Thursday, May 30, 2013

#5 in the 1993 Ph.D Cohort?

REPEC is ranking economists by graduation year.  I like my #5 ranking for the class of 1993.  Perhaps my thesis advisers will now read my dissertation thesis?   I recognize that as more REPEC authors update their profiles and include their graduation year that I'm likely to slide in the rankings but REPEC doesn't include either my Green Cities book or my Climatopolis book (nor my ongoing University of Chicago Press manuscript) or 26 other peer reviewed papers I've written for non-economics journals.  Permit me to list them here from my vita;

Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment published September 1st 2006 by the Brookings Institution Press, ISBN 978-0-8157-4816-8 , 2007 Planetizen Top Ten book of the year.  Translated into Chinese by Tsinghua University's CIDEG in 2008. translated into Farsi in 2011. 

. Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in Our Hotter Future, 288 pages, Basic Books published in September 2010. ISBN 978-0465019267 , translated into Arabic (under the name Matthew Khan). Paperback released in 2013.

  Informal Economies, Information and the Environment, joint with Alex Pfaff, Journal of International Affairs, Spring 2000 53(2) 525-544.

Decentralized Employment and the Transformation of the American City, joint with Ed Glaeser, Brookings/Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs Volume 2. 2001.

The Beneficiaries of Clean Air Act LegislationRegulation. 24(1) 34-39. 2001.

 Does Sprawl Reduced the Black/White Housing Consumption Gap? Housing Policy Debate, Volume 12(1) 2001.

Civic Engagement in Heterogeneous Communities (joint with Dora Costa), Perspectives on Politics 2003, 1(1) 103-112.

Two Measures of Progress in Adapting to Climate Change, Global Environmental Change, 2003 13 307-312.

Environmental Regional Public Goods in Asia and Latin America. Published in Regional Public Goods from Theory to Practice. edited by Antoni Estevadeordal, Brian Frantz and Tam Robert Nguyen. IADB and ADB. 2004 pages 203-226

The Effects of Urban Rail Transit Expansion: Evidence from Sixteen Cities from 1970 to 2000 (joint with Nate Baum-Snow), Brookings-Wharton Conference on Urban Affairs 2005 Volume, edited by Gary Burtless and Janet Rothenberg Pack.

Air Pollution in Cities, chapter for Blackwell Press Companion Volume on Urban Economics, edited by Richard Arnott and Daniel McMillen. 2006.

Public Health and Mortality: What Can We Learn from the Past? (joint with Dora Costa) , in Poverty, the Distribution of Income, and Public Policy edited by Alan Auerbach, David Card and John Quigley, Russell Sage volume in honor of Eugene Smolensky, 2006.

Environmental Valuation Using Cross-City Hedonic Methods. Chapter Two of Environmental Valuation: Interregional and Intraregional Perspectives. 2006 Ashgate Press book edited by John Carruthers and Bill Mundy.

Green Growth: The Economics of Green Cities published by London's Policy Exchange as an essay in the book Living for the City  

"compensating differentials." The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Second Edition. Eds. Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics Online. Palgrave Macmillan.

"urban environment and quality of life." The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Second Edition. Eds. Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics Online. Palgrave Macmillan.

Estimating Hedonic Models of Consumer Demand with an Application to Urban Sprawl (joint with Pat Bajari) published in Hedonic Methods in Housing Markets Pricing Environmental Amenities and Segregation Baranzini, A.; Ramirez, J.; Schaerer, C.; Thalmann, P. (Eds.) 2008, XXII, 278 p. 26 illus., Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-387-76814-4

Understanding Spatial Variation in Tax Sheltering:  The Role of Demographics, Ideology and Taxes (joint with Bill Gentry) International Regional Science Review 2009, 32(3) 400-423.

Walking the Walk: The Association Between Environmentalism and Green Transit Behavior (joint with Eric Morris), Journal of the American Planning Association, 2009 , 75(4) 389-405. lead article.

Health, Stress and Social Networks: Evidence from Civil War Veterans (joint with Dora L. Costa), Demography, Volume 47, Number 1, February 2010, pp. 45-66.

Harrigan RJ, Thomassen HA, Buermann W, Cummings RF, Kahn ME, et al. 2010 Economic Conditions Predict Prevalence of West Nile Virus. PLoS ONE 5(11): e15437. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015437

 2012 Key Indicators Theme Chapter titled Green Urbanization in Asia  ,  Asian Development Bank (co-author joint with Guanghua Wan).

