U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to members of the Texas Federation of Republican Women in San Antonio, Texas October 19, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT) - RTX14H7R

For months now, observers have been wondering why the Republican Party has been failing to rally around one seemingly-obvious candidate in particular. Young, new to the United States Senate, he is smart, well-spoken, represents a large and diverse state, and would be the first Latino nominee of a major party. Despite some bumpiness in his tenure, his positions on most issues are conventional, and he is likely to have similar priorities to a Republican Congress. Even though he’s rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way, the media has been pretty unified over the last few months in wondering:

“Why won’t the Republican elite rally around Ted Cruz?”

Ha ha ha, just kidding, nobody’s been asking that. Instead, they’ve been asking that about Marco Rubio, get it, he also meets that description. The problem with Rubio, though, is that he’s irrevocably tied to being on the wrong side of what has becoming the defining issue in the primary for nakedly cynical reasons and more generally that he’s an empty suit and even more generally that voters don’t seem to actually, you know, like him or want to vote for him.

But Ted Cruz doesn’t have that problem! He won Iowa! He placed third in New Hampshire despite it being an exceptionally weak state for him, behind the overwhelming winner and the guy who had banked 100% of everything on ekeing out second place, but ahead of Rubio and Jeb! He’s right there! What’s going on?

Ha ha ha, just kidding, we all know what’s going on. The problem with Ted Cruz is that literally ever person who has spent more than a few seconds in his physical presence apparently loathes him. Major publications are practically building out entire verticals devoted solely to aggregating quotes from public figures about the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard-of-the-soul experience that is interacting with Ted Cruz. And, yeah, he definitely hijacked the Senate that one time to shut down the government, putting his interests ahead of the party.

But you know what? It worked! It demonstrated an ability to understand and interact with a complex network of institutions to achieve his goals. It showed savvy. It was entrepenuerial. And unlike Marco Rubio’s immigration SNAFU, it showed he had, and has, his fingers much more squarely on the pulse of key portions of the GOP primary electorate.

Let me be clear – a Ted Cruz presidency would be terrible. And, as the Republican nominee, he would probably lose. He is very conservative! He would probably rub a lot of voters the wrong way because, truly, being a successful politician who nonetheless rubs people the wrong way, deeply, in their bones, is Ted Cruz’s unique gift in life.

But he is decidedly not Donald Trump. Donald Trump is scary. Donald Trump is accountable to nobody. Donald Trump is a monster. A Ted Cruz candidacy would most likely be a Goldwater- or McGovern-esque loss; a Donald Trump’s candidacy has an equal chance of either accelerating centrifugal forces in the Republican Party and coalition past the point of no return, or of being something much, much worse for the future of American democracy itself.

Any long-term thinking on the part of the Republican elite should, at this point, realize that the collective odds of Bush, Kasich, and Rubio securing the nomination are slim; the contest, at this point, may very quickly become an effective two-man race if Trump and Cruz 1-2 South Carolina and Nevada. The long-term viability of the Republican Party is, frankly, in doubt no matter what happens this year, but it is in much better shape if it loses in a large but ultimately controlled and predictable way than if it puts all its chips on…whatever it is we will one day call Trumpism. The GOP and it’s elite, to put it bluntly, should prefer to “Lose with Cruz” (now there’s a campaign slogan) than to grab the toupeed tiger by the tail and ride it into the dark unknown.

The fact that this decision seems gobsmackingly obvious from anyone outside the group of, at most, a few thousand people who constitute the core of the GOP elite, yet so repulsive to those few thousand people themselves, is a little scary in what is says about the inability of high-level political actors to put the political ahead of the personal. Shoot, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just before the Rubio bubble had its brief moment, just be[whack], there was a crazy spate of stories about how the Republican elite might actually prefer Trump to Cruz because Cruz is a galaxy-class asshole. How those stories will play out now that Trump is winning primaries and Rubio may have dispelled himself once and for all remains to be seen. But it would be a collective gamble of reckless, amoral, cynical, myopic abandon unlike any in recent American history for a major party’s elites to even acquiesce to the nomination of someone like Trump; it would be staggering if a perfectly viable and much more predictable and conventional, if not exactly promising, alternative were discarded simply because the person inhabiting that alternative has all the charisma of microwaved fish.

Because it’s New Hampshire Primary Day and because I haven’t blogged in a while – time to apply a facile analogy to party politics! For a limited time only, clickbait post title included, no additional charge.

If there is a thing that distinguishes the amorphous categories of “tech” companies from other companies, it’s that the structure of expected returns relative to time is different from non-“tech” companies. Unlike more conventional, competitive companies with consistent margins reliant on either extensive or intensive growth to grow in value, tech companies leverage scale to hopefully strike at a focal position in an existing or emerging network with a combination of quality and timing that allows them to seize that position, a position from which monumental rents can be generated.

This creates a disjuncture between a tech company’s present and future. By many conventional metrics, most tech company’s presents look a lot like a conventional company’s death throes. Tech companies generally spend most of their early life bleeding fantastic sums of money, in the hope that if their gamble pays off, they will reap future sums orders of magnitude larger. In that sense, the better analogy for the tech company is a political one than an economic one; tech companies are like Roman generals who ventured all-or-nothing gambles on seizing the capital, with death or imperial power as binary outcomes.

