Thursday, January 31, 2013

Joachim Voth is a Multi Talented Man

I have known for a long time that Joachim Voth is an excellent scholar.  Joachim and my colleague Nico Voigtländer have a fascinating research agenda focused on long term persistence.  Their study of antisemitism across the centuries is a very important study.  Now, I have learned that Joachim is also a great photographer. Take a look at his pictures of UCLA. You will see that this is a beautiful place to live and work.     

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Coastal City Resilience in the Face of Climate Change: The Case of NYU's Langone Medical Center

There is a full page ad on the back page of the B-Section of the NY Times today celebrating that NYU's Langone Medical Center is back in business after suffering bad damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012.    Note that only 3 months have past.   Hurricane Sandy didn't destroy NYC.  This wasn't Pearl Harbor.   This is urban resilience in the face of climate change.  When I argued this point in my 2010 Climatopolis book, people thought I was overly optimistic about our individual and collective ability to adapt to evolving (but predictable) threats.  Unlike terrorists, we have a general understanding of how climate change will attack our cities.  NYU will invest in precautions so that future floods cause much less damage.  This is learning experience and forming rational expectations about the future is how adaptation will play out.    To be a pessimist about adaptation requires embracing a strong view of behavioral economics and to assume that those facing the threat have no financial resources to help them cope.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My New "Sustainable Real Estate Course" at UCLA's Anderson School of Management

In Spring 2013, I will be teaching a new course at UCLA's Anderson School of Management.  The thousands of students who have taken my classes at Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Tufts, Stanford and UCLA all know that I'm a distinctive teacher.   If you want a free taste of the goods, go here.    My new Anderson School course has the lofty title; "Real Estate Investment and the Development of Sustainable Cities".     I encourage interested students to enroll and to get in touch with me.

Here is the Description:

This course applies key ideas from real estate economics and real estate finance to investigate the incentives of developers, urban politicians, and real estate investors to produce “green homes”, “green communities” and ultimately “sustainabile cities”.   Special attention will be paid to the opportunities from investing in energy efficient residential and commercial buildings and for developing and upgrading real estate in close proximity to public transit networks.   The course will embrace an international perspective to examine the rise of Eco-Friendly Cities in developed and developing nations.

If you want to read the course outline and follow the action, click here.  

Updating Urban Risk Maps in a Changing World

One of the many urban adaptation themes I stressed in my 2010 Climatopolis book was the importance of updating risk maps in coastal cities.  Information is power!  If urbanites learn that their property is now in a flood zone (because climate change has caused encroachment) then they will change their behavior and invest in stilts and other strategies to cope with the "new normal".  Today the NY Times reports that all of this is now taking place in NYC.  The Times points out the irony that the risk maps were only in the process of being updated when Hurricane Sandy struck in late October 2012.  This highlights that we need to invest in more GIS research and trusted objective risk evidence. Once this evidence is produced and publicized, insurance markets will price this new risk and differential price insurance policies to incentivize those at risk to invest in optimal precautions.  Ehrlich and Becker 1972 is worth a re-read here!!

How far can adaptation take us in mitigating the challenge of climate change?   For economists, the key issue here is that we live in a "second best world".   Of course, carbon pricing is the first best solution.  But, at the world level this isn't going to happen.  When you release the genie of climate change, how far can human ingenuity and just common sense take us in helping us to cope with new challenges?   As usual, economists are more optimistic about the substitution and innovation possibilities than the "Leontief" environmentalists.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Climate Change Adaptation by Income Group: The Cartoon Version

The NY Times has some talented people on payroll.  Brian McFadden creates great cartoons.  Below, I reproduce one from today and critique the substance of his cartoon.   Similar to others at the NY Times, he needs to consult his econ 101 notes.