The Problem with FEMA No One is Talking About ,  Harvard Business Review Blog, November 1st 2012

The Greenness of China’s Cities: Air Pollution and Household Greenhouse Gas Emissions, a chapter in the edited Volume: China's Environmental Policy and Urban Development Edited by Joyce Yanyun Man, 2013 Lincoln Institute Press.

Sustainable and Smart Cities, for World Bank Volume titled Rethinking Cities (co-edited by Ed Glaeser), Chapter 12

China’s Bullet Trains Mitigate the Cost of Mega City Growth (joint with Zheng)  ,  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,  PNAS Plus , March 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Historian's Views on Climate Change Risk

The world is filled with Ph.D historians.  I just had the opportunity to read a long piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a historian named Geoffrey Parker as he writes about the long history of natural disasters and the risks posed by climate change.

Permit me to provide two direct quotes;

"Nevertheless, it took human stupidity to turn crisis into catastrophe. The meager French harvest of 1675 occurred just as the king raised new taxes to pay for his wars, with predictable results. Many people died of hunger, many more migrated in search of food, and in the west of France, many took part in the "red bonnets" revolts. Most striking were the signs of hardship written on the bodies of survivors. Government officials in France compiled data on each man who enlisted in the royal army, including his height; those born in 1675 stood on average just five feet tall, the shortest cohort of Frenchmen ever recorded."

"As the paleontologist Richard Fortey has observed: "There is a kind of optimism built into our species that seems to prefer to live in the comfortable present rather than confront the possibility of destruction," with the result that "human beings are never prepared for natural disasters." 

Is long run history relevant for thinking about how we will adapt to climate change?  I don't think so.   Our world economy is changing so rapidly that I learn little about our future ability to adapt from 16th century Europe.  That group of people were poor, they weren't educated and they didn't have the technology strategies we have today to cope with shocks and risk.

As I argue in Climatopolis, as our climate changes we will rebuild our cities in relatively safer locations.  We will build with materials and in ways that reduces risks from natural disasters.  We will price scarce resources such as electricity and water so that we use these scarce resources efficiently.  Our entrepreneurs will devise new products to help us cope with the new challenges.  Twitter and Facebook will educate people in real time about emerging challenges.    International markets in food and insurance will help those at risk to smooth risk and to allow people to consume even if their rural agricultural production declines (due to drought and heat waves).   While Dr.  Parker has some interesting things to say, he ignores the role that capitalism plays as an evolutionary force in helping us to adapt to new challenges. He ignores the innovative possibilities of modern capitalism.  By definition historians look to the past, but the economic view of people is that we are self interested and forward looking.  If we anticipate a challenge (or if only a subset of us anticipate that we face a challenge in climate change) then this is a start to finding solutions.   Dr. Parker ignores the facts that the death toll from natural disasters has been declining over time and income shields us from such disasters as urban populations are at lower risk.  He quotes "big damage" numbers but ignores that U.S GDP is $16 trillion dollars.   1 billion/16 trillion =  .000625!

UPDATE:  I see that there are historians who believe that their field is relevant for thinking about our future in the face of climate change.   I respect self pride and I understand self interest but let's do a simple case together.   Back in the 17th century what was the full set of available strategies available to French farmers and consumers of farm products? Compare that to the year 2013,  while I will not endorse GM crops, this provides just one example of the set of coping strategies we have that the French in the 17th century do not. Ongoing technological advance, international trade, and much higher incomes and better storage technology all make past tales of woe irrelevant for today.

Now, I will grant the historians one point in the case of adapting to climate change.  Historians do play a useful role in reminding today's entrepreneurs of these past tales because such misery creates new opportunities for the entrepreneurs who supply the solutions so that future misery doesn't happen.  In this sense, history doesn't repeat itself because people learn from history.   Turner's piece appears to embrace a behavioral economics view that were are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over.  He ends his piece with some optimism about resource constraints;

We should ponder Milton's vision as we debate whether it is better to invest today in preparing for extreme weather, or to face tomorrow the consequences of inaction. After all, unlike our ancestors in the 17th century, we possess both the resources and the technology to make that choice.

Monday, May 27, 2013

9th Week of Spring Quarter

This is the strange time of year when only a handful of campuses are not on summer break.  Stanford, University of Chicago, Northwestern, UCLA and just a few others are on the quarter system.  My students appear to be well aware that it should be summer time.  Attendance is down and students seek to have some fun.  I'm trying to make some research progress on several projects but I keep hitting speed bumps.

