RBG Cult Hero at the Newseum

In the days of my youth we used to line up for concerts so we could be there when the door opened and get a good seat.  Now we line up for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We still sit in the back (never important enough to be in the front of the theater), but the sound systems are better these days.  Of course our hearing is worse, so it evens out.

Thursday, Feb 23, the Newseum in Washington DC co-hosted an event for RBG and the co-authors of her new book “My Own Words” — a compilations of letters and other writings.

With wit and wisdom, and with humor and humanity, Justice Ginsburg reminded us of our liberties and what they mean. She told a story of how far we have come on this road (and intimated how far we have yet to go).  She spoke of the importance of dialogue and debate (but not divisiveness).

The messages were positive, but also cautionary.  The hour was a telling reminder of the  guiding principles of the Constitution and the importance of a United States society that is humane, welcoming, and–above all–free from the taint of Big Brother.

Thank you, Justice Ginsburg.








When is quantifying benefits a bad thing….

A recent article in the New York Times, In New Calculus on Smoking, It’s Health Gained vs. Pleasure Lost, describes the economic analysis being done by the US Food and Drug Administration to support tobacco regulations.  According to the Times, the economic analysis includes a “happiness measure”— the lost pleasure of smoking.  In the analysis, the value of lost happiness offsets much of the costs of smoking (cost of illness, for example), with the implication that tobacco regulation looks much less attractive.

Those critical of Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) can point to this as yet another example of economic analysis coming up with the “wrong” result, and the evils of using BCA. But the problem is not that economic analysis of regulations  is inherently bad, but rather that economics-poorly-done does not support good decision making.


Global annual disaster costs

by Fran Sussman

A recent post on CD&S asked what we might learn from the economic impacts of disasters about ways to minimize the long term effects on the economy of these extreme weather events.

The post was a response to reading a recent article, “Global Cost Estimates from “Informing Climate Adaptation:  A Review of the Economic Costs of Natural Disasters,” by Carolyn Kousky, which appears in the journal, Energy Economics.  Although the focus in the article is on the conceptual basis of the estimates rather than the story told by the numbers, the author does pull together some estimates and the results are rather striking.   (more…)

The Unfunded Mandate of Climate Change

by Fran Sussman

A recent post here on CD&S argued that greater attention should be paid to the literature on economic impacts of climate change in the National Climate Assessment.  That argument has been taken a step further in a report from the Center on American Progress (CAP), coauthored by Fran Sussman (CD&S) with Cathleen Kelly (CAP) and Kate Gordon of The Next Generation (TNG).  The report, Climate Change: An Unfunded Mandate, argues that, by failing to take aggressive action on climate change, Congress is imposing an unfunded mandate on the budgets of state, local, and tribal governments—the costs of repairing and rebuilding infrastructure, treating illness, making institutional change, and preparing for the future by making human systems and infrastructure more resilience to projected climate change. (more…)

Reducing the carbon deficit: a budget approach

by Fran Sussman

Every few years, at the request of the House and Senate Budget committees, the Congressional Budget Office produces a compendium called “Reducing the Deficit: Spending and Revenue Options.” The latest deficit reduction report was released last week and contains over 100 legislative options that, if adopted, would reduce the federal budget deficit. We need to treat the carbon deficit the way we treat the budget deficit. (more…)

Lessons from empirical studies of the costs of extreme weather events

by Fran Sussman

A critical gap in our knowledge about the economic costs of climate change is the cost of extreme events. Until earlier this week, the calmness of this Fall’s hurricane season had lulled  the public and policy makers into a sense that perhaps we have more time. But the devastation and loss in life caused when Typhoon Haiyan—among the worst in history—slammed into the Philippines has quickly dispelled any developing sense of security about extreme events.  As we make choices concerning the types and magnitude of investments and institutional changes we need to make for the future, the question arises, “Is there anything to be learned from studies of the costs of extreme events about how to prepare—how much to spend on prevention and preparedness, or where to target investments?” (more…)

Take a Poll: How do you think we should make decisions about global climate change?

Yesterday’s post on Paul Krugman’s review of The Climate Casino, by Bill Nordhaus, raised the question of the usefulness of benefit-cost analysis for assessing the global costs and benefits of climate change.  Most–but not all–economists tacitly accept this approach.

What about you?  If not benefit-cost analysis, then what approach do you think we should use?

Take a poll and record how you would like to decide “how much climate change is enough?” (more…)

Paul Krugman on Bill Nordhaus and Climate Change: Insights not Answers

by Fran Sussman

Paul Krugman’s review of Bill Nordhaus’s recent book, The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, is thoughtful and informative.  But it unintentionally raises some difficult questions about the role of benefit-cost analysis in assessing the consequences of climate policy, and whether focusing on this type of analysis draws resources and attention away from other, more important topics in economics.

Benefit-cost analysis of global climate change is fundamentally either an academic exercise or one intended to shape public opinion.  The Climate Casino is a little of both. (more…)

The trickle-down theory of renewable energy

By Fran Sussman

Andrew Revkin’s column in DOT Earth about Harvard’s decision not to divest its investments in fossil fuels included some observations by Robert Stavins, a noted Harvard economist. One was particularly provocative:

“If divestment were to reduce the financial resources of coal, oil, and gas companies (which it would NOT do), this would only reduce research and development at those same companies of: carbon capture and storage technologies; other key technological breakthroughs; and renewable sources of energy (the fossil fuel companies are carrying out much of the R&D on renewables).” (more…)

The aggregate cost of adapting to climate change in the US

by Fran Sussman

Not too long ago, I co-authored an article, “Climate change adaptation cost in the US:  What do we know?” which surveyed the state of knowledge on adaptation costs in the U.S.  The article is forthcoming in Climate Policy and a pre-publication version of the article is available on the short papers page.  While the article made strides in expanding our understanding of the literature on adapting to climate change in the U.S., there was one thing it did not do—tell us how much is is going to cost.  This post takes a stab at that. (more…)

Choosing Not to Divest is Not Value-Free

by Fran Sussman

In his DOT Earth column in the NYT on October 4, 2013, A Closer Look at Harvard’s Choice on Fossil Fuels, Andrew Revkin wrote about the issue of Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust’s statement on the university’s decision not to divest itself of fossil fuels, despite student efforts. Reading the column raised some interesting parallels in my mind between the way economists separate fact from judgments about welfare, and President Faust’s justification of the university’s decision. (more…)

Economics in the National Climate Assessment

by Fran Sussman

The draft National Climate Assessment (NCA)—which became available for review this past January–is the third to be produced since the Global Change Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-606) mandated that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) provide Congress and the President with periodic assessments of trends in global climate and the impacts of global change on natural and human systems in the U.S. Despite providing an impressive review of the literature on the science and physical effects of climate change, the assessment does not—intentionally—take the next step of assessing what we know about projected economic impacts and adaptation costs. (more…)

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