Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Last Mountain

The Last Mountain was shown at I.G. Greer as part of the 2012 Sustainability Film Series on March 20. The goal of this movie was to explain the controversy surrounding mountain top removal (MTR) coal mining in the Central Appalachia and show how problematic the practice is.  Coal River Mountain is the last untouched mountain in the Coal River Valley, which is controlled by Massey Energy.  The makers of the film argue that a wind energy site would be a much better use of this location than a MTR coal mining site.

Throughout the film problems are presented and some potential solutions are given.  Different activists are also interviewed throughout the film and describe their experiences with trying to gain awareness and fight back against the big coal companies.  One group that is discussed quite often throughout the film consists of individuals from outside of the area that have done things such as camp in the trees or on machines such as the dragline.  The film follows protestors and gives a good depiction of how great the tension is in the area between those who strongly support MTR mining and those who are very opposed to it.  During many of the large protests there would often be another group of individuals who are pro-MTR mining that want to counter their attempts.

The video also shows cases where significant damages have been incurred as a result of MTR coal mining, yet it is very difficult to make a case out of the actions because the coal companies spend so much money on keeping politicians on their side and on lobbying.  Some of the controversies surround reclamation and how it isn't sufficient, problems with the coal slurry impoundments, especially one that's directly behind an elementary school, covering streams, and flooding.  There are also economic damages in communities caused by air and water pollution and poverty caused by devaluation of homes, significant cuts in employment, and the temporary nature of the jobs.

In the panel afterwards some of the speakers emphasized the importance of people coming from elsewhere to try to help, however I've had some personal experiences that make me feel a little differently.  There is a strong cultural tie to coal mining in the Central Appalachia, as many of the people there at least have close relatives that do or have worked in the mines.  When people come up from out of state and tell the local residents that they need to stop doing something that has been going on for generations, it upsets people.  They also talked about externalities and how the price of coal does not accurately reflect the costs of the damages caused by its mining.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dr. Robert Rennie (University of Tennessee- Knoxville): Between Heaven and Hell: The Everyday Experiences of World War I Aviators

         WWI was the first modern war and set the precedent or all wars following.  It was the first war that made use of the aircraft.  This use of technology shrinks the perception of time and space and allows for shorter trip times.  When the armies involved started recruiting for aviators, these men stepped forward from a variety of backgrounds.  When the recruiters asked the men why did they choose aviation, most responded that they were drawn to the new technology and felt a sense of duty or adventure.
         Between 1914-1918 no one saw the usefulness of aircraft's.  Most were used to spot enemy locations behind lines and for reconnaissance.  The second use was in response to the reconnaissance planes flying overhead.  The enemy developed planes to shoot down reconnaissance planes.  Being a pilot in these days was not a glorious as Hollywood makes it out to be.  These planes were extremely weak and poorly built.  In training to fly to the new planes 1/2 of all pilots died in training for the Royal Flying Corps.  This is around 17,000 men that lost their lives due to poorly built planes.  There was no parachute to count on, the equipment was very unreliable, and it took a heavy emotional toll of the pilots.
        The myth of the "Ace" was developed my the aviators and solider's because it gave them hope for immortality and embodied Nationalism.  These historic figures gave a meaning to the war and offered an escape from the meaningless loss of life that was happening all around them.  Enemy pilots when shot down over lines were given full military burials by the people they were trying to bomb or kill.  The aviators perception of death was far more embraced at this time than any other soldier in the war.  This is respect that has been lost in war today.
        Most of the men that survived the war stayed on as the aerial unit for monograph transportation.  Many aviators that could not find a job flying, life seems anti-climatic.  Europe was in shambles, there homes were destroyed, families lost, brothers, colleagues, friends were dead or misplaced.  It took an emotional and economic toll on the aviators of the war and the countries involved.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Weaker jobs report is a reminder that we’re still on a rocky road

Summary: The author of this post sees the recent jobs report in March as very troubling since it is significantly lower than in previous months.  However, she also states that although January and February were higher, there is still not enough jobs to return to full employment in three years.  She blames much of the weak job growth to the warm weather in January and February.
The March 2012 employment situation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was a negative surprise and underscored the fact that a robust jobs recovery has not yet solidified.   The job growth of 120,000 was much lower than the 275,000 jobs added in January and 240,000 jobs added in February. However, much of the weak job growth in March was likely due to unseasonably warm weather in January and February (think, say, of hiring being pulled forward, i.e., people getting hired in January or February instead of March). Looking over the last three months, average job growth was 212,000, probably a better measure of underlying growth. This, however, is still a far cry from the roughly 350,000 jobs we need per month to get back to full employment in three years.
The unemployment rate ticked down by one-tenth of a percent to 8.2 percent in March, but that was largely due to people dropping out of the labor force, not an increase in the share of the working-age population with jobs. As a reminder of what a healthy unemployment rate looks like, consider that five years ago, in March 2007, the unemployment rate stood at 4.4 percent, and 12 years ago, in March 2000, the unemployment rate was 4.0 percent.
One broad concern is that the drop in the unemployment rate over the last two years has been unexpectedly large given the relatively tepid growth in gross domestic product over this period, and that further significant improvements in the unemployment rate will likely require faster GDP growth than what we’ve been seeing.  For more on this, see this recent EPI analysis.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Phelps on Keynesianism

