David Levinson’s recent work: Does BRT have economic development effects?

David Levinson is simply brilliant. There really isn’t any other way to put it.  He’s got some recent columns up that you shouldn’t miss, but my favorite is Does BRT have economic development? Spoiler: the answer is yes.  Good.  We spend money on mobility improvements, those  improvements result in in higher productivity.  At least one part of the world is acting according to theory; I can relax. The piece contains a very nice listing of the best papers in the field for further reading.

David also posted a video of the discussion around transportation politics, which is a little less interesting as it meanders to a pretty well-established point: that people don’t trust government. David does imply the bigger point: we have plenty of money for sports stadia; we don’t, apparently, have any money for roads, and that reveals what is important to people in the political process.  One thing: this particular panel of experts  is not likely to dissuade anybody that transport consists of dudes and nobody else.  At least David’s a young guy yet.


I was working on my dissertation, and I didn’t own a television set, so that day my husband came home from work early–he was working in a federal building–and told me the news. We sat around our radio, knowing the world had changed, with broken hearts.

The frustrating parochialism of urbanism as a speciality, the frustrating state of political reporting

I’ve been reading about Athenian democracy again here lately, and the point of such reading is, of course, to think about your own capacities and experiences as a citizen of a republic.  I think an Athenian citizen probably would be appalled at  the US political arrangement; the very idea that only a small group would be informed and take a decision on something as significant as the Syrian crisis would be unacceptable to somebody who was a member of a body of 40,000 people who each had the same right to vote on every issue as it was heard, if they were Pynx to hear the debate.

I often hear “urban” applied as an implicit put-down among colleagues who see it as a less worthy focus—a ‘small’ thing—for scholarly work than whatever it is they study–usually federal institutions or something they perceive as a greater phenomenon.  Those of us who study urban politics (and everybody who watched The Wire)  know, cities present a universe of things to study.  I generally never regret my decision to be an urbanist even if, in the status hierarchy of my school, it’s not treated particularly well.

That said, my general day-to-day focus on the urban frustrates me a great deal when international relations issues arise because I just do not have an intellectual basis to be the sort of democrat I should be.  I don’t understand the   world I see to be able to have an informed policy position  on many matters of foreign policy, and it annoys me. I feel like I read and read, and I still can’t pull together a position for what the US should do in Syria.  I just want people to stop dying. All of the belligerents are explicit enemies for the US. From a strict self-interest perspective, we should let them kill each other. I’m grateful that we aren’t doing that—I don’t think–because the toll in innocent human life is too high. We can’t just stand by, and we shouldn’t. But what action?

Political reporting and commentary doesn’t help me much. In general, The New Republic is one of my go-to outlets, but this piece from Julia Ioffe lets me down.  Yeah, I know now that John Kerry isn’t doing a bang up job and Putin is a jerk.  But I’m not sure that losing in a no-win game is really worse than not winning, if you know what I mean.  There is no policy position taken here, only that Kerry screwed up and the option on the table–of surrendering chemical weapons–isn’t a clean or easy goal. I think we knew that, too. Should we be sad we don’t nuke them to glass?

Blegs, saving old dogs, and what I’m doing for the next few days

Rescuing old dogs from shelters does not meet any efficiency criteria. They do not place very readily. When a rescue takes them, their rationale derives from pure human sentiment, the idea that getting old is not a sin, and that dying in comfort surrounded by affection means something in this rotten world.

If you would like to contribute the medical bills we’re about to take on, you can give a tax-deductible donation to lschwei@icloud.com via PayPal.

Got this from an adoption coordinator for LA County:

They were seized from a home. It seems that the mother was ill and taking very poor care of the dogs, and her children were doing nothing to help. On the mother’s death bed, (or so they say), mom asked them to look after the dogs. They didn’t. The dogs were found in an icky house, no food or water, barely moving, matted and covered in fleas. My guess is they’ve endured a lot and I’d like to see them have a chance a good, decent and happy life. Can you please help??

My 501c3 organization is taking these dogs even though I doubt any but the younger Shih Tzu in the middle will place. But sometimes dogs do very well once they get food and care, and you only need to find one home with a generous and loving heart.

A4620465 12yr old neutered male, has medical issues such as eye, skin and needs a dental.


