Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Submitted my Main Hub Paper

I finally submitted the main report on my Environmental Economics Research Hub project to a journal. It took a while because I wanted to approach the paper fresh in order to hack out around 5,000 words to get it down below 10,000 words. And I've been busy working on completing a bunch of other projects, as you may have noticed. I blogged about the paper when I finished the working paper back in March. Current working title is "Modeling International Trends in Energy Efficiency".

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seminar at Lund

If you are going to be in southern Sweden or eastern Denmark, you may be interested that I will be giving a seminar on 15th September at the Department of Economic History at Lund University. Topic: "The Role of Energy in Long-Run Economic Growth". I don't know the time or exact location yet but I'm sure the department can help out on that. For those of you in Canberra I will be speaking on the same topic on 9th November here.


My seminar is now on Wednesday 8th September at 2pm.

Friday, August 13, 2010

ANU Speed Test

Yesterday, I blogged about internet speeds within Australia and between Australia and the US from our home in Canberra. Today, as promised I'm presenting the results of the same test conducted from my office at ANU:

Within Australia, ANU has access to NBN-like speeds (at least before the new 1GBs announcement). Between, Australia and the US the speed is much lower, though much faster than what we have at home. Based on this, we don't really need the NBN but we do need better international links as Gans pointed out. Now I don't know how ANU is connected domestically or internationally and whether other institutions and businesses that need speed can get it. So maybe an argument for the NBN can be made. But not based on the data I presented here anyway unless we think individuals need the kind of speed that ANU has access to and that some market failure is preventing them from getting it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Internet Connectivity

Joshua Gans has been discussing internet speeds between different parts of the world and running some tests. So I ran my own tests from home and speeds are pretty low just between my home and a server in Canberra:

Our ISP sucks apparently, but most of the time I find our internet service to be adequate. Except when it isn't. Here's the test to San Jose, CA:

Only a bit slower... What I should do next is test these from the ANU campus...

Ecological Economics Reviews

A while back I did a series of posts that serialized a paper I was revising on energy and growth, starting with this post. The paper has now been accepted for publication in the 2011 issue of Ecological Economics Reviews, which is a special annual issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences edited by Bob Costanza and Karin Limburg (Rated B by the ARC BTW). I just now have to switch my references from the Harvard system to the convoluted method used by Nature, PNAS, PLOS, and ANYAS.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

George Fane Seminar @ Arndt-Corden Division of Economics

I went to George Fane's seminar yesterday on "The Taxation of Rents from Mineral Resources". It was well-attended by both people from ANU and the public service. The seminar might have provided the answer to my confusion about why the Henry Review and most economists discussing it argue that royalties are inefficient, while my intuition tells me that they're not so bad.

One of the cases that Fane looks at is where mining companies engage in "work program bidding" with the government. Companies promise to carry out exploration and development of the mining lease they are allocated. The company that promises the most gets the lease. It seems that this is the way that mining leases are mostly allocated in Australia. Under this arrangement, assuming that all companies have the same cost structure, competition between companies would result in bids to spend so much on development so that the average cost of production (including a normal return on capital) is equal to the price of the mineral. If a company doesn't bid that much then another company has an incentive to bid more. As a result there are no "rents" from mining. This resource regime is similar to an open-access resource.

Introduction of a royalty will discourage this overbidding. In theory the royalty can be chosen so that the marginal cost of production is equal to the price of the mineral in the market. This level of production is the efficient level. The royalty collected by the government is then equal to the difference between the price of the mineral and the average cost of production. The government receives all the "rent" from production of the resource.

In this case, removal of royalties and introduction of a Brown tax results in over-exploitation of the resource and "dissipation of rents". Royalties are efficient and "rent taxes" are inefficient. (From here on, is my interpretation of what this means, not what George Fane said:) The model underlying the Henry Review analysis must be one where private landowners are developing the mineral resources on their own land. Obviously, they won't waste resources in doing so. Introduction of a royalty tax by the government is then distorting and inefficient. The Brown tax, where the government demands a share in the enterprise would be efficient assuming that the goverment really shares in all costs (including the CEO's time etc.) and there is no uncertainty.

