Posts tagged ‘Stanford University’

Trading Cribs

Brian Caplan compares his life with that of the richest of the Gilded Age:

I just returned from the Biltmore, America's largest home.  Built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895, the Biltmore is a symbol of how good the rich had it during the Gilded Age.  I'm sure that most of the other visitors would answer "very good indeed."

But how many would actually want to trade places with George?  Despite his massive library, organ, and so on, I submit that any modern with a laptop and an internet connection has a vastly better book and music collection than he did.  For all his riches, he didn't have air conditioning; he had to suffer through the North Carolina summers just like the poorest of us.  Vanderbilt did travel the world, but without the airplane, he had to do so at a snail's pace.

Perhaps most shockingly, he suffered "sudden death from complications following an appendectomy" at the age of 51.  (Here's the original NYT obituary).  Whatever your precise story about the cause of rising lifespans, it's safe to say that George's Bane wouldn't be fatal today.

I made this observation several years ago, though, though I went west coast railroad entrepreneur rather than east coast.  I showed pictures of a San Francisco mansion and a middle class home of a friend of mine in Seattle.

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

I think most of you have guessed by now that the homeowner with all the wonderful products of wealth, from cars to stereo systems, lives on the right (the former home of a friend of mine in the Seattle area).  The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

Hopkin's mansion pictured above was eventually consumed in the fires of 1906, in large part because San Francisco's infrastructure and emergency services were more backwards than those of many third world nations today.

Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day.  He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in.  He had servants at his beck and call.  And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him.  What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the "robber barons" of the 19th century.  We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.   Not only is the sum of wealth not static, but it is expanding so fast that we can't even measure it.  Charts like those here measure the explosion of income, but still fall short in measuring things like leisure, life expectancy, and the explosion of possibilities we are all able to comprehend and grasp.

The Carbon Offset Sausage Factory

For quite a while, I have been arguing that cap-and-trade schemes are inferior to straight carbon taxes because of their susceptibility to rent-seeking and manipulation.  At the top of the list of problems is the carbon offset issue, the notion that someone can create and sell an offset to cap limits by reducing CO2 emissions in some novel way.  The offset products that exist to day are tremendously suspicious, as I wrote here and here.  In particular, the ability to resell the same emission reduction multiple times is a real danger.

The Guardian has an interesting look at the offsets being created by that bastion of good governance and management science, the United Nations.

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean
development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the
World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing
countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is
accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the
guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is
handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations
and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects
they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a
leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as
many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being
produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not
backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have
been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a
stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by
cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through
the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism.

The key problem, as I have pointed out before, is how do you know the reduction is truly incremental?  How do you know that it would not have occured anyway:

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean
development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the
World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing
countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is
accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the
guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is
handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations
and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects
they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a
leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as
many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being
produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not
backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have
been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a
stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by
cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through
the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism....

One glaring signal that many of the projects being approved by the
CDM's executive board are non-additional is that almost three-quarters
of projects were already complete at the time of approval. It would
seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra
income in order to be built.

LOL, yes that might be a good indicator something is amiss.  The other problem, beyond the staggering amount of outright corruption one would expect from any UN-operated enterprise, is this oddity:

Any type of technology other than nuclear power can apply for credits.
Even new coal plants, if these can be shown to be even a marginal
improvement upon existing plants, can receive offset income. A massive
4,000MW coal plant on the coast of Gujarat, India, is expected soon to
apply for CERs. The plant will spew into the atmosphere 26m tonnes of
CO2 per year for at least 25 years. It will be India's third - and the
world's 16th - largest source of CO2 emissions.

So nuclear plants, the one proven economic and scalable power technology that is free of CO2 emissions is the one technology that is excluded from the program?  But 4,000MW coal plants that can proves they are marginally more efficient than they might have been are A-OK?

A Zero-Sum Wealth Quiz

One of the really bad ideas that drive some of the worst government actions is the notion that wealth is somehow fixed, and that by implication all wealth is acquired at someone else's expense.  I am working on my annual tax-day post on the zero sum fallacy, but in the mean time here is a brief quiz.

The quiz consists of matching a description to the owners of these two houses:

House1a House2b

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

I think most of you have guessed by now that the homeowner with all the wonderful products of wealth, from cars to stereo systems, lives on the right (the former home of a friend of mine in the Seattle area).  The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

Hopkin's mansion pictured above was eventually consumed in the fires of 1906, in large part because San Francisco's infrastructure and emergency services were more backwards than those of many third world nations today.

Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day.  He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in.  He had servants at his beck and call.  And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him.  What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the "robber barons" of the 19th century.  We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.   Not only is the sum of wealth not static, but it is expanding so fast that we can't even measure it.  Charts like those here measure the explosion of income, but still fall short in measuring things like leisure, life expectancy, and the explosion of possibilities we are all able to comprehend and grasp.

More, coming soon...

Update:  An example of why this topic is always timely:

Paul Krugman foresees an increasing left-leaning electorate. The cause?

The main force driving this shift to the left is probably rising

income inequality. According to Pew, there has recently been a sharp

increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with the statement

that "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer."

Russel Roberts goes on to tear into this red meat.  Read it all.