversified like an investment portfolio, he said. “The big payoff comes from a small number of very large winners,” he said. “Unfortunately, we cannot pick the winners in advance.”

Ultimately, a big increase in government spending on basic energy research will happen only if scientists can persuade the public and politicians that it is an essential hedge against potential calamity.

That may be the biggest hurdle of all, given the unfamiliar nature of the slowly building problem — the antithesis of epochal events like Pearl Harbor, Sputnik and 9/11 that triggered sweeping enterprises.

“We’re good at rushing in with white hats,” said Bobi Garrett, associate director of planning and technology management at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “This is not a problem where you can do that.”

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Preparing to Pre-Empt a World Flu Epidemic

Usually, I am bored by the New York Times editorial page. It is too predictable and negative for my tastes. But, on saturday I found a rare interesting unsigned editorial that I reproduce below.

The Times is asking the Bush Administration to provide some global leadership by allocating more $ to fight the flu. Clearly this is a classic issue of world free rider problem. Everyone would benefit if some rich nation paid the resources to come up with a vaccine. But who will be this noble nation?

The editorial goes on below to briefly discuss the hazards of chickens and humans living in close proximity. Maybe sprawl isn't so bad if suburbanites live far from chicken farms?

The interesting issue this editorial raises concerns risk perception. If I surveyed a representative sample of people in the U.S how afraid are they of terrorist attacks versus the flu? Would their subjective probabilities of different threats match objective probabilities?


October 28, 2006
Editorial
Preparations for a Flu Pandemic

The World Health Organization’s new plan for ramping up the production of flu vaccine is a measure of how unprepared the world is to cope with an onslaught of pandemic influenza. The plan, conceived by a group of more than 120 experts, lays out a sensible path toward vaccine sufficiency— but it will take years to complete and cost up to $10 billion.

There are no signs yet that the influenza strain causing the greatest concern — a virulent form of avian flu — is ready to sweep through human populations. So far it has infected only 256 people in 10 countries — mostly people in close contact with chickens in Asia — but the highly lethal pathogen has killed some 60 percent of those.

Fortunately, it has not yet developed the ability to spread easily from one person to another, the critical transition for unleashing a pandemic. But if this strain or another does, it will move so rapidly there will be little chance of containing it — unless we start preparing now.

This week, the W.H.O. warned that if a flu pandemic were to occur, the global vaccine supply would fall several billion doses short. It recommended three overlapping responses: increasing the use of vaccines in the normal flu season so that manufacturers are encouraged to expand capacity; new techniques to raise production yields; and development of more potent vaccines that could provide broad and long-lasting immunity.

The price tag would be $3 billion to $10 billion for a global effort that might yield results in three to five years, provided action started now. The Bush administration’s pledge of $10 million to W.H.O. to help other countries develop vaccines and manufacturing capacity is prompt but woefully short.

The administration has also invested substantially in vaccine research, including $1 billion to develop new cell-based technologies that would allow rapid expansion of production in an emergency. Although those investments are primarily for our own benefit, the knowledge generated is likely to help others around the world.

Still, both the American and global efforts ought to be intensified. The administration’s goal of being able to make enough vaccine quickly to protect all Americans is also probably four to five years away. Neither America nor the rest of the world is yet ready to handle a worst-case pandemic.

Self-fulfilling Prophesies and Global Carbon Trading

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, polluters need incentives encouraging them not to pollute. A credible global carbon trading market would provide such an incentive encouraging innovation and adoption of emissions reducing techniques.

The Financial Times reported yesterday on its front page:


"The global market for trading carbon emissions is set for a massive boost with a UK government report on Monday proposing a huge expansion of trading and Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, yesterday unveiling plans to invest Dollars 3bn (Pounds 1.6bn) in carbon credits.

Morgan Stanley gave a further boost to carbon emissions markets yesterday with plans to invest Dollars 3bn, mostly in carbon credits, enabling it to participate in developing carbon markets around the world. A trading system for carbon would provide incentives for polluters to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions or help others to do so."

If we take Morgan Stanley to be a "typical" Wall Street company then this suggests that the smart money believes that carbon trading will become a "global real market".

So, suppose you are a lobbyist for a coal fired electric utility plant that produces lots of greenhouse gases. This lobbyist is starting to lose the opportunity to claim that such pollution trading markets represent an academic economist's "Ivy Tower" theorizing but wouldn't work in the "real world".

These lobbyists will probably continue to argue that carbon taxes will raise energy prices for consumers. This is an incidence question. They may also lower electric utility profits for "dirty plants". Faced with higher prices for "dirty fuels", Consumers who want the win/win of cheap power and the absence of climate change will need to vote with their wallet and seek greener durables.

Pollution trading markets are a "free market environmentalist" approach for mitigating key pollution problems. It would be almost funny if Democrats in 2008 voice support for such markets while Republicans say "no thanks". Neo-classical economists try to be more consistent in their support for market based solutions for improving our over all standard of living.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Harvard Crimson's Analysis of Clean Toliets and Public Health

This article claims that empirical researchers discovered that only 83% of adults wash their hands after going to the bathroom. I hope the remaining 17% don't live in Boston! While urban economists celebrate the positive externalities offered by density, we can't forget that public health threats sometimes still lurk.

As an environmental economist, what interests me in these quirky case studies is what we learn about how we share common space. The old question is ; "under what circumstances would there not be a Tragedy of the Commons"? We know we can privatize the commons but I've continued to argue that social capital could help here.

Or , we could all be forced to watch that Seinfeld with PePe the chef cooking for Jerry and his date.


Magazine
Treacherous Toilets
Published On 10/25/2006 9:40:16 PM
By LOGAN R. URY
Contributing Writer

Unless you’re bringing a fork and knife to the bathroom, there’s no reason to fear sharing a toilet with sixteen of your closest friends.

“There’s nothing you can get off a toilet seat, unless you ate off of it,” Harvard University Health Services (UHS) Chief of Medicine Soheyla D. Gharib writes in an e-mail.

“Most disease transmission occurs by mucus membrane to mucus membrane contact, coughing, food handling by people with infections such as hepatitis, sharing utensils, or sharing needles,” writes Gharib.

Popular Science Magazine seconds Gharib, confirming that illnesses like influenza and strep throat can’t make the leap from the seat to your immune system.

Your germ-phobe mom wasn’t totally wrong, though.

The New York University Medical Center’s website lists “toilet seats” among the risk factors for pediculosis pubis, commonly known as pubic lice.

Don’t let this news get you crabby—preventing a parasite paradise is easy. Make sure that your toilet seat is Harvard-Yale tailgate-dry before covering it with a toilet seat cover. Afterwards, wash your hands with soap and water. Simple, right?

Maybe not. A 2005 study by the American Society for Microbiology found that while 91 percent of American adults claim they scrub their hands post-loo, researchers in four cities discovered that a mere 83 percent actually washed.