I had intended that this blog post would focus on innovative ways that Facebook could simultaneously make money and further academic research.  I thought that I could think of some field experiment designs that Facebook could create.  For example, it could randomly choose people to receive different subsidies if they can recruit their friends to give money for a specific charity.  For example,  Facebook could write me and offer a 40% match on any money raised by my friends to find a cure for baldness.  Facebook could then claim some percentage of the total donations raised as a tax deduction to lower their IRS reported income.   The research design would simultaneously raise $ for good causes and would tease out which people in the population respond to charity incentives and who can be mobilized to convince their network to step up and give to a good cause.

A second new business for Facebook would be for FB to begin to suggest potential spouses for people using their "likes" correlations.  FB could make a number of life suggestions for people such as what they should eat at their next meal. Now I must admit that I'm confused about how FB would be paid for this advice but perhaps they can call McKinsey to provide some advice on how to monetize their advice?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Economic Geography and Weitzman's PBS Discussion

Greg Mankiw's blog nudged me to read Marty Weitzman's PBS presentation.  Marty's work is fascinating but note that there is no spatial component to his work.  He never discusses economic geography. In particular, he implicitly assumes that catastrophic climate change equally impacts every inch of the globe.   Shocks always create "winners" and "losers" and comparative advantage always exists.   The whole world (7 billion people) could live in a geographic area the size of Texas.   We are always building and rebuilding our cities. We continue to use international markets to produce and trade food products.   We continue to invent new storage technologies that allow us to insure against climate shocks. Marty underestimates capitalism's ability to step up to provide solutions to anticipated challenges.   Spatial competition and urban growth is key adaptation strategy.   This is the key reason I wrote Climatopolis.   I also suggest that you papers by Desmet and Rossi-Hansberg, Pindyck, and Costello et. al. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Two Points About Cities

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been re-reading the roughly 2600 blog posts I have written since 2005.  I owe everyone an apology.  Only 15% of them are good.  Too many of the posts are self serving, and/or silly.    The reason I sat down to read through all of them is that I knew that I did post some good material related to environmental and urban economics and I've now extracted that material and I'm rewriting it into a new free e-book I will release on environmental and urban economics.

From now on, I will be posting less silly stuff.

Two "serious" points about cities.

1.  The Pew Center has posted an intriguing paper quantifying that suburbanites are the big winners from mortgage interest deduction.   The Geographic Distribution of Mortgage Interest Deduction  .  Center city residents are  more likely to be renters (because people live in multi-family buildings and such buildings are more efficiently run by single owners).   So, the tax code is subsidizing suburbia.  If suburban living has a higher carbon footprint, then the IRS is subsidizing climate change.

2. For teachers teaching urban economics, take a look at the LA City Budget Calculator. My proposal increased the deficit.  Maybe I'm a Keynesian!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Carlsbad California is Very Nice

Until this afternoon, I haven't jumped into the Pacific Ocean for at least 40 years.   I'm taken the plunge in Carlsbad, California.  From our beach hotel, I've been watching the ocean and the sunset.  If you are a mildly contemplative person who is seeking to relax, then this is the place to be.  Watching my son battle the waves allowed me to travel back in time to when it was my turn to battle the currents of the Atlantic Ocean back on Fire Island off of Long Island.   My son's FLL Lego Robotics North American Championship has brought us here.  This has been a good mini-vacation for me.  At Lego Land today, I had the opportunity to admire hundreds of different tattoos decorating the skin of different men and women walking around in shorts and bathing suits.  Perhaps I'm getting old but I believe that it is time for the U.S to show some class and cover up.

My mother asked me why I haven't been blogging.  As I stated in an earlier post, I'm burned out.  I'm trying to focus my attention on finishing a large number of papers that I have up and going. I'm very excited about finishing my book manuscript (joint with Siqi Zheng) on China's cities.  This book is quite good.  I'm also quite excited about the open source set of lectures I'm developing on environmental and urban economics.  We will find out if UCLA students are as smart as they claim to be as I employ dozens of them to work with with me on this book.  We will see.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Classy Los Angeles

The LA Times reports that the entertainer Chris Brown is making some enemies in his neighborhood.  His wall art is scaring local children and may strike some adults as tacky.  The photo below displays a luxury sports car parked outside of his house and some pop art on his property.

Residential communities are interesting entities as separate households have independently chosen to live in that area (and thus must have similar preferences) but most neighbors have zero interactions with each other.

