Interesting stuff

  1. A walk among Hong Kong’s protesters (here’s my impression from a visit 9 months ago)
  2. Lower speed limits improve city life (and safety)
  3. Climate change is affecting crop yields and reducing global food supplies
  4. Two Dutch guys might get life in prison for trafficking marijuana and MDMA. I consider this a terrible injustice given that murderers get shorter sentences (e.g., 18 years for killing a leading politician). I guess that Big Pharma/Alcohol don’t like competition.
  5. Despite all my efforts to leave Russia, it had followed me. Why? Are we suddenly living in a Russian-like world that Putin has created?
  6. How Eric Arthur Blair became George Orwell
  7. Climate catastrophe looms ever larger as the bad news (e.g., Greenland’s icesheet slipping off land and raising sea level by 7.5 meters in a short time) outpaces even the worst fears of scientists. Related: Watch this video on how the people of the Sundrabans (Bay of Bengal) are trying to cope with rising seas.
  8. There are some really interesting parallels between Brexit and warfare. Yes, the UK will adapt and survive, but no it’s not a good idea to declare a war that you will lose.
  9. The funny economics of near-zero interest rates
  10. The Dutch are innovating to feed 11 billion

H/T to FB

Advice for a graduate student

DA emails:
I’m currently a graduate student/candidate for a Masters in Urban Planning. My interest are in water equity, efficiency, and conservation. My goals are to work in developing countries on water access, sustainable management of water resources and improving the water quality for existing systems. I’m contacting you in hopes of acquiring some advice or contacts in which I can further my knowledge and experience. 
If you have any advice or could point me in the right direction on possible research projects or must reads for this field I would greatly appreciate it 
DA’s interests (water equity, efficiency, and conservation) and work goals (work in developing countries on water access, sustainable management of water resources and improving the water quality for existing systems) suggests a two broad themes (aspirational and operational) and thus the different ways of engaging these themes:*
  • Equity and access (aspirational): Laws, regulation, outreach, and subsidies
  • Management of efficiency/conservation and quality (operational): Incentives, reporting, engineering and regulatory policy

From these themes, I can give some ideas on work (experience) and readings (knowledge). 

DA can work inside a water-delivery organization on all of these themes. This experience will be hands on, but perhaps not very progressive, given the inherent caution of water firms. DA can also work for the regulator or an advocacy organization. With the regulator, leverage for change is high, but most of the work involves fights over information and interpreting laws and standards. With an advocacy organization, all topics are ready for radical improvement, but leverage for change is low.

When it comes to developing countries, DA will not be able to get a job as a local unless they have local connections, language skills, passport, etc., so the work is likely to be directed at projects (“we have money for this project but not the one you might want”) or building capacity (“this is how we do it in X, you should too”). In either case, it helps a lot to have operational experience on top of theoretical knowledge and passion (read my paper), thus, see above on work.

The best knowledge will come from practical experience, so I recommend that DA look for internships that offer it. In terms of readings, I could come up with dozens of papers and books, but I’m going to draw from the archive of recent episodes from my Jive Talking podcast, i.e., 

Be sure to look at the show notes for links to further reading.

Still want reading? Then I recommend two of my papers on evolving water management in the UK (where meters were more ideological than useful) and the Netherlands (where it took decades and massive public subsidies to build a reliable safe system). 

My one-handed opinion is that you will learn more in the trenches than in the library.

* Note that “sustainable” is superfluous when talking about a well-managed system.

Interesting stuff

  1. The sad tale of America’s religious freedom fraud and Christian “science”
  2. The history and application of gamification to Lyft drivers
  3. On the strange experience of living through the only accurate doomsday prediction” (echoes of my own perspective…)
  4. Why mass shootings in the US? Guns. Why are white men targeting “immigrants”? Trump is an openly racist President who motivates “losers” to attack on his behalf. How would a real president lead? Read Obama’s tweet
  5. Will Germany ban domestic flights? They should.
  6. The biggest money laundering center centre? Britain.
  7. The Dutch need to talk more about how their wealth was built on suffering
  8. America put Mexicans in gas chambers
  9. Editing is writing
  10. The key insight was to stop trying to build a mechanical carriage, and instead build something more like a mechanical horse.