So quit worrying about your toilet and take a tip from gross-out king Howard Stern. Even he, a man who farts into his microphone, refuses to shake hands.

http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=515243



http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=515243

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Odd Environmental News: Treated Sewage to be Used to Build a "Natural Buffer" Near New Orleans

A couple of years ago a talented Tufts University PHD student named Kayo Tajima wrote her thesis on the market for "night soil" in Japan long ago. Urbanites would sell their waste to farmers who used it as a nitrate input in growing agricultural products. Now that was a closed loop general equilibrium! Ecological economists always talk about reducing waste by turning this "output" into another "input" in another production process.

This article on yahoo today tells a similar story. I must reveal my ignorance here. Will these new buffers smell bad? What is the downside of treated sewage? This article makes it sound like a cheap "wall". Is this true? Is treated sewage, when turned into a wall, a potential public health disaster?


Treated sewage to restore New Orleans swamps

by Russell McCulley Sun Oct 22, 2:42 PM ET

Louisiana is planning to use millions of gallons of treated sewage to restore swamps surrounding New Orleans to help protect the city from disasters like last year's Hurricane Katrina.

Ecologists say the treated waste will help stimulate the growth of the region's vanishing cypress swamps, which provide a natural buffer for deadly Gulf of Mexico hurricanes.

"It sounds way out there, but a number of these sites exist across the coast," said Jerry Duszynski, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

"It's not a new idea, but it hasn't been done on this scale before."

The 40 million dollar project will divert treated wastewater from New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish to an area east of New Orleans, where saltwater intrusion has destroyed what was once an expansive cypress forest. The project targets restoring 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of eroding wetlands in the area.

The treated sewage will help push out the salt water that was swept into the swamps and ensure the right balance of nutrients and fresh water, said John Day, professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University.

The effluent will also stimulate the growth of new cypress trees which could reach a height of 30 feet (nine meters) in a decade.

"If that cypress swamp had still been in place, we wouldn't have had the damage we had in St. Bernard Parish," Day said.

Hurricane Katrina swept ashore in the early morning of August 29, 2005, killing more than 1,500 people along the US Gulf Coast and flooding 80 percent of New Orleans.

The plan to use sewage to rebuild the coastal swamps is one of many proposals designed to address the state's rapidly diminishing coastline, where wildlife-rich estuaries and marshlands on the gulf and near the mouth of the Mississippi River have been sinking at a rate of some 15,320 acres (6,200 hectares) per year since the 1930s.

Last year's twin punishing hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, accelerated the trend, gobbling up 138,875 acres (56,200 hectares) of Louisiana's coast in less than a month, according to a recent report by the US Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center.

Intense oil and gas exploration, logging, levees built to constrain the Mississippi's natural flooding and an extensive network of navigation canals have contributed to decades of coastal erosion.

Scientists and environmental activists say wetland loss exacerbated the damage caused by last year's storms, and that coastal restoration must be a key element in making the area safer from hurricanes.

Federal legislation approved before the 2005 hurricanes allocated 530 million dollars over four years to help Louisiana ameliorate coastal erosion.

A restoration plan that includes waste water assimilation, river diversion projects, barrier island protection and marsh restoration using piped-in sediment deposits is expected to be unveiled by the end of 2006, Duszynski said.

The state has also sued the federal Minerals Management Service that oversees oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico for allegedly using outdated coastal erosion data when it put vast tracts of offshore exploration leases up for bid earlier this year.

Louisiana wants a greater share of the seven billion dollars in royalties from those leases to fund coastal restoration.

Eighty percent of the United States' domestic oil and gas production comes ashore in Louisiana, said Sidney Coffee, chair of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

"Those pipelines all touch our shore, those holding units are on our shore. Everything that happens to get that product to the rest of the nation happens on our shore," Coffee said. "What happens offshore in Louisiana is extremely critical for the rest of the nation."

But federal government money needed for restoration is still not flowing, activists say.

"All of the billions of dollars committed after Katrina largely went to patching the holes in the levee system," said Mark Davis, executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a 20-year-old consortium of environmental groups, businesses and local government agencies. "But none went toward securing a brighter future."

Davis said last year's alarming loss of coastline should serve as a warning to the businesses and shipping interests who have long fought efforts to close some navigation canals.

Some of those canals, like the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, are said to have contributed to the catastrophic flooding in St. Bernard Parish and Eastern New Orleans during Katrina.

"You have to get them to understand that if we don't do something about the coastline, there's no future here," he said.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bridging Social Capital and Cultural Divides

In his research on social capital, Robert Putnam has made the distinction between bridging and bonding. If I might quote our new authority on all topics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital

"Putnam speaks of two main components of the concept: bonding social capital and bridging social capital. The former refers to the value assigned to social networks between homogeneous groups of people and the latter to that of social networks between socially heterogeneous groups. Typical examples are that criminal gangs create bonding social capital, while choirs and bowling clubs (hence the title, as Putnam lamented their decline) create bridging social capital. Bridging social capital is argued to have a host of other benefits for societies, governments, individuals, and communities; Putnam likes to note that joining an organization cuts in half an individual's chance of dying within the next year.

The distinction is useful in highlighting how social capital may not always be beneficial for society as a whole (though it is always an asset for those individuals and groups involved). Horizontal networks of individual citizens and groups that enhance community productivity and cohesion are said to be positive social capital assets whereas self-serving exclusive gangs and hierarchical patronage systems that operate at cross purposes to societal interests can be thought of as negative social capital burdens on society."

This is relevant for this politically incorrect discussion that Tony Blair and other UK politicians have started. See the New York Times below.

In Europe and the United States, are there any incentives that can be used (carrots not sticks!) to encourage people to interact with people who look different than them? Would social cohesion and mutual understanding be higher if people engaged in more "bridging social capital"?


My wife and I are writing a book about bonding social capital during the U.S Civil War. You should go to her MIT webpage to read the core papers:
see http://web.mit.edu/costa/www/papers.html


October 18, 2006
Blair Criticizes Full Islamic Veils as ‘Mark of Separation’
By ALAN COWELL
LONDON, Oct. 17 — Prime Minister Tony Blair joined a passionate and increasingly contentious debate on Tuesday over the full-face veils worn by some British Muslim women, calling it a “mark of separation.”

It was the first time Mr. Blair had so explicitly backed Jack Straw, the leader of the House of Commons, who raised Muslim ire this month by saying he did not believe that women should wear the full-face veil, a headdress with only a narrow slit for the eyes. Mr. Straw had asked Muslim women meeting with him to remove their veils, arguing that it prevented communication and set the wearer apart.

“It is a mark of separation, and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable,” Mr. Blair said at a regular news conference, echoing some of Mr. Straw’s sentiments.