Friday, May 10, 2013

UCLA vs. USC in Academic Competition

With Kobe out of the NBA Playoffs and nobody following the LA Mayorial Election, the LA Times has devoted a front page article to the "big story" that  two excellent brain scientists have moved (and taken their huge labs) from UCLA to USC.   Two thoughts.

1. Competition is a good thing!  When I was an Assistant Professor back in the 1990s, I taught at Columbia University.  Back then,  Columbia was a complacent place celebrating that it was the only Ivy League school in the world's best city.  This perceived monopoly power allowed it to coast along.  An unintended consequence of the rise of NYU starting in the early 1990s was that Columbia shaped up and became a serious place again.  The fear of being upstaged by the upstart NYU nudged Columbia to wake up from its stupor.  The rise of USC may trigger a similar effect at UCLA.   During the recent ongoing budget crisis, it does not appear that my esteemed school has not thought hard about our priorities.  What do we really want to be excellent at?  Can we do everything?  If this discussion has taken place, I haven't heard it.

2.  All faculty are replaceable.  The two faculty members who have moved to USC are ages 60 and 41.      There always is a silver lining to losing faculty.    This is an opportunity for this unit to become younger and perhaps more diverse.  Were these guys really such monopolists that there aren't at least  three other rising 35 year olds who can use the resources that are now available to do something big?  As I argued in an earlier blog post, every university faculty must aspire to become younger not older!

Here are the Chancellor's remarks on this issue.   I would simply have wished them goodbye and good luck and used the freed up resources and space to pursue a new initiative.  

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

My Recent Political Economy Work

We all know that "political economy" is hot stuff these days.  In this blog post, I will succinctly state my recent efforts on this subject.   You will be relieved to know that all of my work has been empirical.  I will discuss this work in random order.

Paper #1;  In joint work with Stuart Gabriel and Ryan Vaughn, we use a unique micro data set to study a major subprime lenders' loans between 2003 and the end of 2006.  We document that this bank played favorites in terms of Congressional Geography.  Borrowers who lived in Congressional Districts where the Representative was a Congressional Leader, or this bank had previously made campaign contributions to the Representative, received "sweeter deals".  This is especially true if the borrower was black.  We argue that the subprime bank was seeking to win "political capital" with key members of Congress that it could cash in at a later date.

Paper #2;  In joint work with Siqi Zheng and Sun and Luo, we study the promotion of Chinese Mayors and the role that environmental criteria play in the central government's promotion criteria. We argue that relative to Mao's time that the new generation of mayors have much stronger incentives to seek to mitigate urban pollution externalities and hence to supply "blue skies".  This is a major theme in my new book manuscript (joint with Zheng).

Paper #3;  In joint work with Cragg, Zhou and Gurney, we study Congressional Voting on greenhouse gas mitigation legislation such as the 2009 ACES bill. We document that 3 attributes of Representatives (district per-capita carbon emissions, district per-capita income, and the Representative's overall ideology) do a very good job explaining the propensity to vote in favor of low carbon legislation.

Paper #4; In ongoing joint work with Matt Holian, we examine California household level voting on low carbon legislation including AB32 and the California High Speed Rail.  We document that both ideology and self interest are key determinants of voting patterns.  Center City residents (relative to suburbanites) are more likely to vote in favor of low carbon legislation both due to "selection effects" and "life style effects".

Monday, May 06, 2013

Accountability and the Academic Version of American Idol

Watch out academic NSF award recipients!   The American Public will soon be searching for you at this website.  If you do "silly work" that has been funded with public $, then  you may receive a lot of thumbs down and social shame.  While I am a big fan of the NSF system, this doesn't strike me to be a crazy exercise.   Academics should be held accountable for our work.  There are many Departments at my University where I would like to know what their faculty do all day long.  This new austerity process may nudge some of these academics to make a short case for why they and their field matters in 2013.    Here is a quote;

"First, we will take a look at the National Science Foundation (NSF) - Congress created the NSF in 1950 to promote the progress of science. For this purpose, NSF makes more than 10,000 new grant awards annually, many of these grants fund worthy research in the hard sciences. Recently, however NSF has funded some more questionable projects - $750,000 to develop computer models to analyze the on-field contributions of soccer players and $1.2 million to model the sound of objects breaking for use by the video game industry. Help us identify grants that are wasteful or that you don't think are a good use of taxpayer dollars."

