Ryan Avent

Ryan Avent is a freelance economics writer living in Washington, D.C. He blogs at ryanavent.com, and at The Economist's Free Exchange.

Moving on out

There are limits to the positive environmental change we can expect from high gas prices

You can scarcely pick up a paper or turn on the television these days without hearing the word recession. Leading economic indicators have wiggled in different directions over the past few months, but the general trend appears to be negative. The conventional wisdom points toward an economic downturn of some kind during 2008, and businesses in all sorts of consumer markets are bracing for the inevitable tightening of purse strings. A funny thing happened on the way toward economic slowdown, however. As one might expect, oil prices dropped on expectations of reduced future demand. As one may not have expected, …

No joke

Land-use policy is not a laughing matter

It was just a fleeting moment amid the hours of presidential debate that have taken place through this longest of election cycles, but it nonetheless warmed my heart. No-longer-a-candidate Bill Richardson, in response to a question on climate policy, said of the fight against climate change: It’s going to take a transportation policy that doesn’t just build more highways. We have to have commuter rail, light rail, open spaces. We’ve got to have land-use policies where we improve people’s quality of life. The remark was all but ignored by the Democratic front-runners, and was greeted by pundits with praise or …

The right means for our ends

A response to Jim Manzi

I want to thank Jim Manzi for taking the time to respond to my criticisms of his recent writing on warming policies here at Gristmill. Though I disagree with much of what he says, his thoughtful work on the subject has improved the debate. I want to use one more post here to rebut a few of his assessments. Let me begin by expressing sharp disagreement with his argument that an effective, efficient, and binding carbon tax is an unlikely outcome given the many political actors involved. As has been made abundantly clear in recent weeks, the United States is …

Let's price carbon

Conservatives still don’t seem to get global warming

Many political observers — those, at least, not wholly gutted by cynicism after eight years of criminally negligent Republican leadership — wonder when public concern over global warming will prompt a serious, thoughtful conservative response. Those hoping for real solutions from the GOP political leadership may have a long time to wait, but some conservative thinkers are beginning to wrestle with warming in an intellectually honest, if mistaken, manner. Over at The American Scene, one of the best sources for quality conservative writing around, Jim Manzi recently laid out a detailed argument against a carbon tax. It’s worth noting that …

Mass transit in D.C. is a triumph

Metro is succeeding, but like all public transit systems, it needs our support

It was a bad headline and a bad take on an important issue from a writer at a publication that ought to know better. Last week, M.J. Rosenberg, writing at TPM Cafe, penned a quick post entitled “Question for Paul Krugman: Why Does the DC Metro Suck?” In the space of a few short words, Rosenberg revealed that arguments in favor of increased public transit shouldn’t just be directed at environmentally negligent conservatives. There is a lot of work to be done winning over writers, voters, and leaders on the left as well. The source of Rosenberg’s anger was a …

Locally impoverished

We don’t need to destroy our economy to save the planet

As I’ve studied green issues, I have frequently come across the “buy local” train of thought, but I’ve never seen it embraced as completely as it was in this Gristmill post by Jon Rynn — at least not since my undergraduate courses on international trade and economic philosophy. It’s very easy to understand the intellectual impulse behind his arguments, but don’t think I’m overstating the point in calling his recommendations potentially disastrous. Buying local is a common and appealing idea, so it’s worth reviewing the economics behind Rynn’s proposals. Economic self-sufficiency is an old idea. Before the revolution in economic …

Let us pay

In times of crisis, we get what we pay for

A week of intense wildfires in southern California displaced the news from front pages, but the drought in the southeastern states rages on, despite a few welcome but too-brief rain events. As sources of drinking water slowly exhaust themselves, under pressure from growing demand and lagging supply, one wonders why governments in the region don’t raise water prices to encourage conservation. Instead, most areas have chosen to ration supplies with top-down orders, which protect consumers from rate increases but force governments to spend time and energy enforcing the rules, and which all too often prove unequal to the task of …

This urban life

Even the greenest suburbs can’t touch low urban emission rates

Last Sunday, the Washington Post published a piece by Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres which sought to debunk the ideas that dense urban areas are greener than their suburban counterparts and that encouraging dense growth might play a significant role in reducing America’s carbon output. The piece was wrong or misleading on practically every point, to the extent that any complete response would take up far more time and space than I have available. Some of the authors’ most egregious errors simply must be addressed, however. Kotkin and Modarres spend the first half of their op-ed arguing that cities contribute …

To CAFE or not to CAFE

The CAFE standards vs. carbon tax debate is more complicated than we imagine

One of the most frustrating aspects of the climate debate has to be the fact that just about every informed pundit, across the ideological spectrum, agrees that a carbon tax would be an outstanding way to reduce carbon emissions — and yet no one considers such a tax politically feasible. One might suggest that if pundits weren’t constantly qualifying their support for a carbon tax with lamentations about its political impossibility, political support might be more forthcoming. In the meantime, however, the blogosphere has taken the debate over the best policy-that-can-never-be in a new direction: since we almost certainly can’t …

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