Catholics, fascists and populists

I have two unrelated thoughts on these groups…

First, the catholics and the environment

The Catholic Church knows how to sell indulgences. I suggest — in line with the Pope’s Laudato si’ (Care for Our Home) that the Church sell climate offsets (as indulgences) and then enforce their impact by calling upon members of the flock to enforce environmental laws. God knows how many believers are in countries experiencing environmental harm. God knows when they are working to protect — or harm — the environment. Let’s get God’s believers involved, as someone needs to act on what God knows!

Second, the fascists and populists

I throw around labels like “fascist” and “populist” when talking about political failures. It just occurred to me that populists tend to promise something for nothing, giving away stuff (or pride) in ways that are ultimately unsustainable (e.g., national pride turning into war).

Fascists, OTOH [go further and] take from people. They take freedom but also wealth, and they justify their theft via state needs or ideological purity. Theft is also unsustainable, as people at some point rebel or flee.

What’s interesting (terrifying) is that these populist and fascist tendencies complement each other (theft to fuel gifts), which would seem to be more sustainable, except that they reinforce each other (gift recipients are more likely to support pogroms against “enemies of the people” whose property and freedom are being stolen). We’ve seen these patterns in religious fighting, nationalist fighting, and now we’re seeing it in many populist-authoritarian states (Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela) and leaders (Trump, AMLO, Orban, Salvini, et al.). It’s a bad time for property rights — and human rights.

My one-handed conclusion is that an interest group’s ideology can be good or bad for the rest of us.

Interesting stuff

  1. This podcast on American supermarkets has an interesting (sad) discussion of how government farm programs have distorted what’s grown, what Americans eat, and their health problems.
  2. Around 95 percent of crypto currency trades are fake, which reveals that some “shitcoins” are really shit frauds and that markets are actually working more efficiently than incorrect data show. (Read the full analysis .)
  3. George Orwell’s 1984 is ever more relevant: “The crucial issue was not that Trump might abolish democracy but that Americans had put him in a position to try. Unfreedom today is voluntary. It comes from the bottom up.”
  4. Go to Coney Island to see humanity in all its glorious variations
  5. Scammers are buying old sites with inbound links from reliable sites (think NY Times to b/c they can fill the old sites with spam.
  6. The eighteenth-century “reclamation” of Paris was brutal
  7. Norwegian territory of Svalbard allows anyone to live there, theoretically.
  8. A great podcast on reading books and learning
  9. Insights into Pakistan’s Imran Khan and Turkey’s pivot to its past
  10. The ethics and aesthetics of garbage


Enjoy the colors you earn.

Today is my fiftieth birthday, so this post is about the big Five-O (age-appropriate 1970s theme song), i.e., some unsolicited advise and opinions from someone who’s made it this far.

