Wednesday, August 27, 2008

short(ish) takes on Bikes and Obamanomics

It seems like the bicycling issue has died down. I noticed Ruth Ann Dailey, everyone’s favorite conservative columnist (apart from Jack Kelly), had a relatively pro bicycling piece on Monday, because her current husband is a bicyclist. To say my last words on the subject, if you asked a random selection of drivers what they think about other drivers and cars on the road, what do you think you would hear? Complaints about traffic, the condition of the roads, maybe about how rude other drivers are. One in a hundred might complain about how fast people drive on the Parkway or 28, but no more. But clearly if you ask drivers about bicycles, practically everyone will say first that bicyclists break the law every day, and then that bicyclists get in the way of traffic and cause problems where ever they go. The exceptions to that rule are if you ask a driver who is also a bicyclist.

Our Mayor wants the city to gain a “bicycle-friendly” designation by some date (two years, four years?). The new bike czar is going to have his work cut out for him, maybe having the “furries” (the people who dress in animal costumes who keep holding their conventions here) ride on bikes to make it seem cuter. Or give drivers a more fun target (how many points for hitting a guy dressed up like a giant rat on a bike).

The New York Times had an interesting article on Obama’s view of economics in the Sunday magazine this week. Well, interesting to me as I had never seen his views laid out like that. As a bonus, it also included a pdf of a report from the Tax Policy Center (buried on page five) that compares the tax and income implications of Obama’s and McCain’s proposed tax cuts. That 53 page pdf made really fascinating reading (well, skimming). Apparently McCain’s proposals, while benefiting the middle class slightly and the poor even more slightly, will be a huge windfall for the rich, further dropping their tax rates and netting them tens of thousands of dollars (or in some cases perhaps hundreds of thousands). Obama’s proposals, by contrast, help the poor and middle class significantly, but roll the gains of the top twenty percent back to 2000, and a bit more. Both proposals take the economy into deficit, but with Obama the deficits are lower.

The article itself details how Obama has been influenced by hanging around the University of Chicago. It is a conservative place, but in innovative ways; the economics department has been fairly influenced the newer theories of behavioral economics. For Obama, it has influenced his thinking. Now, he recognizes clearly that the free market has built in problems, things it ignores when left to itself. Pollution is the classic example, but health care in the US now is also a candidate. Traditionally, with pollution for example, the free market does not control for it because no one owns the air (or rivers, etc), so polluters are free to pollute as much as they want. Where Obama differs from old school democrats is that instead of criminalizing pollution, or regulating it with one technology (say scrubbers on smokestacks), Obama wants to use market techniques to most efficiently control pollution. So you have the carbon auction, you set up a market where companies buy, sell or trade pollution credits. You reduce pollution to the level you want, and if you sell credits you give them back to the consumer in tax reductions to offset the higher prices caused by pollution controls. This is a way of thinking very close to my heart. Definitely another reason it is so important to elect Obama over McCain.

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