Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Car free for a better life

While wandering around the internet today, I thought about a car-free world. While the current obvious disadvantage of pollution is caused by our using internal combustion engines, in the future we will continue to have problems when it comes to congestion and other issues that make life miserable. One obvious solution is to significantly improve our mass transit systems so they are convenient to use. I've written about this before, but another idea which is done in many parts off the world is to simply make the most congested parts of the city car-free and require people to go by foot, or by mass transit (which should always be free anyways) to make life more comfortable for people. One big reason is the amount of space needed for people decreases significantly, as shown by this graphic:

Any major tourist attraction which has heavy pedestrian traffic in a major city should be served by public transit moving people around to where they need to go and there needs to be convenient parking outside of that area for people to get back to their cars. Parking outside of the area where there can be a good-sized parking garage towards the direction of where they are coming from (or just having good mass transit in the city preferably) would reduce congestion, pollution, and save time for everybody involved in the area.

Cities should make it very clear where there are large park and rides in the outskirts which are well served by mass transit getting people to downtown in order to reduce congestion. A large sign for free (or at least inexpensive) parking on all freeways leading into the city with fast transit to the city center is a very common sense solution which needs to be implemented. Just having a park and ride with slow bus service to the city center is not more convenient for people. Urban planning needs to take into account time savings as well as money.

The riverfronts/waterfronts of most cities are particularly good for closing them to all non-working vehicles given that they frequently have a lot of traffic congestion and many people trying to move around on foot. They also tend to be where downtown is located. Increasing mass transit options and prohibiting cars just makes sense.

When living in a large city with many people trying to move around, it makes no sense for people to be driving their cars. The following locations seem to make the most sense to me to make them car free given their size and level of congestion.

Bike sharing programs are popping up across the world right now. Increasing these options for people is another major step towards making cities more able to accommodate the populations they need to serve.

We could also instead of prohibiting cars just make it extremely expensive to drive in these areas, while making buses free which will still have the effect of making them more convenient for people to drive around. As an economist, I favor this option because it will mean if you absolutely have to drive in a city you still can. The toll would be set based on the amount of time you spend driving  the city. A city like Macau could make such a system work by increasing the cost of gas through a general carbon tax while we continue to use fossil fuels, and in the long run making a large fee for parking.

Looking at geogrpahy, the following cities seem to me to make the most sense in terms of limiting access to vehicles in order to make the cities run more smoothly and faster:
  1. Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington USA
  2. Granville Island, Vancouver, British Columbia CANADA
  3. All of Fisherman's Wharf north of Bay St., San Francisco, California USA
  4. Downtown Los Angeles, California USA within the freeways.
  5. New York City Financial District South of Chambers St., New York, USA (3.5 sq km)
  6. National Mall area, Washington, DC USA
  7. Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland USA
  8. Downtown Philadelphia east to Penn's Landing, Pennsylvania USA
  9. Downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  10. Downtown Detroit, Michigan, USA
  11. Downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA
  12. The city of Sydney, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
  13. Downtown Brisbane, Queensland, AUSTRALIA
  14. Downtown Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS
  15. Area around Westminster, London, England UK
  16. Macau
  17. Kowloon, HONG KONG
  18. Downtown Shanghai and Pudong, Shanghai, CHINA
  19. Downtown Seoul, SOUTH KOREA
  20. Downtown Tokyo, JAPAN

All in all, we should make our cities more liveable by making our cities people-friendly and easy to move around in. Hopefully we will see this shift soon to make our cities more comfortable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All Aboard the Crazy Train

Today Brazil has decided to go the way of Merkel, Abbott, and Harper inn unveiling a major austerity package which they claim is going to lift Brazil out of recession. This is fundamentally wrong and demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of how the economy works.