His remarks reflected a sense that British society is heading toward ever deeper fissures between Muslims and non-Muslims, evoking questions about the nation’s readiness to embrace Muslims, and Muslims’ willingness to adapt.

The discussion mirrors earlier public disputes in France, Turkey and elsewhere about head scarves, though in Britain it is largely limited to the use of the full-face veil, the niqab.

“No one wants to say that people don’t have the right to do it,” Mr. Blair said. “That is to take it too far. But I think we need to confront this issue about how we integrate people properly into our society.”

There were signs that the dispute had spread farther across Europe. In an interview in Italy, Prime Minister Romano Prodi was quoted Tuesday as saying that women should not be hidden behind veils.

“You can’t cover your face; you must be seen,” Mr. Prodi told Reuters. “This is common sense, I think. It is important for our society.”

In Muslim societies, the full veil is sometimes worn to shield a woman from the view of men outside her immediate family. The debate about its use among a small number of British Muslims has crystallized around Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant suspended by a local council for refusing to remove her full-face veil during class in the presence of male teachers.

Mr. Blair said he could “see the reason” for Mrs. Azmi to be suspended from her job at a Church of England school in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, where there is a substantial Muslim minority. Within hours, her lawyers issued a statement accusing Mr. Blair of interfering in a labor tribunal case and demanding a retraction.

“We have to deal with the debate,” Mr. Blair said. “People want to know that the Muslim community in particular, but actually all minority communities, have got the balance right between integration and multi-culturalism.”

The debate is characterized by Muslims as a symbol of the stigma they face among the non-Muslim majority.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said in an open letter that some Muslims had been considering changing their names “to avoid anti-Muslim remarks.”

“This is what happens when a community is singled out by those at the helm of affairs,” he said.

Non-Muslims say the veil-wearing shows a reluctance among the estimated 1.6 million Muslims — 3 percent of the population — to compromise for the sake of social harmony. David Davis, the Conservative opposition spokesman on home affairs, said last weekend that British Muslims risked “voluntary apartheid” by displays of separateness like the full veil.

The gulf has been widening since the London bombings by four British Muslims on July 7, 2005, but the argument has sharpened in recent weeks. After Mr. Straw questioned the wearing of the niqab in early October, a government education minister, Phil Woolas, went further last weekend, calling for Mrs. Azmi, the teaching assistant, to be dismissed. Other government ministers, now including Mr. Blair, have joined the debate.

The discussion spills over into Britain’s broader embroilment in the campaign against terrorism and the war in Iraq. Mr. Blair and others say Muslims must do more to police their own ranks, while some Muslims say Britain’s deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan accelerates the radicalization of young Muslims like the London bombers.

Last week Britain’s new army commander, Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, said British troops should be pulled out from Iraq “some time soon.”

But Mr. Blair said Tuesday: “If we walk away before the job is done from either of those two countries, we will leave a situation in which the very people we are fighting everywhere, including the extremism in our own country, are heartened and emboldened, and we can’t afford that to happen. So we have got to see that job through.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Behavioral Economics, Self Control and Diabetes

Behavioral economists have not devoted enough attention to the self control problems of type 2 diabetics and people at risk to become type 2 diabetics. Intuitive lifestyle modification (exercising more, smoking less, losing weight) could reduce the likelihood of diabetes. Conditional that one is a type 2 diabetic, this person
is told upon diagnosis that terrible complications such as amputation and blindness await them unless they make lifestyle changes.

The mystery is that many diabetics do not respond to this information by adjusting their behavior. Possible explanations; 1. they don't believe their doctor, 2. they are highly impatient, 3. they are technological optimists who believe that ex-post that a "magic pill" will save them.

Type 2 diabetes is a great example of population heterogeneity. How can doctors harness incentives, family peer pressure and other mechanisms to encourage diabetics to take control of their lives? This would appear to be an interesting case of the overlap of sociology and social networks and behavioral economics in the production of being a healthy person

Here is the New York Times

October 17, 2006
Prospects
When Advice on Diabetes Is Sound, but Ignored
By GINA KOLATA

Ask any diabetes specialist whether people can protect themselves from Type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise and the answer will be a resounding yes. It has been shown three times, in studies in three countries, one of them the United States.

Weight loss and exercise can do more than just stave off diabetes, diabetes specialists will tell you. They can result in lower blood pressure, lower levels of cholesterol, less sleep apnea, more vigor and, in general, a better life.

But if you ask how likely it is that people at high risk of diabetes will follow the advice to diet and exercise, or about using a drug instead, you will get a different sort of answer.

It is a classic conundrum in medicine: if doctors know that patients can help themselves without taking drugs, but they also know that patients are not likely to follow this advice, what should they do?

Should diabetes specialists even bother to advise patients to try helping themselves through diet and exercise first, before prescribing drugs?

A large federal study, completed several years ago, seemed to make a compelling case that they should. A third of its 3,234 participants were assigned to a low-fat, low-calorie diet and told to exercise for 150 minutes a week. The others were given a placebo or were given metformin, a diabetes drug available as an inexpensive generic.

After an average of three years, just 14.1 percent of those in the diet and exercise group had developed diabetes. In contrast, 28.9 percent of participants taking the placebo had diabetes, and 21.7 percent of those taking metformin.

But the diet and exercise program was nothing like what an ordinary person might expect. The participants got extensive individual counseling and group support, at a cost of $1,356 a person the first year and $672 in each subsequent year. Even so, they shed only about 12 pounds after four years, or 4 percent of their initial weight. Most were continuing with their exercise program, though. If a large health plan decided to offer the same program for its members at risk for diabetes, the plan’s price for every member would rise by 1 percent, said Dr. David Eddy, the medical director of Archimedes Inc., a health care consulting company. Over 30 years, 61 percent of the people at risk would develop diabetes, as compared with 72 percent if no such program were instituted.

Last month, another study showed that a newer diabetes drug, rosiglitazone, might be more effective than either metformin or diet and exercise. Over three years, it reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 60 percent in people with elevated blood sugar levels.

Both drugs are relatively safe. Patients may lose about five pounds if they take metformin; other than that its major side effect is gastrointestinal disturbances, like a sense of fullness or soft bowel movements. Patients may gain about five pounds with rosiglitazone, about half of which is from fluid retention. That increases the risk of heart failure in people with heart disease.

But with the drugs’ effectiveness in preventing diabetes, maybe, some specialists say, doctors will soon view blood sugar as they do blood pressure or cholesterol. As soon as they spot an abnormally high level, they will whip out their prescription pads.

Already, health authorities have ventured along that path. International treatment guidelines once said that the first step for patients with full spectrum Type 2 diabetes was to exercise and lose weight. Only after patients had tried that and utterly failed were doctors to prescribe drugs.

As of August, however, the guidelines have changed.

