Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do Nothing

The popular perception is that our do-nothing Congress is going to drive our country into a financial ditch.

Tyler Cowen (one of my favorite economists, even though he's a Bitcoin skeptic) points out that's not actually true.

If Congress does nothing, then a bunch of things will happen which should balance the budget in ten or so years:

The Bush tax cuts will expire. Income tax rates go up for everybody (rich, poor and middle class) and the Federal Government will get a lot more revenue. If you're a Democrat who thought the Bush tax cuts were a really bad idea in the first place then that shouldn't bother you.

The SuperCommittee SuperFailure budget cuts will happen. Military and Domestic spending will be cut. I'd be pretty happy with that, I think we're spending way too much money on our military and don't think we get our money's worth from most Federal government spending.

Medicare spending will be cut, because there will be no "doc fix" to override a law that was passed several years ago that was supposed to limit doctor reimbursement of Medicare expenses. If that happens (I don't think it will), then it'll suddenly become very difficult to find a doctor willing to accept people on Medicare. It would, however, save a ton of money. It would also be a fascinating natural experiment in health-care economics-- given that there's a surprisingly weak correlation between health care spending and longevity or other measures of health maybe we'd all be better off if we collectively spent less money on doctors.

From my perspective, do-nothing looks like a pretty good second-best solution. I'd rather we cut military spending more, kept the tax cuts for people making under $50,000 per year, and implemented Megan McArdle's plan for national catastrophic health insurance. But Congress has shown that it is really good at doing nothing, and I don't expect that to change.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Zoning. Lots of Zoning.

Tomorrow night Amherst Town Meeting takes up Article 17, which rezones a couple of "Village Centers" to encourage more mixed-use, walkable, environmentally-friendly development.

The Sustainable Amherst website has a great summary of the reasons it is a good idea.

There are a couple of different things going on in the Article-- first is the proposal to change the zoning. That will bring out the NIMBYs who are afraid of change (which, as I've said before, is completely rational). I hope they can overcome their fear and think about all the nice things that might get built. I really enjoy being able to walk to coffee shops and restaurants and Captain Candy and the Farmer's Market, and I would think people living in North Amherst would enjoy more places to hang out and shop, too.

The second thing going on in Article 17 I'm not so enthusiastic about-- "Form-based zoning." The idea is to write zoning rules to encourage the creation of neighborhoods that 'feel' a desired way.

I'm not enthusiastic just because I would rather take a 'creative destruction' approach-- I believe that if you make it easier to redevelop, then neighborhoods will evolve over time towards whatever their residents most desire. I worry that adding Even More Pages to our Zoning Bylaw will just make redevelopment more difficult and expensive, and will give Nimby neighbors more opportunities to nit-pick a project to death.

But maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe Form-Based Zoning is a really good idea and will speed the process of redevelopment along, so you get fewer strip malls along the way towards tomorrow's quaint, historic village centers that everybody adores. I'm willing to give it a try, and plan on voting for Article 17 tomorrow night.