16.8.14

TAIL TRACK.

Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.

DESIGN INFLUENCES BEHAVIOR.

The farther we get from The America that Worked(TM), that era from the victorious conclusion of World War II to the introduction of the Great Society and the Counterculture, the more do critics of the established order recognize that What Came After is not Better.  Thus is the message of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of The American Dream.  For Book Review No. 7, I suggest that readers get beyond the Usual Pieties and the Obligatory Sneering Tone and contemplate the message the authors, by profession architects, art historians, and town planners, have about the value of the good of the intellect.  (For the regional policy stuff, the book covers much of the same ground as topics raised here (in 2004) or here (also 2004) or here (2006) or here (2011) or here (2013) or here (2013).  I often wish that practitioners of the planning arts would give more thought to unanticipated and unintended consequences of planning in practice, including land-use plans and zoning codes.  But when the authors note that bad ideas have consequences, specifically, on page 213 noting,
In response to their growing sense of insignificance, some architects have tried to regain a sense of power through what can best be described as mysticism.  By importing arcane ideas from unrelated disciplines -- such as contemporary French literary theory (now outdated) -- by developing illegible techniques of representation, and by shrouding their work in inscrutable jargon, designers are creating increasingly smaller realms of communication, in order that they might inhabit a domain in which they possess some degree of control.  Nowhere is this crisis more evident than in the most prestigious architecture schools.
When I post about the idiocy of culture-studies and other academic fads, it's cathartic.  When practitioners bemoan the self-marginalization of their discipline, it's encouraging.  Even if suburbanization might be emergent in a way not easily tamed by zoning codes or taxes or high-end seminars.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

A NAMED COACH FOR THOMAS.

This year's version of Day Out With Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum features Henrietta.


Illinois Railway Museum webcam capture.

The coach is lettered Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.  Under the exotic paint, it is a Rock Island "Capone" coach 2612 that has received a lot of work.

APPLY THE BENEFIT PRINCIPLE.

While I was on my road trip, Congress and the President came up with a temporary fix for the Highway Trust Fund.  Or, more precisely, the "Highway" "Trust" "Fund".  I have to set off each word with its own irony quotes as some of the "highway" money goes for purposes other than roads, which bothers some people who may or may not be in the pay of the highway lobby, but a proper trust conserves assets, which might require some of the money being spent on purposes other than roads, and a fund has money in it.

In The Atlantic, Norm Ornstein suggests that a permanent fix ought to be within our purview.
There should be nothing ideological about finding rational ways to pay for surface-transportation infrastructure, and clearly those who use it more should pay more. But our tribal wars have gotten in the way of rationality on this as in so many other issues—including of course broader infrastructure needs such as rebuilding and strengthening the electrical grid while protecting against cyberthreats; moving to greener and more efficient fuels; expanding high-speed Internet connections to all Americans; rebuilding aging sewers, water lines, and subways; and many more needs that must be addressed to enable the country to compete in the 21st-century global economy.
Sorry, Mr Ornstein, but the assertion that "those who use it more should pay more" is an ideological statement, and where Government provides resources for some components of that infrastructure, and picks winners to provide others, there will be rent-seekers, tribal wars or not.  And the current system of funding the "Highway" "Trust" "Fund" is infected with rent seekers.

Some impressions from my recent road trip.  It's summer, and the orange barrels and brake lights are present.  For the most part, though, I was able to make good time.  Some impressions from the work zones.  First, much of the Interstate System is life-expired, and in Pennsylvania, several stretches of Interstates 80 and 81 were removed down to the sub-roadbed to be replaced.  And Ohio has gotten better at only taking out of service those parts of the Turnpike that are actually under repair.  But where the road is worn out, look at the evidence.  The right-most lane of Interstate 81 in northeastern Pennsylvania has two strips of patch where something heavy has worn through the top of the paving.  In Ohio, the right-most two lanes are similarly more battered than the inside lane, which on the Turnpike is forbidden to trucks.  And it's hard to go more than five miles without seeing tread shreds either in the lanes or at roadside.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have found our rent-seekers.
The Federal Excise Tax on tires has been around since the 1930s. Normally, excise taxes are referred to as "luxury" taxes, though how truck tires can be considered a "luxury" to a fleet, we don't know.

However, there's been pressure to change FET for some time. A couple of times in recent years, there have been moves to add FET to retreaded tires, but those changes never took place.

The big fear was that such a change would price retreads out of the market, drive retreaders out of business and add huge burdens to the manufacturers of new tires to fill the gap. After all, more than half the tires sold in the U.S. every year are retreads, so new tire manufacturers would have to double their capacity if retreads went away.
There has to be a research paper in here: what are the environmental consequences to producing more new tires and fewer retreads, taking into account the propensity of those things to come apart and delay shipments and damage other vehicles?  And how might a transportation policy take into account the true costs those heavy vehicles impose on others?

(Quick riposte to fleet operators: it's a luxury if it's traveling in a 53 foot trailer, if a trailer or container of any length is traveling on the road more than 500 miles where rail haul is an option for part of the trip, if the driver is overtired.)

And according to Illinois governor Pat Quinn, a man with whom I here have occasion to agree with, it's a luxury to endanger other people with your rigs.
The governor on Monday cited recent semitrailer truck crashes that have led to deaths in exercising his veto power over a measure that would have raised the interstate speed limit from 55 to 60 mph in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
The bill is the brain-child of state senator and Republican U. S. Senate hopeful Jim Oberweis, who disagrees.  The governor raises a valid point.
Quinn maintained “no amount of fines, penalties or jail time can ever replace the lives of those whom we have lost to fatal accidents on our interstate highways,” Quinn said.

Citing the recent traffic deaths tied to big trucks traveling at high speeds, Quinn said, “The convenience of increased speeds for truckers on roadways does not outweigh the safety risks to children, families and our dedicated public servants.”

Quinn cited a July 21 crash on Interstate 55 near Arsenal Road in the southwest suburbs. An Indiana trucker, Francisco Espinal Quiroz, 51, of Leesburg, Ind., allegedly was speeding in a work zone when his truck slammed into three vehicles, killing five people. He has been charged with falsifying duty logbooks used to verify that a driver is not spending too many hours on the road without rest.
It's a luxury if the driver is overtired, and a hazard to other people. Period.

Thus, if the Highway Trust Fund is worth saving, it ought to be set up in such a way as to hold the highways in trust.  Thus:  Special movement permits for any trailer exceeding 40 feet.  Permit fee to be substantially higher if the movement can be by rail over part or all of the trip.  Federal excise tax on retreaded tires.  And some money devoted to improving railroad tracks for faster trains, with the stipulation that the owning railroads be allowed to path intermodal trains at speeds of 90 or 100 mph on those tracks.

Alternatively, perhaps, the Interstate Highways become toll roads.
Tolls should replace gas taxes on Interstates, be limited to what's needed for the capital and operating costs of the rebuilt Interstates, and be implemented only after an Interstate has been rebuilt and modernized. All tolling would be done via state-of-the-art all-electronic tolling, with no toll booths needed.
I note only that the Illinois Tollways began collecting tolls after the roads opened; initially those were to be collected only until the bonds were amortized, but they never went away, and the electronic tolling is a way of extracting interest-free loans from I-Pass or EZ-Pass purchasers, while extracting extra cash from residents of states west of the Mississippi, where there is likely to be resistance to putting tolls on the Interstates.
Many conservatives are leery of this concept, especially given President Obama's endorsement, but they should support it for several reasons. First, it would be a large (and do-able) first step toward devolving the overextended federal transportation program to the states. Second, it would begin replacing a wasteful gas tax system with a true user fee, under which you pay only for the highways you drive on. Third, it would mobilize private capital for major projects that would otherwise be put off for decades, while the Interstates further deteriorate and become more congested. And, finally, it would allow using congestion pricing on urban Interstates, which would bring relief to long-suffering commuters and express buses.

