Day: November 9, 2014

“It is entirely possible to rapidly switch our energy systems to 100 percent renewables” – Naomi Klein

Jacobson and Delucchi think we can replace all coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by 2030 with wind, solar, and hydropower while fueling a fleet of electric cars.

How? By deploying 3.8 million 5-megawatt wind turbines, 5,350 100-megawatt geothermal plants, 500,000 1-megawatt tidal turbines, 720,000 0.75-megawatt wave power generators, 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt rooftop solar panels, 40,000 300-megawatt solar panel farms, and 49,000 300-megawatt concentrated solar power plants.

Annual global investment target Current  global stock
250,000 wind turbines 225,000 wind turbines
113 million rooftop solar panel systems 11.3 million

Delucchi and Jacobson estimate a price tag of about $100 trillion for their program.

That entails spending about $6.6 trillion per year from now until 2030, more than 11 percent of the entire world’s 2013 output of $75 trillion.

Naomi Klein cited Jacobson and Delucchi to support her proposition that 100% renewable energy systems is possible.

HT: reason.com/naomi-klein-changes-nothing

History of thought course video: Hayek and the knowledge problem

Knowledge Problem

Not surprisingly, given the title of this blog and the focus of my research, the last video in the series for my history of economic thought course provides an introduction to Hayek and the knowledge problem.

Hayek’s work in the 20th century explored a range of ideas, one of the most important of which was the argument that the fundamental economic challenge in a society is the coordination of plans and actions among agents in an economy, all of whom have diverse goals and make choices based on their own perceptions and private knowledge. The knowledge problem has implications for questions from the socialist calculation debate of the 1920s and 1930s to the modern policy analyses of the regulatory state.

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Why does a theory of competition matter for electricity regulation?

Knowledge Problem

For the firms in regulated industries, for the regulators, for their customers, does the theory underlying the applied regulation matter? I think it matters a lot, even down in the real-world trenches of doing regulation, because regulation’s theoretical foundation influences what regulators and firms do and how they do it. Think about a traditional regulated industry like electricity — vertically integrated because of initial technological constraints, with technologies that enable production of standard electric power service at a particular voltage range with economies of scale over the relevant range of demand.

When these technologies were new and the industry was young, the economic theory of competition underlying the form that regulation took was what we now think of as a static efficiency/allocation-focused model. In this model, production is represented by a known cost function with a given capital-labor ratio; that function is the representation of the firm and of its…

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The link between paid parental leave generosity and a larger gender pay gap-updated

FT_gender1223

But it also turns out that some countries that offer more liberal parental leave policies have higher pay gaps among men and women ages 30 to 34, according to analyses of 16 countries conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

OECD theorizes that this link may be  driven by the fact that women are more likely than men to actually use their parental leave, and that time out of the workforce is associated with lower wages.

It is rather obvious if you pay women not to work, they will accumulate less job experience and miss out on promotional and other career advancement opportunities in their prime of their career.

FT_13.12.17_WageGap

As this OECD paper in 2012 found with regard to paid parental leave and gender gaps in employment and earnings:

…the provision and gradual lengthening of paid leave have contributed to a widening in the gender pay gap of full-time employees.

This may reflect the fact that women experience slower career and earnings progression on returning from leave to full-time employment than men, much fewer of whom take leave.

In sum, the development of parental leave policies in most countries appears to have had a positive, albeit marginal, role in the rise of female employment, although women pay a price in the form of reduced earnings progression.

Claudia Golden found that in some high-powered professions, any career interruption at all, can greatly reduce lifetime earnings.

via The link between parental leave and the gender pay gap | Pew Research Center.

Book Review: The Twilight of Human Rights Law, by Eric Posner

DipLawMatic Dialogues

By Yasmin Morais

twilight coverPosner, Eric A. The Twilight of Human Rights Law. Oxford University Press, 2014. 176 p.

“Human rights law has failed to accomplish its objectives. More precisely, there is little evidence that human rights treaties, on the whole, have improved the well-being of people, or even resulted in respect for the rights in those treaties.” So argues Eric A. Posner in his Introduction to The Twilight of Human Rights Law. The fourteenth book in the Inalienable Rights series, published by Oxford University Press, The Twilight of Human Rights Law offers candid explanations for limited progress on human rights. Posner’s central argument is that human rights law is grounded in a view that the good in every country can be broken down to a set of rules that are capable of being enforced in an impartial way. He terms this “rule naiveté”, which he considers partly responsible for…

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Amazing ambulance drone cuts response time to 1 minute on heart attacks

Once the heart stops beating, it takes about 4-6 minutes for the brain to die. The average response time for ambulances is about 10 minutes.

A professional response within a single minute could potentially increase the cardiac arrest survival rate to an astonishing 80%.

