Moral Economists?

Nancy Folbre has written a blog piece on social responsibility and the logic of economics.  Her piece is a response to Ed Glaeser’s post about the moral heart of economics.    To quote his piece; “Economists are often wary of moral exhortation, as many see the harm so often wrought by arguments that are long on passion and short on sense. But don’t think that our discipline doesn’t have a moral spine beneath all the algebra. That spine is a fundamental belief in freedom.”

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China’s Green Cities

Some self promotion — here is my January 2011 talk at the World Bank that sketches my ongoing work on pollution problems in China’s cities.  Optimists of the world should celebrate that ambient air pollution is starting to improve in China’s cities and this trend is more pronounced in their richer cities and those that attract more Foreign Direct Investment.  Pessimists of the world should “celebrate” that the carbon footprint of China’s cities will grow with increased motorization and more electricity consumption.   

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Quality of Life Trends vs. Income Growth Trends Revisited

Tyler Cowen’s NY Times piece sketches a pessimistic vision of U.S economic stagnation as measured by trends in median household income. As an eternal optimist, I offer my response here.  Consider Los Angeles or New York City today, how many people would prefer to live in 1970 versus 2011?  Crime is down over time. Pollution is down over time.  The rise of the Green City has sharply improved our quality of life. Such non-market local public goods improvements are not seen in national income accounts.   Economists have struggled with what is the right way to construct the CPI “consumer  price index.” This is crucial for measuring inflation and thus trends in real income.

A Preview of Ed Glaeser’s Triumph of the City

New York Magazine has written a fair preview of Glaeser’s important new book.    His book highlights how cities have facilitated social interactions, learning and trade and thus have played a central role in our overall progress over time.   Glaeser (a New Yorker by birth) celebrates New York City as America’s “greatest city”.  Despite its cold winter weather, both young people and older people cluster there to start their careers and to live the good life in this ultimate “consumer city”.

The reviewer questions whether New York City’s rise since the bleak 1970s has benefited all of its residents.   The reviewer’s dream New York City is creative, safe, low grit, green and accessible for all income groups.    Meatloaf taught us that “two out of three ain’t bad”.    Glaeser, and most urban economists, interprets rising real estate rents and  gentrification as a sign of increased urban vibrancy.  Not all will agree with this claim.

My Take on Today’s International News

Egyptian protestors at the margin  — the free rider problem arises in Egypt  — who is willing to fight the fight?

China’s investments in green tech and biomedical research will accelerate progress in the United States.  Ideas are public goods but the public appears to embrace the “zero sum game” cage match logic.

The Economics of Pets

A few months ago, I posted a blog post about the carbon footprint of pets.    I see that my post must have started a new literature.  Here is a new paper   titled “Pet Overpopulation:  An Economic Analysis”.  Perhaps blogging and academic writing are like peanut butter and jelly? 

Now, I have wondered about how close substitutes are pets and children but I haven’t been smart enough to figure out a way to measure this.   We would need to observe whether people substitute from having kids to owning pets as the full Becker price of kids goes up.  (I’m half kidding).

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The California Coastal Commission and Gentrification Along the Coastline

Jonathan Zasloff and I have published a paper about  the housing market effects of Land use regulation . It has just been published in the mighty Journal of Housing Economics.  In case you don’t subscribe to that journal, permit me to sketch why it interests us.

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My Blogging Debut

I’d like to thank Mark for inviting me to join the team.  I’m an environmental and urban economist at UCLA.   A couple of random thoughts.

1.   Harold Pollack’s post about “Dog Bites Man” interested me.   I know economists who signed the petition to revoke “Obama Care” and I also know economists who signed the petition to keep it going.   Harold is right that a large majority of the leading “ health economists” did sign it and I believe in comparative advantage.   

I am a big believer in experimentation.  We know that the current incentives in health care do not provide doctors or patients with sufficient incentives to invest in preventative care.  I am hoping that “Obama Care” will encourage experimentation to help us learn about what are potentially cost effective ways of “bending the curve”.  Moving forward, I want to see academic economists be much more honest about what we know and what we don’t know and for us to suggest research designs that would provide the evidence to improve our body of knowledge.    For example, under President Obama’s new rules of the game could Medicare choose different incentives regimes for doctors (hopefully randomly assigned) and then examine outcomes and treatment choices to see how doctors respond to these new “rules of the game”?

2.  Switching subjects,  many of my friends who are not UC faculty members “worry” about the fate of our excellent public university system. I appreciate their concerns!  Yesterday, Meyer Luskin’s 100 million dollar gift to UCLA was announced. A large % of this gift is geared towards the UCLA School of Public Affairs (SPA).  SPA has an excellent faculty and Mr. Luskin’s gift signals a confidence that UCLA’s best days are ahead of us.  With all of the fiscal uncertainty, I can honestly say that this good news lifted my spirts and I even gave a good lecture for once in my California Sustainability Challenges class.   I’m hoping that Mark and Andy will blog about how they envision the growth of our SPA School and how we will build on Meyer Luskin’s wise investment.  I have a fiscal plan for saving the University of California. I will reveal it soon and it doesn’t involve UCLA basketball ticket prices.

UPDATE:  I can already tell that I’m going to enjoy responding to the comments posted to my entries.   First, let me remind everyone that economists are a diverse group.  There are the University of Chicago economists and the nice “new age” economists such as Larry Summers.