Karl Smith says:
I am not even sure what to make of this, but in a note relating to the Keynes-Hayek debate Edmund Phelps writes--
What now do we do? With some luck, the economy will “recover” through a return of investment activity to sustainable levels once some capital stocks, like houses, have been worked down. But it will not recover to a strong level of business activity unless something happens to boost innovation. The great question is how best to get innovators humming again through the breadth of the land. Hayek himself said little on innovation. But at least he had an applicable theory of how a healthy economy works.
The Keynesians, sad to say, show no understanding of how the economy works. They think they can lever employment up or down by pushing buttons – as if the economy were hydraulic. They show no grasp of the concepts that would be necessary to restore us to prosperity and flourishing. In an old image that applies well to the posturing of today’s self-styled Keynesians, “the Emperor has
no clothes.”--
So obviously there is the general mincing of welfare and macroeconomic notions. Does anyone seriously doubt that the government can lever up down employment by pushing buttons? Suppose  that anyone found having a job was shot on sight. Show of hand for how many think this would lower employment.
Suppose I drafted all citizens between the ages of 16 and 65, do you think this would raise employment?
But, lets leave that aside since a lot of folks get confused over the difference between welfare and economic aggregates.
What is anyone to make of the statement that a
a strong level of business activity unless something happens to boost innovation.
How can that possibly be anything other than a monetary statement, which Phelps rejects as a cause for the slump. Accept for concerns over monetary policy what at all would innovation have to do with business activity?
It is clear why you could not get economic growth without innovation but the vast majority of business activity over the course of human history have been in economies that were not growing.
Indeed, the vast majority of business activity that occurs from now until the end time will almost certainly be in economies that are not growing. Sustained per capita growth is an odd thing that just started recently and will likely end in fairly short span of time.
I hate to put it this way but I cannot read this without wondering, if this is what Edmund Phelps thinks, then what do most people think?

Original reading here

Monday, April 16, 2012

Coordination & Coercion

John Wallis’s presentation was to understand how countries or such societies can enforce impersonal rules for everyone. John Wallis spoke about how impersonal rules apply to “most” all individuals, but not universal and anonymous rules are those that apply differently to different individuals.  Governments do not get their power from coercion but instead from coordination with the elites.  His definition of elites, were people who had coercion power and could impose some form of violence to other individuals.   Since government gets its coordination power through the coercion power of the elites, why would elites give up some of their own coercion power?  This was explained as that there has to be some form of benefits, better known as rents, to the elites for them to give more coordination, and possibly but not necessarily coercion, to the government.  This coordination between elites in the form of “government” can give validation to the organization, given by the elites.  It was discussed that in the face of being overthrown by the “elites” own people, the elites will turn to creating some formal entity to entice the people to see fairness achieved throughout the lands by this entity.  This so called “entity” is what can be called a government.  For government gives some validation of political and economic hope for fairness in which the elites will relinquish some coordination and possibly coercion power to the government.  The key question observed was, At what point can the government punish the elites?   Ultimately, in conclusion, the government must treat everyone the same which is what we began the discussion about, impersonal rules.  With this point made, now organizations, elites, and likewise interested parties must pay more attention to what the government is doing because of this stated “rules for everyone” type atmosphere.  John stated that this turns the government into a largely more political environment more similar to what we see today. 

At Least One Italian Export Is Soaring: Gold

Tyler Durden from the blog Zero Hedge:
When one thinks PIIGS, one usually imagines countries with collapsing economies, 50%+ youth unemployment, and current account deficits so large they are about to drag down the ECB, Bundesbank and Germany. And while that is absolutely correct for the most part, there is one product which the PIIGS, or in this case Italy, are all too happy to export in size. Gold, and not just to anywhere, but to that ultimate safe haven - Switzerland. From BBC: "Italian exports of gold ingots to Switzerland have soared in recent months, data has shown. Exports to Switzerland were 35.6% higher than in February 2011 "mainly because of sales of non-monetary raw gold", statistics agency Istat said. This followed a 34.6% year-on-year rise in exports to Switzerland in January." And the absolutely funniest attempt at spin ever:
"Experts say improvements in the trade deficit could be a sign that Prime Minister Mario Monti's economic reforms are starting to take effect."
Uhm, when the country is exporting the only real asset it has for when it will need to backstop its own currency following the inevitable collapse of the EUR, this is not exactly a sign that the country's reforms are taking effect, but rather that everyone else in Europe is stockpiling the precious metal in advance of "some" event, which is coming.

In the meantime, and closely related, as we posted two months ago, another soaring Italian export... are bank deposits.