Though defibrillators are commonly available in public areas in case of emergency, 4 out of 5 cardiac arrests occur at home where the equipment likely isn’t available.

Currently, only 20% of untrained people are able to successfully apply a defibrillator, but this rate can be increased to 90% if people are provided with instructions at the scene.

My impression is that the sky will be quite crowded with drones in about 5 to 10 years and there will be an air traffic control problem.

HT: ambulance-drone-could-drastically-increase-heart-attack-survival

Now out of never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989 (Article Summary)

A. Main Hypotheses

Dynamics of Transition

Current scholarship on political revolutions fails to explain how rapidly and unexpectedly the 1989 revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe developed.

Individual decisions to support the opposition eventually create a snowball effect. The people that join the movement as it grows will later portray themselves as long-time members of the opposition and encourage even more people to switch over. Thus, preference falsification is both the source of a regime’s stability and its downfall. This phenomenon makes it difficult to track anti-government sentiment in repressive regimes, which is why revolutions come as a surprise but seem to have been inevitable.

B. Summary

United In Amazement

The revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe challenged the view that communist totalitarianism is more stable than ordinary authoritarianism.

In retrospect, it all appears like an inevitable consequence of multiple factors (bad leaders, bad economy, and no freedom.) But at the time, academics, statesmen, diplomats, journalists, futurists, and other experts all did not see it coming, and were astounded when it did.

Received Theories of Revolution and their Predictive Weaknesses

Kuran offers a critique of the current literature related to the hypothesis.

-          Structuralist theory: A revolution occurs when: 1) a state’s evolving relations with other states and local classes weaken its ability to maintain law and order, and 2) the elites harmed by this situation are powerless to restore the status quo ante yet strong enough to paralyze the government. This theory doesn’t rely on subjective factors like religion, etc.

-          Standard theory (Rational-choice): An individual opposed to incumbent regime is unlikely to participate in efforts to remove it, since personal risks outweigh benefits of the movement’s success. He or she will let others make sacrifices to kill the regime, and will still benefit since revolution is a “collective good.”

The standard theory explains why revolution is so rare but not why the 1989 ones occurred, and fails to explain why some people do make the irrational choice to challenge the regime and risk their lives. The structuralist theory explains why conditions were ripe for revolution in Soviet Union, but does not explain why old order collapsed so suddenly at once and why 1989 revolutions were so unexpected.

Preference Falsification and Revolutionary Bandwagons

According to Kuran, “a mass uprising results from multitudes of individual choices to participate in a movement for change; there is no actor named ‘the crowd’ or ‘the opposition.’” (p. 16)

The distinction between an individual’s private and publicly expressed preference is preference falsification.

-          Thus, the individual’s choice to join the opposition is based on a trade-off between internal and external payoffs – the internal psychological cost of preference falsification vs. the benefits and harms of siding with the opposition.

-          As the opposition grows, the external cost of joining becomes lower than the internal cost of not joining. Everyone has a different revolutionary threshold (i.e. “intellectuals” are less susceptible to social pressure) but even one individual shift to opposition leads to many others, creating a revolutionary bandwagon.

-          Since private preferences and thresholds are unknowable, this snowball effect means that society can quickly and quietly reach the brink of revolution.

-          Unanticipated revolutions seem predictable in hindsight because once individuals switch to the opposition after the snowball effect, they will claim they were always opposed to the old regime even if they were not. This perpetuates preference falsification and biases post-revolutionary opinions and analysis.

Gradual and abrupt changes in preference are part of a single unified process:

-          When public opinion changes enough that people start to think a revolution could be possible, the speed at which people join the bandwagon will accelerate.

-          Pressure groups and unorganized groups complement each other in efforts to overthrow the regime. “Where a small pressure group fails to push a bandwagon into motion a slightly better organized or a slightly larger one might.” (pg. 25)

East European Communism and the Wellspring of its Stability

Although oppression under Communism prompted a tiny number of citizens to express dissent through Western and independent publications, uprisings were rare and the few that did occur in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Berlin were quickly crushed. Most people living in Eastern Europe were tolerant of and submissive to the regime. According to Kuran, this was due to 1) official punishment of regime opponents, 2) the need to publicly support the regime, and 3) ignorance of how many people internally shared their antipathy. State propaganda reinforced individuals’ perceptions that they were alone in their dissent. However, once people stopped trying to prove their loyalty and started challenging communism, the regimes began to unravel. Thus, preference falsification is “the wellspring of stability” for Eastern European regimes, which would likely have fallen before 1989 were it not for this phenomenon.

The Revolution

The regimes of Eastern Europe were more vulnerable than publicly expressed opinion made them seem. Even genuine support for the regime was very thin; they could easily be swayed by an alternative to socialism if they thought enough people would support it.

Soviet policies of perestroika and glasnost pointed to growing dissatisfaction with communist leadership, which opened up the possibility of a coup by more hard-line Party leaders. Life under communism had reinforced peoples’ fear of change.