By its very nature, a cartoon can't convey much nuance.  He is implicitly saying that climate change impacts will exacerbate existing inequality.  The 1% will be better able to handle climate impacts than the 99%.  He forgets that the 99% are growing richer over time and that absolute income (not relative income) is a key in helping individuals to adapt.   The world economy will grow by 4% this year in per-capita income.  This means that world per-capita income doubles in 18 years.  Rising incomes help all of us to adapt to climate change.

As the 1% grow richer, their governments collect more tax revenue and can provide public goods to shield the population.   McFadden also ignores price effects.   In capitalism, new products and cheaper products are always emerging (think of your cellphone).  The 99%'s purchasing power  of climate adaptation friendly products will increase as entrepreneurs look at this cartoon and see that there are opportunities for those who innovate.   Such innovation will lower the real price of adapting to climate change.  Products we need such as access to reliable electricity and home materials that are resilient to flooding will become cheaper due to induced innovation.

Note the guy in the upper middle right panel who is eating a rock. While that's funny, McFadden forgets that international trade in agricultural products guarantees that this 99% dude won't have to eat a rock.  His local supermarket will continue to be filled with tasty affordable stuff. It will just be grown elsewhere in the world as climate patterns shift.  For the dude on the lower left panel whose insurance rates have gone up, why hasn't he read the fine print of his contract? If he moves to higher ground, he won't need to pay those higher rates. If he builds his home with materials that minimize flood risk and fire risk, competitive insurance markets will quote him a good rate.  He is not a victim here even though the cartoon portrays him as one.

I have recorded a youTube video of my thoughts about this cartoon. Here it is.  This is lecture #33 in my series.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today Sgt. Pepper wasn't teaching the band how to play.  Back in January 1993, I was on the job market giving talks at Cornell and Duke.  On February 6th 1993, I gave my Columbia talk and quickly accepted their offer and cancelled my other talks.  I share these details because I'm amazed that 20 years have passed.   Unlike 20 years ago, this isn't a stressful January.   I'm listening to Jimi Hendrix cover Cream songs and I'm doing writing on a series of new papers and a new book project.

In LA, it is routinely 75 degrees.  I put on my sneakers and I go give my lectures.   This quarter I'm teaching Freshman 3 days a week on MWF and I teach my environmental economics course on MW.  There are 110 students in my Freshman class and 102 students in my elective class.   That's a lot of students.  Some of them find me a mildly interesting and everyone likes the jokes.  I'm been a professor for so long that I know which jokes are funny and which aren't. I especially enjoy telling jokes that people don't laugh at.  That's funny!  

Returning to the big theme here, where does the time go?  Did the Grateful Dead ever answer that question?

As I think back to what I have and haven't gotten done over the last 20 years, I would only make a few changes.   I detoured into doing some work on health economics that hasn't generated many cites but I think I was ahead of my time and the key thesis I sketched in these papers is correct and relevant for measuring improvements in the standard of living for people who have chronic conditions.   Back 20 years ago, environmental and urban economics wasn't a subfield of economics but now there are dozens of scholars who have entered the field.  Many of these guys are good friends of mine.  I claim (without evidence) that my work has highlighted what an exciting field this is and how much work remains to be done --- especially in the developing world.    

In January 2033, I will write a blog post (assuming blogger still exists) where I will look back on my last 40 years in the profession.  I need to believe that my next 20 years will be more productive than my last 20.  This better not be the beginning of the end!

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Superstar in a Superstar City on a Sunday

If you read the NY Times, you can learn about what Jeff Sachs does on a typical Sunday in Manhattan.  My family is waiting for our LA profile!

The Economics of Boycotts Revisited: The Case of Mayor Rahm and Guns

Chicago's Mayor is leading a divestment movement.  He is using his clout to nudge banks not to lend to gun makers and he is nudging institutional investors such as public pension funds to not invest in gun company stocks (for details see this).  The traditional view of boycotts is that they can't work because if you don't buy the bad guy's food somebody else will.  There is a free rider problem because there is always someone looking for a bargain.

