Monday, January 21, 2008

A Negative Review of Green Cities

Be careful what you wish for! I had hoped that the Journal of Economic Literature would review my Green Cities book and in the December 2007 issue they do. Ed Mills is a giant in Urban Economics. He is not one to hide his opinions. In this review I cite below, he gives me a good spanking. I can't say that I deserved it but I slightly enjoyed it! His review reminded me of his grumpy day to day talking style that I enjoy so much. His review displays his contempt for environmentalists. Unlike Dr. Mills, I believe that it is crucial to engage greens in a honest unemotional discussion of the issues. As Larry Summers learned in the case of his World Bank Pollution Haven memo, economists cause big problems for themselves when they address issues that are likely to trigger an emotional response without addressing the world view of their readers. I intentionally wrote my book in a way to diffuse such emotional responses to help focus attention on the "big issues" of urban growth's environmental consequences. My book is better than he portrays it and I'm a pinch surprised by his tone.

He does have a sharp way about him. I once attended a Brookings Institution Dinner where the Mayor of Washington D.C was the guest dinner speaker. The Mayor was surprised by Dr. Mills' sharp questions concerning his disfunctional public schools.

Here is the entire set of reviews and Dr Mills' review starts in the middle.
Ed Mills' Review of Green Cities

If I was allowed to reply to Ed's comments, I would make three points.

1. Unlike Ed Mills, I believe in Mary Poppins. Recall that she said that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. In the case of my book, the "medicine" is Chicago free market economics. My book is pro-capitalism and clearly focuses on harnessing incentives to achieve sustainable urban growth.

A "macho" in your face book would not receive the time of day from a non-economist who views himself as an "environmentalist". How does Dr. Mills believe that he will influence the next generation of liberal thinkers if he just makes fun of them? My approach is to meet them half way and discuss my own environmentalism and to use ideas commonly used in environmental studies (such as the ecological footprint).

2. Ed Mills read my book too quickly and missed its tone. He makes fun of me for quoting Jason DinAlt but permit me to quote from my own book.

"As Jason DinAlt argues, "The last thign the world needs is more Americans. The world just cannot afford what Americans do to the earth, air and water." If this argument is taken seriously , it suggests that environmentalists should support limits on immigration to the United States in order to reduce the world's ecological footprint."

Note that I carefully used the words "If this argument is taken seriously"... I was trying to show readers how ecologists think about these issues and what are the logical policy implications from adopting their views.

3. He makes fun of me saying that I like "greenbelts" in Boulder , Colorado but ignores my discussion of the Glaeser/Gyourko work on housing supply regulation and its unintended consequences. Despite his protests, I am a card carrying economist!

I have a great respect for Ed Mills but I would like to see him write a better book!