Here's why they are wrong in several very basic points:

  1. GDP is made up of four components using the expenditure approach, Private Consumption, Investment, Government spending, and net exports. Cutting government expenditure immediately reduces GDP because it is one of the four components.
  2. When people, or an organization eg government, receive income they spend a percentage of it. That expenditure then becomes somebody else's income. I receive a paycheck for $1000 and I am going to put some of it in savings, and some of it I will consume this month. I might spend $800 this month immediately on my rent, food, things I want or need which then immediately becomes the income of the person I bought the goods or services from. They then will do the same to infinity. We can mathematically calculate how much spending my increase will create with the fairly simple equation (change in income)/(1-MPC) where MPC is the percentage of income that people spend as oppose to save. If our MPC is 80% like in my fictitious example, an increase of income of $5000 from my $1000 of income.

So, if the government of Brazil wants to reduce its spending and raise its taxes it is effectively reducing the part of government expenditure that directly goes to GDP, reduces income of the people it employs which will not circulate around the economy, and this will reduce private consumption and private investment. Raising its taxes in effect will reduce the income of individuals and companies further reducing their GDP at a time when they cannot afford to.

The irony of this is that by reducing their GDP they are reducing their tax base, which will likely offset any reductions in the deficit they will get from their policies by reducing the source of their taxes. We have seen this before, and the government of Brazil should know better.

Now is the wrong time to focus on deficit spending. The first thing we need to do is get the global economy back to its appropriate growth rate, and then governments can start to reduce their debts. Actions like this are going to further reduce economic growth and prolong their current recession. It is unlikely their decision will work any differently than the other countries which have implemented this insane program.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Europe's refugees

The current crisis in the middle east, while toppling dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and getting women the right to vote in local elections in Saudi Arabia (bringing the total number of countries where women can't vote to 0) has also created the war in Syria. Combined with the destabilizing of Iraq which was caused by the United States invasion the emergence of ISIS was almost inevitable. Looking further back the entire situation in the Middle East was created by the carving of international borders is a consequence of colonialism which was done by Europe particularly the United Kingdom. The only fair response to the current crisis in Syria given the United Kingdom's role and the carving of artificial boundary lines is to bring in refugees and help create the stability and peace in the Middle East with respect and for human rights and science. Europe has an obligation given their colonial history and their support of dictators since then to help rebuild the Middle East. While it is true that the current leaders in Europe today we're not themselves individually responsible for what occurred a hundred years ago what is happening now as a consequence of their national action and I believe it would be the right thing for European countries to work on peace building in the region and make it so human rights are respected. Even if we hold that individuals are not responsible for their ancestors actions but for their own alone Europe has the resources and the wealth to help people in the Middle East and it is the moral action if you see someone needing help you help then there is no exception to this principle in my opinion given Europe's moral fiber and given that nobody else except the United States, Canada, and probably Japan as well have the resources to make a significant impact in the Middle East it is only the right thing to help bring peace to the Middle East and support refugees. Canada in particular is a very interesting situation Stephen Harper has made it so, this reduces rolling peacekeeping around the world significantly this action is completely unethical and contrary to all the values that make him Canada a very special country. United States being the richest country in the world tied with China, makes it so that the United States has would suffer almost no cost relative to the size of our overall economy to help people in the Middle East. Such the porch would be seems like bringing in advisors and helping to draft good constitutions with the big with the cooperation of intellectuals in these countries, building up the systems of education healthcare which these countries currently black, and helping to build a framework for liberty and human rights is in the form of a bill of rights to be respected by the government to make it to all people are respected.

The current situation with the refugees in Europe shows this underline conflict which is buried deep inside the Europeans conscience. It is surprising that Angela Merkel turns out to be the one who has been one of the most liberal members of the European Council on this issue but I am glad none the less even though her policy with Southern Europe has been far from diplomatic, reasonable, or fair.

Current steps to undo the damage which has been done by ISIS would be supporting the building of refugee camps, unfortunately some military action is necessary, as well as helping to build a democratic framework, along with the quality of government. There has to be rule of law as opposed to rule of man which will protect the freedom of these people if they have an election where the right wing win for one or two election cycles. The biggest hurdle in doing this is of course Russia which supports us on but I believe that given time we can achieve this goal of helping freedom grow in Syria.

