Increased CO2 “Kept a New Ice Age at Bay”

(p. 38) . . . the repeated inventions and spread of agriculture around the planet affected not only the surface of the Earth, but its 100-kilometer-wide (60-mile-wide) atmosphere as well. Farming disturbed the soil and increased CO2. Some climatologists believe that this early anthropogenic warming, starting 8,000 years ago, kept a new ice age at bay. Widespread adoption of farming disrupted a natural climate cycle that ordinarily would have refrozen the northernmost portions of the planet by now.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

David Kay Johnston Defends Entrepreneurial Capitalism Against Crony Capitalism


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I saw an informative C-SPAN interview with David Cay Johnston a while back. I had known from Johnston’s previous books and reporting, that he was devoted to exposing the outrages of crony capitalism. What the interview revealed to me was that Johnston was not opposed to capitalism in general, and in fact viewed himself as friendly to entrepreneurial capitalism.

I believe that big companies are not bad when they got and stay big by honestly earning big profits from willing and delighted consumers. But big companies are bad when, as often happens, they use their size to get the government to suppress start-up competitors or to take money from taxpayers to subsidize their activities.
I have not yet read Johnston’s latest book on the big and bad, but I expect it to present sad, but useful, examples.

Book discussed:
Johnston, David Cay. The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind. New York: Portfolio, 2012.

Reinhart Rogoff Result Robust: High Debt Lowers Growth Rate from 3.5 to 2.3 Percent

(p. A29) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. In May 2010, we published an academic paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt.” Its main finding, drawing on data from 44 countries over 200 years, was that in both rich and developing countries, high levels of government debt — specifically, gross public debt equaling 90 percent or more of the nation’s annual economic output — was associated with notably lower rates of growth.
. . .
Last week, three economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, released a paper criticizing our findings. They correctly identified a spreadsheet coding error that led us to miscalculate the growth rates of highly indebted countries since World War II. But they also accused us of “serious errors” stemming from “selective exclusion” of relevant data and “unconventional weighting” of statistics — charges that we vehemently dispute.
. . .
Our 2010 paper found that, over the long term, growth is about 1 percentage point lower when debt is 90 percent or more of gross domestic product. The University of Massachusetts researchers do not overturn this fundamental finding, which several researchers have elaborated upon.
. . .
There were just 26 cases where the ratio of debt to G.D.P. exceeded 90 percent for five years or more; the average high-debt spell was 23 years. In 23 of the 26 cases, average growth was slower during the high-debt period than in periods of lower debt levels. Indeed, economies grew at an average annual rate of roughly 3.5 percent, when the ratio was under 90 percent, but at only a 2.3 percent rate, on average, at higher relative debt levels.
. . .
The fact that high-debt episodes last so long suggests that they are not, as some liberal economists contend, simply a matter of downturns in the business cycle.
In “This Time Is Different,” our 2009 history of financial crises over eight centuries, we found that when sovereign debt reached unsustainable levels, so did the cost of borrowing, if it was even possible at all. The current situation confronting Italy and Greece, whose debts date from the early 1990s, long before the 2007-8 global financial crisis, support this view.

For the full commentary, see:
CARMEN M. REINHART and KENNETH S. ROGOFF. “Debt, Growth and the Austerity Debate.” The New York Times (Fri., April 26, 2013): A29.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2013.)

The full reference to the authors’ book is:
Reinhart, Carmen M., and Kenneth Rogoff. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Missouri Teachers Trained to Defend School with Guns

SydowAaronPrincipalFaiviewSchool2013-04-26.jpg “Aaron Sydow, the principal of Fairview School in West Plains, Mo., monitoring the halls. After the Newtown, Conn., shooting, the Fairview school board authorized paid training for staff members so that they could be armed.” Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) WEST PLAINS, Mo. — At 8:30 on a cloudy, frigid morning late last month in this folksy Ozark town, the superintendent of an area school strolled through the glass doors of the local newspaper office to deliver a news release.