Medical notes:
– Left eye cloudy, poss. cataract, right eye dry, poss blind/KCS .Severe plaque build up,some missing teeth.
Cardiovascular/Respiratory- NSF
Abdomen- NSF
Musculoskeletal- Difficulty walking, poss. arthritis.
Neurologic- NSF
Lymph nodes- NSF
Genito-urinary- NSF
Integument- Mild alopecia on the rump area, poss. FAD vs. open. Cloudiness on left eye, poss. cataract, on right eye, poss. KCS.
A: Dog has severe dental disease, Cataract on left eye and poss. KCS on right eye and mild flea bite hypersensitivity, atopy open.
P: Continue giving medication as prescribed. Adopt on health waiver. Eye may need to be seen by an eye specialist
Rx. Amoxi 50 mg BID x 7 days.

A4620463 8yr spayed female has URI and severely matted hair/ coat.


Medical notes:
S: On vet check for possible URI with nasal discharge and cough. Patient started on doxycycline50mg PO SID x 10 days.

GEN: BARH, Resp 30, BCS 4/9
EENT: Moderate mucopurulent nasal discharge. No coughing or sneezing appreciated.
RESP: Appropriate respiration with no excessive panting or abdominal breathing.
SKIN: Severely matted hair coat.
MS: Ambulatory x 4. No gait abnormalities appreciated.
NEURO: Appropriate mentation with no obvious abnormalities. Full neuro exam not performed.
1) URI : r/o infectious tracheobronchitis (Bordetella, Canine adenovirus 2, parainfluenza, distemper) vs inflammatory (eosinophilic bronchopneumopathy) vs foreign body (foxtail) vs fungal (aspergillosis) vs neoplasia
Continue doxycycline 50mg PO SID x 10 days. GIVE WITH FOOD.
OK to groom (if possible).

Monitor for appetite, behavior and worsening condition and contact veterinarian if this occurs. Feed canned food to entice appetite, if necessary. If this patient continues to show signs after 7 days, bring to veterinarian for refill of medication. The infection may take up to 3 weeks to clear.

A4620464 10yr intact female GERIATRIC – both eyes missing possibly both are surgically removed. Weak hindquarter & right leg deformed possibly old healed injury


BCS= 2.5/9
MM- pink CRT- < 2 sec Mentation- BAR
EENT- both eyes missing possibly both are surgically removed
Cardiovascular/Respiratory- NSF
Abdomen- NSF
Musculoskeletal- weak hindquarter & right leg deformed possibly old healed injury
Neurologic- NSF
Lymph nodes- NSF
Genito-urinary- NSF
Integument- severe flea infestation
Vaccinate + Frontline
per shelter protocol started 25 mg rimadyl p/o sid x 7 days
Vet to re-assess general condition & treatment provided
extra feedings

Chubby women with badminton racquets, or how I learned to love the Coase theorem

Attention Conservation Notice: When you have to do the work of complying with environmental norms, it’s a lot less fun than it looks, and Ronald Coase’s papers seldom contained the mathematical flouncing found in contemporary economics: they just contained really big ideas. He died yesterday, after a long and productive life.

Those of you who read regularly will note that I have read and studied fairly extensively in economics for somebody who is not an economist. Ronald Coase’s most well-known theorem is one of the greatest modern innovations to the field, but it’s an irritating theorem in many ways. To understand why requires a little background. Most people have heard of externalities; that is, there may be some cost or benefit associated with a good that doesn’t get captured in the market price because either a) the buyer doesn’t receive the benefit, so is not willing to pay for it or b) the buyer doesn’t have to contend with the external cost, and thus, doesn’t consider it when they decide how much of something they opt to consume. The classic example all young planners learn is consuming gas while driving a car: driving a car has lots of individual benefits, including fast, point-to-point travel, but it also burns gas that causes air pollution…whose cost is felt by the people who get sick from it, not by the driver, per se. Yes, individual drivers have to breathe bad air, too, but that is a low marginal cost to them because they are one of millions of drivers compared to the direct out-of-pocket costs of buying gas. With a consumption externality like this, individuals consume more of a good than is socially optimal or efficient.

Economics gives us two major policy approaches to get to an efficient outcome–i.e, lower overall consumption. The first comes from an economist named Arthur Pigou, who was among the first to note externalities. You could, in theory, apply a marginal tax equal to cost of the externality on each unit of the good so that the market-clearing price would result in the socially optimal level of consumption. You could do the same with production externalities, like the use of toxic chemicals in dry cleaning service. The problem is information: to know the proper tax level, you have to know how much the externality costs, and you have to know at least a little bit about the marginal utility of a consumer in one instance, or the marginal cost structure of a firm in the instance of a production externality.

