Friday, September 26, 2008

Arnold Kling talks sense

Arnold Kling is an economist who used to work at the Fed and at Freddie Mac; I think he makes a lot of sense. For example:
Mortgage security trading was a major source of profits on Wall Street, and I know that a lot of Hank Paulson's crowd want to revive that industry. Instead, I'm ready to treat it like the parrot in the Monty Python pet shop sketch. The mortgage securitization model is dead. It is no more. It is deceased. Gone to meet its maker. It has ceased to be.
Visit EconLog for much more from somebody who actually knows what he's talking about.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mister Chicken turns into Miss Saigon

Amherst has lots of restaurants (especially pizza places). It had one fewer over the summer-- "Mister Chicken" went out of business. No worries, though-- it's being replaced by "Miss Saigon."

I find that oddly amusing...

(and I wonder: will there be any controversy over the name? I just hope they have good Bánh chưng, a dish I haven't had since I lived in Palo Alto...)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On-street parking tradeoffs...

I'm still trying to decide what to think about the proposal to eliminate on-street parking from our residential street (High Street in Amherst). I'm concerned about safety. I don't really care about the parking; we never park on the street, and have plenty of parking for guests, except for the rare occasions we host a large party. If eliminating on-street parking makes the street significantly safer, then I think it's a good idea.

My bleg (that's the cutsie word for "blog-beg") asking if somebody would figure it out for me didn't work, so I found a nice meta-study published in the American Journal of Public Health that passes all of the skeptical tests for information quality-- it's a peer-reviewed scientifically rigorous study published in a respected journal.

What I've learned: it's complicated. Speed is the most important factor:
The British Department of Transport, for example, finds that the risk of pedestrian death in crashes rises from 5% at 20mph to 45% at 30mph and 85% at 40mph (source)
But visibility is also important-- children get killed when they dart out from behind parked cars and get hit by drivers who don't see them in time.

Sidewalks are also important-- they reduce accidents-- and High Street already has a sidewalk on the west side of the street, which is the same side of the street where parking is currently allowed.

If I was a traffic engineer, maybe I'd be able to dig up odds ratios for all the various factors and actually calculate the tradeoffs-- but I'm pretty sure, given all the traffic calming information I was able to dig up via google (see, for example, this paper), that eliminating parking on High Street will make it more dangerous.

Stimulating bad behavior

Congress is thinking about another "stimulus package" to "jump-start" the economy:
The shape of the stimulus package is still undecided, but proposals to repair roads, extend federal unemployment benefits, increase home energy subsidies, provide disaster assistance payments and provide aid to automakers are expected to be considered.
(source: Associated Press)
Umm, yeah. So the first stimulus package didn't work; Congress printed money and gave it out, and gee willikers! Surprise Surprise! We got higher inflation that wiped out any stimulating effect!

This time, they're not going to make the mistake of trusting you and me to spend the money they print; instead, they're going to spend it on Worthy Projects.

Like bailing out the US automakers. After all, how could they have known that making environmentally-unfriendly SUVs would someday become unprofitable?

Or encouraging homeowners to keep their energy-inefficient appliances and furnaces by increasing home energy subsidies. No, we mustn't let market forces push people into being more energy-efficient; that would be painful for all the existing businesses that make lots of money doing things the old-fashioned way (by lobbying Washington to prop up their dying industries).

I'm generally an optimist when it comes to prospects for our environment, economy, and community; I believe that, overall, we're getting healthier, wealthier and wiser, and we're paying more attention to the well-being of each other and the planet.

My big worry is that we've concentrated too much power into the hands of a small number of people, and that they'll manage to screw things up really badly all in the name of "helping" or "saving" or "stimulating."