But imagine a slight twist on this logic. Suppose that as public pension funds sell their shares of gun makers that foreign investors step up and buy.  Domestic government regulators will feel less political heat from interest groups if they now step up and regulate the gun makers and lower their profits because the shareholders are in the Middle East and elsewhere.   Does domestic ownership % of assets play a role in determining how much regulation an industry faces?  This is a testable hypothesis!  

Now, if the banks stop lending to the gun companies then this raises their cost of capital and weakens the companies.  They will have less $ to lobby in favor of NRA causes and they will have an incentive to "play nice".  A question arises concerning why don't foreign banks step up and lend to the gun makers?  This is the old "free rider" and boycotts issue again.    If the banking industry is competitive with an international fringe of potential entrants, then Rahm is wasting his time.  If there are just a few banks who lend to the Fortune 500 companies, then Rahm's efforts on the banking side may work.

Rahm also occupies a unique space that he is Mayor of Chicago and Friend of Obama.  Perhaps, he can credibly threaten to impose real costs on businesses if he can engineer a boycott.  Who is small in the market economy?  Is Rahm a price taker or price maker?

Two Steps Ahead?

I was just sent an email announcing that my UCLA colleagues will be talking about urban adaptation to climate change in a public discussion titled "Should We Just Adapt to Climate Change?"  A leading NY Times blogger (Revkin) will be there but I haven't been invited.   To folks who have read something about my 2010 Climatopolis book (Basic Book) this discussion may sound familiar.

The key word above is "just".  I have the feeling that my colleagues will say; "yes adaptation will help us cope but there are many unknowns about the impact caused by rising carbon dioxide concentrations and thus we must bite the bullet and radically decarbonize".

As I argue in Climatopolis,  city living and working protects us from climate change especially when our cities are built in places at lower risk and scarce resources (such as water and electricity) are price to reflect their scarcity value.  In a world of globalized free trade, farming will move to those areas where it can profitably take place and crops that are more robust to weather shocks will be grown. Improvements in holding inventories will provide further insurance against climate shocks.  The ability to transport produce long distances breaks the link between consumption and local production and provides additional insurance.

I'm guessing that my UCLA colleagues will stress that adaptation is risky and thus we must reduce our GHG emissions. I respect this "imperative mission" but it is naive to believe that the select set of Los Angeles people who attend intellectual discussions can change the world.  The future of GHG concentrations is taking place in the developing world.   In the cities there where people are buying cars and air conditioners, how does my IOE colleagues plan to decarbonize that growing part of the world?  The only answer would be engineering solutions and technology transfer.  Bring in the Engineers!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

32 Environmental Lectures are Now Posted

Will we all be replaced by machines?  MIT's economists are writing about Luddites and MSNBC is identifying more jobs where robots will replace humans.  I'm trying to reduce the demand for the real me by recording everything I know for posterity in these YouTube Videos.

Economists vs. Philosophers: A Debate About What is Manly

I'm listening to Guns N' Roses pondering gender roles.  My wife told me about this new paper by Bertrand, Kamenica, and Pan .  I report their abstract below:

"We examine causes and consequences of relative income within households. We establish that
gender identity { in particular, an aversion to the wife earning more than the husband - impacts
marriage formation, wife's labor force participation, wife's income conditional on working, sat-
isfaction with the marriage and divorce, and the division of home production. The distribution
of the share of the household income earned by the wife suggests that a potential couple is less
willing to match if her income exceeds his. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen
woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline.
Within couples, if the wife's potential income (based on her demographics) is likely to exceed
the husband's, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential
if she does work. Couples where wife earns more than the husband are less satis ed with their
marriage and are more likely to divorce. Finally, based on time use surveys, the gender gap in
non-market work is larger if the wife earns more than the husband."

