Sunday, December 18, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Curious after hearing that a few Towson students have dumpster dived for groceries at the local Trader Joe’s, I thought this kind of activity must be pretty common in this economy and with rising food prices, so I did some research. First, I found a clever and entertaining documentary called “DIVE!” which confirmed that, yes, this is an increasingly common activity in the United States, but not just amongst college students. Jeremy Seifert, the creator of Dive!, and friends put food on the table by dumpster diving, and argue that doing so is helping to counteract the extreme amounts of food waste from grocery stores and by people who cling too tightly to expiration and sell-by dates. I also discovered through this assignment that our very own professor, James Manley, has dumpster dived for bread before.
Seifert is not the only one responding to rises in food prices that have lead to even more food waste. Pope Benedict XVI commented on food speculation in an address to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that “poverty, underdevelopment and hunger are often the result of selfish attitudes which, coming from the heart of man, show themselves in social behavior and economic exchange.” According to The Wall Street Journal, the Pope’s views on food speculation are not aligned with the views of Ben Bernanke, who feels that increased demand in Asia is contributing more to the increase in food prices. For those who love data, corn prices have gone up by 61% in the past year. Coffee prices have risen by 46%. Investment in food has risen by 1900% in just five years (from $13 billion to $260 billion). I would argue that both the demand and heavy speculation can be attributed to rising prices; neither factor should be brushed off.In preparation for World Food Day, 461 economists, according to National Public Radio, called for better regulation of speculation on food prices and other commodities, arguing that it has contributed to volatile price changes and global hunger. There is plenty of food out there, but the price is just too high, and the increasingly impoverished population of the United States and other nations are suffering because of the high prices. Who is benefiting? Obviously those making a profit from speculation, but some readers of NPR argued that speculation helps farmers feel more secure when producing and knowing that they will not be operating at a loss. Are the benefits to this small portion of the population worth the losses and hunger put upon the global population? Would you dumpster dive for food?
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Since there are externalities in this "commons" situation, using catch shares or taxes are the way to get to the social optimum. It's not easy to figure out what that social optimum is, though, and spreading the pain around so that it doesn't hit anyone disproportionately is virtually impossible. Clearly effective regulations are necessary, but also humane implementation of the regulations is something to strive for. There's already enough pepper spray in the air these days!
I don't doubt that people are moving away from Baltimore City, and I'll believe her that people are also leaving PG and Montgomery counties. Could this be because people prefer to live in rural areas? (She also says that more people have moved to rural areas, but this looks to be largely because of the growth of Aberdeen Proving Ground.)
She makes a valid point that O'Malley's shifting state money from rural to urban areas benefits him politically: Democrats tend to be concentrated in such areas, and this can be seen as an excuse to send money to his supporters. On the other hand, moving money from areas where there are few people to areas where there are more people could also be seen as simply efficient: investing in public goods that benefit the most people is generally a good idea, though some public goods such as wilderness area do not lend themselves to urban investment.
Her next contention is that high density is bad because it tends to produce highly concentrated pollution. I won't argue with that either, except to say that pollution abatement measures can alleviate some of that. For example, urban areas are more likely to impose more stringent air quality controls on vehicles. However, ultimately she's right: concentrated people produce concentrated pollution, and that is expensive to deal with. The question I'd ask is what her preferred alternative is. If everyone is commuting by car from a rural area to an urban job, the total amount of pollution is almost certainly more, though it's more distributed. And though she dismisses climate change as "subjective," I am not as sanguine about the issue.
Her dismissal of Maryland emissions and of mass transit in general don't impress me, but she is more convincing when she says that limiting growth will raise housing prices. That seems likely to me: any kind of an increase in restrictions is likely to raise prices. On the other hand, she ignores prices completely when she says that increased density means more pressure on existing systems. So, the implication is that it's cheaper to build new ones than to repair the old? That doesn't make much sense.
It's expensive to internalize externalities, no question. That doesn't mean that it isn't the right thing to do.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The Obama administration decided to delay their proposal for this tax the following day, as there was such a large outcry from the public. The public was upset and so was the Christmas tree industry, as many in the industry did not even want the tax. The industry has tried three prior times and after a period of time the revenue of the tax decline to the point that the programs were no longer effective to run.
This tax can be seen as another attempt by the Federal government to have a say in the market operations in the United States. The government is already extended itself further and further, while there is still an issue of a large national debt. The implementation of a tax on Christmas trees can also be seen as an infringement from the government on the ability of its citizens to choose their own religion freely. What is special about the Christmas tree to those who do not celebrate Christmas? Why should there be a tax to improve the image of the Christmas tree if not everyone cares about Christmas trees? These are the gray areas that the federal government needs to be cautious proceeding on, especially in an economically tight time where many are not happy with the government as it is.
