Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener

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Economists being useful

Go James Stock!

CONGRESS long ago established a basic principle governing the extraction of coal from public lands by private companies: American taxpayers should be paid fair value for it. They own the coal, after all. Lawmakers set a royalty payment of 12.5 percent of the sale price of the coal in 1976. Forty years later, those payments remain stuck there, with actual collections often much less. Studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s inspector general and nonprofit research groups have all concluded that taxpayers are being shortchanged.This is no small matter.  In 2013, approximately 4o percent of all domestic coal came from federal lands. A recent study by the independent nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics estimates that various reforms to the royalty valuation system would have generated $900 million to $5.6 billion more overall between 2008 and 2012. This failure by the government to collect fair value for taxpayer coal is made more troubling by the climate-change implications of burning this fossil fuel. Taxpayers are already incurring major costs in responding to the effects of global warming. Coastal infrastructure is being battered by sea rise and storm surges; forests are being devastated by climate-aided pest infestations; and studies are suggesting that temperature rises have increased the likelihood of devastating droughts in California.

via The Real Cost of Coal – NYTimes.com.

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Why can’t I have an opinion about corporate taxes like anyone else?

A colleague here at SCU shared with me this:

“Corporate taxes account for about 10 percent of the total tax take, at $273.5 billion in 2013. Lawrence Kotlikoff, an economist at Boston University, calculates that eliminating the corporate tax, while raising income or consumption taxes to compensate, would produce a dramatic growth spurt in the U.S. It would increase investment, permanently raise wages by 12 to 13 percent and boost gross domestic product by 8 to 10 percent. Eventually, the growth alone would be enough to make up for the lost tax revenue. “Most economists agree this is really hurting workers rather than owners of capital,” says Kotlikoff.”

See whole article here.

I responded with the following thoughts.  I’d be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about this kind of modeling; not something I have ever done.  But I know enough to know that there is more to this kind of modeling than solving the model itself.  Corporate profits have hit all all-time high (nominal and real) in the United States.  Why would one think that this corporate after tax profits were even higher because of an elimination of taxes that somehow that would unleash some kind of growth spurt?  Another point: this is pure macroeconomics hubris, isn’t it? Macro speculation like this is unknowable even to our most basic knowability standard… does Kotlikoff have anything close to an externally valid natural or random experiment (of large wealthy economy in a growth funk that did something like this)? Education economists don’t even know whether class size reduction from 27 to 24 is a net good thing, how could we possibly *know* enough to speak so confidently about an issue like this? I love the rhetoric of “12 to 13 percent” as if the gap were an issue of technical assumptions and the gross were unassailable… neat. I guess my objection is to “would”… reporter should have written “could” or “might”….  A final point: Some people (libertarians I would think) should object to a policy designed to enable the “large corporate” sector to get even bigger. No need to make self-employment and single proprietor businesses even less attractive….

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China Miéville’s The City and the City

I was skeptical before starting China Miéville’s The City and the City.  I had read and enjoyed Embassytown, but he did go on and on towards the end and I found myself skimming a lot.  The City and the City was far more gripping, until the final quarter when it descended into conventional detection (really almost Agatha Christie) genre resolution.  “The old man did it, Scooby!”  I guess, what else can you do?  But until then, an amazing concept of the city and the city unseeing to each other.  You could discuss for hours (well maybe 30 minutes?).  My loss, I stingily read books from the library, years after everyone else has read them, and they no longer remember nor do they care.  The mood of this novel will linger.

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Science fiction round-up: The Year’s Best Science Fiction 1997

I checked this collection by Gardner Dozois out from the library (yes I still do that).  Science fiction generally holds its own: 20 years later most of the stories in the collection read like they could have been written now.  Here are my highlights (and I did not read all of the stories in the collection, and others fell into the “Ugh, what an awful story.” category.).

  • Tony Daniel, A Dry, Quiet War.  This was an exceptional story, I thought.  A line I will remember for a long time: ‘”Don’t you worry, skyfaller,” he said, “I know exactly where I stand now.”‘  A bit heavy-handed on the long time frame angle (billions of years) and the reluctant duty of the soldier.  But I fell for it.  I loved this line too: “In that moment, I spread out, stretched a bit in ways that Bex could not see, but that Marek could…”  I like how he used spread and stretched to try to convey the sense of the ability to “read/see” into multiple dimensions.
  • Maureen McHugh, The Cost to Be Wise.  Blogged about this when I read it, I really enjoyed the anthropological-style immersion.
  • Gregory Feeley, The Weighing of Ayre. A very nice historical sci-fi story, wonderful evocation of Holland in the 17th century and the discovery and uses of the microscope.
  • Michael Cassutt, The Longer Voyage. Very reminiscent of the sci-fi I read as a youth, about taking that voyage.  I guess it is the opposite of Joyce’s Eveline?
  • Nancy Kress, Flowers of Aulit Prison.  I really liked the story, even though there were seeming oddities in internal consistency.  I looked her up, but maybe it was a tawdry covers of her novels, or the plodding plot summaries of Wikipedia, but they did not seem as interesting.  I’ll try something else of hers, just in case.
  • Gregory Benford, Immersion.  A decent read, but the whole psycho-history trope, endlessly looped back to, was a bit risible to a social scientist like me. And pretty stale for sci-fi I would think.
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Listening to Sebastian Barry read James Joyce’s story Eveline

I was out for a long run yesterday on San Jose’s wonderful Guadalupe Park… well maybe not so wonderful but a nice place to run very convenient to our house. Half of the run is alongside the airport, and you do wonder what you are inhaling. Anyway while running I listened to Sebastian Barry read James Joyce’s story Eveline, produced by The Guardian’s short fiction podcast.  Barry tended to “shout” the story out, so I was not so impressed.  Or maybe it was Joyce’s story itself, which seemed very humdrum.  Perhaps at the time it was very innovative in form, but it is hard to see that now.  Certainly the chains of family and place continue to bind.  But relentless storytelling on television and movies and 100 years, since Dubliners, of stories make Eveline read like a soap opera cliché rather than the profound insight that it may have been in 1914.

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Bastards (Les Salauds) by Claire Denis: a film to avoid

I’ve always thought Chocolat by Claire Denis to be a wonderfully complex film (even if the Norwegian pastor is cringe-worthy).  Since then it has been all downhill for her unfortunately (Except for Beau Travail which is, well, at least interesting), and I almost never can finish one of her films.  A kind of arrogance of the critic/réalisateur I suppose that she refuses to learn or listen.  Leslie and I tried to watch Les Salauds the other day (streaming on Netflix) and after about 40 minutes we had no trouble turning it off and since then I have no trouble not returning to it, and reading the Wikipedia summary I am very glad I did not waste another hour watching it.

I agree that this is a long way from Claire Denis’s best, and like you I think she’s one of the greats. It’s almost as if Denis decided to make a kind of anti- 35 rhums, rejecting all the warmth of that film and going flat out to portray the most awful set of family relationships conceivable (based in part on Faulkner’s Sanctuary, it seems). The result, unfortunately, is a film almost any director could have made by piling on the menace and horror right up to the end.

comment from the comments section of Bastards (Les Salauds) – review | Peter Bradshaw | Film | The Guardian.

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