Where are the female economist bloggers?

Lynne Kiesling

I am intrigued by the conversation in which John Whitehead is participating that takes on the question in the title to this post (and I’m very grateful for his saying that I’m one of his favorite bloggers, thank you!!!). Background: Matthew Kahn looks at REPEC data to see that in economists ranked in the top 5%, none of the women blog, but 7% of the men do. Interesting, but I’m not sure why he thinks that “excellence” in publishing academic research papers will correlate to being a good, effective public communicator of economic ideas, logic, and analyses (although I should give a shout out here to my thoughtful and eclectic colleague Jeff Ely, who is certainly one of those “excellent” economists and blogs intriguingly at Cheep Talk).

Diane Lim Rogers (EconomistMom) takes issue with his use of REPEC ranking as denoting “excellence” as a professional economist, and her entire post is well worth reading and considering. In particular,

I think we female economists have our own empirical (not just theoretical) reasons why those of us who blog aren’t the same people as those of us who are at the top of the REPEC list.  In my case, it’s also closely related to why those of us (even non-excellent female economists) who blog don’t typically blog at the same frequency as the (even most excellent) male economists who blog.  It’s called we have and care about other things and people in our lives, not just our own individual, introspective views about how the supposed world around us supposedly works (in our own opinion)!  And that’s even things and people other than what Matthew counts so endearingly as the “home production” sort of things–you know, “cooking and rearing children.”

I think there’s something to that. I don’t have children, and in the KP household “home production” is split pretty evenly. But the KP Spouse and I are passionate about our hobbies, and I find that a lot of my mental (and physical!) bandwidth goes to cycling, triathlon training, knitting, drumming … and yes, cooking, so perhaps there’s some home production argument there, but it’s hobby cooking rather than spending time getting a healthy meal together for a family with kids.

So perhaps it’s not just the division of labor in the household, but perhaps there’s a gender difference in terms of breadth and variety of interests, and interest in focusing intently on one thing or very few things. I spend a lot of time and energy on things that I don’t think would be interesting to KP readers; in fact, back in 2005 I distinctly remember posting a few times about cycling, running, triathlon race results, and I got an email from a reader basically saying that I should stick to economics because he wasn’t interested in reading about my sports. Fair enough. But with RSS readers, it’s easy to skip those. Still, I’ve really backed off writing here about the non-economics topics that captivate me.

Which brings up another hypothesis tangentially related to the one that Diane offered: perhaps women are more “self-censoring” than men. After receiving that feedback, I really dialed in my self-censoring, asking myself every time I read something or thought about posting something “do I have something original to add to the conversation, to economic knowledge, on this item?” Frankly, a lot of the time over the past couple of years my answer to that question has been NO, not that I’m judging myself as a non-“excellent” economist because of that. So much of the online conversation over the past couple of years has dealt with macro, finance, monetary policy, all of which are topics in which I profess no special expertise. Does that filtering and self-censoring kick in more readily for women than men? Perhaps. In my case it’s because my time is so scarce and has such a high opportunity cost — if I’m just going to write something in which I blather on a topic about which I have little expertise, I’d rather spend that time on my bike.

Jodi Beggs also weighs in, pointing out that a lot of economics blogging quickly becomes argumentative. I agree with Jodi; I have no interest in an interaction that will quickly devolve into a spitting match, and I have no interest in writing posts solely to demonstrate to the world my purported intellectual superiority. Yes, I do think some subset of blogging, not just in economics, is jockeying, positioning, and preening, the modern educated man’s equivalent of the gorilla beating his chest, often devolving into ad hominem attacks and bullying. I have no time or patience for that; I prefer (greatly) what in the 18th century might have been called civil discourse. That is why you will NEVER see me link to Brad DeLong or try to engage him in an interchange. NEVER. Emphatically.

Honestly, I’ve never given gender much thought, let alone gender and economics blogging. Until this morning I never gave much thought to the gender of the folks in my economics RSS feed. I’m used to being the only woman in class, in a seminar, on a bike group ride. I just do what I love. Does it really matter that fewer women economists blog?

Adam Smith symposium: Smith as virtue theorist?

Lynne Kiesling

Increasingly I agree with Deirdre McCloskey that over the past 120 or so years economics has moved further away from incorporation of the importance of the Bourgeois Virtues into our analyses of economic decision-making and economic growth. Indeed, I claim that ignoring the effects of virtue on individual decision-making is one of the factors underlying the static, obsolete, and counter-productive aspects of economic regulation (and am in the process of molding that into a coherent argument and analysis). That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy reading Adam Smith so much; as a polymath he synthesizes moral philosophy, psychology, and political economy. I also enjoy reading the works of several Smith scholars, some of whom I have the pleasure of knowing personally and whose work I have found incredibly useful in working on my recent paper on mirror neuron neuroscience and Adam Smith’s concept of sympathy.