The Democratic Party, today, is in something analogous to that position. There seems to be a consensus that, should demographic voting patterns not substantially shift, the Democratic Party will have a hammerlock on governing the United States within the next decade or two, as its core coalition quickly approaching majority status in the electorate.

At the same time, the Democratic Party of the present looks for all the world like a failing political party. They face structural obstacles to achieving majority status in either house of Congress; they have a minority position on the Supreme Court, though this is a more complex and mixed situation; and  hold unified control of only seven states to Republicans’ 25. Given the power this gives to Republicans to gerrymander, it is entirely possible for many facets of this dismal state to persist even if demographic harvests prove as bountiful as predicted for the Democrats.

Indeed, the only plus side is that, on the most federalized level, those demographic tailwinds have already lead to a deceptively definitive structural advantage in presidential elections; barring the discombobulation a credible third-party or independent candidate would wreak, Republicans would need to win either an unprecedented share of the nonwhite vote or an unprecedented share of the white vote in order to crack 2016, neither of which seems terribly likely at present.

Therefore, the Democratic Party stands in an odd situation; presently, its goal is to cling to the Presidency and a few key states for dear life, whereas in the future it hopes to assert a position of unprecedented dominance that could only be toppled by some combination of vast leftward movement on the part of the Republican Party (an equal ideological, if not political, windfall for ideologically-motivated activists) and an unforeseeable reshaping of the political landscape.

This disjuncture has both manifestation and exacerbation in the present Clinton/Sanders divide. It is clear that the frankly stunning demographic divides within the Democratic Party signal that a politics and platform substantially to the left of the status quo is the future of the Democratic Party; just as the Democrats expect to reap the windfall of future demographics, the left expects to reap the windfall of seizing the Democratic Party as it comes into its dominance.

But that future is not yet here, and the high odds that a Democrat will sit in the Oval Office next year are the inverse of the odds of Democratic control of either house of Congress. Therefore, no matter who the nominee is, the actual job of the next Democratic POTUS will be twofold – on the one hand, succeed in getting four budgets and as many appointees and judges through a hostile Congress as possible; and on the other hand, give back as little of the legislative and regulatory gains of the Obama administration as possible. That many within the Democratic Party itself are coming to see those gains as inadequate only exacerbates the tensions that come from high expectations of near-future political transformations clashing with a present politics largely predicated on holding patterns and defense.

This is an inadequate guide to who the Democrats should nominate; while Sanders’ politics are the future of the Democratic Party, it’s clear that 74-year-old Sanders himself, and old white men in general, are certainly not; Democrats looking solely at filling the job of President for the next four years have to balance ideology, willingness-to-compromise, and, yes, electability in making what is frankly a non-obvious decision. But of course politics is rarely about careful consideration of filling a job, and Democratic voters are casting ballots, today and for months to come, for reasons well beyond a calculating and decidedly uninspirational assessment of loss minimization. In the past, revolutions were followed by bitter infighting about its meaning, implications, and future; the oddity of the Democratic Party today is that the order has been inverted. The 2016 primary, more than anything, is a fight over not just who controls the future, but when the future will happen.

and on top of everything else you get a sticker, everyone loves stickers

The other day I tweeted that “‘voting is irrational’ is the worst argument smart and reasonable people routinely make” after seeing smart and reasonable Matt Dickinson reference it as an aside when making what I think is a different-but-also-bad argument about why people in certain positions should abstain from voting, and got at least one request to flesh out why I think the argument is in fact so bad. Rather than cite to all the people who make the argument (though also not to single out Matt per se, his was just the reference that led to the tweet that led to this post) , since I think it’s fairly well-established both in terms of its contours (that the odds of any individual vote affecting the outcome of an election is tiny ) and that it’s widely made, but here in only some order is a laundry list of all the reasons this argument is bad and I hate it.

Derek Parfit’s “Harmless Torturers” argument – In “Reasons and Persons” Parfit creates a thought experiment summarizes as succinctly as possible as so – if you have 1,000 people each controlling a single machine that each tortures a single person (say with electric shocks), it is clear that electing to activate the machine is wrong. But if each of those persons controls 1/1000th of a single machine that distributes 1/1000th of that torturous shock to each of 1,000 people connected to the single machine, would we still consider the choice of each to flip their switch wrong even if the marginal torture being distributed is at most barely perceptible? The intuitive, and also correct, answer, is “yes” and this is a very potent argument in the context of many cultural problems as well as climate change. It is similarly potent here as well; so long as we accept that collectively high participating in voting is good, it follows that each individual decision to vote is good. I leave it to the reader to note that, in the absence of substantial counter-forces, that doing good is rational.

Anthropology and sociology hugely militate against the narrow economic view of adjudicating individual actions on a narrow benefit-cost of marginal action – Human societies are vastly complex networks bound together as much as or more by norms and custom than formal rules, and rather than seeing collective action as the sum of individual action it often makes more sense to see individual action as a note in a multidimensional matrix of complex social, economic, familial, and communal networks. This, BTW, is why the whole quest to “microfound” macroeconomics is fundamentally dumb but that’s another blog post.