“We recommend starting patients on metformin immediately,” said Dr. David M. Nathan, who directs the diabetes center at Massachusetts General Hospital and is a member of the group that formulated the new guidelines. “Don’t start with lifestyle alone, even for newly diagnosed people. Most end up failing the lifestyle recommendations.”

He added: “What classically happened was that the patients would take three months and try to diet. It wouldn’t work. Then they joined a health club. It didn’t work. Then they take another three months and try some more. By the time they were on effective therapy, they had had diabetes for years and years.”

In developing the new guidelines, the group reasoned that the consequences of untreated diabetes — which can include heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and amputations — are too dire to allow high blood sugar levels to persist.

But that does not necessarily mean that drugs should be the first choice for people with so-called prediabetes, who have elevated blood sugar levels but have not yet developed the disease.

Or so says Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University Medical School. Dr. Wing helped develop the diet and exercise program for the federal study of prediabetes.

Drugs, she said, should be a last resort for people with prediabetes. The answer to the problem of poor compliance with diet and exercise programs is to develop better ways of encouraging people to follow them, she said.

“If you have a problem that can be solved with a lifestyle change, you have to work on how to do that, how to bring it to people,” Dr. Wing said. “We have to change the system.”

For example, she said, there could be lists of effective programs for weight loss and exercise so doctors would stop telling patients to simply “lose weight” and say instead, “Join this program.”

Yet, if people know that a drug can solve their problem, how much incentive is there to change their diet and exercise patterns?

“The behaviorists say that if you have a medication available, you can hang up the idea that the patients will try lifestyle,” Dr. Nathan said.

Still, he said, “as a realist, it seems to me that the truth is that whatever your thoughts are on the importance of self-control and willpower and profligacy, and that we shouldn’t be such pigs, that we should exercise more, the truth is that we are what we are.”

Dr. Nathan added, “We have recognized that although lifestyle can be miraculously effective, it often isn’t, because people won’t change.”

Green Cities: The 45 Minute Lecture

Can a 160 page book be boiled down to a 45 minute lecture? I doubt that Hollywood is going to call me to turn my new book Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment into a movie so its up to me to make this book a "multi-media" experience.

I've now presented this book's core content at Harvard and at Tufts. Both times, I was happy about how it was received. To reward my millions of blog readers, I wanted to show you my powerpoint notes.

http://fletcher.tufts.edu/faculty/kahn/pdf/greencities.pdf

There is an episode of Seinfeld where George actually has a job and at his office place he always tries to leave the group meeting on a high note. He'll crack a good joke and then jump up and leave the room. That's what I've tried to do here. I've attended too many bad public speaking events where the speaker was unable to read his/her audience.

I can read an audience and I know when to shut up and sit down!

Job Suburbanization in New York City and Commuting Patterns

New York City is the last U.S city that looks "monocentric". A majority of the metropolitan area's jobs are still downtown but this New York Times article suggests that NYC's employment is sprawling. People are now reverse commuting and heading in all sorts of strange directions from home to work and vice-versa.

Ed Glaeser and I and Nate Baum-Snow and I have written papers about employment sprawl's causes and consequences.

post.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/glaeser/papers.htm

http://www.econ.brown.edu/fac/Nathaniel_Baum-Snow/

High rents per square foot in the center city and improvements in information technology provide incentives for center city employers to send their "back office" employees to suburban cheaper areas. Suburban executives may also prefer setting up their headquarters close to their house.

An interesting question is for the Mayor of New York City. Imagine an extreme case where all employment leaves New York City for its sububrbs. This would turn Manhattan into a bedroom community. What would be the benefits and costs of this city simply being a consumer city rather than a producer city?


October 17, 2006
Commuter Conformity Is Out for a Metro-North Majority
By WILLIAM NEUMAN

For the first time in the history of the Metro-North Railroad — a quintessential commuter link between the city and the leafy suburbs to the north — fewer than half of its riders are suburban commuters who take the train to Grand Central Terminal in the morning and head home at night, according to data compiled by the railroad.

Shifts in regional employment patterns and a sustained effort by the railroad to attract new types of riders and fill underused trains are major reasons. A seat on Metro-North that once would have belonged almost exclusively to suburban stockbrokers and office workers may now be occupied by an immigrant home health aide heading to work in White Plains, a retiree from Chappaqua attending a Broadway matinee or a Bridgeport, Conn., resident going to work at an insurance office in Stamford.

It is not that there are fewer traditional suburb-to-Grand Central commuters; in fact, Metro-North’s ridership is higher than it has ever been in the system’s 23-year history. But other categories of riders have grown at a much higher rate, including reverse commuters traveling to jobs north of the city, riders traveling between suburbs and day-trippers on shopping or sightseeing trips.

Commuters to Grand Central made up 49.4 percent of total riders on the three Metro-North lines east of the Hudson River last year, according to Robert MacLagger, director of operations planning for the railroad.

That is down from 65.3 percent in 1984, the year after Metro-North took over commuter operations of Conrail in New York and Connecticut. The data does not include two smaller lines that Metro-North operates in Rockland and Orange Counties.

“It’s kind of a benchmark that shows what has been building over the last several years and demonstrates the way the region is changing: more job growth in the suburbs and more diverse commuting patterns,” said Christopher Jones, vice president for research at the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit organization that monitors transportation and development issues.

“Cities are still job centers, and Manhattan has held its own much more than a lot of other city centers across the country,” Mr. Jones said. “But we’ve become much more of a multicentered region. For the last two to three decades, jobs have been growing more quickly in the suburbs than they have within the five boroughs.”

The number of jobs in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties grew by 10.1 percent from 1997 to 2005, an increase of almost 51,000 jobs, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the same period, employment in New York City grew by 7.2 percent, an increase of more than 241,000 jobs.

Overall ridership on the region’s two other main railroad systems, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit, is still dominated by workers headed to Manhattan, although an expansion in other types of riders has been noted on those lines as well.

Even on Metro-North, suburban commuters to Manhattan still fill about two-thirds of the seats on weekdays. But with the growth of other kinds of riders, including riders on weekends, those traditional commuters now contribute less than half the annual tally, Mr. MacLagger said.

Last year, 35.9 million one-way trips were logged by suburban commuters who bought monthly and weekly passes for travel on Metro-North to and from Grand Central Terminal, a 17 percent increase over the 30.6 million such trips recorded in 1984.

But other types of travel on the railroad grew much faster during the same period. The biggest percentage growth was among reverse commuters, whom the railroad defines as people who travel north from stations in Manhattan or the Bronx during the morning rush. One-way trips taken by reverse commuters more than quadrupled, to 4.5 million in 2005 from 1 million in 1984. In 1984, reverse commuters made up roughly 2 percent of Metro-North riders. Now they make up more than 6 percent.

The biggest group of riders after traditional commuters is made up of what the railroad calls discretionary riders, those who travel during off-peak hours for reasons other than work. In 1984 they accounted for a quarter of all riders; now they represent nearly a third.

