Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ebay for Innovation

http://www.innocentive.com/ A kind of interesting platform for innovation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

France Abandons Carbon Tax

Seems like Cap and Trade is not getting anywhere.

France has abandoned the carbon tax amid fears that French businesses would lose competitive edge internationally.

Breakthrough.org sees this as further proof that cap and trade is politically impossible since Australia and Canada also abandoned cap and trade programs recently.

It doesn't prove to me that cap and trade is not worthwhile. It does show how invested we are in subsidizing pollution and energy. In Beyond Growth, Herman Daly talks about how globalization and free trade causes nations to be unable to set policy unilaterally. Transnational corporations are more powerful than nations themselves because of the need for economic stability. It's unclear how to get out of this situation, though.

Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Finland have carbon taxes, though.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care

Obama signed the health care overhaul! I'm excited, but it makes me uneasy how there are still so many people who oppose it. I should really figure out what the bill actually said. At any rate, MA already has mandatory health insurance, and the federal overhaul was modeled after MA's overhaul, so things aren't going to change that much in MA.

Here's President Obama's remarks in Iowa City.

He claims

But we have built into law all sorts of measures that in the years to come, health care inflation, which has been rising about three times as fast as people’s wages, is finally going to start slowing down. We’ll start reducing the waste in the system, from unnecessary tests to unwarranted insurance subsidies.

And once this reform is implemented, then health insurance exchanges are going to be created. This is the core -- the core aspect of this bill that is going to be so important to Americans who are looking for coverage. Basically, we set up a competitive marketplace where people without insurance, small businesses, people who were having to pay through the teeth because they’re just buying insurance on their own, maybe you’re self-employed -- you’re finally going to be able to purchase quality, affordable, health insurance because you’re going to be part of a big pool -- by the way, with members of Congress. So you will be able to get the same good deal that they’re getting, because if you’re paying their salary, you should have health insurance that’s at least as good as theirs.


Here's an article about More Doctors Taking Salaried Positions vs private practice. It could be generally good for patients as their records can pass through the system more easily, but could be letting Big Medicine more easily set high health care costs. However, "The process feeds on itself because doctors who remain in private practice worry that as their peers sell out, their own options become more limited and the prices for their own practices fall," implying that insurance companies are paying doctors less so I'm kind of confused about which is it.

“We wouldn’t go back,” he said, “now that we’ve seen the value of improved patient care and improved communication with primary care physicians.”

Michael Packnett, the president of Parkview and Dr. Mirro’s new boss, said that his organization was growing rapidly, while the number of independent hospital and doctor practices in northeast Indiana shrank. A key reason, Mr. Packnett said, is that many doctors have decided that the challenges of running their own businesses are simply too great.

“Now they get to refocus on practicing medicine,” Mr. Packnett said.

Monday, March 22, 2010

women in science and engineering

new report out: http://www.aauw.org/research/whysofew.cfm


a not very good article on it in the nyt: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/science/22women.html

i'll try to comment more after reading it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sell Short

Interesting piece from WBUR on some novels about the financial crisis by Michael Lewis like the Big Short.

Burry figured that he could bet against pools of these subprime mortgage loans using an instrument called a "credit default swap," essentially insurance on a corporate loan. Burry persuaded the investment banks to create credit default swaps for the subprime mortgage market.

"As the pools of loans that are underneath these bonds start to default," Lewis says, the investment banks that gambled on the subprime mortgage loans were forced to send Burry money daily as the bonds went bad. "Wall Street firms, they were on the other side of the bets."


And in the clip, they talk about how AIG was where the Wall Street firms got their money.

William Edwards Deming

I recently bought a book by Deming on a whim without really knowing who he was. They were talking about him on the radio the other day, though, about how he is largely credited with improving Japanese management practices and manufacturing quality after WWII. I just started reading his book. He was the one who advocated for US manufacturing to move away from cheap goods and move to higher value higher quality goods. Actually, the US has been successful in doing this, but now the labor force has been put out of work. I wonder if he was wrong or if his suggestions were not implemented according to his intentions. He says that competition can be bad when people race to lower standards. Some of this is consistent with Daly's criticism of free trade. Production moves to places with lower environmental standards and workplace safety laws. It'll be interesting to compare his views with Forrester and Daly's along with more conventional economists like Krugman.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Work Life Balance

Cool NPR piece on getting rid of 9-5. This kind of lifestyle would be really amazing. I would be able to have time to pursue hobbies. On the other hand, it is very convenient to work with people in person.