The Art of Theory, a new “political philosophy quarterly” founded and edited by a group of graduate students (how cool is that?), contains an excellent roundtable discussion of Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue, a wonderful and thought-provoking book from Smith scholar and political theorist Ryan Hanley. Ryan’s lead essay for the roundtable is an excerpt from the book, and it presents his analysis of Smith as a virtue theorist who saw the benefits of commercial society (“its capacity to maximize opulence and freedom and especially its capacity to maximize the opulence and freedom available to the poorest and weakest”), but recognized its darker consequences (“the propensity of commercial society to induce and exacerbate such psychological ills as restlessness, anxiety, inauthenticity, duplicity, mediocrity, alienation, and indifference to others”). The essay also delves into analyses and comparisons that engage the philosophy literature (Aristotelian conceptions of virtue, republicanism, civic virtue, etc.) in ways with which I have little experience. Still, even if you are not a Smith scholar or a philosopher, I think the essay will provoke your thoughts and challenge your preconceptions about Smith and his ideas.

The roundtable essays touch on a range of aspects of the main argument. In particular I recommend the essay from Fonna Forman-Barzilai; her recent book Adam Smith and the Circles of Sympathy was one of the most valuable secondary resources I used in working on my Smith/mirror neuron paper. Fonna’s commentary on Ryan’s lead essay focuses on some aspects of Smith’s overall project that she wants to make sure don’t get overlooked in Ryan’s focus on Smith as virtue theorist (and in particular his focus on the Section VI that Smith added to Theory of Moral Sentiments when he revised it shortly before his death in 1790). I think if you are new to Smith, or at least new to Theory of Moral Sentiments, her essay will give you some insights to think about.

My recommendation: Read Theory of Moral Sentiments, McCloskey’s Bourgeois Virtues, and this roundtable as companion pieces to develop your ideas about the roles that virtue and morality can, do, and should play in our economic decision-making and in the social institutions that shape and structure our interactions in civil society. Even if you’re not an academic or not an economist, if you are interested in social systems more generally you are likely to find things here that will interest you and provide a lot of learning. That’s been my experience at least!

New atmospheric research on contrails

Lynne Kiesling

When I think about climate, greenhouse gases, carbon policy etc., I always worry about the certainty that people (typically politicians) want to attach to models (actually, that statement holds for macroeconomic models too, for the same reasons). The global climate is an incredibly complex system, comprising many individual agents and local systems that interact and lead to non-deterministic outcomes (thus the complexity, at least in part). In trying to understand such complex systems we construct models of their behavior. Even the best models are abstractions from some of the details of reality (as statistician George Box said, all models are wrong but some are useful).

Regarding climate, I’ve thought that the most with respect to clouds, and many different ways that clouds can affect climate. Capturing the effects of clouds in a model is difficult because there are so many variables — height, water vapor, etc. — and clouds have different effects depending on those variables and their interactions.

Thus I read with great interest at Ars Technica today about a new research study published in Nature Reports: Climate Change on the atmospheric effects of airplane contrails. Separate from any effects of the emissions from the combustion of jet fuel, the formation of contrails due to the production of water vapor as a by-product of burning jet fuel may itself contribute to greenhouse effects by increasing water vapor in the troposphere. According to the abstract:

An important but poorly understood component of this forcing is caused by ‘contrail cirrus’—a type of cloud that consist of young line-shaped contrails and the older irregularly shaped contrails that arise from them. Here we use a global climate model that captures the whole life cycle of these man-made clouds to simulate their global coverage, as well as the changes in natural cloudiness that they induce. We show that the radiative forcing associated with contrail cirrus as a whole is about nine times larger than that from line-shaped contrails alone. We also find that contrail cirrus cause a significant decrease in natural cloudiness, which partly offsets their warming effect. Nevertheless, net radiative forcing due to contrail cirrus remains the largest single radiative-forcing component associated with aviation.

While I remain cautious in drawing inferences from models of such complex systems, I think research like this at least gives us some insights into the dynamics of how a local system like cloud formation works; in particular, the “substitution” that occurs with the reduction in natural cirrus formation was something I always wondered about. Worth reading.

Commercial, merchant compressed-air energy storage plant under development?

Michael Giberson

Wind power RFP processes* are common enough these days, typically driven by renewable energy mandates placed on utilities. A recent wind power RFP announcement out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is different. A new company, Chamisa Energy, has initiated an RFP seeking wind power to pair up with a planned compressed-air energy storage (CAES) plant to be developed in Swisher County, Texas. Chamisa has partnered with Dresser-Rand and intends to use their SMARTCAES technology, which it claims can “provide a wide array of electrical services: peaking, intermediate, base load, tolling and ancillary services.”