This article is the first for the last quiz. You don't need it or anything more recent for the 11/18 quiz #4.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
I think that it is a good idea for homeowners to pay a fee for the storm-water runoff from their property, but I’m not sure how well the residents are going to accept it. If the nitrogen waste is caused by their own fertilizers, pet wastes, and organic debris, then it is good that the homeowners will finally become aware of the negative externalities that their wastes have on the environment. It’s important that the Chesapeake Bay becomes less polluted, and Trumbauer has come up with a smart idea for dealing with the funds that are associated with improving water quality. Do you think that residents will agree to pay this $35 fine, or will they fight it?
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Nearly 100 years ago US law established a doctrine of "clear and present danger" to describe the situations in which the right to free speech might be abrogated. My best reading of Wikipedia tells me that in 1969 the standard was changed to ban only incitements to "imminent lawless action." Obviously Australian legal proceedings will proceed from a different background, but the question is intriguing: if tobacco consumption is legal but expensive to the state, can governments limit advertising?
I confess that I stopped reading the article when they started talking to a sociologist about the stigma associated with doing dirty job, and how once a job goes to immigrants it doesn't go back. No doubt I'm blinded by my training as an economist, but the issue here isn't that the job is "dirty," whether by association with dirt itself or by a despised group of people. The issue is that the jobs don't pay enough for people to put up with the physical punishment associated with doing the job. Americans do some nasty, nasty jobs, and they do them because they pay. The aquaculturist in the article complains that he "can't pay people $13 an hour" because of overseas competition.
I hate to be cold-hearted, but if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Find a niche, dude- try raising your catfish on organic meal and then charge a premium price when you sell them. Then maybe you could afford to pay your workers a decent wage, and you wouldn't have to go try to convince people to come work for you out of the goodness of their hearts. (The employer hasn't bothered to learn the language of his workers, but that's another story.) Try switching to shrimp, which is also a product with heavy international competition, but one that still goes for a good price.
I can't say I like the means by which this end was achieved: the racially-tinged regulations make me sick to my stomach. But if it brings an end to the economy of serfdom, that would be a lotus flower: a beautiful thing rooted in muck.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
A complicated problem with no easy solution; at least sharing the costs seems like a good way to start.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Currently Niagara Falls is a city of only 50,000 residents, which has been, and is continuing to decline. Also, the current per capita income of the city is only $19,000 compared to the rest of New York's average of $30,000 income. These factors have led to a push for the use of Niagara Falls’s plant. Opponents point to the Love Canal incident of the 1970s, when the Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp. dumped waste chemicals into the abandoned Love Canal. These chemicals were found seeping into backyards and basements throughout Niagara Falls. The situation got so bad that President Jimmy Carter declared the area a federal emergency in 1978, and the Superfund Cleanup Act was passed in 1980. This recent environmental disaster is the reason why many are uneasy about bringing in more potentially dangerous waste products.
The problem in Niagara Falls is an interesting one. On one side we have a city that was once a popular destination for honeymoons and family vacations declining at a staggering rate. And on the other side, we have the potential for another environmental disaster that could rock a town already struck by one in recent memory. Personally, I too have mixed feelings about it for the same reasons that are listed above; however, I do believe that the situation is much safer now than it was with the Hooker Corp. The EPA has already begun legislation to prevent toxic waste water from re-entering the water supply. The major downfall of this proposal that I see is the current condition of the Niagara Falls plant. It does not say how new the plant is and how much, if any, retrofitting the plant will cost. This is the major unknown. If the plant is up to code, or perhaps even above standards, I think that this would be a good idea; though, if the plant needed extensive retrofitting, or if the plant just barely met standards, I would think that the plan should be scrapped.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
While his cavalier attitude toward CO2 emissions seems misplaced, he's pointing to a lot of very real recent developments. The market is indeed moving this way, and effective planning needs to accept these realities.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
If that's the cost of maintaining and improving our infrastructure, I don't see much of an alternative: better to pay now and not when there's a bridge collapse. We used to get a good-sized chunk of money from the Federal Government, but that's drying up and we have some serious needs that even this package may not address. The "Purple Line" in the DC area is on us here in Maryland, and that looks to be a few billion dollars, which is in fact far more than this new fee would raise.
Stuff is expensive!
Of course, everything has its costs, and another one may be just becoming apparent. A virus that became common in Atlantic salmon aquaculture may have migrated to the Pacific. That would be bad.
I'm otherwise in favor of aquaculture, though: people need protein, and particularly if fish can fed on grains (see this previous post) then it could potentially be pretty important, particularly in places like southeast Asia which rely on fishing. As always, trying to recognize the costs and maximize the net benefits, and the costs just went up a bit.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Myth #1: Organic farmers don't use pesticides. Most do, in fact, use pesticides: they just are only allowed to use "natural" pesticides, which may be just as nasty.