And the number of workers traveling between suburban stations has nearly tripled and now makes up 13.5 percent of total trips.

“Going back to the mid-90’s, we started concentrating on those areas where we had capacity and the opportunity to grow market share,” said Peter A. Cannito, the president of Metro-North, the nation’s second-largest commuter railroad, after the Long Island Rail Road. He said the railroad had increased service, bought new rail cars and spent money to promote weekend excursions and the convenience of train travel for reverse commuters who might have been inclined to drive.

The trend at Metro-North is similar to rider patterns on the Long Island Rail Road. In 1985, 70 percent of Long Island riders used a monthly or weekly ticket, predominantly for traditional commuting from the eastern suburbs into New York City, according to data provided by the Long Island Rail Road. Today that figure has dropped to 60 percent.

New Jersey Transit estimates that 58 percent of its ridership this year will be made up of commuters traveling during the weekday rush hour, most of those bound for Manhattan.

The depth of the changes on Metro-North was evident during a morning weekday visit of several hours to the Fordham station, at East Fordham Road and Third Avenue in the Bronx. The northbound platform for trains to places like White Plains, Chappaqua, New Rochelle and Greenwich was usually jammed with well over 100 people.

The opposite platform, for trains bound for Grand Central Terminal, was virtually deserted by comparison. Part of the reason was that taking the subway is cheaper.

The station is Metro-North’s fourth busiest, behind Grand Central, Stamford and White Plains, but in contrast to those stations, a suit and tie is a rarity there. Instead, there are construction workers in boots and blue jeans, factory workers in comfortable shoes and home health aides in uniforms. Rider tallies show that northbound passenger boardings at Fordham during the morning rush rose to more than 3,400 people a day last year compared with 500 people a day in 1984.

Christine Soto of the Bronx was waiting for a train to White Plains, where she works three days a week as a dental assistant. Ms. Soto also attends John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. On Metro-North trains she often has to stand during the 17- to 31-minute ride to and from work, she says. On the subway to and from school she almost always gets a seat.

“The D train is actually less crowded than the Metro-North,” Ms. Soto said.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hong Kong, Air Pollution and the Coase Theorem

Hong Kong has a population of roughly 7 million people. Suppose this population has 125,000 live births each year. (This is how many live births there were in New York City in 2002 (see www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/press_archive04/pr005-0130.shtml)
Kenneth Chay and Michael Greenstone's QJE paper concluded that a 10 microgram per cubic meter reduction in particulates reduces infant mortality by 55 infant deaths per 100,000 live births at the county level. They used the U.S 1981 Rust Belt recession to generate this result.

So, if China's manufacturing is raising Hong Kong's particulate levels by 60 micrograms per cubic meter per year, then 6*55*1.25 = 412 infants in Hong Kong are dying each year because of China's cross-boundary pollution exports to Hong Kong.

If a statistical life in Hong Kong is worth $6 million dollars (see Kip Viscusi's work), then ignoring all other consequences of this pollution, then Hong Kong is losing $2.4 billion a year from the Mainland's smoke.

The Coase theorem would say that if property rights are well defined (they seem to be in this case!). the victim can negotiate with the polluter and reach the efficient outcome. Why isn't Hong Kong collecting some tax revenue and offering a payment or purchasing some clean technologies for the polluters? One answer might be a tragedy of the commons problem --- if Hong Kong paysoff one polluter, will other mainland polluters locate nearby the first polluter and wait for their payoff?

Here is the New York Times editorial --- what I find interesting is that an Environmental Kuznets curve analysis would be surprised by how far Hong Kong is from the regression line. High income, high pollution would be far from the quadratic regression line!


October 13, 2006
Editorial
Something in Hong Kong’s Air

Anyone who has ever fallen under Hong Kong’s exotic spell in recent years knows how taking a deep breath can make the magic disappear. The air throughout Hong Kong’s tropical landscape has grown steadily more polluted — tainted by dark, unhealthy clouds from power plants, traffic and underregulated smokestacks from the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong’s average air pollution levels can be so high — double or even triple the World Health Organization limit — that some analysts estimate the air contributes to an extra 2,000 deaths a year. Leaders in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly promised to cut down on environmental toxins in the air, land and water.

But with China’s booming economy, such promises keep sliding down the real priority lists. What might change that attitude is how the outside business world views the quality of life for employees. As one businessman explained to The Wall Street Journal about his family’s recent retreat to Australia: “You can drink bottled water. But with the air — you have to breathe it.”

Such departures have finally begun to raise concerns in Hong Kong’s business community. The local Chamber of Commerce issued an urgent request for the government to commit to “genuine reductions in air pollution” after it found that “an alarming 95 percent” of executives interviewed were worried or very worried about air quality and its effects on their health. But in a disheartening development this week, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Donald Tsang, missed yet another opportunity to lay out a workable plan for clearing the air quickly.

This is not a hopeless situation, as leaders in Mexico City could attest. Once a place where residents courted asthma with every step outside, Mexico City approved what is generally regarded as one of the best and most comprehensive approaches to air pollution in 1990. The measures included everything from new fuel composition standards to new emission standards for vehicles. As a result, Mexico City halved some forms of air pollution in only five years. If Hong Kong even committed to cutting its pollution in half, that would be a good start.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Some Thoughts on Field Experiments as a Research Methodology

All great institutions face the challenge of re-inventing themselves. Otherwise, they age and must rest on their past accomplishments. Yesterday, I had the chance to learn more about the research agenda of one of the University of Chicago's Economics Department's new leaders. John List gave a Departmental Lecture at MIT. The room was packed with MIT faculty and PHD students.

John did a great job explaining how his work builds on past lab experimental research but he also clearly outlined how his research challenges builds on the best features of lab research and non-experimental "natural occuring" data. His energy and ethusiasm for his research agenda were on clear display.

When I was a graduate student at Chicago, there were no courses on experimental economics. As I remember, Nat Wilcox was the only graduate student with research interests in this field. The faculty were showing some interest in ongoing work on the contingent valuation debate but revealed preference empirics remained the focus.

From my own perspective, I always thought that lab experiments based on college students was kind of silly. I viewed dude's responses in the lab as suffering from Hawthorne effects and fear of social stigma. Inference from this non-representative population couldn't generalize to the greater population. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't offer more constructive comments than these.

To his credit, John List is offering more constructive comments. His work attempts to bridge the gap between experimentalits and empiricists such as me who rely on day to day "naturally occuring" data. The problem with guys like me is that to make the jump from correlation to causation in our studies we need to make the untestable assumption that E(U|X,Z) = 0. While we can declare that the error term is uncorrelated with key explanatory variables, how do we know that this is the case? The natural experiment instrumental variables literature has certainly uncovered some settings where this is plausible. I'm thinking about Josh Angrist's work and Chay and Greenstone's work. But in other cases, this is less clear.