In contrast, here is what leading philosopher Eli Just has to say;

The Virtues of Bikes, Bourbon
and Rock N Roll

Blurring Gender Roles are Fine, Writer/Rocker Says, 
But Men Still Need to be Men
Does a real man stay at home with the kids while his wife goes to work? Is he OK if she earns more than him? Will he do the cooking – and like it?
Yes, yes and yes, says contemporary philosopher Eli Just, author of the popular supernatural adventure series that begins with “Manny Jones and the Place” (
“The ‘new masculinity’ – the new manly man – understands the value of blurring those old gender lines. And he’s also found the satisfaction and real pleasure that comes with some of those things,” Just says.
“But he balances that with some of the old old-school ideas about what it is to be a man. There’s still a lot to be said for the freedom of roaring along a highway on a motorcycle,  sipping  bourbon, and playing rock ‘n roll with your buddies in the garage.”
Just points to a poll of more than 87,000 men in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. AskMen’s Great Male Survey found that:
 94 percent would feel fine about their wife earning more than they do. (“That may just indicate we’re evolving,” Just says. “It doesn’t seem kind of stupid to be upset about a better lifestyle just because you’re not the one providing it!)
 78 percent say marriage potential is “very” or “somewhat” important in evaluating how they feel about the woman they’re dating. (“It’s nice to see we’re raising our standards,” Just says.)
 64 percent cook at home and like it – only 5 percent called cooking “woman’s work.” (“It stands to reason that if you’re wife is out making the big bucks, you better learn to cook or go hungry,” Just says.)
 50 percent say the ultimate manly man is a good husband and father. That beat out traditional “manly” virtues such as being good at fixing things (13 percent) and being a great lover (4 percent).
This new appreciation of men’s roles and responsibilities is great, Just says, but if guys want to remain attractive to the opposite sex, they need to retain some of their guy-liness.
“Men need to be open to adventure. They need to be courageous. And they need to lose those little skinny jeans and dress like men,” he says. “We’re already slipping on achievement – more women are getting college degrees than men. More women than men are breadwinners.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a woman. I love women. But men are not women and we shouldn’t try to be!”
What does he recommend for putting some muscle back into manhood?
• Find your sparkplugs. If you don’t know how to change your engine oil, you need to fix that. Take a class in basic automotive maintenance and repairs – they’re often offered at adult schools and community colleges. “There is nothing less appealing to a woman than a man who has no clue about what’s under the hood – especially when she’s broken down on the side of the highway,” Just says.
• Do a chin-up. A basic difference between men and women is upper body strength. If you’ve let yours go, you need to get it back. “Men should be strong,” Just says. “They should be able to punch the bad guy or open the pickle jar. Too many of us have let ourselves go. Believe me, your wife-to-be doesn’t want to be carrying YOU over the threshold!”
• Get over the video games. Men have gotten far too preoccupied with video games, Just says. “They’re playing in some fantasy world for hours at a time, getting pale, flabby and weird.” He suggests watching football. While many a wife and girlfriend complains about the time her guy spends watching sports, at least he talks to her during commercials, Just points out. They might even get out and throw a ball around. “You can’t do that with virtual cyber swords,” he says.
About Eli Just
Eli Just is the author of several books including the popular “Manny Jones” series and “The Eddy.” He has a master’s in history from Southeastern Louisiana University and is a self-taught student of physics, which he taught at the high school level. As a Christian, Just enjoys exploring themes involving physics and its relationship to religion. He lives in northern Georgia.


When it rains in Los Angeles, I'm always surprised.  I'm used to perfection here. If it isn't 75 degrees and blue skies, I wonder what in the heck is going on.   I cancelled a lunch with a colleague of mine today because I don't want to sit inside.  January 24th 2013 is a rare day when I can't have lunch outside. Nasty! If I had anticipated this, I would have negotiated harder with UCLA.    Below, I report a funny picture of the beach in the rain.