The RFP says that the CAES project may connect to the ERCOT CREZ lines that will be crossing Swisher County, or it may connect to Xcel’s system in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), or it may connect to both ERCOT and SPP! This last option would put Chamisa in the interesting position of being able to arbitrage some price differences between the two power markets. (It may raise some of the same jurisdictional barriers that Tres Amigas is facing with its proposed three-way power system interconnection, planned for Clovis, New Mexico. ADDED: But a few existing power plants in Texas are dually connected between ERCOT and utilities in the Eastern Interconnection, so the issue appears manageable.)

The relationship between Chamisa’s CAES project and the Tres Amigas interconnection is interesting. Both companies are headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The proposed projects are about 90 miles apart, one at the eastern edge of New Mexico and the other directly east, in the middle of the Texas panhandle. Chamisa proposes an energy storage project that may link the two regional power systems; Tres Amigas proposes to build a link for three regional power systems but would have an energy storage component, too. Both aim to facilitate the accommodation of intermittent power resources to the grid by providing storage and other grid reliability services.

Not clear that the business of accommodating intermittent power is big enough for both of them, but maybe that is just “not yet big enough.” Many wind projects are under development in the region, and just waiting for a little more clarity on when and where transmission enhancements will be showing up.

* RFP = “request for proposals”, a common process by which one company invites others to offer to become suppliers.

Economics error: trade makes people “dependent”

Lynne Kiesling

I am listening to an NPR story right now on the conflicts over the construction of the new pipeline to bring Canadian heavy crude oil from the tar sands to the US. Steve Inskeep introduced the story by observing that as Canadian tar sands production increases, US consumers will “become more dependent on Canada”.

This error is more than just a rhetorical one; it’s an error of logic and a failure of basic economic understanding, because it shows that Inskeep and his staff don’t grasp the reciprocity and the mutuality of trade and exchange. You could just as easily say that more oil transactions between US consumers and Canadian producers makes Canada “more dependent on the US”, because the revenue they earn from selling us oil is income that they use to do what they want to do in their lives, in much the same way that the oil we buy from them is a product that we use to do what we want to do in our lives.

Failing to incorporate the reciprocity and mutuality of exchange into your analysis is an all-too-common logical flaw, particularly in the increasingly breathy and Chicken Little media. They should know better.

How can property rights in subsurface water work in West Texas?

Michael Giberson

Ogallala Aquifer

Ogallala Aquifer image from High Plains Underground Water Conservation District #1 website

Texans who have drawn there water supplies from the vast but shrinking Ogallala Aquifer are engaged in a complex process of clarifying and/or renegotiating a more exact notion of just what rights they have to access the resource. A story in the Sunday Lubbock Avalanche-Journal provides an update.

Some clever “enviropreneurs”, to invoke a term coined by PERC, have devised methods to use markets to improve the use of water. See “How the market can keep streams flowing” for an example of a program working in the Pacific Northwest. But that example deals with surface water; groundwater presents greater difficulties for measuring and monitoring resource stocks and flows.

Groundwater gets some mention in this article by Gary Libecap on “Water Woes” in the American West, but it looks like a complete groundwater rights system remains to be developed.

Metering water use will be a part of a solution. Palm Springs, California has experimented with smart metering for water use with some time-of-day pricing – partly to economize on electric power use but also to encourage conservation of water. Clearly a different kind of application than West Texas needs, but it suggests some possibilities.

Has anyone put together a groundwater rights system that works on a large scale, or is this still a grand opportunity waiting for the right enviropreneur?

Update: Industry, environmental group working on shale gas drilling rules

Michael Giberson

Last November we noted that industry and environmental groups in Texas were working together on fracking disclosure rules. Earlier this month a bill was introduced in the Texas House that would establish disclosure rules for fracking fluids.

Kate Galbraith reports in The Texas Tribune, “Texas Could Require Disclosure of Drilling Chemicals“:

Hydraulic fracturing, an increasingly common method of extracting natural gas that involves shooting a concoction of water, sand and chemicals deep underground, has sparked controversy around the country — not least because drillers mostly keep their chemical formulas secret. But Texas, the leading gas-producing state, could help change industry practices by requiring public disclosure of the chemicals used.

bill filed this month by state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who chairs the House Committee on Energy Resources, would create a website containing information about the chemicals used in each well. The bill has won praise from both industry and major environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, the Texas League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). [Links in original.]

See also this story from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

In related news, the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates oil and gas production in Texas) had harsh comments for the federal Environmental Protection Agency as the Railroad Commission voted to clear Range Resources of charges that it had contaminated water wells in Parker County, Texas. EPA concluded otherwise in a December 2010 “endangerment order.”

I suspect this fight isn’t over. Two of the three current Railroad Commissioners are among state politicians considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Fighting the EPA helps keep the commissioners in the news.