Enter the field experimenters! What John List can do is that he can randomize the incentive scheme that different economic actors face. These economic actors DO NOT know that they are participating in an experiment. It is true that John can only "experiment" on the self select set of people who choose to participate in the market. A criticism I have had of this field experiment literature is that it cannot make more progress on the participation equation. Under different incentive schemes would the extensive margin of "who participates" change? The field experiments literature must focus on partial equilibrium effects but in this setting John List has demonstrated the power of his ability to control the treatments that different real world economic actors experience and then he can trace out how they respond. So, my point is that John List is doing some of the best causality research of any other social scientist not named Jim Heckman.

While many of John's early field experiments focused on distinctive traders such as baseball card markets, his new experiments appear to be more "mainstream". He told the MIT audience that in his new experiments he is working with for profit companies to study how consumer behavior is affected by different treatments concerning product attributes.

I hope that these companies allow John to publish such results because such field experiments that reveal consumer demand will offer a nice horse race against non-experimental structural IO studies of consumer demand.

Listening to John's talk, the only challenge I forsee for field experiments is that they cannot be used to establish time trends or interesting dynamics. They are mainly useful for tracing out short run substitution effects.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

300 Million People in the United States: The New York Times Approves

Today, the New York Times editorial page embraces its inner Julian Simon. This editorial celebrates the benefits of U.S population growth fueled by immigration. Optimism on this page is relatively rare these days.

This article mainly focuses on over lapping generations issues that if we have aging baby boomers and the new immigrants are young then immigration leads to a "better" demographic age structure than in Japan and Europe where there will soon be lots of old people and few young workers paying taxes.

The editorial also takes a sly punch at Paul Ehrlich. I guess the authors are trying to earn their "optimist's merit badge".

The editorial does not attempt to be balanced and discuss what are some of the social costs of U.S population growth. Is the global ecological footprint larger when people in Mexico and South American migrate to the U.S and earn higher incomes and thus can afford more consumer goods? Does rising ethnic diversity in cities where immigrants cluster reduce social cohesion?
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/c4ac4a74-570f-11db-9110-0000779e2340.html

In Chapters 6 and 7 of my Green Cities book, I take on these themes in detail.

Here is the editorial.

October 11, 2006
Editorial New York Times
300 Million

America’s 300 millionth person will be here any day now. The Census Bureau has combined birth, death and immigration rates and expects him or her to arrive in mid-October. No one knows where or how — squalling in a birthing room in Los Angeles, maybe, or darting out of the desert east of Phoenix.

That’s too bad, because whoever it is should get a bouquet and a thank-you card. It should be signed by President Bush on behalf of a grateful nation that is buzzing with a youthful energy for which the aging powers of Europe would gladly trade their pension obligations. If the newcomer is an immigrant, he or she should also get an apology from Mr. Bush for the scarcity of worker visas, and a promise to get right on that problem.

Whenever the population odometer hits a huge round number, it creates unease, but we usually get over it. Predictions of planetary famine made the 1968 book “The Population Bomb” a raging bestseller, but today you find it only at garage sales.

The doomsayer’s torch has lately been grabbed by cultural sentinels like Patrick Buchanan, whose new book warns that the United States is being reconquered by disease-carrying Latinos. Unless Americans of white European descent can Ziploc the borders and start churning out babies, he says, their age of civilizing domination is done for.

Mr. Buchanan’s fantasy is a common one among social conservatives, a supposed era of cultural homogeneity that roughly corresponds with the postwar baby boom. But if you take the longer view of our nation, you will see that it has been fed and nourished by immigrants, and has an iron stomach for seemingly undigestible newcomers.

Mr. Buchanan wants us all to go back to Mayberry, but the retro-future he imagines would have the sedated stillness of a gated community. Or a nursing home, which the rest of the rich, industrialized world — Japan, Italy, Germany and Britain, for instance — is beginning to resemble.

In America, growth and vitality are the same thing. The engine of assimilation hums on, with immigrants’ children trading their mother tongues for teenage upspeak with clockwork regularity. Annoyingly brilliant young people, of which we have lots, keep coming up with world-upending ideas like Apple, Google and YouTube.

Our teeming immensity keeps us from going stale, and despite some people’s panic attacks, our population issues have mysterious ways of working themselves out. America has big problems, but it also has 300 million reasons to be hopeful.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Unintended Consequences of Driving Restrictions: New Lessons from Mexico

As we celebrate Ned Phelps' well deserved prize, I wanted to blog about creative research investigating regulation's unintended consequences. Mexico City banned driving specific vehicles one day a week. Has this caused air quality to improve? Lucas Davis argues that it has not. People are not substituting to public transit on days when they cannot use their car. Time is money!

Returning to Columbia's new nobel laureate, I had the honor of being Ned's colleague during the 1990s. I had the opportunity to have lunch several times with Ned and even to go to the opera with him and his wife. I am very happy for him and hope that a few more Columbia economists win this prize in the near future.

The one puzzle for me is the temporal ordering of macro nobel prizes over the last decade. Recall that Lucas won it first, then Prescott and then Phelps. I could imagine a galaxy where the order would have been reversed such that Phelps, Lucas and then Prescott would have won the prize. These swedes get to have a lot of fun.



http://www-personal.umich.edu/%7Elwdavis/df.pdf

The Effect of Driving Restrictions on Air Quality in Mexico City

Lucas W. Davis
University of Michigan
August 29, 2006
Abstract

In 1989 Mexico City introduced a program, Hoy No Circula, that bans all vehicles
from driving one workday per week based on the last digit of the vehicle’s license
plate. The program is inexpensive to enforce and has been since emulated in Bogota,
Santiago and Sao Paolo. This paper measures the effect of the driving restrictions
on air quality using high-frequency measures from monitoring stations. Air quality is
compared before and after the restrictions with air quality in previous years acting as a comparison group to control for seasonal variation. Across pollutants and specifications there is no evidence that the program has improved air quality. The policy has caused
a relative increase in air pollution during weekends and hours of the day when the
restrictions are not in place, but there is no evidence of an absolute improvement in air
quality during any hour of the day or any day of the week. Furthermore, while it was
hoped that the program would cause drivers to substitute to low-emissions forms of
transportation, there is no evidence of increased ridership of the Mexico City subway
or public bus system. Instead, evidence from the market for used taxis suggests that
the program induced substitution to taxis.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Are there Too Few Prizes in Academic Economics? A Suggestion for Inflating Beyond the Nobel Prize and the Clark Medal

Academic economics has a prize for older guys (the Nobel) and a prize for young people (the Clark Medal) and nothing for the middle aged. Paul Samuelson won the nobel prize at the tender age of 54 but most winners are much older. The Clark medal goes to a star under the age of 40. How can a field that celebrates "complete markets" have such a sparse "prize" space?