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Public Intellectuals and the Growing Harvard Hypothesis List

My mother has always hoped that I would be a "public intellectual".   While I have failed, many noteworthy academics at Harvard are willing to step up.  In recent years, Harvard's scholars have provided many big ideas for which they made national news.  Here are three famous examples;

1.  Today,  Ferguson on why Keynes was so focused on the short run.

2.  Reinhart and Rogoff and the critical 90% debt ratio.

3.  Larry Summers on women and hard math.

There are at least two interesting questions here.  What is the socially optimal amount of provoking the populace?  Second, does holding Harvard stationary cause excellent scholars to "cross the line" or does Harvard seek out and aggressively recruit scholars that are more likely to engage in this activity?

On the first point, in this age of Paul Krugman --- I feel that my friends at the University of Chicago have under invested in engaging with the public.  John Cochrane and Casey Mulligan are writing strong blogs but Professor Krugman is winning the applause and the public debate as my Chicago friends are free riding and ducking stepping into Milton Friedman's large shoes.  

Lectures on the Economics of Sustainable Real Estate Investment

Every May, I grow tired and bored.  This year is worse than usual.  I'm teaching too much and I not hearing enough new ideas from my colleagues.  In search of new stimulation, I've made a strange choice.   Nils Kok and I have agreed to write a textbook at the intersection of real estate finance and investment, urban economics, energy economics and environmental economics.  While there are some good texts for each of these subjects,  I've gotten excited about how to write a book at the MBA/PHD/Masters in Public Policy level that covers our thinking at the intersection of these four subjects.  

The typical MBA doesn't fully appreciate the power of microeconomics as a tool for  understanding the world and for making money.  The typical Ph.D is all tooled up but doesn't have a clue about what are interesting "doable" research questions. The typical Masters in Policy student is often suspicious of free market forces seeing them as a cloaked way to transfer income from the 99% to the 1%.   This book will have a lot to say to all of these groups.

The perceptive reader will see how basic University of Chicago price theory and simple econometric tests can be used in tandem to make a number of interesting statements.   This book will highlight the power of free market ideas as a force for promoting environmental protection and improving urban quality of life.  This project has jolted me back to life.  Once we are done, we will simply give the book away basically for free as an "E-book".    We are on pace to finish this project by December 2013.

The point of this blog post is not merely to boast about what I will do.  If you are an altruist, or if you are an under cited researcher, please send me your relevant research and I will read it to see if your work should be bundled into this endeavor.  

Friday, May 03, 2013

Adaptation During Wartime: The Case of the Marines in Iraq

From 2000 until 2007, I was colleagues with Richard Schultz at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.   My Fletcher colleagues are often quoted in the news.  When I read their quotes, it makes me flash back to good days.   Today, the WSJ reviewed Schultz's new book.   Here is a quote from the review;

"The Marines deserve a large share of the credit for turning around a war that had been all but lost. Along the way, they relearned hard truths about counterinsurgency campaigns—that wars among the people aren't won by technology alone; that it is essential to understand the languages, culture and history of the people among whom one fights; that building competent local forces is the way out of counterinsurgency operations like the continuing one in Afghanistan.
Mr. Schulz is absolutely correct in describing the Anbar campaign as a "textbook example of how Marines—true to their organizational culture—learned, adapted, and prevailed over a murderous, cold-blooded foe." This victory was impossible to imagine when I was fighting in Anbar nine years ago, but today Drill Instructors at Parris Island are already shouting marching cadences to Marine recruits that celebrate those who led the fight in Anbar. It thus joins a long list of tough battles in which the Marine Corps demonstrated not just its legendary faithfulness but also its flexibility."
In this age of celebration of the low risk drone attacks, this emphasis on "hearts and minds" is related to important empirical work being done by UCSD's Eli Berman and his co-authors.  

Switching subjects,  for all of you seeking to be more productive, happier people --- I suggest listening to this music.  

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Understanding the Origins of Great Economists' Worldview

This Sunday the NY Times supplies a friendly debate between two titans named Glenn Hubbard and Larry Summers.   The author of this piece, Adam Davidson,  appears to believe in the key role childhood experience plays in shaping us in later life. Without delving into any Freudian theories, he pays close to attention to each man's upbringing and the political conversation at the dinner table when each man was a child.  If economics is a science then why would such facts matter in explaining their respective policy views today?     Clearly, Davidson does not believe that economics is a science.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, many cynics want to view academic economists as political ideologues who know how to reverse engineer "fancy" mathematical models to generate the predictions they already "knew" were correct (i.e we need more stimulus, or reduce debt now!).   We, the academic economists, are viewed as having false credibility because we know math and statistics and we cloak our opinions in what appears to be hard science.

How can economists earn back our credibility? Would modesty help?   These are dangerous days.