Myth #2: Organics are healthier. Conventional crops have more nitrogen while organic crops have more phosphorus and acidity, but nutrient content is identical.
Myth #3: Organics are better for the environment. I personally never believed the health claims, but I thought the environment was where the benefits were. The author grants that using fewer synthetic pesticides is a good thing, for sure. However, she argues 1) that by blasting plants with Bt and other "organic" pesticides, organic producers are still dumping nasty stuff into the environment; 2) that ignoring GMO's means we end up using more pesticides and other resources in the long run, and 3) organics are 20% less productive, yielding less per acre than conventional crops, so buying organics means voting to dedicated more land to agriculture instead of leaving it wild.
Myth #4: It's all or none. She notes that both organic and conventional farmers have positives, and that open-minded environmentalists will work toward improving both.
For a (non-specific) response, I went over to nutritionists Marion Nestle's web page, where she has a FAQ that addresses the issue. She says only that her personal investigations conclude that the USDA Organic label is a good thing to look for. "When you choose organics, you are voting with your fork for a planet with fewer pesticides, richer soil, and cleaner water supplies—all better in the long run." I think the author of the first piece would agree for the most part, but more information is definitely useful.
Monday, October 24, 2011
- They rightly note that the market solution to pollution isn't to try to pick winners, a process that failed with Solyndra. However, the second half of that equation is that the "right" answer according to these criteria is to impose a carbon tax, since incentives matter and the goal of decreasing pollution is more important than the means we use to get there.
- The EPA is over-funded? Hm. No doubt some portions of that bureaucracy could be streamlined, but this article says that their worst work has benefit to cost ratios of 10:1. (h/t Environmental Economics) Sounds like these two commentators need to have a powwow. I'm sure both agree that in the end what matters most is growth in the economy- nothing's better for the environment than a recession. What matters second most is the private sector's implementation of better technology, and that's usually encouraged via... taxes and/ or subsidies. Could there be a theme here?
- I fully support the conservatives on the costs of water and tradable fishing shares. People should face the true costs of their actions and should benefit when they do the right thing, like cutting back on fishing.
- On air quality, this conservative site supports cap and trade. I don't know why more people don't.
Taxes, by raising prices, discourage consumption, it's true, but you know what? Consumption makes a difference for producers, too: if they aren't selling anything, profits go down. That's hitting corporations where it matters most.
***This is the first blog entry for quiz #4. You don't need it for quiz 3.***
Friday, October 21, 2011
So with all of these benefits and savings why are the majority of U.S. utility markets regulated and monopolized? There are a few potential draw backs to a competitive market. Other than certain companies losing their power of monopoly the biggest factor is the direction that the market would go. As renewable energy becomes more reliable and efficient the cost will decrease. In the meantime it is still a very expensive energy to invest in. New companies that are rising in the renewable energy field require a large input of private capital. Government subsidies help to enable and encourage these companies to continue. If these subsidies were lost or decreased the market for renewable energy would take a large hit and slow the growth of the sector significantly. If this happens many companies in a free market would still strive to provide the cheapest energy source, and that resource would not be renewable in the case of a loss of government subsidies. Without the subsidies many companies take gracious financial offers from other countries such as China to relocate in an effort to attract more clean energy. If the budget is revised or changed and there is a loss of funds for subsidies not only will the private companies have wasted significant amounts of money, management time, and focus, the market could also take a fall back into non-renewable energy.
With that in mind does the U.S. stand to benefit from a competitive utility market with the current economy, or would that drive the country further into a reliance on coal and oil, and distrust of renewable energies.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
"Two basic issues must be addressed if water quality goals are to be achieved. First, the regional nutrient budget is out of balance: more nutrients, primarily in the form of animal feed, are being brought into the watershed than can be assimilated, in the form of manure, by the crops grown. Second, not enough farmers are using the most effective—best—nutrient management practices. The persistence of these problems is not entirely due to a lack of resources. In the Bay, as elsewhere in the United States, water quality protection in agriculture has largely been pursued through voluntary strategies, supported by government financial and technical assistance. Only recently have large animal intensive enterprises been subjected to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements..."
"For a voluntary program to be efficient, it must enroll farmers who can provide abatement at least cost. Current USDA cost-share programs are not designed to do this."
The tremendous drops in solar panel prices have been a wind at the back of those who would increase solar energy's share of the energy market, but they may prove to be short-lived. If this suit goes through, prices will surely rise, helping those companies who produce solar panels in this country but hurting consumers in the short run. In the long run, prices should still drop, but not as quickly. Sorry, solar panel installers, consumers, and solar energy advocates!