The Interstate highway system is one of our most important 20th century accomplishments. It handles 25 percent of all vehicle miles of travel despite making up just 2.5 percent of physical highway lane miles. But unless we figure out a way to rebuild and modernize it soon, travel, trade, and the economy will be seriously constrained in coming decades.
Base congestion pricing on weight, and watch the truckers make common cause with the railroads to get those intermodal corridors, or build their own toll roads. In areas with commuter trains, the use of congestion pricing might lead to some interesting substitutions.

A recent Reason-Rupe poll claims some public support for tolls in place of gas taxes.  It's interesting to look at what's missing: money for roads or airways, but not for freight railroads.  Perhaps because the private sector is already taking care of that, at least for 70 mph intermodals.

DO INCENTIVES MATTER?

John Cochrane is truly a grumpy economist, as he contemplates the recent state of macroeconomic analysis.
Quantitative, scientific discipline? Explicit statistical descriptions of economic behavior? Reliance of government officials on technical economic expertise?  The use of mathematical control theory to manage an economy? All that has vanished.

The sub-basements of central banks have big [dynamic stochastic general equilibrium] models, or combined models where you can turn Lucas and Sargent on and off. But I think it's fair to say nobody takes the results very seriously. Policy -- our stimulus, for example -- is based on back of the envelope multipliers and the authority and expertise, if you're charitable, or the unvarnished, verbal, opinions if you're not, of administration officials.

There are some large-scale empirical DSGE models left in academia too. But the vast bulk of policy analysis does not use them, as they did, say, the models of 1972. At conferences and in papers, academic work uses small scale toy models and a lot of words. Models do not seem to be cumulative. Each paper adds a little twist ignoring all the previous little twists.

A complete split occurred. "Equilibrium" models, in which I include new-Keynesian DSGE models, took over academia. The policy world stuck with simple ISLM logic -- not "models" in the quantitative scientific tradition Lucas and Sargent praised -- despite Lucas and Sargent's devastating criticism.
Yes, in the policy world what matters is coming up with a forecast that's reasonably close to accurate rapidly enough so as to be able to get re-elected, or perhaps to roll out the right mix of upscale and downscale products.  In the academic world what matters is creating a minimal-publishable-unit that is also a contribution before someone else does, and going on to create sufficient such units to earn tenure or promotion.  And everyone recognizes what the Hot Ideas are: there was one session of interviews I participated in, years ago, when my department was searching for a macroeconomist, and I heard a lot of "Lucas critique" and more than a few "unit roots" in those thesis summaries.  Empirical failures in the policy world might have been secondary.  Failure to acknowledge the state of the art, though, is a career-killer. "Rightly or wrongly, all subsequent models had to have these two elements present within them (RE and microfoundaions), or they would be dismissed."

HER WORDS DISQUALIFY HER.

Well in advance of the next presidential circus, here are excerpts of renegade Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, conceding the 2008 nomination to Barack Obama.
The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama, the next president of the United States.
So far, standard good-government stuff.  Democratic politicians believe this stuff, and Democrat voters, despite evidence to the contrary, keep voting for it.  As if it has ever worked.
I intended to win back the White House and make sure we have a president who puts our country back on the path to peace, prosperity and progress. And that's exactly what we're going to do, by ensuring that Barack Obama walks through the doors of the Oval Office on January 20, 2009.
An automobile maker who sells you a lemon has to replace it. Where do we get the last now 5 1/2 years back?
But on the day we live in an America where no child, no man, and no woman is without health insurance, we will live in a stronger America. That's why we need to help elect Barack Obama our president.
So that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?
But on the day we live in an America whose middle class is thriving and growing again, where all Americans, no matter where they live or where their ancestors came from, can earn a decent living, we will live in a stronger America. And that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our president.
An "economic stimulus" with as many constraints imposed to placate special interests within the Democrat coalition isn't going to provide much stimulus.
We'll have to work hard to foster the innovation that will make us energy independent and lift the threat of global warming from our children's future. But on the day we live in an America fueled by renewable energy, we will live in a stronger America. And that is why we have to help elect Barack Obama our president.
Solyndra, anyone?
We'll have to work hard to bring our troops home from Iraq and get them the support they've earned by their service. But on the day we live in an America that's as loyal to our troops as they have been to us, we will live in a stronger America. And that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our president.
Yes, and administrators in the VA get bonuses while veterans die, nameless numbers on lists that are later misplaced.
This is now our time to do all that we can to make sure that, in this election, we add another Democratic president to that very small list of the last 40 years and that we take back our country and once again move with progress and commitment to the future.
Conveniently for 2008: the disaster that was Lyndon Johnson isn't part of the reckoning.  And "take back our country"?  Whom from, Mrs Clinton?

Perhaps she will be able to sell the same kind of utopianism to enough people to get the electoral votes.  Or perhaps sufficient voters will be resistant to this kind of overweening, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you, or fight for you, or tax somebody else" this time.

13.8.14

OPUS POSTHUMOUS.

Marketing and packaging must matter.  Book Review No. 6 is Tom Clancy Support and Defend.  It's entirely the work of Clancy protege Mark Greaney, although, as it uses the cast of quasi-official Campus intelligence operatives, the marketing dodge isn't unreasonable.  I bought the book in Rockland and had it finished that evening.  Think of the story as a morality play: conscience-cowboys who leak classified material get Good People killed, and self-despising left-pacifist third-world-o-philia is a personality weakness too readily exploited by the bad guys. The action ... it's a strange world in which Russian special forces can get the jump on everyone else, and the Campus crew seems to have lost its mojo.  And with John Clark in retirement, there's nobody around to deal with the leakers properly.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

FREQUENCY AND CONNECTIVITY BOTH MATTER.

A recent Destination: Freedom essay noted some discontent Down East after the Maine Eastern Railroad scheduled its daily Brunswick - Rockland turn to connect with an Amtrak Downeaster schedule.

A year ago, there was no such connection possible.  The train offered a three-hour stay in Rockland, timed to connect with tour buses that could offer early-morning or late-afternoon shopping in Freeport after the train excursion.  That worked well for Rockland businesses.  The current schedule does not.
The vintage 1950s-style train no longer will facilitate day trips to Rockland, which has business owners there concerned about a dropoff in business.

However, business leaders in other parts of the midcoast hope the link with Amtrak will lure more tourists there. The move is popular in Wiscasset, where a new train station was established this summer along the Sheepscot River behind Red's Eats, and in the twin villages of Newcastle and Damariscotta, which for the first time are hosting a train station.

In Rockland, the change has upset some merchants and restaurant owners because the city is no longer the centerpiece of the railroad's business model.
The new schedule does not encourage day trips. It might help Rockland develop overnight tourist business.
Since the service began July 4, downtown merchants haven't seen many customers from the train, said Kelly Woods, co-owner of the Trackside Station, a restaurant in Rockland.

"We haven't got the usual business of the train we should," she said.

It used to bring as many as 200 tourists to Rockland in the middle of the day, and that's no longer happening, said Gordon Page, who until a year ago worked as an executive of the railroad and now heads Rockland Main Street Inc., a nonprofit that promotes the downtown.

