Saturday, June 22, 2013

Meet the NY Times Editorial Board

Have you ever opened the NY Times and turned to the second to last page of the news section and read the forceful but unsigned editorials?   Each day, I'm consistently amazed by this newspapers editorial board's certitude about how the world works. I'm jealous about their ability to make aggressive claims without presenting any evidence.  I have often wondered who writes these things.  After reading through this weblink I now know the answer.   Note that there are only 2 Ph.Ds on the board and neither are economists. Note that nobody with a real world business background serves on the board.  Nobody with a medical degree serves on the board.  Interesting?

Monday, June 17, 2013

What Do Important Economists Do All Day?

I didn't know the answer until I read this. 

A Field Experiment in Undergraduate Economics Teaching

Unlike many of my colleagues, I teach summer school.  While UCLA faculty can be paid 1/9th of their salary for teaching summer school, I choose to collect $6,000 in extra salary.  My 9 month salary at UCLA isn't $54,000.   The "profit" (total tuition - 6000 - payment to my teaching assistant) is collected by my Institute of the Environment and this is my way of being a good citizen as I generate some cash for my home unit.

But, self interest does motivate me.   I have finished a first draft of a 250 page textbook called "Lectures on Environmental and Urban Economics".  For the first time, I will use this as my sole textbook for this course.  At the end of the course, I will take the student feedback and I will revise the book.  In late August 2013, I will release this book on Amazon.  My plan is to sell this book for $1 a copy.  So, I'm running two field experiments here. First, I'm testing my UCLA students to see if the material interests them.  Second, I'm aggressively pricing this book to capture market share from existing environmental economics and urban economics texts.  Unlike the typical vanilla textbook,  my book is funky.  It is hard and it forces you to think. The book  applies the logic of the first year graduate program micro sequence at the University of Chicago but solely focuses on environmental and urban economics issues.  My target audeince is smart undergraduates even if these students are not economics majors. I assume that students know some statistics and some mathematics.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Graduation Day at UCLA's Institute of the Environment

Today was graduation at UCLA's Institute of the Environment.  Steve Westly gave an excellent and inspired graduation day speech.  It was short, uplifting and honest as it focused on offering some advice to the Class of 2013.  I plan to follow his advice and I'm part of the class of 1988.  While I didn't attend my 25th reunion at Hamilton College, I have carefully looked at the recent photos and video posted on Facebook.  My classmates look a pinch older than I remember them but they appear to still have some zest and good cheer.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Liberal West Coast and the Logistics of Exporting U.S Coal to Asia

Suppose that you own a Montana coal mine and you have millions of tons of coal that you would like to sell to Asia's energy hungry cities.  As the U.S environmental rules discourage new coal fired power plants, you need to find new customers and send them the product.  You can't email this coal to Asia.   A major logistics challenge is how to cheaply ship the coal to the final consumers in Asia.  Railroads within the U.S to an export terminal would do the trick but which communities in liberal Oregon, Washington and California will be open minded about allowing railroad tracks to cut their communities and to have the noise from the trains?   Given heavy land use regulation in these liberal states, will the coal mines be able to find the path of least resistance to conduct their profitable trade with Asia?  The coal mine consultants should be super-imposing political maps of voter registrations on to their different routes to identify train paths and potential export terminal hubs to find such "sweet spots".  For some details about the challenge, read this and this.   The interesting economics here is that boycotts usually don't work because the seller can always sell the product to someone else but in this case, liberal environmentalists are sitting on key logistical pieces of real estate and their choice not to zone out this industrial activity sharply raises the costs to the potential coal exporters.    The coal industry is countering that at least on local air pollution criteria that Montana's coal is cleaner than what Asia would burn if they can't access Montana's coal.  So, this claim posits that the boycott will lead to worse local air pollution in Asia.  But, U.S environmentalists don't care about that, they care about global carbon emissions and believe that a ton of coal burned is a ton of coal and thus want the Montana coal to remain in the ground.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Robert Fogel

The NY Times's obituary for Robert Fogel  is worth reading.  He was a great man and a kind man.  That's a rare combination!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How Do Rich Coastal Cities Adapt to Climate Change?

Mike Bloomberg provides a tutorial here.  How much do these public investments reduce risk exposure by?  Could perceived risk exposure reduction nudge people to live in risky areas that they otherwise wouldn't have selected?   When moral hazard lurks, how do we evaluate the effectiveness of government policy?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

A Blogging Drought

I haven't been posting much because I'm focusing on finishing a draft of my new book "Blue Skies" co-authored with Siqi Zheng of Tsinghua University. We have signed a book contract with the University of Chicago Press. Our book will  we raise that Press' average sales and quality!

For reasons I can't explain, I'm teaching summer school again this summer and my course starts June 24th.   To prepare for my lectures, I have written a 270 page book called; "Lectures on Environmental and Urban Economics".  In my humble opinion, this is the strangest economics book that has ever been written.   Once I incorporate my students' feedback, I will sell it for $2 a copy on Amazon and I hope that both teachers of undergraduate environmental economics and urban economics will adopt it.  For intermediate micro teachers who use a book such as Pindyck and Rubinfeld, my book can be used to supplement and bring that material to life.   My book integrates econometrics, field experiments, and intermediate micro into a common framework for discussing the key ideas at the intersection of environmental and urban economics.   My Chicago teachers would find it slightly challenging and very amusing.  Coase at age 101 might like parts of it!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Power Couples Revisited

Back in 2000, my wife and I wrote a paper about Power Couples that interested many people.   We argue that big cities solve the co-location problem so that in an age of ambitious working women that such couples will increasingly cluster in such cities as they meet and marry and stay in such cities or move to such cities.   But, a recent research line has found that some men appear to be troubled by their wife's earnings.   Read this summary here.    Since we care about household income inequality,  the Bertrand et. al. finding suggests that household income inequality will rise because of gender identity.  Couples such as my wife and I are doing pretty well.  I'm proud of her and her resulting earnings, while men who resent having an "equal market" spouse will avoid them and will have lower household income.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

A Productive Los Angeles Celebrity Stalker

The NY Times profiles the last working person in Los Angeles.  She tracks down celebrities as they land at LAX or cruise the Sunset Strip and then she takes their picture.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Need for More Air Conditioning at Schools

This piece reports that many poor kids attend urban schools that do not have air conditioning and this is affecting their ability to learn.  This example highlights why we need more economic growth to help us to adapt to climate change and more hot days.  To paraphrase a Nobel Laureate, "air conditioning begets learning which begets learning".