Adam Ozimek argues that we shouldn't jump to conclusions about the ineffectiveness of a gas tax, saying that the elasticities I blogged about yesterday were from IMF estimates that are substantially lower than other estimates. You should read the whole thing, but I think there are two points worth highlighting.
The first is that elasticities of demand for oil seem to be falling; they were much higher in the seventies than they are now, especially here. This makes perfect sense: when prices spike, people invest in making their lives more efficient, and when prices fall, they don't suddenly rip out the insulation and sell the Prius. (Though anecdotally, when I bought my Mini in mid-2008, oil prices were very high, and so were prices for small cars--dealers couldn't keep small cars on the lots. A year later, oil prices had fallen, and I'm told the market for small cars had evaporated--those who were buying, were buying big, and dealers couldn't move little cars even at a loss).
When you're very inefficient, small changes in efficiency mean big reductions in fuel usage--and spending. But as your products become more efficient, the potential gains get smaller and smaller:
This graph is really important, and I think underappreciated by those who write about things like CAFE standards. What it tells you is that for both consumers, and consumption, the difference between 10 mpg and 20 mpg is larger than the difference between 20 mpg and 40 mpg.
And what about changing driving habits? The effect persists. All else equal, you can think of increasing fuel efficiency from 10 to 20 mpg as cutting someone's driving in half. Just as with MPG, the effect is largest if they're already very efficient. I use about 12 tanks of gas a year in my Mini-Cooper. Cutting my fuel usage in half--either by reducing my driving, or increasing my fuel efficiency--just won't save much energy, or money.
So it makes sense that in 1973, when prices spiked, people reacted by buying smaller, more efficient cars. It also makes sense that nowadays, people are slower to switch; unless gas runs up to $10 a gallon or above, we're already getting past the point where increasing fuel efficiency delivers giant annual cost savings for a typical family driving 8-10,000 miles a year per car.
But not all is lost for supporters of a gas tax. Ozimek also points out that price elasticity of demand may not be the same as tax elasticity of demand:
As Killian and Davis point out, another serious problem with these estimates is that they estimate the price elasticity of demand, and not the tax elasticity of demand. They argue:
"...the response of gasoline consumption to a change in tax is likely to differ from its response to an average change in price. Price changes induced by tax changes are more persistent than other price changes and thus may induce larger behavioral changes. In addition, gasoline tax increases are often accompanied by media coverage that may have an effect of its own."
To overcome these issues, they look at U.S. state level demand for gasoline. Their results shed some interesting light on how the econometric mispecifications affect elasticity estimates. Using a single equation model they estimate an elasticity of -0.10. Using a panel data method, as done in the IMF study, the elasticity increases to -0.19. And finally using changes in state level gas taxes as an instrument they find an elasticity of -0.46, which more than four times larger than the single equation model.
So a gas tax might well be effective after all. Whether it is politically possible is, of course, an entirely different question.
“Don’t underestimate me,” declared newly announced presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. That may be good advice.
By conventional standards, Sanders’s candidacy is absurd: He’s not well known, he doesn’t have big money donors, he’s not charismatic, and by Beltway standards, he’s ideologically extreme. But candidates with these liabilities have caught fire before. Think of Jerry Brown, who despite little funding and an oddball reputation outlasted a series of more conventional candidates to emerge as Bill Clinton’s most serious challenger in 1992. Or Pat Buchanan, who struck terror in the GOP establishment by winning the New Hampshire primary in 1996. Or Howard Dean, who began 2003 in obscurity and ended it as the Democratic frontrunner (before collapsing in the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses). Or Ron Paul, who in 2012 finished second in New Hampshire and came within three points of winning Iowa.
After viewing news photographs from China for years, one of my favorite visual themes is "large crowd formations." Whether the subject is military parades or world-record attempts, mass exercises or enormous performances, the images are frequently remarkable. The masses of people can look beautiful or intimidating, projecting a sense of strength and abundance. Individuals can become pixels in a huge painting, or points on a grid, or echoes of each other in identical uniforms or costumes. I've gathered some of these images below, taken around China over the past several years. (Note: a few of these images can create a dizzying effect when viewed while scrolling, which is fun, but could be surprising.)
The Nobel Prize winner and author of The Grapes of Wrath on the importance of waiting for love
Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (1902-1968) might be best-known as the author of East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men, but he was also a prolific letter-writer. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters constructs an alternative biography of the iconic author through some 850 of his most thoughtful, witty, honest, opinionated, vulnerable, and revealing letters to family, friends, his editor, and a circle of equally well-known and influential public figures.
Among his correspondence is this beautiful response to his eldest son Thom's 1958 letter, in which the teenage boy confesses to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school. Steinbeck's words of wisdom—tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious—should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being.