"The feedback I'm getting from downtown business groups is they are disappointed," Page said.

Without Rockland serving as a draw for tourists, the excursion train won't be successful, said Don Marson, who retired a year ago as vice president and general manager of the railroad. He said he doubts the connection with the Downeaster will make up for the excursion business lost because of the change of schedule.

"Who wants to take a train ride for two hours to Rockland and then turn around and come right back?" Marson said.

Still, the new schedule has an upside, some say. The connection with the Downeaster makes it easier for people to travel to the region without using their cars, said Frank Isganitis, a Rockland City Council member and owner of the LimeRock Inn, a Victorian bed-and-breakfast. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster, is promoting package deals that include accommodations at the LimeRock and some other local inns.

"Rather than have people come as a day excursion, they can spend a night or stay a week," Isganitis said. "The long-term impact is going to be more positive."

Staci Coomer, executive director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, said potential customers she met at the Boston Globe Travel Show last February were excited to learn they could travel to the midcoast by train.

"It was a big selling point to say that was an option," she said.

While the new schedule presents a downside for Rockland, the region as a whole will benefit because of the connection with the Downeaster, said Misty Parker, the town planner in Wiscasset. She noted that there is a new trolley service that meets passengers at the train station shared by Newcastle and Damariscotta and brings them to Boothbay Harbor.
As late as 1955, the railroad focus was on weekend traffic. Commencing late in June and running until Labor Day, the Bar Harbor offered Friday sleeping cars leaving Philadelphia at 5 pm and Penn Station at 7.30 pm, due Brunswick at 6.07 am and Rockland at 8 am.  The Sunday only returns left Rockland at 6.20 pm and Brunswick at 8.15 pm, setting down at Penn Station at 6.30 am and Philadelphia at 8.36 am.  The East Wind still maintained a semblance of connecting train and bus services for day passengers from as far south as Grand Central Terminal, and an intrepid traveler destined farther south could probably make some kind of connection at New Haven.  Boston passengers had a choice of a daily except Sunday coach on the noon Flying Yankee or a Friday only coach on the late afternoon Pine Tree; the return daily except Sunday left Rockland at 7.25 am, attached to the inward Pine Tree.  The coach that arrived late on Friday probably went back toward Boston on a Sunday-only train that connected with nothing.

Today's Boston passengers can connect from the 9.05 am departure, and return on the 5.50 pm departure.

For two weekends, those of the North Atlantic Blues Festival and the Maine Lobster Festival, Maine Eastern added a 9 am departure from Brunswick with an 8 pm departure from Rockland, returning to Brunswick at 10 pm.  Patrons intent on attending either of those events with an Amtrak connection could overnight at Brunswick or at Rockland.

Back in May, I made plans to attend the Maine Lobster Festival, in part because the Amtrak Exhibit Train has listed that destination as one of its stops.  Because of some other events going on in the Northeast, I opted to drive to Brunswick and catch a Maine Eastern train there.


I'd originally booked passage on the special event trains.  Here's former Union Pacific Geep with its Amtrak number 764, on a damp morning in Brunswick.


Now that the two-foot gauge railroad is history, a two-foot gauge boxcar can be part of the tourist facilities at Wiscasset.  Plenty of picnic tables to work on the lobster offered dockside.


The Knox and Lincoln Railroad's charter with Wiscasset gave it the exclusive right to operate trains in Wiscasset.  The two-foot gauge Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington thus built all its facilities outside Wiscasset ... in the river.


The Exhibition Train cancelled its visit to Rockland.  (I'm not sure why.  Other cities on the May schedule are still on the schedule.)  But this is the Maine Lobster Festival, and the sun came out.  (Umbrella at hand just in case.)

With the inner man satisfied, the festival and downtown shopping opportunities taken, and no exhibition train, I rearranged my ticketing to return on the Downeaster connecting train.


The diesels are a pair of rebuilt FL-9s, both bearing their Amtrak numbers.  The regular service train includes a lounge car.


Nice relaxing ride back to Brunswick, sun is out, at Brunswick the Amtrak train is waiting to occupy the one floor-level platform once the Mid-Coast Limited discharges passengers and ties up.


Downtown Brunswick was still busy at train time, but not so crowded that I couldn't get dinner at Joshua's Tavern.

Now, about that roomette on the Rockland section of the Bar Harbor ...

A TRANSPORTATION SCHOLAR CROSSES THE FINAL SUMMIT.

George W. Hilton, 1925-2014.  Professor Hilton, co-author with John Due of The Electric Interurban Railways in America, was the first and so far only honorary Life Member of the Central Electric Railfans Association.  His academic work contributed to the revival of the freight railroads.  Trains notes, "He practically identified himself with competitive organization of the railroads and prided himself on his contribution to the abolition of the Interstate Commerce Commission."  Professor Hilton was less favorably disposed toward much of the Passenger Rail enterprise, that despite having great regard for underdog carriers such as Monon and Erie.  We shall miss his work.

Economics footnote: that's the same John Due who worked with Robert Clower on Microeconomics.

THE STATE IS THAT GRAND FICTION.

Straight talk from Michael Munger.
When I am discussing the state with my colleagues at Duke, it's not long before I realize that, for them, almost without exception, the State is a unicorn. I come from the Public Choice tradition, which tends to emphasize consequentialist arguments more than natural rights, and so the distinction is particularly important for me. My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA.

But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of "the State." That seems literally insane to me—a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.

Then I realized that they want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it. When I finally realized that we were talking past each other, I felt kind of dumb. Because essentially this very realization—that people who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world—has been a core part of the argument made by classical liberals for at least three hundred years.
Yes, it's easier to envision Perfecting the Perfect Union on a whiteboard. There are plenty of economics papers, not all by Peter Diamond or Joseph Stiglitz, in which an omniscient planner can improve on what incompletely informed but otherwise rational agents achieve.

In practice, though, it's wise to give no powers to Someone In Authority who shares your views that you would not want in the hands of Someone Else In Authority who despises your views.
When someone says, "The State should be in charge of hundreds of thousands of heavily armed troops, with the authority to use that coercive power," ask them to take out the unicorn ("The State") and replace it with George W. Bush. How do you like it now?

If someone says, "The State should be able to choose subsidies and taxes to change the incentives people face in deciding what energy sources to use," ask them to remove "The State" and replace it with "senators from states that rely on coal, oil, or corn ethanol for income." Still sound like a good idea?

How about, "The State should make rules for regulating sales of high performance electric cars." Now, the switch: "Representatives from Michigan and other states that produce parts for internal combustion engines should be in charge of regulating Tesla Motors."  Gosh, maybe not …

In my experience, we spend too much time fighting with our opponents about their unicorns. 
Yes, but Hope and Change and Better World are such appealing conceits.

29.7.14

MARKING OFF.

Perhaps later this summer, we'll see how the nature preserve turns out.


Updates before the new academic year starts.

REFLECT ON THIS.

Margaret Soltan recommends a speech her Rutgers colleague William Dowling delivered to the Peithessophian Society.  By all means go, read, understand, and think.

Consider first his summary of the false analogy between opening up a country club or the Eagles or Elks, and lower admission standards in the name of inclusion.
Americans, precisely because of our nation's long and tangled history of various kinds of baseless prejudice, tend to misunderstand selective college admissions as a form of social>discrimination.

