Wednesday, 12 January 2005

Replay coming to the SEC? reports that the head football coaches of the Southeastern Conference are “very enthusiastic” about the prospect of adopting an instant replay system for football games, beginning next season. As having replay will require television cameras at every game, the decision—if approved by athletic directors at their meeting at March—may also have the side-effect of increasing the amount of SEC football on television, just as ESPN finds itself launching a new 24-hour college sports network with plenty of airtime to fill.

Global Warming, Yet Again

This isn’t exactly reassuring:

Cutting down on fossil fuel pollution could accelerate global warming and help turn parts of Europe into desert by 2100, according to research to be aired on British television on Thursday. “Global Dimming”, a BBC Horizon documentary, will describe research suggesting fossil fuel by-products like sulphur dioxide particles reflect the sun’s rays, “dimming” temperatures and almost cancelling out the greenhouse effect.

The researchers say cutting down on the burning of coal and oil, one of the main goals of international environmental agreements, will drastically heat rather than cool climate.

So, the climate either will, or will not, be warming. It may, or may not, be helped by the reduction of fossil fuel use. Yeah, this makes me feel much better about the global warming science.

Tell me this: if we switch to hydrogen, will all of the residual water it creates mean additional cloud cover and a lower temperature for the earth? Is it possible that the climate is too complex for us to model right now?

The Armstrong Williams fiasco

Michelle Malkin has a post that explains why Armstrong Williams has done a disservice to people who are both minorities and conservative: the rhetoric from their political opponents—the ones that are also intolerant of minorities that do their own thinking—will likely be more hostile, and it’s no picnic now. There’s some very rough language in the post. Click at your own risk.

(þ: OTB)

“America” returns

After a brief haitus, the Jackson-George Regional Library Board voted 5–2 yesterday to reverse its earlier decision and return Jon Stewart’s America: The Book to the shelves.

Drug companies

Richard Epstein has a detailed book review in Legal Affairs that addresses attacks on current drug industry practices. I haven’t read the whole thing—one of the nice things about having a blog (or partnering with someone who does) is that you can capture links and such for later reading—but here’s an excerpt of what appears to be a couple of compelling paragraphs:

Kassirer argues that drug marketing corrupts the companies that do the pushing and the doctors who yield to their blandishments. A doctor with undivided loyalty to his patients cannot resist temptation when a zealous sales force pushes overpriced and often dangerous products onto the market. Angell echoes these concerns and offers a more extended indictment. Pharmaceutical firms have been the beneficiaries of government largesse. They grievously overstate the costs of bringing new drugs to market in hopes of wringing extortionate payments from desperate patients. They adopt foolish strategies for research and development, producing “me-too” or copycat products with little medical benefit while falsely taking credit for scientific innovations underwritten by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Medicine. The pharmaceutical companies benefit from a patent system that they can game and from a lax FDA process for drug approval. And they use devilish advertising campaigns to promote their wares.

In response to these perceived failings, Angell favors a stiff dose of price controls, tougher FDA approval procedures, restrictions on advertisements, and sharp limitations on drug patent protections. She would undo both the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984, which extends the patent life of all drugs in order to partially offset the lost sales from those that have been patented but await FDA approval, and the reforms that allow drug companies to help finance the costs of the FDA‘s new drug applications. Drugs are a complex business, and each of Angell’s proposed reforms would produce a myriad of unintended and often destructive side effects. Remove industry payments to expedite FDA review, for example, and desired new drugs will take longer to reach the market. That in turn will truncate the life of a patent and reduce innovation. Experts in the field ponder the trade-offs. Angell and Kassirer write as if the trade-offs do not exist.

Social security reform

Of course, SS reform has been a big topic lately. Alex Tabarrok has a great post on the argument about the fairness of the current SS system. I likewise agree with his endosement of Tyler’s solution—make it, explicitly, a poverty program for the elderly.

The gist of Alex’s post is that, as long as we are pretending SS is a pension system, rather than a welfare program, the argument against a regressive payroll tax falls flat. However, if we admit that it’s a welfare program, we should treat it as such. This, of course, would open it to things such as means testing, eliminating the automatic increases and the like.

In the mean time, as long as we are calling it a pension (or retirement) system, arguments about the fairness of regressive taxes should be ignored.*

Robert Heilbroner Dies

An excellent write-up in the NYT on the passing of Robert Heilbroner:

Dr. Heilbroner’s first book, “The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers,” written before he received his doctorate, is one of the most widely read economics books of all time. He was also a prominent lecturer as well as the author of 19 other books, which sold more than 10 million copies and, in many cases, became standard college textbooks.

A witty writer, he called himself a “radical conservative,” an oxymoron suggesting that, like Don Quixote, he wanted to rush rapidly forward, break the mold – and end up right where he was. But in that he was only half joking. He did indeed want to conserve the basic separation of the national economy from the national government, as suggested by Adam Smith in the 18th century. But he believed, too, that when the economy was hit with severe recessions or high unemployment or yawning income gaps, for example, government had to intervene with public spending that stimulated economic activity and generated jobs and the construction of public works that contributed to higher living standards.

Although popular with students and the general reader, he was regarded by mainstream economists as a popularizer and historian whose insights made no great contribution to the study of the field. He, in turn, saw their reliance on mathematics and computer modeling as narrow in vision and as losing sight of the very purpose of economics – to help improve the well-being of people at work and of the society they work in.

“The worldly philosophers,” Dr. Heilbroner said in a 1999 interview, “thought their task was to model all the complexities of an economic system – the political, the sociological, the psychological, the moral, the historical. And modern economists, au contraire, do not want so complex a vision. They favor two-dimensional models that in trying to be scientific leave out too much and leave modern economists without a true understanding of how the system works.”

The article goes on to mention, quite prominently, that Heilbroner criticized capitalism, and the neoclassical model, for its failure to address negative externalities (mainly pollution). I don’t know the full extent of his comments on this issue, but I believe the issue has actually been addressed. Few economists disagree with notion of forcing the full cost of externalities on producers, thus embedding them in prices. That argument was settled at least as far back as 1990, with the amendments to the Clean Air Act. Economists just favor market mechanisms that allow the producers to determine the best way to eliminate pollution, rather than, say, requiring them to install scrubbers—a solution that was favored by coal interests in West Virginia, IIRC.

Heilbroner's other criticisms of economics these days are a matter of ongoing debate, particularly by New Institutionalists. Great piece. RTWT.