Ronald Coase, much later, noted that you could also arrive an efficient result with a socially optimal level of production if we put the shoe on the other foot–that is, the rest of us, if we are bothered by the externality pay the producer to produce less (or the consumer to consume less). Lefties tend not to like Coase much because it feels like expecting the victims to pay to reduce an activity (pollution) to which there is no real entitlement. However, Coase’s theory has been a major innovation in policy as it has made it possible to create cap and trade systems. While many people deplore cap and trade systems, the systems do eliminate a lot of the information problems you have with a Pigouvian tax. Instead of having to figure out how much to tax and trying to suss marginal utility and marginal cost curves, the participants in cap and trade systems know their own utility and their own cost structures and know when it’s to their advantage to trade or not. The government only has to set the level of activity it will tolerate, how it’s going to endow rights at the beginning, and then let people trade to the target level. And people still have an incentive to innovate cleaner technologies so than they can sell more in the pollution market or save money by having to purchase less in the market. The very good idea of paying people not to burn down the Amazonian rain forest comes directly from Coase.

This is a rough explanation, and I have students who could explain it better, but you get the idea.

So I have always been sympathetic to the argument that paying producers to back off is a morally hazy endeavor. For one, the secondary incentive structure strikes me as wrong: if I am paid not to pollute, I have little reason to innovate new production technology than if I pay per unit of pollution, though those of us paying people not to pollute have a reason to innovate. But those polluting may not have an incentive to adopt once we’ve innovated. There are other reasons, but you will have to read Chapter 6 in my book if you want to see them. 🙂 (Which means I have to write it so you can read it.) Again, I’m not referring to auction and trade systems because those keep the incentive structure intact.

However, I am starting to feel for Coase and producers. My neighbors across the way are super-duper environmentally correct people. They drive a Pious. Of course, they also have gardeners. I have a little Miracle Gro that I use on my roses in the front. Miracle Gro has been around a long time, and while I wish they were still owned by Sterne’s instead of Mansanto, nobody is eating roses, I don’t use a heavy solution, and from what I can tell, there is no diminishment of bugs, bees, butterflies, or anything else, and the feral cat is not dying from anything. Well, suffice it to say these neighbors stare and glare and make drama when/if I use the little garden sprayer, even though, having given in to their passive-aggressive dramatics (given that their gardeners are spraying crap all over when these two are at work), I now just use the Miracle Gro spray thing and fill it with soil soup (compost tea) I make myself–but I still the use the Miracle Gro spray thingie because it fits right on the end of the hose and I can mix the soil soup with water and dilute and spread more easily.

Miracle Gro was inexpensive and extremely effective for roses. My New Organic Plan, undertaken several months ago out of deference to my own guilt about environmental things combined with their furious glares and pulling their dog away from the yard like he will die instantaneously, is an expensive, dirty, smelly, insect-y pain in my butt, to put it indelicately. Organic gardening websites boast of pounds and pounds of beautiful compost one gets from one’s worm composter. Well, I don’t know what those little bastard worms are doing in there all day, but it takes me months and months to get about a Folger’s coffee can of compost. Five gallons of poop tea takes days to make and I can’t make enough at one time to cover the entire rose garden, unless I spend about $400 on a D-Lux compost soup maker thingie. My easy application of not-messy granules of Miracle Gro now consists of endless mucking about with compost and organic soul re-conditioners: One first applies four treatments of PENETRATE (which involves mixing and spraying; hence my retention of the little Miracle Grow nozzle thingie), and then one must OPTIMIZE the soil; then MAXIMIZE, Then NOURISH.

I have never used pesticides, but after a morning of flailing around my garden with a badminton racquet trying to kill off the Japanese beetles that are playing hell with my roses, I’M THINKING ABOUT IT.

I’m trying to write a book and have a rose garden, not becomes the world’s foremost leading expert on nematodes. I certainly wish them well, but honestly, this whole production is heinously expensive: the PENETRATE; OPTIMIZE: MAXIMIZE; NOURISH stuff cost me nearly $150 for my whole yard, and then there’s the $80 I spent on an organic blood and bone stuff. So yeah, I’m kind of feeling that since I seem to be paying out the nose in terms of dollars and time to satisfy somebody ELSE’S preferences, it would be okay if they paid me.

Farewell, Dr. Coase.