There’s no reason not to vote – the costs to voting are extremely small, and declining as time in transit or in queue can be spent in communication with others or playing Hoplite which I just discovered and is super fun. It can obviously be irrational to do the ethical thing in a context where that leaves one likely to be harmed or exploited; this is related, in some ways, to the theoretical finding that won George Akerlof a Nobel Prize, as well as just being obvious. If nobody’s paying taxes don’t pay taxes, etc. But in a general equilibrium that is either positive or near a tipping point, especially given the prior point, if the costs of doing the socially beneficial and ethically sound thing are low or negligible, it is absolutely rational to do it. Plus, the time-money equivalence isn’t purely scalar on the margins, most people distribute their time in lumpy ways that don’t make marginal time-use decisions, especially on the scale of “an hour every two years” costly in a way that can be easily quantified.

Voting is fun – I like voting! It is rational to do things one likes to do!

Voting is empowering on an individual and communal level – making one’s voice heard in the formal political process has a two-way legitimation effect, legitimizing one’s own equal right to be a part of the civic process as well as legitimating that civic process as the correct channel for making one’s voice heard. It is rational to pursue this, which also leads into the next argument…

This argument mitigates against all public and civic participation – if voting is irrational, so is signing a petition, joining a protest, donating to a candidate, or even voicing one’s opinion. Unless one takes actions so drastic that purely in isolation they affect political outcomes – and, without getting too much into it, one can clearly extrapolate that most such actions are violent or otherwise bad – this argument mitigates in favor of total non-participation in anything civic or even communal.

This argument is particular to first-past-the-post elections on a very large scale – in a proportional voting system, or in elections for mayor, city council, or even Congress it can be clear that much smaller numbers of votes can affect substantial political outcomes. A ~36,000-28,000 vote in suburban Virginia deposed the second-most-powerful House Republican. But if you’re going to vote for everything, the marginal cost of voting for everything on the ballot is so vanishingly small that even the narrow, economic argument against voting is thin as straw.

Making this argument is immoral from a consequentialist standpoint – even if you think individual voting decisions are irrational, so long as you think high participation in voting generally is good then by making this argument you are helping to damage that. Maybe you think that making the argument is damaging it so slightly it barely matters, but then why are you bothering to make the argument at all? It is clearly irrational to do so since it’s not having any impact.

Making this argument is immoral from an anthropological standpoint – of course, I do think it has an impact, especially as more people make it, and I think it corrodes the necessary normative construct of individual obligation to the collective and civic well-being that makes our society and similar societies function well. Promoting cynicism and non-participating is bad.

Making this argument makes you look like a smug, dislikeable cynic – this is self-explanatory. Seriously, doing this just makes you look like a narrow-minded pedant who wants to prove their intellectual superiority by making an obnoxious debator’s point at the expense of, like, you know, democracy, and people will dislike you for doing it.

And all that without referencing Florida c. 2000, and without referencing the many counter-arguments for voting that play somewhat more on the turf of the original argument for irrationality; for those see Andrew Gelman who is good on this issue (paper here, posts here here and here).

All that being said we should vote less, for less, and on the weekend, and maybe it should even be mandatory, but that’s a different story.

So the Marlyand Purple/Red Line debacle. In addition to all the more-often-explicated reason why Americans Can’t Have Nice Trains, one reason I don’t see brought up is how our ancient, arbitrary, and byzantine system of administrative subdivision creates baffling labyrinths of political economy. The Purple Line is located solely in Maryland, even though it is part of a larger system that serves DC and VA; but the latter two don’t want to pitch in first-order costs for second-order benefits, and nobody can make them. The regional authority governing the system has no ability to extract greater resources, and the same political economy under discussion so starves it of resources that it can barely keep its own shit together and is massively unpopular as a result (remember – starving government makes government bad makes government unpopular, that’s the cycle of outcomes and opinions the last few decades of increasingly conservative governances has deliberately tried to perpetuate). Meanwhile, within Maryland the Purple Line is located solely within two counties that are among the wealthier within the state so why should folks not served by the system pay? The federal government has an interest in the Purple Line but hahahah try getting something like this through Congress and anyway why should square state folk pay for coastal trains? But the logic of the project is just so strong and the constituencies for it sufficiently influential that it hobbles through only somewhat nerfed…at the expense of the entirety of a project of another transit project in a large but poorer city located solely within the same state.

This, of course, is terrible. And goes to a longtime hobbyhorse of mine, which I said really well above so I’ll just say again: our ancient, arbitrary, and byzantine system of administrative subdivision creates baffling labyrinths of political economy. There has been plenty of discussion of what the US should do to revise its federal system under conditions of godmode, and I fully endorse unicameral MMP (though not monarchy, that’s just silly, just make the Presidency a less-power, non-partisan office elected to decade-long terms and inculcate norms that generally-beloved national figures should run. Seriously, even for the limited purposes advocated therein you still have the problems of monarchy, which is total lack of desert, the randomness of birth and lineage, etc – just have folks elect a vector for national love and unity that’s still in line with American values of democracy and meritocracy. President Clooney, President Swift, President Ramos, etc etc).

