Infrastructure: Here’s what Robert Moses would do today

by Sandy Ikeda

Mid-Manhattan Expressway
(Map by “vanshnookenraggen.”)

With your indulgence, I’ll get to my main point, and this map, in a moment.

But first, as we all know, the House has just passed a special ex post tax on bonuses awarded to individuals working for companies that received bail-out money. (One egregious violation of the rule of law deserves another then?) Over at Marginal Revolution they’re blogging about one really bad consequence of this hasty piece of policy-making: It seems that any family earning more than $250K with a member connected to a bailed-out institution will be marginally taxed at 90%. If it passes, I’m sure this in turn will give rise to further interventions as Congress tries to deal with THAT snafu (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn it).

The AIG fiasco is just one, economically insignificant but politically sensitive, instance of the countless unintended consequences that we should expect in the coming months and years issuing from the various bailouts and stimuli. Continue reading

Infrastructure: How the seen crowds out the unseen

by Sandy Ikeda

So far I’ve come across no discussion of the consequences that the massive infrastructure spending touted in Stimulus Package I (there will of course be others) will have on what Nathan Glazer called “the fine structure of society” in the local communities it will impact.

A new freeway, for example, might make it possible to get from point A to point B faster, but it can also reduce the local economies of A and B, as well as those in between, to barren border vacuums. Note that this is apart from whether they will be built in a timely manner or if the measured economic benefits they generate somehow cover their construction costs.

Because nearly all of the debate has taken place within a macroeconomic framework, most public intellectuals seem to have neglected how such a massive and rapid increase in physical-infrastructure might undermine this fine structure. Some have mentioned the “bridge to nowhere” syndrome or questioned whether the stimulus spending will actually stimulate quickly enough. And a few, like my colleague Mario Rizzo, have brought up the important resource-allocation effects. But I’m talking about something different here. Continue reading

New York may be among the least lonely places on earth

by Sandy Ikeda

Or so reports an article in the December 1st, 2008 New York Magazine (with the headline, “The Loneliness Myth”) called “Alone together” that my wife, Jenny (aka JW in previous hat-tips), just showed me.  In Manhattan, half of all apartments have only one occupant, 57% of whom are female.  In Brooklyn (29.5%) and Queens (26.1%) the percentages are considerably lower.

Yet the picture of cities—and New York in particular—that has been emerging from the work of social scientists is that the people living in them are actually less lonely. Rather than driving people apart, large population centers pull them together, and as a rule tend to possess greater community virtues than smaller ones. This, even though cities are consistently, overwhelmingly, places where people are more likely to live on their own. Continue reading

Coffeehouse Culture: The coffeehouse as office

by Sandy Ikeda

My earlier post on “Coffeehouse Culture: New York v. Elsewhere” focused more or less on how groups interact in coffeehouses. But it’s no secret that people don’t always go to a coffeehouse for conversation or even for the coffee. In my favorite neighborhood hangout, for example, the coffee quality ranges from okay to burnt tire rubber. For people like me, the coffeehouses is a kind of “office.”

Coffeehouses are filled with solitary figures who quietly read, write, or, more and more these days, stare into computer screens (although as mentioned in my previous post, some places ban computers, including two of my favorite NY coffeehouses – thank goodness!). The question is: Assuming they really are working and that they have the space to do it at home, why do they choose to work in a public place? Continue reading

A (Social) Capital Idea!

by Sandy Ikeda

Over at The Austrian Economists Dave Prychitko writes:

I still have trouble with the concept of Social Capital. I know what it means. Peter Berger encouraged us to read and discuss Granovetter fifteen years ago, and we did. Enjoyed it, and thought it was a great breakthrough in understanding networks, tacit knowledge, expectations, coordination. But I don’t see why we Austrians should call it social “capital.” If those outside the school want to do so, fine. But should Austrians? I seem to be the only one who criticizes the social capital concept. Why do I hesitate? See, for example, Kirzner’s (or Lachmann’s) book. I know what they mean by the word capital. I know how it fits into higher-order goods, and so on. I’d like to see how “social capital” is “capital” in the Austrian sense of the term. Not by analogy, but by direct theory. How does it fit into our higher-order goods concept? How does it directly relate to interest and time preference? And so on.

I won’t try to address all of Dave’s concerns here, only the part about the appropriateness of the term and the Lachmann connection. Continue reading