Hours later, the content of that release produced a front-page headline in The West Plains Daily Quill that caught residents off guard: “At Fairview School Some Employees Now Carry Concealed Weapons.”
That was how most parents of Fairview students learned that the school had trained some of its staff members to carry weapons, and the reaction was loud — and mostly gleeful.
“Sooo very glad to hear this,” a woman whose grandchildren attend Fairview posted on the Facebook page of The Quill, adding, “All schools in America should do this.”

For the full story, see:
JOHN ELIGON. “Rat Kidneys Made in Lab Point to Aid for Humans.” The New York Times (Mon., April 15, 2013): A10.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 14, 2013.)

Longer Life Spans “Allowed More Time to Invent New Tools”

(p. 33) The primary long-term consequence of . . . slightly better nutrition was a steady increase in longevity. Anthropologist Rachel Caspari studied the dental fossils of 768 hominin individuals in Europe, Asia, and Africa, dated from 5 million years ago until the great leap. She determined that a “dramatic increase in longevity in the modern humans” began about 50,000 years ago. Increasing longevity allowed grandparenting, creating what is called the grandmother effect: In a virtuous circle, via the communication of grandparents, ever more powerful innovations carried forward were able to lengthen life spans further, which allowed more time to invent new tools, which increased population. Not only that: Increased longevity “provide[d] a selective advantage promoting further population increase,” because a higher density of humans increased the rate and influence of innovations, which contributed to increased populations. Caspari claims that the most fundamental biological factor that underlies the behavioral innovations of modernity maybe the increase in adult survivorship. It is no coincidence that increased longevity is the most measurable consequence of the acquisition of technology. It is also the most consequential.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: ellipsis added; bracketed “d” in Kelly’s original.)

The Costs of Green Jobs Policies


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I caught part of a C-SPAN presentation on the Regulating to Disaster book. It sounded plausible and intriguing—consistent with other evidence I have seen that “green” jobs have been over-hyped and under-delivered.
Perhaps more important, there are the high opportunity costs of the tax dollars devoted to the “green” jobs, in terms of the non-green jobs that would have been created by entrepreneurs if less of their income had been taxed away.
I hope to look at the book in the near future.

Book discussed:
Furchtgott-Roth, Diana. Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America’s Economy. New York: Encounter Books, 2012.

Working Rat Kidney Is Created in Lab

(p. A10) Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have made functioning rat kidneys in the laboratory, a bioengineering achievement that may one day lead to the ability to create replacement organs for people with kidney disease.
The scientists said the rat kidneys produced urine in the laboratory as well as when transplanted into rats. The kidneys were made by stripping donor kidneys of their cells and putting new cells that regenerate tissue into them. Stripping an organ leaves a natural scaffold of collagen and other compounds, called the extracellular matrix, which provides a framework for new cells and preserves the intricate internal architecture of the kidney as well as its basic shape.
Dr. Harald C. Ott, senior author of a paper describing the research that was published online Sunday by the journal Nature Medicine, said that the work was still in its early stages and that there were many hurdles to creating fully functional kidneys for people. But he noted that replacement organs made in this way would have advantages over those made with artificial scaffolds or other techniques.

For the full story, see:
HENRY FOUNTAIN. “Rat Kidneys Made in Lab Point to Aid for Humans.” The New York Times (Mon., April 15, 2013): A10.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 14, 2013.)

Novelist Anna Quindlen Loves Her Electric Generator

QuindlenAnnaNovelist2013-04-23.jpg “Feel the Power: Author Quindlen at her home, which is kept up and running with occasional use of her beloved generator.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. M14) I love my generator. It’s not much to look at, a beige box half the size of my desk, hidden by a scrim of native grasses. If my power goes out for more than two minutes, it clears its throat and rumbles into life.