While foreign countries can help, at the end of the day is up to the people of the Middle East to secure their face this is what we saw with the Arab Spring. For the first time in hundreds of years we are seeing the people of the Middle East call for a better system for themselves. Hopefully this is going to lead to a system which will see in the emergence of of Science in Middle East there is some science being done currently, but the quantity is nothing compared to where they should be given their history. With better education for all and governments respecting the freedom of speech which is necessary for our society to prosper this is going to hopefully lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into a better life.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Poverty in America

There has been a lot of talk recently about the rise of the sharing economy, with attention focused on young people making low wages (no dispute here) and other factors that people pick out. Our national poverty rate is currently around 14.5%, which is down from where it was in 2013, when it was 15%.

None of this article is to claim that poverty is not a real issue, it is. The issue however regards accurately representing the issue and not distorting it into something it is not to a point where it is distorted from reality and people no longer understand the real issue at play. This is very dangerous for social justice work because than we won't understand where the real issues are that we need to target, and we will inefficiently spend our time and money compared to the potential good we could achieve. In order to solve a problem completely and quickly you must understand it as fully as possible. To explain where the poverty is and its roots is the purpose of this blog post.

Historically speaking, America's poverty rate has bounced between 11 and 15% since 1965. Despite all of the talk, we have not seen a massive increase of poverty relative to our population. This is important to remember when p

Compared to other countries around the world, we are on par with Germany and the United Kingdom.

One of the biggest factors of poverty in America is how concentrated poverty is among people of color. Over 27% of African Americans and over 25% of Hispanics live in poverty, which is on par with Iraq and Costa Rice (albeit below Italy). White Americans on the other hand are only around 9%, similar to Canada.

If we want to eliminate poverty in America, it will require a heavy focus on helping people of color.

Issues that create this combination include discrimination in schools, which includes higher discipline rates for children of color versus their white peers in terms of things like suspension starting in preschool, meaning they miss school more and don't get a high quality education. (Civil Rights.org) We need to implement programs to reduce the over-punishment against students of color and provide funds for schools to provide a more equal opportunity to all students which simply does not exist today. This will help it so more students of color can graduate and get into college. There is a massive difference between the unemployment rates of adults of color based on their education level. NY Times The solution to the lack of resources would actually be very easy economically by the federal government providing them so we stop tying school funding to local poverty. Fighting over discipline is a more complicated issue and at this point in time I'm not sure what strategy would be effective. There are some plans on the books to enforce teacher pay equity (controlling for other factors of course) but neither Bush nor Obama have pushed hard to enforce these laws.

Other issues regard access to employment, such as where to get a job you need to have good credit (which is almost impossible to get if you have no income and you don't already have a good rating), and particularly discrimination by police forces, border control, and other law enforcement agencies which perpetuates inequality across America. The entire report by The Leadership Conference is worth reading here.

A final warning about studying poverty was well written by an author on Slate warning that how we measure who is in poverty can give wildly different results. If we don't include assistance, the poverty line is shockingly high. If we include assistance from the government and other groups, which are technically a form of income, the number of people living under the international poverty line falls almost to 0. This is a good warning when it comes to reading numbers and the many ways these numbers can be made to be larger or smaller, and why authors like me need to be clear about how we calculate such information. Using the same methods international researchers use to measure poverty in third-world countries falls to 0. Absolute poverty does not exist in America like in many parts of Africa in particular. Relative poverty however remains a major issue.

What sorts of proposals are on the table for reducing poverty?

  1. Ensure a fair criminal justice system which will help reduce the amount of time that people are out of work and increase employment opportunities.
  2. As I go on about at length above, we need to end discrimination in education and make it so that the quality of a child's education is independent of their area's property values (which are tied to income and overall economic well being)
  3. We can provide a universal minimum income to raise all families to a certain level.
There are of course many other ideas, but these three are the ones that immediately come to mind for me and should make a significant dent in our poverty rate.

https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/2013/figure4.pdf poverty over time
https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/2013/table3.pdf snapshot of who is in poverty as of 2013