But as long as we’re rewriting our entire system why leave the entire edifice of day-to-day government intact when overhauling the top layer? Especially since once you abolish the Senate the whole reason to leave “states” in place seems pretty silly.

So, here’s how we should run America:

Keep “states” (so we can keep the name of the country, after all) but have like, 8-10 of them, and make them correspond to large regions of unified culture/interest, something like Census regions or the turf covered by Circuit Courts, Federal Reserve Banks, etc, except with no regard for existing state lines. Then, get rid of counties and municipalities and replace them with metropolitan governments, that would cover whole metro areas, and ward governments, that would cover smaller, local areas. So instead of using our current example (which is admittedly one of the more egregious cases because of the unique nature of DC) let’s look at NYC instead – looking at just the NYC MSA, you’re looking at three states (none of whom have capitals proximate or part of America’s largest metro area, in which 1/15th of the entire country resides) comprising 25 counties and hundreds of municipalities, boroughs, wards, unincorporated areas, authorities, etc. Instead, you might have a “state” encompassing everything from Maine to Fredericksburg, VA, a metro generally aligning to the existing NYC metro, and then a quilt of small governments primarily responsible for purely local governments; NYC is tricky because it’s uniquely dense in the United States, but think something the size/population of SoHo, or even smaller.

This, of course, wouldn’t eliminate conflict or solve politics, but it would make lines of responsibility and questions of political economy clearer and more directly adjudicable. If you can create administrative units that largely encompass most of the people who would benefit, either directly or near-indirectly, from something like a major transit investment, and largely leave out people who wouldn’t.

Anyway, this is all politics as something approaching fan fiction but hey it’s Friday and in our real politics we just spent for-freaking-ever debating whether to control-Z national healthcare because [sic] so a little fantasy now-and-then isn’t the worst.

 

On an administrative note, while I’ve enjoyed the combination of Ello, tweeting a lot, and “being super busy at work,” I hereby declare the extended period of neglect of this particular space over and plan to at least semi-regular post thoughts here (though, hopefully, not at the expenses of doing other things of fun and value). I also plan on at least occasionally sending something out via Tinyletter so now might be good time of inviting me into your inbox every now and then.

crossposted from ello because does anyone read ello anymore?

This is super late, but in looking back at responses to my post on reparations this bit from Tim Worstall caught my eye:

“Thus today’s value of what was stolen from the slaves is that $1.75 trillion. Which is, when you look at it, a formidable sum of money. Except, actually, it isn’t. The net wealth of the entire country is around $80 trillion or so. So it’s a trivial percentage of the national wealth. Or we could look at it another way. There’s 42 million or so African Americans (defined as having some possibly slave and black antebellum ancestry) so the capital sum would be some $40,000 for each of them. Which, while a nice enough sum to receive isn’t the sort of life changing sum some might think might be due in reparations.”

This is wrong, but the fact of its wrongness itself goes to show how much many folks underestimate the dire economic straits of black America.

According to the FRB’s invaluable Survey of Consumer Finances, the net wealth of all of black households is around $1.7 trillion. So even that $1.75 trillion infusion (which is the most minimal estimate of the amount reparations ought to be my calculations produced) would double the net worth of black America as a hold.

Put another way, two-thirds of black households have less than $40,000 in net wealth. So this wouldat least double the net wealth of two thirds of black households.

Put another way, the entirety of black America has just over $921 billion in debt. So that $1.75 trillion could wipe out all debt held by all black Americans (in practice, just over two-thirds of black households have debts totaling less than $40,000, so it would leave some black households with some debts).

So given that $1.75 trillion is ‘a trivial percentage of the national wealth’ maybe we should just give it to black America then? I doubt they’d find it so trivial.

It seems like discussion of Piketty’s Capital has run its course and much of the commentary has moved on (though not necessarily from the broader topic) so now is as good time as any to peer back and reflect on how the debate around the book ended (if such a thing can be summarized). From my own vantage point, the debate about the book (not necessarily the discussion) stalled out around a single question, so I will do my best to restate and clarify that question so as to focus where more evidence and argument is needed, should this be a conversation anyone wishes to resume. None of this is new, exactly, but it’s worth recanting given the importance of the question and the stakes surrounding it.

Around 1800 AD, living standards in some countries began to rise substantially, and over the past 200 years, that rise (as measured in GDP per capita) has been on the order of a factor of 50. This generally seems to correlate with other indicators of increased living standards to a degree that, with some exceptions (such as thinly-populated resource-rich countries) it is generally, though not universally, accepted practice to use GDP per capita as a good-enough shorthand for broad living standards. Whatever the case, exactly how and why this increase transpired is still a matter of debate, in no small measure because most people would find it desirable to replicate the phenomenon in those areas that have not yet experienced it. Indeed, some countries that did not begin experiencing the phenomenon in its initial emergence have experienced it since, leaving, essentially, three groups of countries – those who have experienced it, those who have not, and those in transition.