We all know that there was a time, now properly hideous in our collective memory, that Jews couldn't be admitted to the country club, or African- Americans had to sit in a different section of the restaurant than white people, or women weren't allowed to join all-male organizations. So why isn't it exactly similar to say that keeping someone out of Columbia or the College of William and Mary on the mere basis of low reading comprehension or poor mathematical ability is just another form of discrimination on arbitrary grounds?

The answer is that the country club model is a wildly misleading analogy in relation to college admissions. Admitting a freshmen class at a real college or university is much more like auditioning potential members of an orchestra, or choosing players for a basketball team.

The crucial point is that no college or university can be better than its students, any more than an orchestra can be better than its musicians or a basketball team better than its players.

If you fill an orchestra with people who can't read a musical score or play an instrument, you can pretend that the screeches and honkings they produce are music, but you won't fool anyone who has ever heard a Haydn symphony.
In like manner, access-assessment-remediation-retention fails to educate anybody.
There's a more important point about selective admissions. It's that bright and intellectually engaged students educate each other. A group of social scientists at Williams College calls this the Theory of Peer Effects.

If you're in a class where every student present has spent hours on an intellectually demanding assignment, and where the professor is then able to bring out implications no student had so far seen, you're in college. Anything else is not college but an empty charade.
And thus, the strategy for a university that's losing enrollments might be to tighten standards. There's a long case study, which may or may not generalize, that is worth your study.  And in tightening standards, a university might become more student-centered.
Bright and intellectually engaged students want to go to school with other bright students, for the same reason that a talented musician wants to play in an orchestra with other talented musicians or a talented athlete wants to play on a team with other talented players. Students themselves determine the level of each other's education.
That's not, however, the Rutgers experience.
[A colleague],Murray Sperber, wrote a book entitled Beer and Circuses, where he argued that when a large public university loses all sense of its higher mission it becomes essentially the educational equivalent of the reality television show Jersey Shore.

One point he makes concerns commercialized college sports. If you've got a campus swarming with people who have no interest in reading or thinking or learning, who almost or never go to class and, when they do, spend the hour surfing the internet or checking their Facebook page or texting their friends, you've got to give them something to keep them occupied, just as you do with children stuck inside on a rainy day.
But that's not the proper way to be student-centered.
By tightening standards at the rate of 3% a year, the party animal influence at Rutgers could be eliminated in ten to twelve years. That would be an enormous improvement. Teachers would once again begin to enjoy walking into the classroom. Serious students would begin to sense that they were what the institution was all about. Rutgers would have embarked on the process of becoming Rutgers again.
Perhaps there is a strategy for ensuring legislative buy-in. Why should legislators appropriate money to help run a reality show, or even the most inclusive of country clubs?

THE FUNDAMENTALS STILL APPLY.

William Major, professor of English at Hartford, proposes to save the humanities by closing the business schools.  But his argument falls to pieces when he contemplates the higher salaries finance faculty earn.
The higher education market for business professors and legal scholars, for instance, is one in which the professor is paid as if she took her services and sold them on what is commonly call the market. Which is where she, and her talents, manifestly are not. She is here, in the building next to ours, teaching our students and doing the same work we are. If my daughter cuts our lawn, she does not get paid as if she were cutting the neighbor’s lawn.
No. Your daughter gets compensated in kind (room. board, perhaps Daddy picks up the smart phone contract or the car insurance, and he's there for difficult conversations) and doing household chores is part of the bundle.  If she goes into business, the neighbors compensate in cash: and if the cash compensation exceeds the value received at home, she runs away.  The same thing is true of business faculty that hire out at universities rather than on Wall Street.
The business professor has sacrificed the blandishments of the other market for that of the university, where she can work softer hours, have her December/January vacation, go to London during the summer on a fellowship or university grant, and generally live something approaching the good life — which is what being employed by a college or university allows the lucky who earn tenure. She avoids the other market — eschews the long hours in the office, the demands of travel, the oppressive corporate state — so that she can pick up her kids from school on occasion, sleep in on a Saturday, and turn off her smartphone. She may be part of a machine, but it is a university machine, and as machines go she could do worse. This “market” is better than the other one.
There is only one market. There may be compensating differentials and incompletely substitutable workers.  The mathematically competent introvert is likely to do better in the academic setting: it's worth the smaller university salary to avoid the demands of travel or what the author calls the oppressive corporate state (better viewed as the false bonhomie of being perpetually on display).  At the margin, though, that compensating differential reflects substitution behavior by individuals.
But does she bring more value to the university? Does she generate more student hours? These are questions that administrators and business professors do not ask. Why? Because they wouldn’t like the answers. They would find that she is an expensive acquisition. Unless she is one of the Wharton superstars and appears on CNN Money and is quoted in The Wall Street Journal, there’s a good chance that the university isn’t getting its money’s worth.
Really? Only those faculty who are also public intellectuals merit the relatively generous academic salaries? None of the students, anywhere, are being served, at all?  Bizarre.

28.7.14

BRAGGING WRONGS.

Jeff Shaara has continued his novelization of the Western Campaign.  We've previously reviewed A Blaze of Glory, focusing on Shiloh, and Chain of Thunder, with the liberation of Vicksburg.  My earlier reviews commented on a forthcoming trilogy from Mr Shaara.  But Book Review No. 5 gets to review The Smoke at Dawn, which ends with the rebels pushed out of Chattanooga, and the anticipation of at least a tetralogy should the Georgia campaign, or the sack of South Carolina, become material for future writing.

If you're interested in the military history, Nothing but Victory provides that.  Mr Shaara's approach deals more with the interaction of the imagined and actual characters -- Rebel general Braxton Bragg comes off as a particularly nasty piece of work -- and the military accomplishments (lifting the siege of Chattanooga, occupying Lookout Mountain, and clearing Missionary Ridge) play a supporting role.  Perhaps we have read the conclusion of the trilogy, with at least one of the supporting characters invalided home, or perhaps there will be more.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

CONTEMPLATING RETURNS TO CAPITAL.

Among the stack of books to read is Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  I'll hold off on my view until I've finished reading it.  (And there are plenty of other distractions this summer, so it may be a while.)  My reading might be colored by the commentary, of which there has been plenty.  Here are a few reactions, primarily from serious economists.  There are plenty of other serious economists weighing in: good for them taking the time to read and understand.

I start, though, with the populist reading that might have contributed to widespread sales among non-economist readers.  The author is Noel Ortega.
Before the Industrial Revolution, and for most of our human history, economic growth was about 0.1 percent per year. But during and after the rapid industrialization of the global north, growth increased to a then-staggering 1.5 percent in Western Europe and the United States. By the 1950s and 1970s, growth rates began to accelerate in the rest of the world. While the United States hovered just below 2 percent, Africa’s growth rates caught up with America’s, while rates in Europe and Asia reached upwards of 4 percent.

But as Marx observed in the 19th century, economic growth did little to reduce inequality. In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, wealth has grown ever more concentrated in the hands of the few, even as the pie has gotten bigger.
Yes, and that's the fundamental problem of political economy. Reduced to Arthur Okun language, it's the tradeoff between equality and efficiency. Or, taking the longer view, it's about improving the condition of ordinary people, such that even the most desperate American enjoys better health and a better material condition than a medieval prince.

Somewhere in the populist perspective, though, is a tension between improving the material condition of the poor, and running out of stuff.
The traditional approach to inequality is to bring down those at the top while raising up those at the bottom. But to what level should we bring people, considering our finite planet?