  1. Age gets better to the extent that you internalize your experiences as wisdom. Failure to learn from your mistakes means that aging is only about approaching death, so learning can offset that decay by helping you make better decisions and accept reality with more patience. 
  2. Life begins when you leave school and your parental home to make your own decisions (good and bad). For some people, life began at 10 years old while others are still living with their parents at 30. In either case, those decisions can be scary but also liberating. 
  3. In my life, I’ve found a lot more fulfillment in working for a mission instead of a wage (i.e., teaching rather than financial services). If you’re waiting to enjoy your life @ retirement, then you’re waiting too long.
  4. Kids change everything. Don’t have kids until you reconsider the next 20+ years of your life. Also make sure you have a partner for raising kids, as it’s a lot of work. I’m glad I haven’t had kids, as it’s allowed me to do many other things as well as reduced my financial anxiety.
  5. It’s really important to sleep well. After that, exercise and good nutrition can mean the difference between “old 50” and “young 50”.
  6. There’s no one path to success, and success is what you decide, not what your parents, peers or influencers decide.
  7. Retirement (living without needing to work for money) is a luxury attainable to anyone who can save while working and spend modestly while living. I plan to retire from my job in the medium term, if only to work on my hobbies and create more “public goods” to give away.
  8. My only real worry is climate change chaos, as it’s going to upend nearly everything we take for granted (weather, food supplies, national sovereignty). A large part of my retirement “plan” is to avoid the worst of these impacts. I don’t know if it will (suddenly or slowly) shorten my life, but I do know that there will be problems — especially when “the masses” realize how much we’re losing.
  9. When you’re fifty, you don’t need to worry about following norms, like making 10-point lists.

My one-handed conclusion is that I am happy to be fifty, glad that I have learned something in my first half-century, and interested in making the most of my remaining time alive.

My present to you: I’m going to have a series of discussions with other fifty-somethings, to get their perspectives, wisdom and bad jokes. The first FiveO-themed episode of Jive Talking, with my cousin Dave, went up today. Listen in 😉


Two new papers on water scarcity

After several months of delay, I now have first drafts of two papers for you to read and — hopefully — help me improve!

Using prices to manage water scarcity

Abstract: Water scarcity reflects an excess of demand over supply and risks turning into shortage if that supply should fall below daily minimum needs for drinking, washing, irrigation and so on. This paper explores the factors affecting the supply and demand for water as an economic good and explains how to price retail water for municipal and industrial users or market water among irrigators. The key to successfully managing water scarcity is a price that constrains aggregate demand while covering the costs of reliable supply. Public acceptance of water pricing depends on policies that protect the poor and environmental flows, i.e., policies that set aside “social water” before allocating water among economic uses.

Keywords: water scarcity, price incentives, elasticity, climate change

JEL Classification: Q25, Q54, Q56, Q57

Living in a post-water world

Abstract: Multiple factors are increasing fresh water scarcity, and few societies are prepared to cope. Although some assume that solutions will come from technology, profit motives or better planning, I argue that outdated and mismatched institutions are making scarcity worse and blocking efforts to manage water according to its economic and social uses. In this paper, I use a simple framework to explain how water’s economic and collective value should be managed, explain how mismatched incentives can destroy value, and use examples to show how current quality of life will fall as scarcity worsens in the presence of inappropriate institutions. This combination of theory and speculative examples should help readers think about how we might adapt to increasing water scarcity — or not.

Keywords: climate change, food security, virtual water, agricultural trade

JEL Classification: F51, H42, Q17, Q25

Feel free to read, forward and comment on either. These drafts are already targeted at specific journals, so the most helpful comments would be on improving their clarity and completeness 🙂

Interesting stuff

  1. Listen to this interview with the author of Surveillance Capitalism and tell me that you’re ok with advertising manipulation. I’m not.
  2. Smoking will be banned in all Dutch railway stations in 2 years. Yea for public health!
  3. We need a new science of progress
  4. Trump’s administration is really serious about ignorance
  5. Transhumans worry me like end-of-times Christians do. Both types seem to think it’s ok to ignore the earth because they plan to merge with transistors (God). I hope they’ve got a solar-powered battery to keep alive!
  6. Humans vs wild boars in cities? The pigs may win.
  7. A great overview of the problems with recycling
  8. The beginning of the end of beef 
  9. How digital advertising works (it’s following you everywhere)
  10. China’s “Communist” Party expands its control over business

Sleepwalking into the Matrix

I saw that movie in 1999. It was fantastical. I knew it was SciFi, but I couldn’t deny that it could have been a self-aware picture of our reality: living in the Matrix.