Piketty’s book, while not exclusively, overwhelmingly is focused on the first kind of country. A compelling portion of his narrative is documenting that transformation, yet the broader focus of the book is on what has transpired since that transformation was consolidated in the era following the Second World War. There are two key factors to be documented. The first is that the countries that have fully experienced this transformation are themselves not ‘complete’ in this regard – average living standards (recent economic troubles excepted) continue to rise and are generally, though not universally, expected to continue to rise in the absence of extreme calamity on the scale of global catastrophic climate change. The second is the change in the distribution of income – since a moment of ‘peak equality’ in roughly 1970, most of the countries Piketty analyzes have seen a sharp increase in inequality, the specific degree of which dependent on method of measurement but whose general contours is not really disputed. This, Piketty and many other believes, poses a problem for these countries that is not alleviable solely by continuing increases in average living standards or aggregate wealth and income growth.

Piketty devotes a lot of space to developing a simple model of how the aggregate quantity and distribution of capital can drive income inequality. This remarkably simple model requires only three input variables – the growth rate of the economy, the average return to capital, and the savings rate (perhaps better phrased as the rate of capital formation relative to national income) – to generate a long term prediction of two key ratios: the ratio of capital to income, and the capital share of national income. From there, wealth inequality can be used directly to compute a floor on income inequality – for example, if 1% of the population owns 50% of the national wealth and the capital share of income is 30%, then that 1% captures, at a minimum, 15% of national income.

And here we arrive at the crux of the debate. Piketty’s model implicitly assumes a certain exogeneity between those three input variables and the two ratios they converge towards, ie, that they are not inherently correlated with each other. This exogeneity poses a fragility in Piketty’s model and a challenge to mainstream economic theory. The fragility is that, if they are strongly correlated (in the direction such correlation is expected), and especially if there is iterative feedback between them over time, then Piketty’s model no longer produces outcomes in which wealth inequality drives income inequality. The key example here is the average return to capital; were it to fall in proportion to the rise of total capital accumulation, then the capital share of national income would be invariant to the quantity of capital, and thus largely undermine the mechanism by which present wealth inequality drives future income inequality. Furthermore, were this anticipatable decline in the in return to capital to drive a decline in savings, the capital/national income ratio would converge at a substantially smaller value than that projected by extrapolating from the initial period. This further depresses the likelihood of ever-increasing wealth-driven income inequality.

This is also precisely the challenge to mainstream economic theory. These correlations and feedbacks are precisely what are predicted by fundamental, strongly-held ideas about economics held by economists; most centrally that investment behavior is driven by that most central economic force, supply and demand. Piketty, however, is not simply laying down an alternative model, but an empirical challenge to this challenge. The most crucial assertion made by his model – that the return to capital fails to decline in proportion to the supply of capital – is not simply a theoretical alternative but one derived from the meticulously researched and calculated estimates in his unprecedented data. As I myself pointed out in my write-up of Piketty’s book, the data show that the return to capital is sufficiently resilient to its accumulation to justify Piketty’s model. At least, that is, without controlling for any additional factors.

And here is where debate stalled, with one side asserting that theory demands these variables be tightly correlated, and the other side responding that empirics demonstrates that they are not. The problem, of course, is that macroeconometric panel empirics is extremely sensitive to model specification, to the point of being perhaps the perfect example of how any decent statistically-versed researcher with strong priors can generate the outcomes from the data they which to receive. Certainly it is more than possible to generate a superfluity of complex models demonstrating the theoretically-predicted correlations, and these models will collectively have zero persuasive power because it is trivially easily to create as many or more equally-plausible equally-complex models that demonstrate the obvious.

Why does this all matter, to the degree it’s worth recounting in such detail to the tune of a thousand words? Because it strikes directly at the heart of the most important argument for tolerating high income inequality.

There are basically three arguments in favor of tolerating high income inequality, which I will attempt to summarize as fairly as I can.

  •  The ‘Just Deserts’ Position: incomes reflect the inherently just outcomes of markets. Beyond a certain threshold to prevent the worst form of miseries, it is therefore a violation of justice to take from the deserving and distribute to the undeserving.
  • The ‘Pink Salt’ Position: income inequality is irrelevant except to the irremediably envious, resentful, or spiteful. What matters is preserving and increasing human happiness, which is largely driven by civil liberties, non-market institutions such as family and community, and the secondary impacts of economic progress.
  • The ‘Golden Egg’ Position: income inequality may be ceteris paribus bad but aggregate economic growth is extremely good to a degree that in most plausible scenarios swamps income inequality. Furthermore, income inequality and economic growth may be conjoined outcomes of our economic system and cannot be modified independently. Therefore, we should be extremely cautious about attempting to alleviate income inequality through policies that slow the rate of economic growth, as this may reduce not just aggregate utility but the utility of those benefiting directly from redistribution.