More photos: Pineapple Express rolls through the Southland

It is week #3 at UCLA and I'm teaching one class with 110 students and another class with 101 students. I'm earning my $!  It is office hours and nobody has shown up.   While my door is open and students are welcome, I do have my headsets on and I'm listening to this Rolling Stones album.    As my co-authors know, I'm starting to work hard again and they are receiving many emails from me.  I will state for the record that my big goal for 2013 is to finish my China book with Siqi Zheng.  I would trade both of my pinkies in return for a guarantee that we will finish this.  This is going to be a very good book.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Justin Gillis of the NY Times on Rising Sea Level and the Coastal Population

Read this piece in the NY Times by Justin Gillis.  The piece is really strong in terms of its discussion of climate science but amazingly weak in terms of its discussion of social science.   He returns to the theme of rising sea levels and what this means for coastal areas.  Without any serious discussion, he jumps to claim that tens of millions of people are at risk.  He appears to embrace a science fiction view that the water rises like a Tsunami and catches millions of unprepared people.  In the real world, what happens as sea levels rise?   Rational urbanites foresee this trend and retreat and move to higher ground.    There is a lot of land on higher ground and we will rebuild our cities there.  This will create jobs and "economic stimulus".  We are always rebuilding our cities.    It is possible that we will live at higher population density but cities such as Hong Kong, NYC and Singapore have shown that there can be high quality of life in dense cities.

Permit me to repeat, there are scenarios under which Gillis is correct and a catastrophe is approaching but you must embrace an extreme view of myopia at the individual level and place based politicians doing everything in their power to keep coastal residents from retreating in the name of attracting more Federal FEMA resources for their jurisdiction.

Developing country cities built along coastal areas are at the greatest risk but again for those who want to help such nations adapt don't forget the "miracle" of Japan, China and South Korea.  Economic growth offers the best strategy to adapt as it gives the people of the nation the resources to invest in their own coping strategies.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Outdoor January Leisure in LA

Today it was 78 degrees and blue skies, so I took 3 eleven year olds to the Santa Monica Beach today to play Nerf football.  Here is a photo I took.  You can see the Malibu coast and the blue ocean and blue sky. Nice?  California Dreaming on such a  winter's day?

While I didn't get much work done today, I did have a good time.

Endogenous Effort and Rising Taxes: The Case of Golf's Phil Mickelson

According to the NY Times,  Golf's Phil Mickelson represents a "Laffer Curve" data point.  Anticipating that his marginal tax rate is about to rise, he claims he will play less golf and substitute to leisure.  While he is just one man, does this portend any deeper consequences?  If we sat down and talked honestly with everyone in Silicon Valley, how many of these men and women will reduce their innovation efforts given the new marginal tax rates?  Who is at the margin?  Does the existence of such people (those whose effort will decline because of the new incentives) suggest that overall growth will slow as an unintended consequence of the new tax policies?   Are there macro growth effects of large progressive changes to the tax code?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Free Stuff for Aspiring Environmental and Urban Economists

For those who want to get a sense of what the field of "environmental and urban economics" is about,  here are a series of short videos about the subject and here are all of my Winter 2013 Course Materials.

UPDATE:  I just posted my 30th YouTube video.  So, I'm posting roughly 10 a month.  That's pretty good output for a Los Angeles film maker such as myself.   Here is the link for all 30 and this set will grow over time.  I find that I prefer to speak about my new research and things I've read in the NY Times rather than talking about econ 101 ideas related to environmental economics.

UCLA Tom Smith's New Central Africa Project

The National Science Foundation has made a wise investment in UCLA Professor Tom Smith's project focused on promoting natural resource conservation in Central Africa.  I'm a member of this research team and will work hard on this.  The central idea I expect to work on relates to land and opportunity cost.   Any piece of land that is devoted to ecological protection is a piece of land that could have been used for mining or some other extractive activity.  Returning to the "Venn Diagram", using spatial statistical models -- is it possible to identify geographic areas that are rich in biodiversity but whose economic value to resource extracters is low?   As climate change plays out,  are there geographic areas that could sustain biodiversity so that a large number of creatures can adapt to new climate conditions?   The link to economics is people and economic activity can impede the creatures.  Conversely, if new eco-tourism opportunities can be created than economic aspirations may be aligned with keeping the creatures alive and well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Eric Garcetti for Mayor of Los Angeles