Do we want everyone to live a mythical American middle-class lifestyle? Where every family of four lives in a two-car-garage home with a TV in every room, and every family member has a smart phone, tablet, and computer? Where they take a vacation to the other side of the globe once a year, and send their children away to a university and buy them a car when they are of age?
To Mr Ortega, there is thus a second tradeoff.
Piketty is right that our political economy favors the growth of inequality, and that inequality in turn poisons our politics. But while we should aspire to create a society that shares its prosperity, we need to address a much bigger gap than the one between rich and poor. We need to address the gap between what’s demanded by our planet and what’s demanded by our economy.

At the center of the rapidly growing New Economy Movement are ecological balance, shared prosperity, and real democracy. If we can’t find a way to build all three, then the only economy worth measuring is the number of days we have left.
That's where neoclassical growth theory comes in.  Fortuitously, The New Republic enlisted Robert Solow to review Piketty.
For example, if the rate of return is 5 percent a year and the stock of capital is six years worth of national income, income from capital will be 30 percent of national income, and so income from work will be the remaining 70 percent. At last, after all this preparation, we are beginning to talk about inequality, and in two distinct senses. First, we have arrived at the functional distribution of income — the split between income from work and income from wealth. Second, it is always the case that wealth is more highly concentrated among the rich than income from labor (although recent American history looks rather odd in this respect); and this being so, the larger the share of income from wealth, the more unequal the distribution of income among persons is likely to be. It is this inequality across persons that matters most for good or ill in a society.

This is often not well understood, and may be worth a brief digression. The labor share of national income is arithmetically the same thing as the real wage divided by the productivity of labor. Would you rather live in a society in which the real wage was rising rapidly but the labor share was falling (because productivity was increasing even faster), or one in which the real wage was stagnating, along with productivity, so the labor share was unchanging? The first is surely better on narrowly economic grounds: you eat your wage, not your share of national income. But there could be political and social advantages to the second option. If a small class of owners of wealth — and it is small — comes to collect a growing share of the national income, it is likely to dominate the society in other ways as well. This dichotomy need not arise, but it is good to be clear.
Professor Solow contributed to the theory of balanced economic growth, as evidenced by the invocation of the capital and labor share: in a balanced growth equilibrium, these are constant, but in a growing economy, that small class of owners can collect a growing share of the national income.  But perhaps life is messier than a balanced growth equilibrium, and out-of-equilibrium incentives to equilibrium matter.
There is no logical necessity for the rate of return to exceed the growth rate: a society or the individuals in it can decide to save and to invest so much that they (and the law of diminishing returns) drive the rate of return below the long-term growth rate, whatever that happens to be. It is known that this possible state of affairs is socially perverse in the sense that letting the stock of capital diminish until the rate of return falls back to equality with the growth rate would allow for a permanently higher level of consumption per person, and thus for a better social state. But there is no invisible hand to steer a market economy away from this perversity. Yet it has been avoided, probably because historical growth rates have been low and capital has been scarce. We can take it as normal that the rate of return on capital exceeds the underlying growth rate.
And thus Professor Piketty's now-famous r > g becomes a new stylized fact.  But don't throw out your growth theory, not yet.
Suppose it has reached a “steady state” when the capital-income ratio has stabilized. Those whose income comes entirely from work can expect their wages and incomes to be rising about as fast as productivity is increasing through technological progress. That is a little less than the overall growth rate, which also includes the rate of population increase. Now imagine someone whose income comes entirely from accumulated wealth. He or she earns r percent a year. (I am ignoring taxes, but not for long.) If she is very wealthy, she is likely to consume only a small fraction of her income. The rest is saved and accumulated, and her wealth will increase by almost r percent each year, and so will her income. If you leave $100 in a bank account paying 3 percent interest, your balance will increase by 3 percent each year.

This is Piketty’s main point, and his new and powerful contribution to an old topic: as long as the rate of return exceeds the rate of growth, the income and wealth of the rich will grow faster than the typical income from work. (There seems to be no offsetting tendency for the aggregate share of capital to shrink; the tendency may be slightly in the opposite direction.) This interpretation of the observed trend toward increasing inequality, and especially the phenomenon of the 1 percent, is not rooted in any failure of economic institutions; it rests primarily on the ability of the economy to absorb increasing amounts of capital without a substantial fall in the rate of return. This may be good news for the economy as a whole, but it is not good news for equity within the economy.

We need a name for this process for future reference. I will call it the “rich-get-richer dynamic.” The mechanism is a little more complicated than Piketty’s book lets on. There is some saving from labor income, and thus some accumulation of capital in the hands of wage and salary earners. The return on this wealth has to be taken into account. Still, given the small initial wealth and the relatively low saving rate below the top group, as well as the fact that small savings earn a relatively low rate of return, calculation shows that this mechanism is not capable of offsetting the forecast of widening inequality.

There is yet another, also rather dark, implication of this account of underlying trends. If already existing agglomerations of wealth tend to grow faster than incomes from work, it is likely that the role of inherited wealth in society will increase relative to that of recently earned and therefore more merit-based fortunes.
And we have yet to introduce factor-augmenting technical change or resource constraints that might limit either increases in income from work, or returns on capital.

Never a shortage of interesting questions.  Or perspectives.  Foreign Affairs retains Tyler Cowen, who offers an interesting twist on Paul Samuelson's quip about Karl Marx being a minor post-Ricardian.
Piketty, in a way, has updated the work of the British economist David Ricardo, who, in the early nineteenth century, identified the power of what he termed “rent,” which he defined as the income earned from taking advantage of the difference in value between more and less productive lands. In Ricardo’s model, rent -- the one kind of income that did not suffer from diminishing returns -- swallowed up almost everything else, which is why Ricardo feared that landlords would come to dominate the economy.

Of course, since Ricardo’s time, the relative economic importance of land has plummeted, and his fear now seems misplaced. During the twentieth century, other economists, such as Friedrich Hayek and the other thinkers who belonged to the so-called Austrian School, understood that it is almost impossible to predict which factors of production will provide the most robust returns, since future economic outcomes will depend on the dynamic and essentially unforeseeable opportunities created by future entrepreneurs. In this sense, Piketty is like a modern-day Ricardo, betting too much on the significance of one asset in the long run: namely, the kind of sophisticated equity capital that the wealthy happen to hold today.

Piketty’s concern about inherited wealth also seems misplaced. Far from creating a stagnant class of rentiers, growing capital wealth has allowed for the fairly dynamic circulation of financial elites. Today, the Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford family fortunes are quite dispersed, and the benefactors of those estates hardly run the United States, or even rival Bill Gates or Warren Buffett in the financial rankings. Gates’ heirs will probably inherit billions, but in all likelihood, their fortunes will also be surpassed by those of future innovators and tycoons, most of whom will not come from millionaire families.
Democracy Journal brings in Lawrence Summers, who characterizes the book as an important first word on a challenging topic, yet suggests there is room for further research.
Economists universally believe in the law of diminishing returns. As capital accumulates, the incremental return on an additional unit of capital declines. The crucial question goes to what is technically referred to as the elasticity of substitution. With 1 percent more capital and the same amount of everything else, does the return to a unit of capital relative to a unit of labor decline by more or less than 1 percent? If, as Piketty assumes, it declines by less than 1 percent, the share of income going to capital rises. If, on the other hand, it declines by more than 1 percent, the share of capital falls.

