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!


Rob said...

The review is rather on the harsh side I agree.

I believe Mills is missing the point - in my opinion the book was written to be accessible and populist almost pitched as "green freakononics".

My impression is that this review was written quickly after a quick skim of it's chapters. This is a shame.

If it is any consolation I doubt that this review will lead to any lost sales. Academic economists are not necessarily the target readers.

My brief review was included in a post about Hong Kong:


Following up on the comment to the previous post this article makes for interesting reading. The economics of this story are linked to some nice work in the Urban Economics literature. Matt Kahn covers this issue in depth in his accessible Green Cities book.
Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment
As an aside I intend to write a full review of this text in the next week or so but for now I would recommend it to anyone interested in environmental economics but does not want to feel like they are reading a textbook or actually working. It has a Freakonomics for environmental economists feel to it but has more structure and a little more depth (which may unfortunately cost it some of the more casual non-economist readers).

This is the sort of issue that is covered in Green Cities - how local governments can use the greening of a city via green policies to attract high skilled workers who also tend to work in "clean" jobs, thus helping to create a virtuous circle for the area (and an increase in house prices). The well-educated and skilled workers then tend to vote for even greener politicians and policies. There are, as you can imagine, numerous ramifications and caveats along the way.

The article below however, also reveals what the “browning” of a city can do. I suspect that Hong Kong politicians now have pollution high on their list of things to address if they are not already doing so. The question is how much they can do about transboundary pollution from the nearby industrial regions in China?


randall crane said...

I can't say which disappoints me most, that you are a caterer or a panderer.

Did you key his car or something? I'm surprised the editor let that pass with that tone. Many of these comments are over the top shrill, rhetorical, and selective. On the other hand, I guess I wouldn't want to try to edit him either.

Mills was extremely fair, even forgiving, to me when I was young but you really touched a nerve, evidently, caterer. Shake it off.