The fridge hums, the TV flares, the water flows from the faucet. Every once in a while I give the generator a pat in passing to show my appreciation.
. . .
. . . , in 2009, the tornado came. One of the things that was freaky was how exactly it conformed to every news report I’d ever seen. Dark air like demonic possession, a sharp path cut across the land by meteorological shears. We were lucky; the sharp path fell directly between the house and the garage. You could follow it from there by looking at the empty spaces in a solid line of trees, the rootballs waving their witchy root toes in the air. We lost a lot of trees. And the power, for five days. Five long days. It’s funny the little things you miss. Our coffee maker is electric. Each morning my friend, Emily, would bring a thermos of coffee and take my phone away to charge it.
But there was a big thing missing, too, and it wasn’t light. Where we live, if you lose power, you lose water. And after five days of keeping a bucket by the back door so I could get water from the pond for the toilets, five days of trying to convince myself that going in the pool was almost like an actual shower, I called the contractor and said, “Generator. Please. Soon.”

For the full commentary, see:
ANNA QUINDLEN. “HOUSE CALL; A Message Delivered by Tornado; After five days without power, a desperate writer calls her contractor to say: ‘Generator. Please. Soon.’.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 12, 2013): M14.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 11, 2013.)
(Note: ellipses added.)


“Ms. Quindlen’s beloved generator is shown.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

Today Is 13th Anniversary of Democrats’ Infamous Betrayal of Elián González

GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg“In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy.” Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. “10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga.” Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title “10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.”)

Today (April 22, 2013) is the 13th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history—when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.

Analytical Solutions Require Unrealistic Assumptions that Make Models Useless for Policy


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(p. 190) When I was a younger man, I and all of my cohort were apprehensive if we saw Ed Leamer in the audience when we were presenting a paper. His comments were blunt, incisive, and often negative. But what truly terrified us was that he was almost always right. . . .

Leamer has produced a highly original little book, with big insights and lessons for us all. He explores the tension between economics that is mathematically sophisticated and complex but often vacuous, versus economics that may be vague but which is useful and carries a message. It is frankly a remarkable work, full of insights and persuasive arguments that need to be read, debated, and taken seriously.
. . .
(p. 191) But this is no rant of an old guy. Leamer gets very specific about his notions of usefulness versus rigor. A good drum to bang on is Samuelson, an important “mathematizer.” I would strongly encourage all young trade economists and perhaps all graduate students who have been subjected to a traditional international trade course at any level, to read the section on factor-price equalization. This is beautifully done and even exciting and funny at times. As told by Leamer, the young Samuelson excoriates Ohlin for largely dismissing the possibility of factor-price equalization and then presents his (Samuelson’s) “proof” of factor-price equalization. The latter, of course, is a theorem that is mathematically correct given the assumptions, but Ohlin is talking about its usefulness in understanding the world and constructing policy. The factor-price-equalization theorem is indeed a prime example of something that is valid but not useful.
. . .
Yet at the same time, I have thought long and hard about exactly what message should be given to graduate students and assistant professors without much success. The journal publishing business puts a huge premium on rigor over usefulness and few referees or editors are inclined to take the chance inherent in accepting papers that are a bit loose in their analytical or econometric structures, no matter how exciting they might be. If you accept that, then the profession as a whole has to rethink our view of what is an important scientific contribution: I cannot simply tell graduate students to think more broadly and worry less about elegance. Some will of course deny that there is any tension, but I side with Leamer. Over and over again, I hear, read, and/or referee papers (p. 192) where, in order to get an analytical solution to a model, the author has to assume away almost every interesting feature of the problem to the point that the remaining model is uninteresting and uninformative. But that at least qualifies the paper for possible publication in Econometrica, RESTud, or JET.

For the full review, see:
Markusen, James R. “Book Review of Ed Leamer’s the Craft of Economics.” Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 1 (2013): 190-92.
(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

The book under review is:
Leamer, Edward E. The Craft of Economics, Ohlin Lectures. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

“The French Work Force Gets Paid High Wages But Works Only Three Hours”

(p. B1) PARIS — “How stupid do you think we are?”
With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.
“I have visited the factory a couple of times,” Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.
“The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”
“I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, ‘That’s the French way!’ “

For the full story, see:
LIZ ALDERMAN. “Quel Brouhaha! A Diatribe on Unions Irks the French.” The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1 & B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)

For a similar account, see:
GABRIELE PARUSSINI. “U.S. CEO to France: “How Stupid Do You Think We Are?” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013, and has the title “U.S. CEO Blasts French Work Habits.”)