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Ryan Avent's Posts

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If the grass looks greener, it’s important to understand the nature of the fence

Cross-posted from The Bellows. One of the things about politics is that solutions always seem easier to implement and more promising before they stand a real chance of being implemented. People who have for one reason or another fallen in love with the idea of a carbon tax watch the difficulty Congress is having negotiating a passable climate bill and ask why we don't just pass a carbon tax. It would be so easy! It's just a tax! Pass it, price carbon, and bada bing, you're done. But of course, a carbon tax looks like a clean, simple option at …

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The assumption of inconvenience

Cross-Posted from Streetsblog. Early this week, I noticed a number of my favorite bloggers linking to this Elisabeth Rosenthal essay at Environment 360, on the mysterious greenness of European nations. The average American, as it happens, produces about twice as much carbon dioxide each year as your typical resident of Western Europe. Rosenthal attributes much of this difference to behavioral factors relating, it seems, to Europeans' unique tolerance of inconvenience. She writes: But even as an American, if you go live in a nice apartment in Rome, as I did a few years back, your carbon footprint effortlessly plummets. It’s …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Off the rails

Washington Post features rail hack job from Robert Samuelson

This post originally appeared on Streetsblog DC. This is the big problem with Ed Glaeser's New York Times posts purporting to analyze the costs and benefits of a high speed rail system. Despite Glaeser's acknowledgment that his "back-of-the-envelope calculation" doesn't "[represent] a complete evaluation of any actual proposed route," the posts are sure to be read and regurgitated by rail opponents uninterested in having an actual debate on the merits of high-speed rail investments. Today, the Washington Post's lame excuse for an economics columnist, Robert Samuelson, used numbers from Glaeser's analysis in writing an extremely regrettable piece arguing that investments …

Read more: Cities, Politics

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A poor strategy for halting climate change

Reducing emissions isn’t an economy killer

I am a little boggled by this comment in the New Yorker, by David Owen. It's written from the perspective of someone who seems to be bothered by the threat of climate change, but who repeatedly makes the exact argument embraced by power and oil companies everywhere -- slow climate change if you will, but expect economic collapse to result. It's really something. He writes: So far, the most effective way for a Kyoto signatory to cut its carbon output has been to suffer a well-timed industrial implosion, as Russia did after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991. …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The Transit Authority: Done with the Gipper

The aging of the Boomers means it’s time for new priorities

Ronald Reagan This past week saw the return of the annual spectacle known as CPAC -- the Conservative Political Action Conference -- to Washington. As is inevitable whenever conservatives gather, invocations of the greatness of Ronald Reagan ran thick. But with a new and charismatic president in office looking to roll back key aspects of the Reagan era, the usual reverie rang a bit hollow. Mr. Reagan, born in 1911, walked out of the White House a generation ago, and America is now a much different place. The country has been surprisingly slow to cotton to the general shift underway. …

Read more: Cities, Politics

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The Transit Authority: A looming crisis

Transit budget cuts are disasters in the making

Here is the lowdown: Transit fares generally don't cover operating expenses. Transit systems do not, unfortunately, turn a profit. In many conservative circles, this is considered a damning indictment of the whole idea of public transit -- which is itself a damning indictment of the analytical powers of the guilty conservatives. We should expect those who benefit from a technology to pay for it. This is the basic idea behind a market economy -- people aren't in the habit of giving away something for nothing, and the best way to allocate scarce resources is to let buyers and sellers agree …

Read more: Cities

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Command and control

Let's not pretend the government isn't encouraging suburbs

There are a great many ways in which the government shapes our land-use patterns. Sprawl apologists often argue that low-density, suburban-style development has dominated the American landscape over the past half century because it is clearly superior to alternatives. Now, there's no doubt that many Americans prefer suburban life. At the same time, it's impossible to ignore the overwhelming way in which government policy has encouraged such development, intentionally, and unintentionally. The government didn't necessarily intend for a massive network of (largely) free-to-user highways to spur suburban growth and gut urban centers, but that's what happened. Similarly, the government's long-term …

Read more: Uncategorized

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Gender bias in commuting

Transportation policy and the working married woman

Progressives in favor of congestion pricing on highways and in central cities tend to argue for those policies on progressive grounds (shock!) -- that such pricing systems reduce emissions, improve air quality, and fund transit improvements, which benefit lower- and middle-income households. Those are all nice benefits to congestion pricing programs, but we shouldn't neglect the congestion reduction function. Congestion costs America some $80 billion per year, in the form of lost time and wasted fuel. And as it turns out, commutes extended by congestion have other effects, as well: There is a strong empirical evidence demonstrating that labor force …

Read more: Cities

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Big Rail

A pro-rail coalition should be much larger

As a big supporter of rail and transit, the creation of the OneRail coalition is quite heartening. It is, in a nutshell, a group of rail advocacy organizations that have banded together to lobby for rail investment. The Hill reports: Several trade and issue advocacy groups are part of OneRail, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Amtrak, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, the Association of American Railroads, and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. If I have a complaint, it's this: A broader coalition is necessary. When highway funding is on the table, the heavies get into the …

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The Transit Authority: Stimulus miss

Bills for highways, no change for transit

Think all news is bad news during this epic recession of ours? Think again -- over the past three months, real wages have increased 23 percent, an enormous gain. At a crucial period for many working families, paychecks are going a lot farther than they did back in the summer. The explanation is simple: wages are flat, prices are down. The labor market operates on a bit of a lag, so while the recession affected oil demand and prices very quickly, layoffs and falling wages are emerging more slowly. Eventually, the weak economy will catch up to workers (those who …

Read more: Cities, Politics