April 2012

I was tipped off to a Financial Times article on why young folks are choosing to drive less – though not forgo altogether getting a license – by Drudge via Twitter, but the article requires a free but annoying subscription.

So I found another one published recently by the Denver Post likely inspired by some of the same background research. It documents how people roughly in their twenties (16-34) are driving less over time. Apparently this group drove 20% less in 2009 than their peers in 2001. And citing the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey, the article states that the youthful took “24 percent more bike trips in 2009 than they took in 2001,” and that “the number of passenger miles traveled by the same group on public transit increased by 40 percent.”

This recalls a post of mine from last year, ruminating on what’s going on with menfolk and their standard of living. Of course that post was about guys of all ages (sort of), not both guys and girls of a younger age.  In any case, be it the economy, immaturity or shifting values – and the Denver Post article seems to lean upon the latter – youth are getting away from cars.

A 24 year old quoted in the article offers what I’d describe as a combination of immaturity and shifting values, giving away her educated self-selection into a more progressive lifestyle in the process:

I would rather have good public transportation options than the hassle and expense of driving a car. Our leaders should focus on building a 21st-century transportation network that provides lots of alternatives to driving.

Indeed. Patching a bike tire is a breeze compared to changing one on a car. (Took me an hour once.)

Most of my writing energy is drained via my day job lately. So allow me to link to some of my better recent posts (imho) from Politix. The site is pretty intensely topical, covering the political horse race and all, but I think the following will be of more interest to readers at ETO:

Evangelical Latinos More Likely to Vote Republican

Economists vs. the Public

Are Homophobes Gay?

Be Warned: Children Won’t Make You Happier

Drug Legalization: Less Crime, More Addiction?

Are Guys to Blame for Ruining the Environment?

Where Are the Marches Against Black-on-Black Crime? Everywhere!

Despite Higher Unemployment, Minorities Happier About Economy

I was rereading an old post and noticed a link to a science blog I’d forgotten about, AK’s Rambling Thoughts. It hasn’t been updated since 2011, but there was still stuff on the front page I either hadn’t read or had completely forgotten. The latest is a proposal to recreate the Azolla event, in which a layer of fresh water formed on top of salt water and an algae/fern symbiote spread like a very quickly spreading form of plant life.  In the process it sucked a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere. As part of it he proposes the invention of a “viscoelastic layer” between the density of fresh & sea water. He deems this perfectly reasonable compared to recent advances in cell phone technology, and I imagine Kurzweil would agree. He also gets into seasteading near the end, but for reasons of creating viable cropland in a more overpopulated world rather than for the effects of adding competition to the “governance industry”.

You might point out the hubris of this sort of “high modernist” radically reconstructive plan (if you read James Scott), you might even agree with David Friedman that it’s not obvious a warmer world would be worse. To that I respond that it’s fun to think about nevertheless, that the optimum temperature may be warmer than it currently is but colder than it may end up being, and CO2 also causes things like acidification of the oceans. I find the idea of geo-engineering interesting because it could be done unilaterally and the much larger weight of public opinion marshalled in the pro-cold direction could shame actors (Canada & Russia perhaps) out of attempting to sabotage the project.

I’ve got a few things to say about the rest of the book, but I’ll keep it much more concise than the last post. First I’d like to shoot off a complaint about his reference to quantum mechanics in order to make a point about something other than the natural sciences. Please, people, stop doing that. Unless you have a really thorough understanding of Q.M, it probably has no impact on whatever it is you’re discussing and you should just stick to those facts found in the field you know something about. Morgenthau is using it to point out that even physicists don’t believe in a completely predictable world, but “scientific man” (who is not an actual scientist) still does. Who is scientific man then? In that context, I don’t know because (at least in the section on science) he doesn’t give specific examples or quote any statements he disagrees with. He even says “It has become rather trivial nowadays to point out the fallacy of the rationalistic conception of man”, so I’m not sure what he thinks he’s adding to the conversation. But it’s amusing that was written in the mid-40s, and it’s still brought up today, particularly in critiques of economics. Throughout much of the book he gave off the impression of a background in “continental” philosophy, which is less precise and often harder to understand than the “analytic” style more common in the Anglosphere. (more…)

The ultimate in Blood, Tits and Scowling is well known for the awful, cynical behavior of its scheming characters. To some the pre-modern absence of things like democracy, rights or the “public good” mean we just get to relish the meaningless squabbles for power. Not Daniel Larison. There are principles, however odd they may seem to us, that people once really believed in. The past (and the better sort of fictionalized version of it) is a different country, and more different for some than others.

If only Larison could write more about Byzantine history rather than modern democratic politics, for which the only understandable attitude is one of cynicism.

Superfreakonomics has come in for some criticism by Andrew Gelman among others, and Stephen Dubner’s response has certainly not helped. So I was amused when checking the deceased blog of frequent Gelman-target Satoshi Kanazawa that the “scientific fundamentalist” also thought poorly of the sequel. He doesn’t talk much about the book getting things “wrong” (though he says the logic for doctor’s ignoring risks to their patients seems inconsistent), but does think that it’s too padded with interviews due to the lack of new research from Levitt that could fill an entire book. Gelman also thinks the reliance on other researchers (particularly, friends of Levitt that he trusts) is problematic, but because it leads to uncritical acceptance of ideas he shouldn’t be so confident in. I’ve only read first book, so I can’t give my opinion, but I didn’t think the “drunk walking” example was so bad. Often enough, the distance to be traveled is a constant. Admittedly, the data on drunk walking may be sketchy.

On an unrelated note the Monkey Cage has a post on the representation of groups in D.C. Professionals like scientists & lawyers are better represented than manufacturing workers, but college students are less represented than gun owners. The low representation of Catholics may be the result of them leaving responsibility to the Church, whereas Jews form lots of organizations to pursue various goals. The rate at which each group pays attention to news and votes is also important. This sounds important for public choice theory, but I don’t recall them discussing it too much other than in terms of a concentrated industry being able to extract a small amount from each member of a vastly larger indifferent public. Something like the “New Class” idea that Kenneth Anderson always goes on about could tie in to that.
UPDATE: Matt Grossman continues his guest-blogging about interest groups at the Monkey Cage. Apparently he’s got a book coming out, and a lot of this material is from there. His recent posts have attempted to explain why the media seems to lean liberal, and to argue that (despite the influence of unrepresentative interest groups) our elections look like “one man, one vote“.
UPDATE 2: OrgTheory on lobbying and other political matters.

TGGP laments his use of Twitter, but I’m using it much more now due to a gig with the somewhat notorious Topix. It’s a news discussion site with a very laissez-faire  attitude toward commenters, for good or ill. (I say good.)

We’ve launched a new site called Politix that’s currently primed for mobile users, but a desktop site is soon to roll out. Highest profile press coverage here and  here.

So now I’m writing trendy (or rather, trending) news pieces – lots of Trayvon Martin and Romney gaffes – with the occasional “weekend style” Freakonomics-esque curiosity. If you’re so inclined, here are some representative posts of mine: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Yea yea, I’ve heard of the case against news, but if you consider that for most people news is a kind of Schelling point that allows strangers to have something to talk about at parties, then a case for the news can be made.

Besides, it’s my livelihood now, so I’d be a fool not to promote it.