Economists have tried forever to estimate elasticities of substitution with many types of data, but there are many statistical problems. Piketty argues that the economic literature supports his assumption that returns diminish slowly (in technical parlance, that the elasticity of substitution is greater than 1), and so capital’s share rises with capital accumulation. But I think he misreads the literature by conflating gross and net returns to capital. It is plausible that as the capital stock grows, the increment of output produced declines slowly, but there can be no question that depreciation increases proportionally. And it is the return net of depreciation that is relevant for capital accumulation. I know of no study suggesting that measuring output in net terms, the elasticity of substitution is greater than 1, and I know of quite a few suggesting the contrary.
And yet, owners of capital are getting richer.  But understanding that dynamic takes work.  Dissent engages James Galbraith to elaborate.  Aggregation is necessarily perilous, and Professor Galbraith might send some future dissertators to the stacks.
But the argument of the critics was not about Keynes, or fluctuations. It was about the concept of physical capital and whether profit can be derived from a production function. In desperate summary, the case was three-fold. First: one cannot add up the values of capital objects to get a common quantity without a prior rate of interest, which (since it is prior) must come from the financial and not the physical world. Second, if the actual interest rate is a financial variable, varying for financial reasons, the physical interpretation of a dollar-valued capital stock is meaningless. Third, a more subtle point: as the rate of interest falls, there is no systematic tendency to adopt a more “capital-intensive” technology, as the neoclassical model supposed.

In short, the Cambridge critique made meaningless the claim that richer countries got that way by using “more” capital. In fact, richer countries often use less apparent capital; they have a larger share of services in their output and of labor in their exports—the “Leontief paradox.” Instead, these countries became rich—as Pasinetti later argued—by learning, by improving technique, by installing infrastructure, with education, and—as I have argued—by implementing thoroughgoing regulation and social insurance. None of this has any necessary relation to Solow’s physical concept of capital, and still less to a measure of the capitalization of wealth in financial markets.
And thus, understanding the dynamics of capital accumulation, or wealth concentration, might be much more work than simply noting the presence of either.

There's plenty more out there: start with the Marginal Revolution collection if you'd like.

I close, for now, with a commendation of Professor Solow for stating a gripe I have long held with contemporary publishing practices.  "I call down a painful pox on publishers who put the footnotes at the end of the book instead of the bottom of the page where they belong, thus making sure that readers like me will skip many of them." Indeed.

WHO ARE THE REAL NOSTALGICS?

I found this essay, written by the founder of an organisation calling itself Share the World's Resources, questioning a division of labour structured by specialisation and trade.
How can we share when the influence of selfishness and greed has such a grip on our societies, and when we continue to worship success and achievement? Through its clever and manipulative ways of conditioning our minds, commercialisation has moulded the principle of sharing to become the miserable shadow of the poor and the helpless mother of the starving millions. In the face of its abysmal power and perpetual deluge, it is very normal that people will see the principle of sharing as na├»ve or utopian, and will think you are deluded if you say that sharing is the key to solving the world’s problems.
Perhaps because life before specialisation and trade was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Which is how those parts of the world that reject the principles, or have yet to properly adopt them, still live?

And yet, to live better, we must revert to the social organisation of hunters and gatherers, or agrarian tribes?  Dumb.

RAILROAD PRESERVATION NEWS.

Among twelve winners of this year's National Railway Historical Society National Railway Heritage Grants is the Illinois Railway Museum, for repair work on the Electroliner.


That's one in service, at Norwich Street in Milwaukee's Tippecanoe neighborhood.

"The Mysterious Train" is a study of Electroliner images employed by the North Shore Line in visual design and branding.

IS IT BETTER FOR AN INCOMPETENT PRESIDENT TO PLAY GOLF?

Matt Lewis, of The Daily Caller, suggests Our President "has emotionally checked out of his job."  To Rick Moran, "A president going through the motions while the rest of the world is blowing up is inherently dangerous."  Jazz Shaw suggests it's what happens when the masses don't follow the Messiah.
Obama’s vision of the future never involved compromise. It relied on everyone suddenly seeing just how right he was and how wrong they were. That didn’t happen, and not having a backup plan in the event that the rabbit failed to emerge from the hat, Barack Obama threw in the towel.
That's more charitable than Andrew Klavan's verdict.
Obama has been right about only one thing in his entire life and it is this:  If you play on Americans’ racial shame and their fears of conservative repression, you can convince them to follow a False Messiah. The Hapless Putz part is this: He didn’t know he was a False Messiah. He thought he was for real. He believed his political ideas were true. He thought making America less of a presence in the world would make the world more peaceful. He thought ordering up some sort of health care thingie would make everything cheap and everyone happy. He thought he could phone and pen his way to greatness.

But in fact he is a Hapless Putz. And rather than face that truth, he has turned off the world.
When the planet does not begin to heal itself, dear reader, is it really better to double down on the policies that, five-plus years on, have thus far failed?

TOO OFTEN, RESTRUCTURING IS A ONE-WAY TRIP.

Last week, I quoted Trains's Fred Frailey. "Long term, pissing off your customers is not a viable business strategy."  And the long term is an aggregation of short term decisions.  The BNSF Railway is clogged with freight traffic, and subject to a higher level of regulatory supervision.  Disgruntled shippers are, wherever possible, routing Union Pacific.  Burlington management intends to purchase 500 locomotives and 5,000 freight cars to help alleviate the congestion.  Providing additional trackage takes longer.

For years, railroads, and other businesses, have used "downsizing" or "restructuring" or "re-engineering" as an excuse to shed physical and human capital.  Such decisions, though, are not so easily reversed.  The approach might make sense in a shrinking industry, but it can leave that industry in poor shape to deal with expansion.  (And Union Pacific have their own history of strategic errors).

SUMMARIZE IN ONE SENTENCE.

Belmont Club captures what happens when bad ideas prevail.
The last 70 years have been spent dismantling the mental world of our fathers; in teaching us about the corruption of America, the emptiness of patriotism and the hypocrisy of organized religion. But along the way it has been impossible to deny the brutality of Communism, the fatuousness of manufactured causes, and the perversity of Hollywood.

That cumulative deconstruction has cheapened everything we fought for and everything we might fight for
More precisely, the old structures have been deconstructed, but there are no new structures, worth fighting for or not. Enjoy the decline.

27.7.14

JUNIOR HIGH GOES ON FOREVER.

Book Review No. 4 is Dave Eggers's The Circle.  It's fiction, dealing with the adventures of a young lady hired on the recommendation of a highly-placed college friend to work in an antitrust nightmare of a technology company combining social-media, search engines, and business software.  This company also appears to manufacture some kind of super-smart 'phone, and thus develops proprietary operating systems.  Thus pick and choose among Google and Yahoo and Apple and Microsoft as one company offering products on sufficiently attractive terms that everybody uses them.

I adapted the title of my post from one of the supporting cast, a former boyfriend of the protagonist who is not impressed with a wired age in which everything can be seen and shared and approved of or not instantaneously.  In his view, it's Perpetual Superficial.  And the life of the protagonist does little to contradict that view: if she's not following up with customers to get favorable evaluations, she's finding stuff to like and share (this now being converted into the single action, zing) and observing and approving of the stuff others zing, lest her productivity be seen as lagging, and her uncommunicative behavior be interpreted as insufficiently part of the community.  (Yes, communism has the same root, and I'll address that before I'm done.)  So her life, and the life of her co-workers, is one of being perpetually on, perpetually superficially involved, perpetually incapable of introspection, and probably perpetually tired -- but running on designer coffee.  And when the protagonist engages in some hashtag activism on behalf of her parents, her parents then encounter the attitude of people who sent supportive electronic mails or zings or what have you and did not get immediate responses.