I know that there are other prizes out there such as the Northwestern transfer of cash (Niemer Prize?) to University of chicago economists and the IZA labor prize. But when I look at the landscape, I see a "shortage" of prizes.

We know that there are many tenured economists at top 20 economics departments who sharply reduce their academic effort after they reach the age of 40. Consulting pays quite well. Perhaps others put more effort into their teaching?!

Would these highly talented people try harder in pushing the frontier of economic science forward if we had more prizes?

I could imagine a couple of different ways to do this. I don't believe in "fields" in economics so I wouldn't have a "field specific" prize. People could compete by birth cohort. So, I would compete against other economists born in 1966. People could compete against other people with a PHD from their same institution.

Who would judge who the winner would be? We delegate the task for the Nobel to the Swedes. I would pay the last 3 Clark Medal Winners to form a panel of experts to make these decisions.

In other academic areas such as biological research, one can become a billionare if one discovers something valuable. Academic economists don't have such possibilities. Prize pursuit might provide some motiviation for middle aged researchers to stay in the game and keep trying rather than worrying that their next paper will lower their overall average quality of their stock of papers.

Would this proliferation of prizes "cheapen" the Nobel and the Clark medal? It is possible but my proposal would increase academic labor supply especially among those who think that they are at the margin of winning these prizes.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Russia Offers a Data Point for the Chicago School of Regulation

While monday's nobel prize in economics is the hot blogger topic of the moment, I have no urge to comment. I'll stick with my picks from last year (if you forgot my dudes then see www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/09/more_nobel_priz.html).

The New York Times today published a great piece about strange "bedfellows" in Russia. This article claims that Russia's government is using environmental laws as a bargaining chip to try to extract better terms with foreign MNC such as Exxon who do business there. Cynics would say that Russia is only paying lipservice to environmental issues as a way of extracting a better deal. The environmentalists appear to appreciate their "new friends".

University of Chicago regulation specialists would not be surprised by the "intended" consequences of this regulatory enforcement.

On a personal note, I forgot to mention that I gave my first book talk on "Green Cities" at Harvard's Kennedy School last wednesday. While the room had 30 seats, 60+ people showed up and few of them left. In this SRO crowd, I did a pretty good job presenting for 40 minutes some of the key points about my book.

My next presentation on the book will be at Tufts on 10/16 and then at the University of Pennsylvania on 10/17.


October 6, 2006
A Mix of Oil and Environmentalism
By ANDREW E. KRAMER

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, Russia — For more than a decade, Dmitri V. Lisitsyn waged a lonely, losing battle to protect the local salmon and gray whales from the world’s large oil companies, which are turning bucolic Sakhalin Island into an industrial hub for energy in Asia.

Now, Mr. Lisitsyn suddenly has the full support of an unlikely environmental champion: the Russian government.

The authorities, who had never shown any interest in Mr. Lisitsyn’s environmental causes in the past, have now taken them up as a means to stall giant projects by the oil companies Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil here on Sakhalin, a placid island near Siberia that is unfathomably rich with oil and gas. But the unusual tie-up is just the latest move in an intensifying face-off between the big oil companies and the Kremlin, which wants to recover — but pay very little — for energy assets it sold to foreigners when oil prices were low.

Unlike Hugo Ch├ívez of Venezuela or Evo Morales of Bolivia, who recently sent in his army to seize natural gas fields, the Kremlin is using more sophisticated methods — though the results are no less insidious from the oil companies’ point of view.

Just now, Exxon Mobil is clashing with the Kremlin over whether it can send out its first tanker exports of crude oil from the $17 billion Sakhalin 1 project. Exports were supposed to start the first week of October, but at a conference on Sept. 28, Russian officials warned that shipments would be halted for health and safety checks. Exxon Mobil insisted the tanker would set off as planned.

The tanker is to take oil from one of the world’s newest energy provinces to Asia; some of the oil will also make its way to California, helping to diversify supply away from the Middle East, a goal of the Bush administration’s energy policy.

[By yesterday, the tanker, Viktor Titov, was still moored to the dock at the De-Kastri terminal on the Tatar Strait in the Russian Far East. Late yesterday evening, Exxon Mobil would say only that the terminal was being tested and needed additional Russian government permits, and would not comment on when the tanker would depart.]

An even bigger target lately is Shell and its $20 billion project, Sakhalin 2, which represents the largest foreign investment in Russia and is the world’s largest combined oil and natural gas development. Authorities have also singled out BP fields in Siberia and a project of the French oil company Total in northern Russia.

Russia is now using environmental regulation, oil analysts say, to weaken the negotiating positions of the country’s largest foreign investors, in the same way it used the tax code to weaken Yukos, once Russia’s largest private oil company. Yukos went bankrupt when the government selectively enforced certain tax rules.

Indeed, since Rosneft, a state-run company, took over Yukos’s oil production, the Kremlin has raised its control over the country’s energy assets, with wide implications for the world oil supply. This summer Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

“The official rhetoric is getting steadily more shrill and does not bode well for the future of foreign oil companies in Russia,” the director of Goldman Sachs’s Moscow office, Rory MacFarquhar, wrote in a note to investors recently. “We continue to believe that the aim of this campaign is to force the foreign companies to accept Russian state companies as equal or even majority partners in their projects, possibly for no compensation.”

Shell’s project is now in limbo because regulators revoked a permit for Sakhalin 2, a move that threatened to idle 17,000 workers. That revocation was suspended for a second environmental review, scheduled to be completed on Oct. 25, when a new showdown is expected.

Regulators this fall are pressuring all five large Western oil investments in Russia in which the government does not have a controlling stake: Sakhalin 2; Sakhalin 1; BP’s venture, TNK-BP; Total’s Kharyaga field; and the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which exports Central Asian oil across Russian territory.

Even Nezavisimaya Gazeta in Moscow noted this summer in an article it was “open season” on foreign energy investment.

[On Wednesday, Anthony Brenton, Britain’s ambassador to Russia, called the actions “a serious blow to Russia’s reputation as a business partner and supplier of energy resources.”]

In a choreographed show of official outrage over the environment unusual for Russia’s government, Oleg L. Mitvol, deputy director of the environmental watchdog agency Rosprirodnadzor, recently led journalists, diplomats and conservationists in a tour of Shell’s project.

On the tour, Mr. Mitvol pointed angrily at a muddy hillside on Shell’s pipeline route. Pointing out upturned trees, he said he suspected pollution was behind the deaths of two fish he found belly-up in a stream, and he described how divers had shown him what he called a “mutant,” a starfish with three arms instead of the usual five. At one point, as an aide casually flicked a cigarette butt into the Pacific Ocean, Mr. Mitvol stood on a fishing pier and denounced Shell’s intrusion in Aniva Bay.