While in retrospect it seems like Gorbachev had engineered the liberalization and ultimate revolution in the Soviet Union, in reality these events occurred in spite of him. Kuran argues they were ignited by several other factors:

-          The massive rise in expressed discontent during glasnost lowered everyone’s revolutionary threshold.

-          Individual decisions to keep anti-Communist movements nonviolent were crucial to their cohesion and ultimate success.

-          Success of anti-government demonstrations in one country inspired them elsewhere, and emboldened those who were on the fence about joining. Each successive revolution took less time to complete.

-          Small government concessions, such as in Czechoslovakia, encouraged protesters to make greater demands for freedom.

-          Communist officials acquiesced to the opposition. The pressure to not support the status quo is an example of preference falsification in the opposite direction, contributing to the regime’s demise.

The Predictability of Unpredictability

Revolutions that come as a surprise are the product of a long period of gestation. The rapid growth of mass movements is due to interdependent public preferences – it is the result of many rational individual decisions undertaken based on changing incentives. Even though the confluence of so many variables is unpredictable, we can still gain insight into the general processes by which revolutions form. However, it is difficult to gauge peoples’ revolutionary thresholds, especially when state censorship and regulation of public opinion polls makes this information unavailable.

C. Comments

Kuran’s argument about the “element of surprise” in revolution supplements PDT’s framework for understanding the causes of regime change, although he does not tackle the question of differentiating successful revolutionary outcomes from failures once the initial government turnover occurs. Additionally, his analysis of revolution in Eastern Europe shows that seemingly stable authoritarian regimes can actually be on the brink of revolt and thus vulnerable to internal and external pressure. This supports PDT’s idea that boosting a state’s civil society will influence more people to publicly express their internal dissent, giving the opposition movement the strength needed to successfully challenge the regime.

Summarized by Shelli Gimelstein. July, 2013.

Source: Timur Kuran, “Now out of never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989,” World Politics, Vol. 44, No. 1, October 1991, pp. 7-48

Bjørn Lomborg says that the UN climate panel’s latest report tells a story that politicians prefer to ignore

The second IPCC installment showed that the temperature rise that we are expected to see sometime around 2055-2080 will create a net cost of 0.2-2% of GDP – the equivalent of less than one year of recession…

Again, not surprisingly, politicians tried to have this finding deleted. British officials found the peer-reviewed estimate “completely meaningless,” and, along with Belgium, Norway, Japan, and the US, wanted it rewritten or stricken. One academic speculated that governments possibly felt “a little embarrassed” that their previous exaggerated claims would be undercut by the UN.

The third installment of the IPCC report showed that strong climate policies would be more expensive than claimed as well – costing upwards of 4% of GDP in 2030, 6% in 2050, and 11% by 2100.

And the real cost will likely be much higher, because these numbers assume smart policies, instantly enacted, with key technologies magically available.

via Bjørn Lomborg says that the UN climate panel’s latest report tells a story that politicians would prefer to ignore. – Project Syndicate.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall and Rod Croome’s unanticipated revolution

A good explanation of this rapid social change is in Timur Kuran’s “Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolutions” and “Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989“.

Utopia, you are standing in it!

Back in 1986, an old University mate of mine, Rod Croome was very physically brave in his protesting for reforms to the Tasmanian state criminal law.

  • Rod even walked into a Tasmanian police station and confessed to abominations against the order of nature, as the Tasmanian criminal code called it.
  • The Police said they could not prosecute without the other party coming forward as the witness. The abominee did.
  • The Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions then declined to prosecute on public interest grounds. His discretion to not prosecute is absolute.

These days, Rod is campaigning for the equal right to marry. All inside one generation!

When Rod walked out of that police station rather disappointed at being a free man, I wonder if he anticipated how much change would happen regarding gay rights in his lifetime, much less in the next 5, 10, and 20-years.

A good explanation of this…

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Life In The Post-Apocalyptic World After 2008

Real Science

Experts tell us that the Arctic will be ice-free by 2008

MONDAY, MARCH 17, 2008
Polar ice cap melting away in 2008 ?

The latest salvo comes courtesy of Xinhua, which reports that Olav Orheim, the head of the Norwegian International Polar Year Secretariat, is placing his money on this summer. Noting that its ice sheet had reached a historical low of 3m sq. km last summer – it covered around 7.5m sq. km as recently as 2000 – Orheim told Xinhua that “if Norway’s average temperature this year equals that in 2007, the ice cap in the Arctic will all melt away.” Barring this disaster, Orheim predicted that excess carbon dioxide emissions and higher average temperatures would unpredictably alter the region’s fragile ecosystems. On a separate note, he said that Asia would likely be hardest hit by rising sea levels, estimating that a one meter rise would affect “nearly…

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