Complaints About China

Krugman recently wrote an article saying how the US needs to "get tough" with China and its undervalued RMB. He suggests a 25% tariff on Chinese goods. It's been interesting reading the comments. They are much less anti-China than they used to be. Of those who disagree with this policy, here were a number of similar themes.

1. The US banking sector caused this economic collapse, not China, so the US can only blame its problems on its own policies of deregulation and thus should bear the burden of fixing itself. In fact, many people praised the Chinese for working hard and the Chinese government for unabashedly looking out for the well-being of their citizens, which was nice but kind of strange to hear and might not be totally deserved. There is also the widespread view that China has helped to stabilize the world economy.

2. People pointed out that a tariff or devaluing the RMB would probably put 30 million Chinese people out of work, and it would be hard to convince the Chinese that this is more fair than having unemployment in the US, especially since most Americans are still better off than most Chinese people.

3. The US pursued a policy of free trade in the first place and while American manufacturing was moved overseas, hurting the labor class, many other Americans gained financially from these policies. Much of the cheap goods that are manufactured in China were made for US companies. Now that the US government does not want to be in debt to China anymore, they want China to devalue its currency so that the government effectively owes less money.

4. The idea of tariffs and moving away from free trade is not intrinsically a bad idea, but rebuilding American manufacturing would be a long term commitment. The immediate effects of a tariff would be that people would buy from the second cheapest places like other countries in SE Asia. It would basically be like a sales tax on Americans. People pointed out that the US also has trade deficits with many other countries like Japan and Germany so it's a more structural problem than just value of the RMB.

5. Some questioned whether "devaluing" the RMB is really less fair than the kinds of economic and trade policies practiced by the US. The value of currency is not that clear cut, and much of the purpose of monetary policy is to influence the value of the currency.

6. Krugman is also known for advocating going into even more debt to stimulate the economy. He is in favor of a Keynesian New Deal type program. This seems inconsistent with his views on trade with China.

7. Actually, the book Poorly Made In China was lamenting that it is becoming more difficult and expensive to manufacture in China, so perhaps the trend is already for manufacturing to move away from China.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Religion and Defectors

Last week the NYT had a really interesting article on Scientology. I started reading stories from ex-scientologists online. It's fascinating how people get indoctrinated into a system and how the system targets people. It's like how magic tricks and hypnosis work better on some people than others.

History and Vigilantism


Recently NPR was talking about John Brown, the abolitionist who tried to free slaves by force leading up to the start of the Civil War. They were saying how state governments are cutting funding to parks so they might close the park where he is buried.

I didn't realize the familiar and distinctive Civil War tune is about him.
John Brown's body lies a-molderin' in the grave. x3
His soul's marching on.

Yay history. He was a vigilante, but he turned out to be on the right side.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ethics and Environmentalism

I have been reading Beyond Growth by Herman Daly, and in the introduction, he talks about motivations for environmentalism. He points out that it is ironic and not very honest when scientists and environmentalists, who are often atheist, try to motivate people to be environmentalists by appealing to religion. Scientists and atheists do not believe that there is a higher purpose for life or reasons why things are the way they are. The explanation for life is based in physics and the ability of beings to procreate. Thus, on the one hand, it is odd that scientists do not have a good moral motive for protecting the environment. They feel this way, too, and that is why they try to use religion to provide a motive for environmental protection. Religion implies that there are absolute morals rather than morals being a social construct. Thus, it does seem like religious people should be more active in the environmental movement, and some certainly are. Daly talks about how religion and philosophy is needed to motivate environmentalism and concern for future generations.