Last night I had the opportunity to listen to Eric Garcetti speak about his vision for Los Angeles and why he seeks to be the city's next Mayor.  He is a very impressive man.   I've lived 12 years of my life in Manhattan and 7 years in Los Angeles.  I view LA and NYC as equally great cities. If Manhattan has Mike Bloomberg, then we need someone of equal caliber.  While Garcetti may not have Bloomberg's private wealth, he matches Mayor Bloomberg's pragmatic style of leadership and attention to key details to maintain and improve quality of life for all residents.   Over the years, I've had the opportunity to listen to many eloquent speakers.  I was struck by Eric's style and substance.  In this blog, I have never endorsed anybody or anything (except for my Climatopolis book and that needed some marketing push).   Garcetti for Mayor!

Crop Insurance and Moral Hazard and Climate Adaptation

The U.S Federal Crop Insurance program will be making huge payouts to farmers due to the 2012 drought. Permit me to say something nasty.  This program creates moral hazard as insured farmers (at subsidized rates thanks to tax payers) have less of an incentive to adapt to anticipated drought conditions. If farmers face actuarial prices for insurance, I bet that they would be more pro-active in investing in crops and output that is  more drought resistant.  They would also have an incentive to migrate to areas where yields might be less sensitive to new climate conditions. In this sense, government insurance impedes climate adaptation.  This point is similar to my discussion of Hurricane Sandy and FEMA efforts. Good intentions can block progress!

Facebook's New Search Engine and the Law of Small Numbers

Facebook has announced its new search engine and it will seek to garner a large share of Google's market and advertising revenue.  Will Facebook succeed?  The Zuck is making a big deal about "personalized searches" based on your friends' collective wisdom.  The Zuck needs to take a statistics class because he has forgotten about the curse of dimensionality.    On Facebook I have roughly 200 friends and many of them (I apologize) are not good friends!  Suppose, I rely on this crew to tell me about "France and good restaurants in Paris".  I would guess that 5% of my friends have been to Paris in the last 5 years -- so 200*.05 = 10.  Of these ten people, do I trust that their taste in restaurants is the same as mine?  Do they have the same income I do?  From these 10 data points, perhaps 2 of them have posted to Facebook some info about the restaurants they liked in Paris.  So, from these 2 data points do I really learn anything about finding a good restaurant for me in Paris?  Unfortunately, I think the answer is "no".  Google averages over a much larger sample of strangers.  Google can provide more data by providing sites that show their reviews so I can cherry pick people who seem similar to me in terms of sophistication and priorities.  For example, I don't care what the restaurant looks like but I don't like smoking and I like good food even if it is expensive. I don't see how FB addresses this. They don't have enough data to tailor.  The law of small numbers is nasty!

UPDATE:  FB may respond to this challenge by providing search results for strangers who I don't know who have posted their views about Paris restaurants.  So, in this case FB's final search product will be a weighted average of my few friends and a Google substitute.  I'm not convinced that this is a major contribution.

The interesting statistics issue here is this tradeoff between customized information (my friends' views) versus seeing the collective wisdom of a larger sample of strangers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Air Pollution in Beijing the 2013 Version

Before I talk about Beijing, here is a link to a NY Post article about "sugar daddies" helping undergraduates finance their high tuition bills.    Do you view this as gross?  Or do you celebrate how capitalism evolves to help people adapt to new financial challenges?  Are you happy that the 1% and the 99% are interacting in the big city?   Cities do foster social interactions.

Turning to Beijing, recent air quality levels have been horrible.  This has been a cold winter in Beijing and the authorities have increased their coal use for creating heat to keep the people warm.  Throughout Beijing, there are these strange cones belching out smoke during winter.