It will shock nobody to hear that I reject outright the first argument in the strongest possible terms, and the second in quite strong terms as well. Indeed, I believe that the majority of Americans, and certainly the majority of voters in developed countries, disagree with those arguments as well. It is that third argument that gives pause to many – including, to a degree, me (though that pause is still far from convincing in my own case). The average person living in a developed country today as compared to a person living in that same country in 1800 is vastly better off, and it is not impossible to imagine that the average person living in a developed country in 2100 will be vastly better off than that average person today. Impeding our shared progress in that regard could simultaneously defer developments that improve the quality of most lives while simultaneously deferring developments (like innovation in renewable energy sources and storage) that could mitigate or reverse the worst consequences of economic growth to date.

This all converges on something of an ironic surprise. In this debate, it has been the left that has been advocating, implicitly or explicitly, on behalf of the resilience of capitalism (broadly defined) and its ability to deliver human prosperity, whereas it has been the right that has claimed, implicitly or explicitly, that capitalism and the prosperity it delivers is fragile, so much so that even increasing post-market redistribution (as opposed to pre-market regulatory redistribution through minimum wages, stronger protections for unions, and abridging the current rights and privileges of lenders and shareholders) could, to use a tired aphorism, kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. This ideological positioning isn’t wholly novel, and whether it is instrumental and ephemeral or representative of something larger remains to be seen; but it is notable, and worth pondering for what it says about the state of both the contemporary mainstream left and right movements in the United States (if not beyond).

Since none of you seem to be on Ello, and since why should BI get all the fun, I’m reposting this here.

The Economy In 1000* Emoji

The Key Facts

Each emoji represents one one-thousandth (0.1%) of GDP. All data from 2013 BEA NIPA tables, with the exception of estimates of federal non-defense and state & local consumption expenditure breakdowns, derived from CBPP, Mercatus, and Tax Policy Center estimates.

*Gross emojis actually total 1,334 because of imports and net foreign travel; net emoji equal 1,003 due to rounding.

Without further ado, here’s your economy:

PRIVATE CONSUMPTION:

:red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::blue_car::blue_car::blue_car::blue_car::blue_car::blue_car::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::door::door::door::door::door::door::door::door::door::door::tv::tv::tv::fork_and_knife::fork_and_knife::fork_and_knife::hammer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::football::football::football::football::golf::golf::golf::books::books::watch::watch::watch::watch::watch::wheelchair::wheelchair::wheelchair::wheelchair::book::briefcase::briefcase::phone::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::beer::beer::beer::beer::beer::beer::beer::dress::dress::dress::dress::dress::dress::dress::dress::dress::dress::necktie::necktie::necktie::necktie::necktie::necktie::baby_bottle::tshirt::tshirt::tshirt::tshirt::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::pill::game_die::game_die::game_die::game_die::game_die::game_die::game_die::game_die::game_die::package::package::package::package::package::package::package::eyeglasses::eyeglasses::eyeglasses::eyeglasses::eyeglasses::eyeglasses::eyeglasses::smoking::smoking::smoking::smoking::smoking::smoking::newspaper::newspaper::newspaper::newspaper::newspaper::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::potable_water::potable_water::potable_water::potable_water::potable_water::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::electric_plug::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::hospital::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::taxi::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::airplane::airplane::airplane::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::spades::spades::spades::spades::spades::spades::spades::roller_coaster::roller_coaster::roller_coaster::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::wine_glass::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::dollar::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::loudspeaker::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::mans_shoe::mans_shoe::mans_shoe::mans_shoe::mans_shoe::mans_shoe::mans_shoe::mans_shoe::church::church::church::church::church::church::church::church::church::wrench::wrench::wrench::wrench::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel::angel:

:heavy_minus_sign::passport_control::passport_control::passport_control:

PRIVATE INVESTMENT

:office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::house_with_garden::package::package::package::package:

GOVERNMENT

FEDERAL DEFENSE

:bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::bomb::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::satellite::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright:

FEDERAL NONDEFENSE

:bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::school::school::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::airplane::airplane::post_office::post_office::post_office::post_office::post_office::post_office::office::satellite::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright:

STATE AND LOCAL

:school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::school::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::cop::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::ambulance::cinema::cinema::cinema::cinema::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::office::satellite::satellite::copyright::copyright:

NET EXPORTS

EXPORTS

:corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::factory::computer::computer::computer::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::euro::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::iphone::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::copyright::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::us:

IMPORTS

:heavy_minus_sign::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::corn::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::nut_and_bolt::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::fuelpump::rocket::rocket::rocket::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::computer::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::yen::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::red_car::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::tractor::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::handbag::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::bullettrain_side::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::airplane::copyright::copyright::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::heavy_dollar_sign::jp::jp:

LEGEND (similar categories merged):