Putting that remote possibility aside, I think we might be walking into a version of the matrix, one that we create as our personal decisions clash and mingle in our social interactions.

Here’s what I’m thinking…

Skies on fire are coming: Atmospheric warming (the result of retaining green-house gases and the driver of climate change) means more energy in the skies, and thus more energy to dissipate via lightning and stronger storms. Will the future bring skies on fire? “We don’t know who struck first, us or them, but we know that it was us that scorched the sky.” — Morpheus, in The Matrix. There’s a very interesting discussion of whether The Matrix, which takes place in the future, is actually a prediction based on our current polluting habits, which are burning the skies and thus making outdoor life  uncomfortable, via heat, storms, angry people.
The point: We are burning up the earth, so perhaps we will retreat into a Matrix

Machine control: The 1 Percent (more properly, the 0.1%) have ridiculous wealth, and thus power (via corrupt institutions), meaning that a lot of us lack control we think we have. I’m sure some people are living 100% free, and I feel about 80% free, but I think that many  people — people in debt, with poor health, and/or insecure from any of a dozen fears — these people are somewhat controlled by the 0.1 Percent. How many people or countries does this apply to? I’d answer in the negative by saying where it does NOT apply: In maybe a dozen countries with 500 million citizens, where politicians work for citizens rather than the rich. For the other 6.7 billion people in the world (including Americans), control is lacking.* This reality, I think, underlies some of the attraction of video games and social media. Those “apps” allow people to “succeed,” via (own paced) effort and (algorithmically-stimulated) skill.**
The point: Lost control is more acceptable when you have some other means of feeling in control, and the virtual worlds deliver that feeling.

It’s sustainable: As more citizens escape into AI landscapes, there is less pressure on resources, which is good for the planet’s recovery as well as making it easier to maintain the Matrix. It also makes life better for the 0.001% who are paying for all this, via universal basic income [for people plugged into the Matrix]. Turning from fiscal to ecological sustainability, we know that water, food and shelter will be very basic due to exhausted waters, soils and air. Habitats will supply recycled wastewater and lab-grown food in a personal space of 4m2 (40 freedom units2). Small habitats reduce costs and footprints. Since nobody will need to commute, vacation or move (why bother when you live online?), many transportation resources will also be saved. Note that people will not necessarily physically plugged in (like in The Matrix) but mentally so.

This family is already plugged in…

My one-handed conclusion is that a large percentage of the world’s citizens are mentally checked out or preoccupied by fear and need to survive. These people will be happier checking into the Matrix of fantasy internet lives. On the “supply side”, the increasing need to live in climate controlled spaces, eat and drink manufactured and purified food, and lack of options due to inequality makes moving into the Matrix more attractive. I see a lot of zombies walking around these days, lost in their fantasies. Will they opt in — or have they already?

* George Orwell’s 1984 is ever more relevant: “The crucial issue was not that Trump might abolish democracy but that Americans had put him in a position to try. Unfreedom today is voluntary. It comes from the bottom up.”
** Note that those apps also take more of our time, leaving us with less time “out of the bubble,” which is a crucial input to working with the complexities of people — and thus why it’s not always the point to get your way.

Addendum (13 Jun 2023): Apple’s “Vision Pro” brings us another step forward.

Interesting stuff

  1. Online dating is a blessing and curse: “This is the age of DIY-everything, in which individuals are charged with the full-service construction of their careers, lives, faiths, and public identities.”
  2. Social media is changing the way we write… “because self-image”
  3. Climate chaos gives us a new season: The Bad Season.
  4. The correct lesson to learn from surprises is that the world is surprising
  5. Working at Amazon ain’t that bad… according to 650,000 people
  6. We forget memories for good reasons
  7. Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification” (as I’ve said for years)
  8. Peter Thiel understands where market opportunities lie
  9. A former Wall Street banker learns “dignity” from America’s poor
  10. Economics can be useful for everyday decisions!

H/T to FB