Why hasn't this growing, rich city moved up the energy ladder from coal to cleaner natural gas for providing winter heat?  Yes, it would take money to make this conversion but if there are 10 million people in Beijing and if each person suffers $200 in health damage each year (I'm making up this number) due to coal use, then the total annual externality from exposure to this coal induced pollution is $1 billion.  At a 2% interest rate (and I pick this interest rate to reflect the likely faster growth of the Beijing economy and so the $200 number will rise over time),  the Present Discounted Value of benefits of this transition is $50 billion dollars and this must be greater than the 1 time cost of making this transition.

What is slowing down the authorities from doing this?  A coal to natural gas transition would also create jobs in Beijing!  Green Jobs!  The Beijing government could easily finance this by not buying a few U.S bonds.

Economics gets interesting when economists identify a pareto improvement that hasn't been embraced yet. Another urban example is road pricing.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Real Estate Research by Kahn, Kok and Quigley

My UCLA colleagues have asked me to give a research seminar on Monday.  While I don't like to function on Mondays, I do have a new paper that I'm excited about talking about.  This December 2012 draft is slightly out of date but it will show you what we are trying to do.   The commercial real estate sector is a major consumer of electricity and thus is a major contributor to creating greenhouse gas emissions.  The U.S government (for reasons I don't understand) has not updated its 2003 CBECS data.    Empiricists have trouble testing hypotheses without data!  We have created a very funky data set that allows us to test a number of interesting hypotheses.  Here are the big ideas.

Idea #1:  Building quality and energy consumption are complements and new buildings are consuming more energy over time.  This contrasts with the case of vehicle emissions where new capital is cleaner than older capital (see Kahn and Schwartz 2008) and Costa and Kahn for residential housing progress.

Idea #2:  Buildings with Full Service Lease tenants consume more electricity.  These tenants face a zero marginal cost for electricity and the law of demand holds!

Idea #3:  Buildings with a building manager on site consume less electricity.  Human capital conserves on natural capital!

Idea #4;  Buildings with more government tenants consume more power.  Beware soft budget constraints!

Idea #5:  The Rebound Effect Lurks ---- On hot days, newer buildings consume more power!   We conjecture that while such buildings have a newer HVAC system that since the price per unit of comfort is lower in such efficient buildings, such buildings' tenants respond by setting the thermostat lower and thus "rebounding".

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Outsourcing Through Open Source

All of my Winter 2013 UCLA environmental economics course material can be freely accessed here.   I don't use a textbook.  You will see that I've posted the first week's notes, a couple of readings (one by Paul Krugman on the green economy) and homework #1 (which celebrates the Coase Theorem and cigar smoking).   We have completed the first week of the class and more material will be posted each week.

If there are any people on the Internet with lots of free time who write well, I encourage you to take my lecture notes and try to craft them into a witty textbook.  We could then work together to shop this around to a press who wants to create a quirky environmental and urban economics textbook.  Ideally, you can figure out how to integrate by environmental and urban economics videos into this new product.

Some New Economics Books

Some old friends of mine have just published new books.   Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan have just published The Org.   I had the opportunity to read an early draft and I was quite impressed with how the authors combine ideas from modern incentive theory and organizational behavior to examine many different organizations around the world.  The book highlights the power of economic logic.   While I doubt this book will be turned into a movie,  the Hollywood crew should read it!

For those scholars who teach intermediate micro, there is a new textbook to adopt.   A Dream Team of Goolsbee, Levitt and Syverson has recently published their book.  For those of you who want free stuff, here are two free chapters.  I have the feeling that the authors rejected my advice when I suggested that they discuss at length the use of "lags" as instrumental variables that would allow the scholar to jump from modestly claiming that he/she had uncovered a correlation to making the stronger claim that the relationship represents a "causal effect".  