:red_car: New Cars
:blue_car: Used Cars
:nut_and_bolt: Car Parts
:door: Furniture
:tv: Appliances
:fork_and_knife: Foodware
:hammer: Tools
:computer: Information Equipment
:football: Sports Equipment
:golf: Sports and Recreation
:books: Books
:watch: Watches and Jewelry
:wheelchair: Therapeutic Equipment
:book: Educational Books
:briefcase: Luggage
:phone: Phones and Faxes
:corn: Food
:beer: Alcohol
:dress: Women’s Clothing
:necktie: Men’s Clothing
:baby_bottle: Children’s Clothing
:tshirt: Other Clothing
:fuelpump: Gas and Fuel
:pill: Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment
:game_die: Recreational Items
:package: Supplies and Inventories
:eyeglasses: Personal Care
:smoking: Tobacco
:newspaper: Newspapers, Magazines, etc
:house: Rental Housing
:house_with_garden: Owner Housing and Housing Construction
:potable_water: Water
:electric_plug: Electricity
:ambulance: Medical Services
:hospital: Hospitals
:taxi: Vehicle Services
:bullettrain_side: Transportation
:airplane: Travel
:cinema: Culture
:spades: Gambling
:roller_coaster: Other Recreation
:wine_glass: Restaurants
:dollar: Financial Services
:loudspeaker: Communications
:school: Education
:heavy_dollar_sign: Professional Services
:mans_shoe: Clothing Services
:church: Religious Activities
:wrench: Home Maintenance
:passport_control: Net Foreign Travel
:angel: Nonprofits
:factory: Industrial Supplies
:rocket: Aircraft
:euro: Other Exports
:iphone: Consumer Goods
:copyright: Intellectual Property
:us: Governance Exports
:yen: Other Imports
:tractor: Durable Goods
:handbag: Nondurable Goods
:jp: Governance Imports
:bomb: Defense
:office: Structures
:satellite: Equipment
:cop: Police
:post_office: Other Federal Services
:heavy_minus_sign: subtraction from the total

PEG has something to say about science. I’m going to let Adam Ozimek say what needs saying about certain more easily refuted parts of the piece; but I’m going to actually focus on where I, well, kind of agree. Well, maybe agree is the wrong word. Let’s try empathize.

This Mother Jones piece crowed about the fact that ‘science-denying’ creationists were attacking portrayals of the Big Bang in Cosmos just as “[a] major new scientific discovery,…has now provided ‘smoking gun’ evidence for ‘inflation,’ a crucial component of our understanding of the stunning happenings just after the Big Bang.” What was this ‘smoking gun’ evidence?

Using a special telescope to examine the cosmic microwave background radiation (which has been dubbed the “afterglow” of the Big Bang), researchers at the South Pole detected “direct evidence” of the previously theoretical gravitational waves that are believed to have originated in the Big Bang and caused an incredibly sudden and dramatic inflation of the universe.

So, people who believe the universe is seven orders of magnitude younger than it actually is in spite of all already-existing scientific evidence because it conflicts with their theology are supposed to be pwned because a mysterious and complex gizmo they haven’t seen, located on the most remote part of the planet, was looking at something they don’t understand and found evidence they don’t understand of a phenomenon they don’t understand linked to a theory of the consequences of that thing they don’t believe happened. Yep. That’ll do it.

Think about it – have you seen that telescope? Do you know what it does? How it works? How can you be sure it’s working properly? What is its actual output – some sort of numbers on a computer? What do those numbers mean? How do you know that? Can you interpret them? How do they fit into the theoretical construct that leads you to believe this particular stream of telescope output corroborates the Big Bang? Do you really understand this?

I don’t think you do. And that’s fine. Most of us don’t understand most things. I probably understand fewer things than most. But one thing I definitely understand is that human beings are alive, if we’re lucky, for just over 700,000 hours, more like 525,000 as an adult, more like 350,000 as an awake adult, of which you’ll spend at least a fifth working and then you have kids and illnesses and hobbies and suddenly you’re out of time to understand complex matters of cosmological theory and telescope construction.

The point is that at some point to believe just about anything in which you are not a seasoned expert you have to trust other humans. And how you decide which other humans to trust isn’t something you can determine by corroborating everything they say, because that’s circular. It’s decided by a whole host of factors, but the point is that it is extremely rational to decide to trust or distrust certain sources as a matter of course.

Yet we resist that, for reasons that are both rational and thoughtful as well as those that are reflexive to elite culture. Watch Joe Weisenthal struggle with it in this convo:

I’ve thought a lot about that short exchange since it happened nearly a year ago, because it so neatly captures the tension between our valuing ideas and open-mindedness and the relentless logic of using sources as filters. Many people who think that hyperinflation is JUST AROUND THE BEND and who have repeatedly warned of hyperinflation over the last decade have many useful and valuable insights; but their vocal and insistent warnings about imminent hyperinflation have also been extremely wrong in a very discrediting way. In the opposite vein, if you did trust the hyperinflationistas, why would you trust a debunking of them from, of all people, Paul Krugman?

In the end, we are all bound not by the objective veracity of the information and the merit of the ideas we hope to adjudicate, but  by who we trust to convey and explain ideas and information to us. We trust science, fundamentally, because we trust people who trust science. And once that trust is broken, it can be very, very hard to restore.

And remember that discovery of gravitational waves and the Big Bang? Well, it was wrong. Probably.

Depends who you trust.

First, read David Dayen on Darden, Starboard, and how many private equity and hedge funds are basically, well, if looters is a strong term, let’s call it strident, not inaccurate.

