Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Brooks Paradox

Recently, New York Times pundit-turned-philosopher David Brooks opined that "Every truth becomes false when you take it to its extreme." Let's take that statement as true. Now, take it to its "extreme." At that point, Brooks' truth that every truth becomes false when you take it to its extreme becomes false.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

SELE 2018

We're in Chicago for the 10th annual meeting of the Society for Environmental Law & Economics (SELE) - my favorite group of scholars. We'll be missing some familiar faces this year, but we'll have presentations from some who have never attended our meeting before. The program for the conference looks great, as you can see below. In fact, I had been planning to make my own presentation this year, but withdrew to make room for another junior scholar to present.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

One (of Many) Pet Peeves

I believe some (okay, many) copy-editors get some kind of sick thrill out of enraging authors by using as much red ink as possible. Can they not understand that there are diminishing returns to marginal improvements in papers that already are of sufficient quality to have received publication offers? If a doctor's first rule is to "do no harm," then a copy-editor's first rule should be, "don't fix what's not broken." Most authors spend inordinate amounts of time editing and polishing their work, taking account of comments from reviewers (who mostly wish the author had written a different paper - one that they would have written if they could), and sending the paper to yet another journal after yet another rejection letter. Then, after the paper is finally accepted for publication, and the author breathes a sign of relief, the copy-editor dumps red ink all over the paper.

I have in mind, of course, a very present experience, only one detail of which matters. I am not the sole author. Therefore, I cannot summarily do what I have become accustomed to do in recent years with solo-authored works: pull them from publication after acceptance because of a domineering editor or overly meddlesome copy-editor. I have not done this often - no more than two times in the past five years or so. Some of you no doubt will be wondering: "Isn't that more costly for you than for the journal or its copy-editor." My answer is: "No, not really." For one thing, I ultimately find a decent home for all of my articles. And it doesn't really matter whether it takes an extra year or two because I publish enough each year to more than justify my summer research stipends.

I should hasten to add that I love good copy-editors, and I've probably had two good ones for every bad one. Regular readers of my posts will have noticed that I am not the world's best (or most careful) writer. Good copy-editing has often turned a decent paper of mine into a quite good one (if I do say so myself). But these good copy-editors invariably understand the rule: don't fix what isn't broken. They simply try to help the author say what they think the author is trying to say, but not as well as he or she might say it for the benefit of the reader. A good copy-editor is priceless. A bad one is worse than worthless.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Two Good Books

I recently finished reading Jon Meacham's The Soul of America: A Battle for our Better Angels (Random House 2018) and Jeremy Waldron's One Another's Equals: The Basis of Human Equality (Belknap-Harvard 2017). These are two very different books, aimed at very different audiences.

A year and a half ago, I suspect Jon Meacham had no intentions of writing The Soul of America. This book owes its existence and its purpose to the surprise presidency of Donald J. Trump. That it was somewhat hastily written is evident, but Meacham writes so well that it remains eminently readable. That is a good thing because this book is intended for the widest possible audience, including both supporters and detractors of Donald J. Trump, though more for the later group. Meacham wants to calm their present fearfulness by nothing several other occasions in US history, where the shadows cast were even darker and more foreboding, but ultimately progressivism triumphed. The histories Meacham recounts should be part and parcel of every American's education. Sadly, they are not. This is not just a book for Donald Trump's time, but a reminder of the political challenges Americans have faced since the founding of the Republic. It should be read by everyone - though I know at least one celebrity/politician who will not read it.

Jeremy Waldron's book is not written for everyone. It would be nice if we were all interested in basic questions of moral philosophy. Alas, we are not. But for those who are concerned with moral philosophy, generally, and the grounding of arguments for equality, in particular, it is a very important contribution. Not only does it point out both the value of, and problems with, existing arguments for basic equality but it sets the parameters (range and scope properties) of what a successful theory of basic human equality would require. Waldron does not claim to discovered (yet) such a successful theory, but his book is intended to point us in a better direction. Personally, I'm not sure (in fact, neither is Waldron) that we will discover a complete, consistent, and satisfactory grounding for basic equality, in part because of the very complexities of human nature and societies that Waldron notes in the book. In my view, morality is not a brute fact about nature, which humans can discover. Rather, it is a social construct - a valiant effort by humans to impose notions of fairness and equality on a planet in a universe in which neither naturally exists. As such, any effort to discover a complete, overarching theory of equality is bound to fail. Which doesn't mean we should simply give up on the project. Instead, we should focus, as Amartya Sen argues in his profound 2009 book, Idea of Justice, on solving discrete problems of inequality as we confront them, with the foreknowledge that we will never run out of problems to solve. As Karl Popper said, "all of life is problem solving."

Image result for meacham soul of americaImage result for waldron one another's equals

Sunday, June 3, 2018

One Down, Many to Go

The first task of summer is done. I've prepared 3 three-hour lectures for a training program in Beijing during the first week of July. The first is on interactions between property systems and environmental systems, and the diversity of property systems for environmental protection. The second is on the history of land-use and urban environmental controls, from the Indus Valley, ca. 2600 BCE to the present. The third is on advantages and disadvantages of various instruments for environmental management, including design standards, performance standards, zoning, subsidies, cap-and-trade, and taxes.

Next up, drafting sections for an article, with SPEA Dean John Graham, on the Trump Administration's roll-back of motor-vehicle emission standards under the 1970 Clean Air Act (1970), federal preemption of state standards, the CAA's California waiver, and whether that waiver is limited by the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act. This project holds two attractions for me: (1) it gets me back into the mire of domestic air pollution control, a subject I haven't taught for nearly 10 years, but one I am scheduled to begin teaching again next Spring; and (2) John and I don't exactly see eye-to-eye on many of the relevant policy issues (that's an understatement), so this project will test my priors, and John's as well. And if we actually come to some kind of agreement on the policy and the law, it will be both a minor miracle and a significant contribution to the literature.

I dearly hope (but do not expect) to have time later this summer to work on a chapter or two for a long-planned book project (with Mike McGinnis and Eduardo Brondizio) on institutional analysis of social-ecological systems.