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
- Higher rates of malnutrition, as agriculture struggles to cope with changing conditions
- Higher rates of disease, as new geographic areas become accessible to bacteria and viruses
- Higher likelihood of conflict, as dwindling water and other resources force people to look to new sources and/ or take from their neighbors
- Energy prices should jump, as resource scarcity and associated conflict makes things worse in places like the Middle East, where tensions are already high
- Most devastating of all, Starbucks warns that climate change is expected to threaten the earth's coffee supplies in 20-30 years time.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
I think that is unfair that some of the highest carbon emitting industries are receiving free carbon permits or being subsidized by the government. There is therefore less incentive for them to develop cleaner technologies because they are not paying the true cost of their carbon emissions. However with Australia relying so heavily on coal for power, the government has to start somewhere. I believe that they are off to a good start and because of initiatives like the Carbon Farming Initiative the government may be able to reduce the subsidies they provide to industry in the future.
I feel that this is a good way to make the airlines responsible for the emissions that they produce. However I think that a much bigger tax is going to be required before it would be advantageous for the airlines to make investments in a cleaner energy source. Such a small price increase would not deter enough people from trans-Atlantic flight for the airlines to lose enough profit and thereby force them to look into alternate forms of power. But if this system were enacted worldwide it might produce enough lost profit that the airlines would be pushed to develop a system for fueling their planes that had much less environmental impact and thus lower the external costs of operating and as a result the price of an airline ticket.
Even developers know the demand for parking is very low in garages so they choose to build the minimum number of spaces that the rules require. The Clean Air Act set a cap on the number of spots per building; too bad this doesn’t change anything since the maximum number of spots were never built. The Mayor has tried to change these mandates before but City Hall said that “people are emotional about parking," so no changes were made. There has been recent talk about reforms. One option is to allow residential garages in Manhattan to rent spaces out to the public and another option is to reduce the number of required spots in mass transit areas. Even with these changes, it is hard to compete with free street parking.
In my opinion these zoning regulations should have been changed years ago. The number of spaces required for public housing needs to be reduced, especially in transit areas. People who have a car are going to continue to drive and continue to park on the street. This may change if spaces can be rented out, but only in areas of great interest and for a low enough cost. Even so, there needs to be a drastic change to not only zoning regulations but street parking before there is any significant move towards a sustainable city.
While I agree with the EPA’s attempted effort to reduce the emission of these materials into the atmosphere, I also see the state’s argument. This is a down economy and people may not be able to afford increased energy costs. I am also not sure if this plan will create as many jobs as the EPA anticipates, however, jobs could be created in both the inspection field and new energy sources. If states find a new and improved way to produce electricity, it will have to be maintained, built and inspected as well. I believe the measures taken by the EPA are a good idea, just not at this time.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
So what's the optimal policy? It turns out that having people going slow on the rest of the road also slows down the folks in the carpool lane- you don't want to be driving 65 when someone going 20 moves into your lane to avoid a suddenly stopping vehicle. These researchers argue that more people need to be let into the carpool lane for the lane to continue to be as effective as possible. Optimization- it's what economists do!
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
In the past few weeks there have been 15 deaths (link to Google News)and 72 illnesses caused by the listeria virus that has been found in cantaloupes that are grown in the Jensen’s Farm in Colorado. The listeria virus can be spread by water or soil contamination. Animals can carry the virus unharmed with no symptoms, but when their feces are used as manure or contaminate the local groundwater it can harm the local farms’ crops. Colorado is the fifth largest producer of cantaloupe and reportedly 2010’s harvest was worth $8 million. Fortunately for the farmers at least, the outbreak has occurred at the end of their season; but it has stigmatized the “Colorado Cantaloupe.” Local farmers in Colorado are still selling some cantaloupe mostly because their local buyers know them and know what farms have the bad cantaloupe. As for the rest of Americans that love the sweet melon, well, they are less fortunate. The Jensen farm did not label their cantaloupe to separate them from the rest; instead they labeled them “Rocky Farm cantaloupe” making them even harder to distinguish the good from the bad. There is also a problem clearly identifying what states were sold tainted cantaloupe. The Jensen Farm has released a list of states that they sold directly to, but there are also distributers that have sold them to other states. Now most people will just refuse to eat them at all, fearing that they could get sick or even die.
I think that this is a huge externality of animal farming. It is a shame that we house these animals in such a way that it causes someone’s whole way of life to collapse. Plus it’s actually causing people bodily harm and killing people in some cases. Why would anyone want that to happen to them or to their family if it could be prevented. Listeria is only caused by a bacterium called monocytogene. The problem with these bacteria is that they can grow in almost any environment; but if better care was taken of these domesticated animals then no one would have had to die. I know that this is not an extremely common virus; but with the potential for them to be carriers, I would think that someone would at least try to test their livestock at some point in their life. What if the cattle that just donated manure to the Jensen’s Farm, had been sent to the butcher or if it was a sow and was milked? There could be an even bigger epidemic!
Update: USA Today describes the results of an FDA investigation into possible causes of the outbreak, which has now claimed at least 25 lives and caused at least 125 illnesses.