I thought it was an interesting discussion. On the other hand, there are many scientists and atheists who do feel that there is no particular motivation for environmentalism or preserving the human race. These people are thus consistent in their views, and I certainly share that view to a certain extent. I don't think it's really a tragedy if humans really go extinct, and I'm not really sorry for all the species that have gone extinct already. However, I do have my own view of ethics and justifications for life. I think there are good evolutionary as well as immediate benefits to being ethical, and thus, I don't think you need to believe in a God to develop ethics. I feel motivated to work on environmental sustainability because I generally like when things are done efficiently and when things are being improved. I also like systems that correct for themselves and can last for a long time. I think this drive is based on how I feel emotionally, not necessarily whether it makes logical sense. I don't feel motivated to construct a logical reason for why the idea of sustainable resource use makes me feel better. In that sense, it is like a religious belief. I feel conflicted about bringing up the discussion of religion and philosophy of environmentalism. It's kind of interesting, but at the same time, I don't like to focus on it because I think people should find their own reasons. However, maybe it's necessary and really needs to be a foundation for the environmental movement.

The main alternative to scientific materialism, one that still takes science seriously, is the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. This view is radically empirical. What we know most concretely and directly, unmediated by the senses or by abstract concepts, is our inner experience of purpose. That should be the starting point, the most well known thing, in terms of which we try to explain less well known things.

Teachable

Cool article about education and how teachers can teach better. It's really about creating a more rigorous and effective program for training professional educators. It seems that in the teaching field, being a good teacher is considered a talent that some people are simply better at than others. Since teaching is such an old profession, it's kind of surprising that rigorous techniques are not better understood. The article talks a lot about "classroom management" skills but also about building a repertoire of things teachers need to know in order to teach a subject. It made me wonder how teachers in other countries, especially China, are trained. Education is such an important part of Chinese culture. Much of the techniques are certainly about rote memorization, but I wonder if there are more classroom management techniques and what kind of content is considered required for subjects like history and literature.

bill gates and technology development vs just go get stuff done

http://www.grist.org/article/2010-03-02-bill-gates-and-our-innovation-addiction-a-recipe-for-climate/

too late, i've already sold out! as of monday i'll be a real employee of IVL.

Bill Gate's website actually also looks really interesting, will have to read more of that.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Yeasayer

This song was playing in my dreams last night, but I didn't know what it was at the time. I eventually remembered it was Yeasayer, though, and I listened to a bunch of their songs to find this.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Talk on NCSE Conference at MIT

Last night, I gave a talk at MIT, debriefing the conference on the New Green Economy. It was a lot of fun! 12 people showed up. One of them recommended reading about Elinor Ostrom and watching her Nobel Prize in Economics Lecture. I'd like to get better at speaking. Besides being useful for spreading and sharing ideas, it's also generally useful for networking, management jobs, and collaborating with others on projects.

Another interesting note is that the only two women who were there were my friends. That was somewhat surprising.

Urban Public Finance Class

I found an interesting class that has course materials posted on Open Courseware, 11.902 Advanced Urban Public Finance: Public Action and Provision of Local Public Goods.

Course Description

In analyzing fiscal issues, conventional public finance approaches focus mainly on taxation and public spending. Policymakers and practitioners rarely explore solutions by examining the fundamental problem: the failure of interested parties to act collectively to internalize the positive externalities generated by public goods. Public finance is merely one of many possible institutional arrangements for assigning the rights and responsibilities to public goods consumption. This system is currently under stress because of the financial crisis. The first part of the class will focus on collective action and its connection with local public finance. The second part will explore alternative institutional arrangements for mediating collective action problems associated with the provision of local public goods.

The objective of the seminar is to broaden the discussion of local public finance by incorporating collective action problems into the discourse. This inclusion aims at exploring alternative institutional arrangements for financing local public services in the face of severe economic downturn. Applications of emerging ideas to the provision of public health, education, and natural resource conservation will be discussed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Young Brains Have Problems

There was a really good segment this morning on the teen brain.

It turns out

the nerve cells that connect teenagers' frontal lobes with the rest of their brains are sluggish. Teenagers don't have as much of the fatty coating called myelin, or "white matter," that adults have in this area.


No wonder! That explains why I feel much less insane and at the mercy of my own moods. I guess that's what "maturing" really is.