« Robert Hall: "Inflation Targets Can and Should be Met Quite Strictly" | Main | Finding the Evidence That's Already In »

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hidden Costs of SUVs, Education Outcomes, Discrimmination, and Disaster Dollars

These are from an article " A Wealth of Talent" in the San Diego Tribune on UCSD's move into the US News & World Report's top 10 (about which department chair Richard Carson says “I think we sent out an e-mail,” ... “We didn't throw a party or anything like that.”).

The brief articles are about the research of Michelle White on the hidden costs of SUVs, Julian Betts on classroom outcomes, Kate Antonovics on discrimmination, and Richard Carson on disaster dollars:

First, Michelle White:

Michelle White: The hidden costs of SUVs, Union-Tribune: While many a Honda Accord driver has shaken a fist and called the behemoth SUV in the next lane a highway menace, only Michelle J. White has proved it. A couple of years ago, White, an economics professor at UCSD, said she found herself “getting more and more terrified to drive” her Accord with all the big sport utility vehicles on the road. She eventually decided to find out how afraid she should be.

The answer? Very afraid. Analyzing 20 years of vehicle ownership and fatal accident records, White found that for every fatal crash a sport utility vehicle or pickup owner avoids for themselves, they cause fatalities in 4.3 more accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists and other cars. “The damage you are doing outside your vehicle is far greater than the safety gained inside,” says the 60-year-old White to SUV and pickup owners. ...

White said the SUV study has received a lot of attention from other economists. “I was the first to take standard economic concepts and apply them to this area that everybody knows about,” she said. Her research showed that when 1 million light trucks replace an equal number of cars, between 34 and 93 additional car occupants, pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists are killed each year. ...

Things get even worse, White says, when driver behavior is factored in. People drive more safely in cars than they do in pickups and SUVs, presumably to compensate for the greater danger they face. “For a long time, the number of fatalities on our roads had been going down,” said White, ... “Lately, however, it's been creeping back up.”

White said a typical minimum requirement for liability coverage is between $100,000 and $200,000. She is planning to write a journal article or newspaper editorial calling for SUV and pickup owners to pay for more coverage. “You could multiply that amount by 10 and still be underinsured relative to the harm you cause with a fatal accident.”

Next, Julian Betts:

Julian Betts: Classroom outcomes, Union-Tribune: Everyone pretty much agrees that some schools are better than others. What people can't agree on are the ingredients that make a good school. That's where Julian Betts comes in. One of the nation's top experts in the economics of education, the 45-year-old UCSD economics professor has studied the effects that class size, teacher credentialing and school choice have on student achievement. “Education has time and time again been shown to be the one factor controllable by government that has a positive impact on people's lives,” Betts said. “Getting help to students when they are young and still in school has very high payoffs. Not just to them, but to society in general.”

Some of his findings have reinforced prevailing thought. Others have turned conventional wisdom on its ear. Take, for example, the issue of teacher credentialing. One would think that in a state as diverse as California, teachers with a Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Certificate would create better outcomes than teachers without such a credential. Not so, says Betts' research.

“At the elementary level, we found that teachers with two years of experience, but no CLAD credential, were just as effective as those with that credential,” Betts said. He is not saying that a teacher's education doesn't matter. In fact, his research shows that it is very important, for example, for a high school math teacher to take the right courses in college. But he contends that the current credentialing system does a poor job of measuring a teacher's effectiveness, and that some characteristics, such as enthusiasm and empathy, aren't measurable.

And, according to Betts' research, a child's classmates are just as important to success as the teacher. “Some of the most important influences on whether a student is learning have to do with their peers,” Betts said. “The proverbial 'good class' really is good for individual kids within the class.”

Kate Antonovics is next:

Kate Antonovics: Tuning in discrimination, Union-Tribune: The racial tensions that characterized Kate Antonovics' Durham, N.C., junior high school in the early 1980s have stayed with her. So much so that she has dedicated her career to trying to make sense of them. ...

Antonovics, who is an assistant professor of economics at ... UCSD [and] white, said her childhood questions about racial discrimination eventually led her to study issues of workplace inequality... White men tend to earn more money than any other group. Is it because of discrimination? Or are white men better at their jobs than other groups, Antonovics and her colleagues wondered.

The only data economists can collect concerning a worker's productivity are wages, experience and education, she said. What they can't measure is performance. ... Frequently when the real world doesn't produce what economists want, they go to the laboratory.”

The laboratory in this case was “The Weakest Link” TV game show, and the result a unique look at discrimination issues. ... Eight contestants are given questions that test their general knowledge. Every time a contestant correctly answers a question, a community pot of money gets bigger. If a contestant gives a wrong answer, the pot goes to zero.

At the end of each round, each contestant gets to vote one person off the show. Whoever receives the most votes leaves the game. ... What made the show useful to Antonovics and her colleagues is that they could track the number of questions each contestant answered correctly. “So, in contrast to the labor market, we can get a look at performance,” she said.

The results were interesting, to say the least. “We found no discrimination of whites against blacks. No discrimination by men against women,” Antonovics said. “But we did find discrimination by women against men, and there was no evidence that men perform worse than women. It looks like women simply prefer to have other women on the show.”

Antonovics said the study, published last fall in the Journal of Human Resources, was criticized for not finding discrimination by men against women and minorities. “We were told that if you didn't find discrimination, then you must be studying the wrong thing,” she said. “I think the attitude should be, if you aren't finding discrimination, what are the things in this environment that are driving it in a way that we don't find in the workplace?”

Finally, Richard Carson:

Richard Carson: Disaster dollars, Union-Tribune: After disaster strikes, whether it be wildfire, hurricane or oil spill, Richard Carson can count on getting a call. One of the world's foremost environmental economists, Carson often is asked to put a dollar figure on disasters. He was the government's chief damage assessment expert in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. Carson eventually pegged the value of preventing the spill at $3 billion.

“We needed to determine the value of the resource before it was damaged, and what should have been spent to protect it,” said Carson... He also was one of the experts commissioned after Southern Pacific train cars carrying thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals toppled into the upper Sacramento River, destroying aquatic life for 40 miles downstream. “They flew me up there, and I figured out how to do things like count dead fish,” he said.

More recently, the 50-year-old Carson examined the costs associated with allowing the deterioration of wetlands that at one time buffered New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico. A generation ago, Carson said, New Orleans had miles and miles of wetlands that would have largely protected the city from the kind of storm surge created by Hurricane Katrina.

“Allowing the large fraction of wetlands in New Orleans to disappear is an extremely expensive thing,” Carson said, noting that it would have cost between $5 billion and $10 billion to save the wetlands, compared to the hundreds of billions that Katrina recovery will cost. “Unfortunately that's the issue with natural resources,” he said. “They are expensive to fix, so they end up getting put off.”

Beyond his work with disasters, Carson, ... has studied ... ways to improve public enjoyment of parks, forests, streams and beaches. Carson works to eliminate what economists call “congestion externalities” and what the rest of us call “overcrowding.” “We don't want people standing on the bank of the river and hitting each other with their fishing poles. It's a miserable experience,” he said.

    Posted by on Monday, February 20, 2006 at 07:37 PM in Economics, Miscellaneous | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (2)


    TrackBack URL for this entry:

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hidden Costs of SUVs, Education Outcomes, Discrimmination, and Disaster Dollars:


    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.