Fix it First

The Brookings Institution has published five pieces of my research.  Today one of their blog’s cites my work and Matt Yglesias discusses it here.   Below, the fold I list the pieces but here I want to give a plug for my 2011 Hamilton Project paper (joint with David Levinson) on Fix it First.   The President and I have a similar view on the question of rebuilding U.S infrastructure.

My Brookings Publications;

1. My 2006 Book, Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment

2.  My paper with Glaeser on Decentralized Employment 

3. My paper with Nate Baum Snow on Public Transit Ridership

4. My paper with David Levinson on Fix it First 

5. My paper in the Ziliak volume on Appalachia and urban economic growth

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

5 thoughts on “Fix it First”

  1. Your sensible “Fix it first” highway policy already has a celestial patron: Santo Domingo de la Calzada (St. Dominic of the Highway), patron saint of Spanish roadmenders and civil engineers. He was a hermit in a forest in Castile when the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage started booming in the mid-11th century, attracting pilgrims and naturally robbers to prey on them. Dominic bullied local peasants and lords to clear a wide strip through the forest (so the pilgrims could see robbers coming), laid a roadbed and built a bridge and hostel. Unfortunately he is best remembered today for the ridiculous miracle story of the rooster and the falsely accused robber. The handsome Romanesque church in the pretty eponymous town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada still has live chickens in a coop built in to an internal wall. They are rotated to comply with modern sensibilities and regulations on animal welfare.

    Genuine saints like Dominic are interesting people. They have the drive and sometimes flexible ethics of more self-interested leaders, harnessed to altruistic or otherworldly goals. Cicely Saunders and Mother Teresa are obvious modern examples. Should we put MLK and Gandhi in with them?

  2. Yes, but would Santo Domingo have grasped the opportunity to finance infrastructure investment by borrowing long-term at near-zero real interest rates and the low-to-negative opportunity cost of doing so when there are large amounts of unemployed labor and other productive capacity, or would he have needed Robert Frank to remind him of that?

      1. Engineer here.

        My engineering background doesn’t qualify me to make an authoritative review of the premises of the article, but my software engineering career enables me to tell you with absolute certainty that your link works just fine.

        Regarding your question, though, I think the author of the paper addressed it when he wrote this:

        But Unger, the council’s executive director, emphasizes that the report is not meant to be a precise blueprint. It doesn’t take into account political obstacles and makes no effort to identify specific policy options or funding sources. Instead, he says:

        What we were trying to do here is address the almost despair that you see now among people who are concerned about global climate change. There’s been so much emphasis on legislation nationally and on international agreements. As those have fallen through, I think the worry has been, “Is there an alternative?” So what we wanted to study was, taking the goals we’ve heard, is this even doable? From a technical perspective, the answer we got was “yes.”

    1. Pre-indusrial farming made extraordinarily variable demands on labour. At ploughing and harvest time, peasants worked very long hours. (I caught a glimpse of this visiting Riquewihr, a picture-postcard wine village in Alsace, at harvest-time in October. The tourist shops were mostly shuttered; the locals were moving around slowly in an exhausted daze through the reek of fermenting grapes.) At other times the labour was available at little opportunity cost, cf. the Pyramids. Domingo’s problem was motivation. Why chop down trees for the benefit of a bunch of foreigners? Time off purgatory would have been part of the answer. For the upper class, appeals to the honour code of chivalry.

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