The recent Bridal Fashion Week in New York, which previewed wedding gowns for the Spring 2016 season, featured all the things you'd expect: lace, crystals, tulle. (So much tulle!) It also featured, however, something you wouldn't, necessarily, expect: skin. (So much skin!) Skin not just of traditionally exposed bridal body parts—arms and shoulders and calves—but also of stomachs and sides and backs.
There was the Marchesa gown that leaves its wearer's back bare save for a line of covered buttons. There was Theia's pants-based ensemble, the focal point of which is a bra worn under an iridescent blouse. There was the spate of dresses that, taking their cue from ready-to-wear trends, featured cutouts—at the waist (Reem Acra), in the back (Monique Lhuillier), between the breasts (Angel Sanchez). There were the many two-piece affairs, with fits both boxy and snug, showing flirty flashes of midriff. There were the nearly invisible nettings—draped, wantonly, over shoulders and backs and necklines—that offered, in everything but the most up-close of views, the illusion of bareness. There were the many dresses that took their plunging necklines to their logical conclusions: their wearers' waists.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Two years ago, a Dutch creative agency opened a concept restaurant in Amsterdam that would be, in the words of its founder, “the perfect place to dine in pleasant solitude.” The restaurant is called Eenmaal—this name has been translated into English as “dinner for one”—and was launched in an attempt to start dissolving the stigma attached to going out alone. Apparently picking up on the same cultural drift, a new fast-casual restaurant in Washington, D.C., has tiered, bench-like seating with individual trays, an arrangement that caters to solo diners.
As antisocial as those ideas may sound, it’s surprising that the world hasn’t seen more of them. Today, more than a quarter of American households are home to just one person—a figure that has tripled since 1970. Also, the median age at which Americans get married has recently reached a record high. Given these demographic shifts, one would think that by now, going out to the movies or to dinner alone wouldn’t be the radical acts they still are.
What is the appropriate penalty for having sex on the beach? This is a story about how that offense, like so many others, allows a penalty far longer than is just.
Were I a cop who stumbled on a couple hooking up beneath a blanket at night I'd look away. Confronted with people going at it during daylight hours in view of passersby, I'd think, "The abrasiveness of sand dissuades most people from doing this and the best outcome would be for Fark.com to mock their breach of community standards, but I suppose I'm obligated to make them stop and issue a ticket."As a prosecutor, I'd seek a sentence of community service plus one weekend of house arrest with the Jimmy Buffett song "Who's the Blond Stranger?" played on repeat over and over and over. A person never forgets that.
The simplest way to reduce the number of Americans who are abused by police officers is not to retrain cops or to reform their subculture. It is to significantly reduce the number of adversarial interactions people have with police.
Questions about how frequently Americans ought to interact with law enforcement are often associated with the debate over Broken Windows theory. Its proponents champion a model of policing where foot patrolmen are a regular presence in high-crime neighborhoods, vigilantly guarding against the sorts of low-level disorder that ostensibly leads to more serious crime if left unchecked.
For now, let's defer debate about Broken Windows theory.
Even if it is correct, there are still a number of reforms that would reduce adversarial contacts with police officers without increasing disorder on the streets.
Last week, Atlantic coverage was dominated by the dramatic events in Baltimore. Ta-Nehisi Coates lit up the Internet with his controversial take on the rioting in his hometown, followed by a forum at Johns Hopkins University about the broader meaning of the unrest. Conor Friedersdorf frowned at conservatives' response to Baltimore and police brutality in general—though he didn't fail to condemn the rioting as well. Conor also recognized the role that cameras played in the Freddie Gray story, as did Rob Meyer, who offered sound advice on recording cops. David Graham, who has been all over the Gray story, examined how the rioting arose and explored the impact of Twitter. Adam Chandler chased the breaking news while Alan Taylor illustrated the drama with imagery.
Marilyn Mosby's press conference Friday shocked residents of Baltimore and everyone else watching protests over Freddie Gray's death. Barely 24 hours after police had completed their investigation into the death of the 25-year-old black man in police custody, the Baltimore City state's attorney announced a strong slate of charges against the six officers involved. It wasn't just the speed (Mosby said her office had begun investigations the day after Gray's arrest, and six days before his death) but the charges: second-degree depraved-heart murder against one officer, with the others facing a mix of manslaughter, assault, misconduct, and false imprisonment.
The decision was met with jubilation in West Baltimore, where protestors had rioted just four nights before. But almost immediately, critics began to second-guess Mosby, who's been on the job for just a few months. Were her charges politically motivated, or perhaps calculated to calm protests? Had she overcharged the officers, picking unfair charges, or ones she couldn't win? Did she move too fast to charge the officers?