He said Shell’s operating company, Sakhalin Energy, was allowing erosion into salmon streams. He also accused the company of illegally dumping dredge material into a bay and cutting down trees in a park.

“We signed a deal with the company to drill for oil and gas,” Mr. Mitvol said. “Cutting trees in a nature preserve is something else, excuse me.”

Mr. Mitvol, interviewed in a muddy field beside a pipeline, said Shell could face as much as $50 billion in fines and fees if it wanted to remain in Russia. He later said the figure was a rough estimate. He also threatened to “open a criminal case for every tree they cut down. “

Greenpeace, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Sakhalin Environment Watch — Mr. Lisitsyn’s group — support Mr. Mitvol’s allegations, which they say echo complaints they have raised for years with little response from the government, until now.

Sakhalin Energy denied the claims made by Mr. Mitvol. “Although the project has faced significant environmental challenges, the company firmly believes that these have been fully addressed,” the company said in a statement. Analysts say the regulatory complaints are a thinly veiled effort to renegotiate billions of dollars in contracts dating from the 1990’s. “You don’t fight city hall, and you certainly don’t fight the Kremlin,” Christopher Weafer, chief analyst at Alfa Bank, said.

It was a decade ago that Russia first negotiated the production-sharing agreements that govern the oil projects on Sakhalin with Shell and Exxon. At that time, oil prices were hovering around $15 a barrel. Under those agreements, the government does not tax the companies; instead, the government gets a share of the oil, but only after the operators recoup their initial investments.

During the past year, Shell doubled its cost estimate to $20 billion and Exxon Mobil raised its estimate by 30 percent, to $17 billion, citing higher prices for steel and an appreciation of the ruble. In both cases, the new cost estimates push back by years the government’s profits. Not surprisingly, the government has rejected these estimates — hence the conflict.

[“It was clear Russia would never agree to this,” President Vladimir V. Putin’s chief economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, said Wednesday concerning the new estimate for Sakhalin 2.]

Meanwhile, the Russian company Gazprom is negotiating to buy 25 percent of Shell’s project, but those talks have not gone well. Shell announced the cost increase only in July 2005, just a week after signing a preliminary asset swap agreement with Gazprom.

Gazprom, which is seeking a monopoly on natural gas exports from Russia to Asia, wanted a veto on the board, with a voice in decisions about markets, pricing and strategy. Under a previous charter for Shell’s operating company, the 25 percent stake, plus one share, would have given Gazprom a say in these decisions.

But just days before the deal was signed in July, Shell and its Japanese partners, Mitsubishi and Mitsui, changed the charter, raising the percentage of stock required for a veto, according to a lawyer who has seen the documents. Gazprom was not informed of the change before the signing, angering the powerful company.

“That just wound them up,” said the lawyer, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the deal publicly.

[Top executives from Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi were scheduled to meet in London this week to decide on a response, Reuters reported Tuesday.]

Separately, regulators are investigating the $17 billion Exxon Mobil project on Sakhalin — with a visit by Mr. Mitvol to the De-Kastri terminal scheduled for Monday — and threatened to revoke the license for an $18 billion gas field in Siberia being developed by BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, citing environmental shortfalls.

“The environmental weapon, in this sense, allows the Russian authorities to put pressure on the operators and at the same time to defend a noble cause,” said Vitaly V. Yermakov, research director for Russian and Caspian energy at Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “In chess, every good move should be both offensive and defensive. Russians are very good chess players.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Evaluating Programs to Reduce Diarrhea in rural Kenya by Improving Source Water Quality

I managed to attend an environmental economics seminar at Harvard yesterday. Michael Kremer presented a draft of his new paper "Spring Cleaning: Results from a Randomized Evaluation of Source Water Quality Improvement." (joint with Miguel, Leino and Zwane).

In rural Kenya, the local water supply is polluted from a number of sources including fecal matter running off from fields and people putting their hands in the streams to extract water.

Diarrhea kills 2 million people per year and accounts for 20% of kids' deaths.

Kremer and his co-authors were evaluating a program that attempts to improve source water quality by allowing people to extract water without putting their hands into the stream (think of a waterfall and capturing the downflowing water in a jar).

This treatment was randomly assigned so the authors have a control group.
Some streams were treated with this engineering fix while others were not.

The authors collect data on actual water quality in the streams before and after and document that the treated streams do experience an increase in water quality.

Result #1: Is household water quality in the treated areas improved by the stream treatment? The research team shows that the household's water quality does improve but not to the same extent as the stream's improvement. Something is "lost in translation" --- is this a transportation issue? Is this a crowding out issue, that treated households take fewer pre-cautionary actions such as boiling water once they know that their stream has been treated?

Result #2: Children's health in the treated stream areas did not improve much.
This is the surprising result to me. Household water quality is cleaner but the kids are not healthier.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Don't Call it Sprawl --- A Review of Tom Bogart's new book

Cambridge University Press has just published William T. Bogart's new book "Don't Call it Sprawl: Metropolitan Structure in the 21st Century". As a recent book author, and as a dude who is cited on 11 separate pages of the Bogart book, I feel that I am qualified to review this book.

This is not Tom's first book. A few years ago he wrote a quite funky urban economics textbook. Now Tom is back with a quite readable balanced book about sprawl. From first hand experience, I can tell you that it is hard work to solo author a book while being a professor. Right now, Tom is a Dean! I always wondered what Deans do all day long. I'd like to see more research output of the Tufts' deans!

Here is Tom's Table of Contents

1. The World of Today
2. Making Things Better: The Importance of Flexibility
3. Are We There Yet?
4. Trading Places
5. Downtown
6. How Zoning Matters
7. Love the density, hate the congestion
8. homogeneity and heterogeneity in local government
9. The world of tomorrow

Allow me to quote Tom, "Three themes distinguish the view of metropolitan areas that I advance from much of the popular and even academic work concerned with urban sprawl. The first theme is the interdependence among the parts of a metropolitan area. The second theme is that mass transit is a historical anomaly. The third theme is that lags in investment mean that the existing metropolitan structure will always be inefficient on the basis of the existing technology."

The book starts out by contrasting specific metro areas (Atlanta and Cleveland)

Chapter 2: offers some efficiency and equity criteria for judging whether a metro area is "making progress"

chapter 3: offers a quick tour of classic theories of urban economics for explaining the inner workings of a metro area

chapter 4: presents empirical work on employment specialization and commuting within a metropolitan area.

chapter 5: discusses how powerful a force is the downtown in the center city as a magnet attracting economic activity

chapter 6: the benefits and costs of zoning

chapter 7: consequences of sprawl

chapter 8: local governance

chapter 9: conclusion

Overall, I find this to be a balanced, smart book that should set off a debate among urban planners on the topic of the "benefits and costs of sprawl".

I think it nicely complements my green cities book. If I were an undergraduate teacher, I might consider using both paperbacks in a course on city growth.