And yes, this is art imitating life:  how often, dear reader, have you come into work and encountered a person whose greeting is "did you get my e-mail?", rather than "good morning," and have you gone off the social media for a few days only to return to an electronic mail inbox full of "You have missed 26 alerts?"  And the people who believe in hashtag activism might not recognize the satire in the Circle Company attempting to make public everybody's behavior, all the time.

Thus, Mr Eggers has clearly written a dystopian novel, if not as explicitly downbeat as Brave New World or the Hunger Games series.  There may, be, however, a deeper political economy message.

I have long attempted to answer student questions about non-capitalist economic organization by appeal to habit.  That is, if two cigarette-rolling machines are capable of producing more cigarettes than the adult population is capable of smoking, the embedded knowledge of running the machines may be sufficient to keep the populace in cigarettes.  And embedded knowledge of other industrial processes may be sufficient for producing other things for the populace to use.  And thus might the owners and the managers become superfluous.

But what happens when one server is capable of keeping track of all the embedded knowledge, and that server (mild spoiler alert) also turns off bank accounts and social media for people who don't vote?

There's also a challenge posed to the more traditional planned economy model laid out by Barry Lynn in a Salon interview conducted by Thomas Frank.
What we needed to do, [Theodore Roosevelt] thought, was make sure that system works for the public benefit, and to do that we had to impose our public government on top of their private government. So we will hire a bunch of experts, a bunch of engineers and scientists to run this new system so that it always works for the public benefit. Rather than let the feudal lords determine how much oil and sugar is produced, and what they cost, and how much the workers get paid, we’ll have government experts do all that instead.
It's called regulating business by independent commission, and President Roosevelt failed to anticipate regulatory capture, and Messrs. Lynn and Frank would rather gripe about Ronald Reagan gutting the antitrust laws.

But when there is one company operating the servers, and the servers also tabulate public opinion and monitor the voting of the citizens, whether the automata become the de facto dictators, or whether any kind of citizen takeover of the means of production (which are now also the means of knowledge) poses an even deeper challenge.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

CRYING WITH HIS MOUTH FULL?

Inside Higher Ed reports on the troubles of one Robert Breuder, president of the College of DuPage, for engaging in rent-seeking.  At stake, some $20 million in state capital appropriations.
The state had appropriated the money for projects that the 28,000-student college had already completed using its own funds.

To Breuder and his supporters, this story is about the unpredictability of state support and the need for scrappy community colleges to work every possible angle to get enough money to thrive. But to critics who have pounced on the situation, this is a story about a community college that was able to pay for projects itself, yet tried to grab every penny it could from taxpayers -- for the sake of luxury, not necessity.
The article hints at other disagreements between the president and the faculty and some of the trustees.  Whatever the sources of the money, and whether or not it has been properly spent, since 2009 there has been tremendous expansion of the College of DuPage facilities.  One almost needs rapid transit to get from the new buildings practically in Winfield to the original gym.

TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES.

Dinesh D'Souza's recent movie, America, with its invocation of the "shame narrative," might be an attempt to counter Howard Zinn's influence on the way Americans perceive their country.  But perhaps among the failings of public education is its failure either to indoctrinate or to teach.  Here's John Tamny in Forbes.
Quick, how many of you readers have heard of Howard Zinn? If you’ve heard of him, how many of you have read the late historian’s “A People’s History of the United States”? D’Souza’s America would have us believe that Zinn’s (according to D’Souza he’s the most read historian of the last 50 years) fabulist telling of our allegedly sordid history is accepted as fact in Obama’s America. Really? In truth, Americans probably know Zinn’s negative history about as well as they know Paul Johnson’s more positive account of this great country; as in not very well.
Mr Tamny's point is that Zinn's People's History may be much-assigned and not-much read. And thus a patron of America might not be that familiar with the origins and the intellectual foundations of the guilt narrative.  Or for that matter, with Johnson's A History of the American People (not explicitly a rebuttal to Zinn, although the author's preface notes, "I have not bowed to current academic nostrums about nomenclature or accepted the fly-blown philacteries of Political Correctness."

Howard Zinn well might have done great damage to scholarship.  But if students are not reading or understanding, what difference, at this point, does it make?

Advanced Placement students might have the opportunity to compare Zinn with Johnson.  The rest of the school population?  Not so much.  I finished Johnson years ago, before the Fifty Book Challenge, and have Zinn in the stack of things to read on chilly afternoons.

THE FOLLIES OF CULTURE STUDIES.

July is usually the month in which a lot of summer research projects hit the journals (ah, the sweet joy of being able to mark off on any request that doesn't Really Excite Me).  These days, part of establishing your reputation is getting your work into more public fora by way of the internet.  And the Reverend Awdry stories are just more material for the mill.  Thus, the resignation of the actor who does Thomas the Tank Engine's voice gives one Tracy Van Slyke the chance to ring all the identity politics changes.  "But if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages." Derivative scholarship.  Some years ago, some other critic got all worked up about Tootle, being advised to Stay on the Tracks and Always Stop for a Red Flag Waving.  Yeah, going off the rails and disregarding all the danger warnings works real well, doesn't it?

Here's a corrective from Charles Cooke at National Review.
This is not adult literature, and nor is it a lecture at Berkeley. It is a series of stories aimed at young children, who need to rebel and to play, but who also need – indeed, who crave  – rules. Hatt is not capricious or mean or violent. He doesn’t cheat or steal, or abuse his engines. He’s just in charge of the railway, as parents are in charge of their kids. If there is any lesson to be taken from his personality, it is that those in a position of responsibility can often be inadvertently amusing. Awdry himself considered the character to be something of a parody of “‘pompous railway officials” who “gave out plenty of orders, but never actually did anything.”
For the adult literature, or perhaps for those Berkeley workshops, I recommend Harry Bedwell or E. S. Dellinger.  There, the pompous railway official's errors can lead to the death of a good man.

And what would Ms Van Slyke make of Thomas on American metals being subject to the dictates of the Federal Railroad Administration?


I'll let M.C.J. complete the order. "Get help, Tracy."

25.7.14

MORE WISDOM FROM ED TENNYSON.

This tribute at Light Rail Now includes a picture of Mr Tennyson at Speedrail.



Here's his response to embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who apparently enjoys getting high and trashing streetcars.
A lane of autos waiting at traffic signals can move only 900 passengers per hour, not enough to keep a city busy or healthy. I do not know the streetcar headway, but with 56,700 weekday passengers, it sounds like 4,500 one-way in the peak hour, 5 times auto capacity. With 90 people per 4-axle car, that would require a 1.2-minute headway, 50 cars per hour. With articulated cars, a 1.8-minute headway could handle it.

The point is, who wants to allow 900 [Mayor Rob] Ford supporters to block the movement of 4,500 people per hour? Polls will not move anyone, but those 800 automobiles with 900 people will block 4,500. That is stupid, uneconomical, and grossly unproductive. When gridlock gets bad, transit speed falls to three (3) miles per hour. A streetcar costing $235 per hour will cost $78 per mile at three miles per hour; but at 6 miles per hour, which might be possible with no autos, the streetcar cost falls to $39 per mile, a saving of 50 percent for farepayers and taxpayers. If the media had the integrity and equity to explain it that way, I am sure the polls would change drastically in favor of streetcars.