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Endless Chatter

The 2013 AEA San Diego meetings are now over.  To paraphrase Keynes,  "We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun."     Over the last 3 days, while my son went to the zoo and the Midway Aircraft carrier, I talked and talked to old friends, new friends, graduate students, bloggers, new colleagues, book press editors, co-authors, future co-authors, past co-authors, 1 Nobel Laureate and 2 past chairs of the CEA.  I am now taking a vow of silence.

While I enjoyed all of these conversations,  one of the most interesting conversations I had was with Dartmouth's Andrew Samwick who told me about his recent NBER Working Paper.       Parents who send their kids to private schools are patriots.

Donating the Voucher: An Alternative Tax Treatment of Private School Enrollment

Andrew A. Samwick

NBER Working Paper No. 18525
Issued in November 2012
NBER Program(s):   ED   PE 

Approximately 10 percent of school-age children in the United States are enrolled in private schools, relieving the financial burden on public school systems, and the taxpayers who support them, of the cost of their education. At present, the tax code does not allow families who provide this financial relief an income tax deduction, even though such relief is a gift to governments for exclusively public purposes and thus analogous to a charitable donation. Using the Public Use Microdata Sample of the American Community Survey and the NBER Internet Taxsim calculator, this paper estimates that granting families who enroll their children in private schools an income tax deduction equal to the per-pupil expenditures in their public school district would cost the federal government an average of $7.75 billion per year over the 2006 – 2010 period. This amount is less than one percent of federal income tax revenues. Because private school enrollment, public school expenditures, the likelihood of itemization, and marginal tax rates increase with taxpayer income, the dollar benefits of this change are positively related to income. At the margin, high-income taxpayers would receive about 35 cents in federal and state tax relief for each dollar of per-pupil expenditures foregone.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Productive 2013?

Today, the economists travel to San Diego for the annual convention.  For those who are interested in what economists actually work on (versus blog about) click here for details.   On Monday, teaching starts at UCLA and I'm somehow teaching two classes with a total enrollment of over 220 undergraduates.  I'm not sure how this happened.  Some extraordinary students have registered for my class and I'm eager to see if I can teach them a thing or two.   Given my commitment to open source and equal access to education, you can access all of the course material for my environmental economics class here.

Will 2013 be a productive year?  It better be.  I will turn 47 soon so I should have maturity to be a functioning adult.  While I'm excited about several of the projects that I'm currently hard at work on, I'm most excited about the book that Siqi Zheng and I are writing about quality of life in China's growing cities..  This is likely to be my last book for a decade.  If this book is well written and well executed, then it will set off an active discussion in China's political circles and will be of interest to Western nerds.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Who is the King of the Airport Book Store Rack?

I just flew from Oakland to LA and this provided me with the opportunity to study the Airport's book rack.  While Dubner and Levitt have been the Kings for a long time, there is a new "kid" on the block and he is UCLA's Jared Diamond.  Below, I reproduce a photo I took of the cover of his new book "The World Until Yesterday".


Given the success of his "Guns and Germs", he has earned the right to this top billing. I must admit that I quickly put down his book and started reading Pete Townsend's autobiography of his time with The Who (while I enjoyed the 10 pages, I didn't buy it either).   In the brief section I read, Townsend discussed how the band repositioned itself (circa 1979) after the death of Keith Moon to change its style of music.

Returning to Jared Diamond,  some  sociologist should write a paper about what predicts whether an academic's project achieves popular success.   When do academics break through to the other side?  The answer my friend may be blowing in the wind?  The number of attempts at "success" could be quantified by counting trade publication books and then defining "success" by some sales threshold. A linear probability model could then be estimated as a function of a bunch of attributes of the author and the subject material and the year when it was published.  For example, would Freaknomics have been a smash success had it been published in the midst of a deep recession (say 2009) rather than during good times (2004)?    Would "Why Nations Fail" have sold many fewer copies had it appeared during good times?

I do not have the time or inclination to think about these deep issues because I'm heading to San Diego for the ASSA meetings.