The short version is that a standard maneuver in the outside financier playbook is to find a company that is, basically, two companies – one providing goods or services, the other a large landowner. They then split the company in two and profit as landlords regardless of who they lease their space to.

This plays into an old hobby horse of mine, which is the nature and purpose of the firm. In the theoretical world of neoclassical economics, with low transaction costs and information approximating perfect, it doesn’t really make sense for these two companies to be one company – or at least, not any more sense than it does for them to be two.

But there is substantial value in them being unified. In cyclical economies defined by uncertainty and high transaction costs, many companies face cyclical fluctuations in revenue but not expenses, leaving them vulnerable to fixed cost shocks that may not be ameliorable by spending down savings or accessing credit, especially since credit tends to be scarcest just as these shocks are fiercest. That means a restaurant chain, for example, could be put out of business simply by failing to pay its rent during lean years even if it was flush during expansions. This is a deep myopia of the highly financialized capitalist system we current have. Investors both fail to recognize fusing land ownership with other industries to be, essentially, a form of saving and/or cost smoothing and wouldn’t care anyway because why not just juice the stock or pay out a massive dividend and bail.

Capitalism in many ways truly does thrive on creative destruction – and if anyone seems ripe to be creatively destroyed, it appears to be Olive Garden. Yet by making creative destruction such a shibboleth we’ve lost sight that there is also value in its opposite – institutional preservation. Institutions are repositories of knowledge. Destroying them can destroy the knowledge they hold collectively. Putting their existing stock of resources can involve tremendous transaction costs. Making more institutions more vulnerable to cyclical fluctuations means more institutions will implode when economies cycle, which exacerbates those cycles and destroys value unnecessarily.

A great example of this was the auto bailouts. These were high-fixed-cost manufacturers exceptionally vulnerable to a deep cyclical shock. There was no private finance ready to see them through uncertainty to profitability. So the state invested in forestalling the needless implosion of these institutions because the alternative was imposing not just needless private costs but also bearing large socialized costs from the wrenching transition to whatever followed the liquidation of the American auto industry. Without picking apart every controversial aspect of the program, it makes perfect sense in principle but only if you acknowledge the limitations of private markets to mitigate against widespread disasters with socialized costs.

This tweet from Joe Weisenthal:

Reminds me of a thought I had the other day.

I had this thought when driving from DC to northern Florida, which Mrs. Rooted and I do in a single day when we visit the in-laws, partially because it means we can bring this guy:

i'm sunning

But also because it’s cheaper. And when you’re chugging along 95’s least-compelling stretch for hours on end you think a lot, especially about cars, and especially about how much longer we have to wait until our promised jetpacks arrive. A good amount of attention has been focused on the long-term consequences of self-driving cars for intra-metropolitan transportation, but less has been focused on inter-metropolitan travel. But this is at least equally fertile ground for a major shake-up.

Speed limits are fairly high along southern 95, mostly 65 or 70 mph. It gets even higher out west where things are flat and straight, and there’s a patch of Texas where you can legally go 85 mph. But that’s still pretty slow – less than a fifth the speed of an airplane. But self-driving cars will likely be able to (barring congestion or poor conditions) go much, much, faster. And that can make a huge difference.

When we drive to my in-laws, we drive 774 miles, mostly along I-95, which at an average speed of 70 mph plus just an hour for various breaks is still a 12-hour door-to-door journey. When we fly, the flight is only 2.5 hours to the nearest large airports (Orlando or Jacksonville – they’re much closer to Daytona but flights to that airport are fewer and often more expensive in our experience). But the trip, as Joe points out, is actually a lot longer. If we want to get to the airport with at least 45 minutes to spare before takeoff, we have to leave at least that long before the flight, and that’s if we’re leaving from the closest airport to our home (DCA). Once we land, it takes roughly half-an-hour before we’re in the car heading to our destination, and then it’s at least another hour before we arrive. Adding it all together, the trip is more like six hours, not two-and-a-half. And that’s assuming the plane leaves on time.

To go 774 miles in six hours you’d have to go 130 mph. That’s really fast. But in a world where cars are doing the driving along highways especially designed for that purpose, it’s totally plausible. And what that means is that once self-driving cars are universal they will demolish short-haul flights. So long as road capacity accommodates, flights under two hours in length will likely vanish, and flights under four hours will decline markedly. Shoot, at 200 mph, if no driver needed to be conscious you could leave DC at 8PM Eastern and sleep most of the way across the continent, arriving in San Francisco at 7AM Pacific. Even at 15 mpg and $5/gallon, that’s a < $1,000 trip, which if you’ve got more than two people in the car, is quite competitive; if you imagine that self-driving cars will be much more efficient than that, it’s a almost a no-brainer for personal travel.

This gets us back to the promise in the title of the post. If self-driving cars really do displace short- and even medium-haul domestic flights, a once-scarce resource becomes suddenly plentiful – airport capacity. Assuming energy scarcity is not a crippling obstacle (and if it is we have bigger problems), this should mean a much greater volume of international flights, especially flights across the ocean. If our cars can drive us from New York to New Orleans, then we have more planes, pilots, runways, and fuel to take us to New Delhi.

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