(Back to what Fane said in the seminar:). Fane also discussed the case of auctioning mining leases. With no uncertainty a rent tax simply decreases the amount paid for mining leases by the amount of the rent tax. Introducing a rent tax results in the government taking on more risk. Rather than getting higher auction proceeds they take a bet on getting higher revenues from a rent tax but they also take on the risk that mineral prices are lower or the lease property is not as productive as expected and they have to pay out money to the mining company.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Peter May's Review of "Prosperity without Growth"

I don't remember seeing this before, except in the form of a special review section - Two reviews of the same book in the same journal. You've seen my version. Now here is Peter May's version.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Change of Date for Seminar

Change of date for my forthcoming seminar. It will now be on 9th November. All the other details remain the same.

Friday, August 6, 2010

EERH Research Reports: July 2010

EERH Research Reports continued to enjoy an uptrend in downloads last month. Peter Wood's paper Climate Change and Game Theory was the most downloaded. Globally, RePEc crossed the 25,000 barrier in terms of the number of members with registered publications. I highly recommend all economists who aren't registered yet to register and make themselves more visible to the economics research community.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

University Websites

There is a lot of discussion going on about this cartoon. I find that university websites vary a lot in usability. Usually I am looking for either a page about a specific faculty member and what they research and teach and a list of their publications and maybe a CV. Other times I want an overview of a department or research centre. But a lot of websites are only geared to either selling the university to prospective undergrads - and according to this doing a poor job of that and/or providing a bunch of HR information to faculty and staff. The better sites allow navigation both via a "user menu" - future students, current students, faculty etc.- and via an "organizational structure menu" - according to academic and non-academic departments, centres etc. Sometimes I have to resort to Google because even the search function on the university's website doesn't get me what I want.

ANU's website is one of the best sites in my opinion. In the middle of the page is the user menu. At bottom left there is an organizational structure menu and at the top are a bunch of index and search tools. On the other hand it's not that pretty. But this article says function is better than aesthetics.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Joseph Stiglitz Speaks at ANU

I went to see the "Crawford School Oratory" today given by Joseph Stiglitz - just one of the stops on his Australian tour. As you probably know he is a Nobel Prize winning economist who was chief economist at the World Bank and since then has been critical of both the Bank and the IMF and increasingly of other financial institutions and free market oriented capitalism in general. The talk was titled "The Road to Ruin" and was about the Global Financial Crisis/North Atlantic Recession. He was a good speaker and pretty funny at many points. The audience was often laughing. In response to a question about "too big to fail banks", Stiglitz said they should be broken up (something I have suggested but doesn't seem to be favored among economists). In response to a question on climate change, he noted that carbon is more mis-priced than risk was leading up to the GFC and called for a price on carbon saying that he favored carbon taxes and a reduction in taxes on labor and capital.

The event was described as "booked out", but actually there were plenty of empty seats in the 1442 capacity concert hall, especially in the upstairs seating. Registration was required but the event was free. If it doesn't cost anything to say you are coming and no one will notice if you don't come in such a large crowd, why not say you're coming just in case you feel like it on the day? I wonder whether there are people who missed out on seeing the talk because the event was supposedly booked out. Not a very efficient process I think.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Switching from html to pdf

Since 1995 I have had a file called sterncv.html on the web. It was created by Laura Guild at Boston University and has followed me around the world till eventually it settled on But now I have deleted it and switched to a pdf CV only. I still have all my publications listed on two webpages with links to RePEc or journal websites. The reason I made this change are:

1. Most other academics now have their CV's online as pdfs.

2. Most of the relevant links are either on my publications pages or elsewhere on my website.

3. I got tired of trying to maintain and update the html CV.

I might have done this earlier if it wasn't for a little nostalgia for my oldest webpage!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Excellent Advice for a Research Career

Shuang linked to this excellent advice on selecting research topics. I have tried to follow these rules in my career. I had no idea though that they had been written down by someone in this form. Occasionally though the need to get money and/or get published fast has over-ridden these guidelines, but as long-term criteria I think they are very good if you are really a serious/ambitious researcher.

The third rule is:

"Never tackle a problem of which you can be pretty sure that (now or in the near future) it will be tackled by others who are, in relation to that problem, at least as competent and well-equipped as you."

I would modify this. Perhaps, the "near future" is the critical point here. If you think others can tackle the problem in a much better way than you and are likely working on it right now, then leave it alone, but if they would do roughly the same thing as you but you are pretty sure that you have had the idea way before anyone else, why not go for it?