[Misguided] politicians like Mayor Ford were running the U.S. Congress in 1959 when they banned streetcars from the District of Columbia [i.e., Washington, DC]. They did it to speed auto travel, but it did not work that way. It sped auto travel, all right — away from the city instead if into it.

Back then, Washington’s streetcars were almost as busy as Toronto’s streetcars. They made a profit to subsidize bus service, but they annoyed motorists. Traffic engineers wanted the streetcar lanes for auto left turns, a very low-volume use. Traffic engineers were trained at the Eno Foundation, then subsidized by General Motors. They were required to teach the need to eliminate streetcars.

The last [Washington] streetcar ran in 1962. Buying new buses escalated fares drastically and drove away most riders. Many downtown department stores went out of business. People with good jobs moved out of the city to escape auto congestion caused by automobiles, not streetcars.
Yes, and those left-turn lanes only contribute to further traffic congestion, as each traffic light now gets a left-arrow cycle to go with the conventional stop-go cycle.

One gripe: it's up to the Passenger Rail and Rail Transit advocates to make the case in such a way that people will get it.  At best, a reporter exists to report.  But you have to think of a reporter the same way that you think of a computer, or any other moron.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Clarity is not optional.

PRICES FUNCTION TO ALLOCATE DEMAND.

Some months ago, Cold Spring Shops linkbuddy John Palmer noted that water is not exempt from that proposition.
Oh, some people will be hurt when the price of water is raised? Yes, that happens. They have been benefiting from a price that has been held too low for far too long. Time to face reality.
He was referring to California, but his argument holds equal force in Detroit. Detroit's rates are high, particularly to the naive view that sees nothing but Great Lakes all around Michigan. The city has been cracking down on residents who are behind in their bills, which creates a political economy problem when governmental and business deadbeats owe a lot.
Over the past decade, sales have decreased by 20 to 30 percent, while the water department’s fixed costs and debt have remained high. Nonpayment of bills is also common. The increasing strain on the department’s resources is then passed on to customers.

But residents aren’t the only ones with delinquent accounts. Darryl Latimer, the department’s deputy director, told me that the State of Michigan holds its biggest bill: $5 million for water at state fairgrounds. (The state disputes the bill, arguing that it’s not responsible for the costs of infrastructure leaks.)
Detroit's water utility faces a stranded cost problem. In the presence of falling average costs, decreasing usage means a greater divergence between average cost and incremental cost, and piecemeal scrappage of water mains on abandoned blocks is unlikely to raise enough cash to cover the costs, nor is it likely to produce a more efficient water network.  But the editorial writers of the New York Times don't get it.
But cutting water to homes risks a public health crisis.

Instead, the water department should more aggressively target delinquent commercial customers who carry a large share of the unpaid bills. It should enact a comprehensive plan to fix leaking pipes; flooded streets are common here, and water customers — whether the state or ordinary residents — must pay for sewerage, not just running water, and often are billed erroneously for these leaks.

The department must also ensure that water is shut off to abandoned buildings, and eliminate errors in address transfers.
There's a public utilities research project here, identifying the death spiral that ensues as residents leave, revenues fall, maintenance is deferred, mains break, and more residents become disgruntled and leave.

Here's Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes summarizing the discontent.
Blame the water department, partly. Blame a political culture steeped in favoritism and victimization. Blame mismanagement that perpetuated a system in which half of the city’s property owners don’t pay their taxes and thousands ignore their water bills because, well, they can and elected officials willingly wield influence to keep it that way.

“There was no rigid enforcement policy or practice at the water department for years,” Bill Johnson, a department spokesman, said in an interview Thursday. “Some of it was under pressure from the mayor’s office, some of it from City Council.

“You allow the situation to languish and some people think you don’t care,” or that the department won’t pursue those who aren’t paying their bills.

Now they are, sparking the kind of backlash that is predictable in the ossified ways of Old Detroit. Thursday, protests continued over the water shut-offs; one radio report quoted a guy explaining, rightly, that Detroit has a high poverty rate even while complaining that council just agreed to hike water rates nearly another 9 percent.

Why is that? In large part, Johnson explained, the increase is driven by the disproportionately high number of water customers in Detroit who consume water they do not pay for.
As Doc Palmer puts it, "Raise the friggn price and watch the quantity demanded drop."

Meanwhile, in California, long the poster child for easy living made possible by subsidized water, when drought comes, the authorities try everything but the price system.
Mostly, we use prices to match supply and demand. When supplies of some item are short, rising prices provide incentives for conservation and substitution, as well as the creation of creative new sources of supply.

When we abandon prices, often out of some sort of political opportunism, chaos usually results.

California, for example, has never had the political will to allow water prices to rise when water is short. They cite all kinds of awful things that would happen to people if water prices were higher, but then proceed instead with all sorts of authoritarian rationing initiatives that strike me as far worse than any downsides of higher prices.
Yes, even NBC's "water police" segment has trouble sugar-coating the authoritarian impulse.
At the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, we met someone trying a new approach. Rachel Garza is a water conservation technician who is going door to door, responding to complaints about water violations. With her calm and maternal demeanor, Garza talks to people about the drought, suggests ways they can cut back on water use, and helps homeowners to make their lawns more drought-friendly.
The ve haff unpleazant methodz to ensure your compliansss comes later.

THE NEWS ISN'T QUITE THAT BAD.

Wisconsin's W. Lee Hansen, whose contributions to public policy include a hitch with the Walter Heller era Council of Economic Advisors, and whose contributions to economic education include suggested proficiencies for majors, recently took issue with a diversity task force report that appeared to be calling for race-normed grading.  Two of his colleagues, Donald Downs and David Canon, ask observers to chill.
As professors at UW-Madison, we can vouch for the fact that there has been no effort to impose diversity-based grading in the past five years. Had such effort emerged, there would have been an immediate strong response. Certainly no one in our department has encountered such pressure. Five years is a long time.  If marching orders had been issued, those of us on the front lines would have heard about it by now.

Our interpretation is that the part of the “inclusive excellence” framework that referred to diversity grading is just another one of hundreds of documents/memos/plans that routinely get ignored in a big organization like ours. It was never an actual University policy that was approved by the Regents and it certainly was never imposed on the faculty.

But herein lies one of the problems that lurk inside the Pandora’s Box of many diversity plans. The people who write such plans are often true believers whose words exceed their grasp. And such words are often draped in bureaucratic language that can be subject to multiple explanations. Furthermore, such programs can foster institutional pressures to conform—never a good idea at a university. The drive for diversity must never trump or compromise the traditional commitment to academic freedom and standards.

And Hansen is right when he points out that the “Inclusive Excellence” framework presented to the Regents in 2009 and the UW System’s web site on the topic does indeed contain the language on proportional representation in grading. And, Hansen is also right that the faculty have not been conscientious enough in scrutinizing, overseeing, and critiquing questionable programs and features of programs. In this respect, he has performed his traditional service to the University. And we hope that his claim will put us on guard not to let diversity grading take place down the line.
Let's cut through the fog of bureaucracy. "The people who write such plans are often true believers whose words exceed their grasp."  Deanlets and deanlings, endlessly meeting, retreating, and strategizing?  "And such words are often draped in bureaucratic language that can be subject to multiple explanations."  Because consensus means none of us is as dumb as all of us?  "And, Hansen is also right that the faculty have not been conscientious enough in scrutinizing, overseeing, and critiquing questionable programs and features of programs."  Because faculty governance has broken down, or because administrators have become accustomed to going around faculty governance?

How best to preclude diversity grading?  Insist that the common schools do their job properly.